Mean Meetings, Indispensable Info & Your Dilemma: April Newsletter

Dear Valued Associate,

And on a lighter note, welcome to spring – Easter’s on its way! This month’s issue is made from powdered wildflowers, baby bunnies and sunshine. So pull up a chair, click on side 1 of Led Zeppelin 4 and enjoy this current installment.

Stay curious,



Facilitating Tough Crowds and Understanding Outrage

Most public sector facilitators will tell you that this work is getting tougher. I suggest that the trend of finding increasingly angry people at public meetings started a couple of decades ago, but the rancor is clearly ramping up. If you want to accelerate hate, nothing beats social media, and bad, anonymous online behavior has now moved into face-to-face encounters. Those of us who work with live human beings need to learn to manage these cantankerous events, and ourselves.

I’m sure you’re familiar with ‘outrage du jour’ – the high-profile, major-media-covered scandal and reactions of the moment. The fact is that most of just don’t have the energy to keep our outrage focused for prolonged periods of time when there are so many things to be angry about. So high profile perpetrators of outrageous behavior have learned to just ride it out, ’cause they know by tomorrow we’ll be distracted and mad about something different.

It’s easy to think that you’re facing a unique problem and an angry crowd. While it’s true that no two situations are ever exactly alike, the problem exists everywhere. Not just in New York, Chicago or L.A., but also in Toad Suck, Arkansas and out where I come from.

If you’re curious enough to take a deep dive into this subject, carve out a little time for this lengthy autopsy on outrage produced a few years ago by Slate.


The Inform Level is Indispensable

If you’re at all familiar with the International Association of Public Participation (IAP2) Spectrum, you know that the range of public influence level categories begins with ‘Inform’. And if you learned about the Spectrum from a licensed IAP2 instructor, you should also have heard that ‘informing’ people, in and of itself, is not really public engagement, but it’s there for a critical reason. There are some people urging the organization to drop the ‘Inform’ level from the Spectrum claiming that it’s somehow … disingenuous? To this I call, “bull-cookies”. It’s important to understand what it is, what it isn’t, and why it belongs there. Engaging people starts with informing them – skillfully and objectively. They can’t be engaged without some level of knowledge, and dropping the ‘Inform’ level would suggest this is somehow not all that important to the other levels. You’ll find the rest of my ‘inside baseball’ diatribe on this subject at The Participation Company blog.

And here’s another way of looking at this general subject.


Story Interesting, Data Boring

Welcome to the new Age of Unreason. When my opinions trump your facts, when any news that might be contrary to my existing beliefs must be fake, and the only information that I trust comes from sources and people who tell me what I want to hear – you have a problem. OK, we have a problem. The public sector in particular needs new skills, new thinking and new ways of providing complex information to the people that it serves. Facts and data need to be translated with context and relevance. Tell the story around the numbers.

Experts and leaders that we coach sometimes use the worn out phrase of ‘dumbing it down’ when they refer to simplifying complex information. I don’t think the dumb-er intends to be malicious, but it’s clearly insulting to the dumb-ee. Regular people are seldom dumb, but when experts know everything there is to know about a subject, it’s hard for them to realize how others wouldn’t know at least something about it. Here’s a start to fixing your dilemma.

It’s a pretty safe bet that whatever you’re trying to say starts – or should start – with writing it. Sometimes you write to be read and sometimes you first write whatever you intend to say. Make no mistake that those two different deliveries require two very different styles; but for the moment, let’s focus on five (5) very basic tips.

Transportation departments are learning to use highway message boards in creative, compelling ways that maximize the chances of influencing driver behavior – for the good of the rest of us out there. There’s a right way and a wrong way.


Effective Public Participation, Managing Opposition and (Re)Building Public Trust Training

We’ll help you succeed and build working, effective, more trusting partnerships with the public and your other stakeholders. The Participation Company (TPC) facilitates, consults, coaches and trains civil service, NGO and business people about their community conflicts and building effective public engagement programs. We help you make the disgruntled, gruntled. Our job is to help you do yours.

2019 Open IAP2 ‘Public Participation Foundations’ (5-day) classes:

·       Chicago, IL – April 29-May 3

·       Salt Lake City, UT – May 1-3 (Planning)/June 3-4 (Techniques)

·       Denver, CO – July 10-12 (Planning)/August 1-2 (Techniques)

·       Orange County, CA – September 24-26 (Planning)/November 20-21 (Techniques)

·       Kansas City, MO – October 7-11

·       Phoenix, AZ – October 21-25

2019 Open IAP2 ‘Strategies for Opposition and Outrage in Public Participation’(2-day) classes:

·       Chicago, IL – July 25-26

·       St. Paul, MN – October 7-8

·       Phoenix, AZ – November 18-19

2019 Open TPC ‘Public Facilitation Essentials’ (3-day) class:

·       Denver, CO – November 12-14

IAP2 courses from The Participation Company are eligible for Certification Maintenance (CM) credits through The American Planning Association (APA)’s professional institute, the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP).

Click here to join us and look for more IAP2 and other original TPC courses coming up. We work mostly with a variety of public and private sector clients to customize in-house training, coaching and facilitation for their specific challenges.

The Participation Company LLC is also a strategic partner and provider for the International City/County Management Association (ICMA).