Concern: Whether it’s in my neighborhood’s association in Wellington Square, or a concern being addressed by MINC (Mid City Neighborhood Council), there are challenges to hearing differences of opinion. How do you keep people engaged and the process moving forward without collapsing into argument sessions? Getting bogged down in fights leaves people with bad feelings and results in fewer and fewer people wanting to become involved.
Solution: I think the first key is to make sure that as many lines of communication are kept open as possible. It is important that those who are affected or interested in the outcome are kept very informed. This means notifying people of meetings, decisions, suggestions, etc. at every step of the process, and keeping the forward momentum as open to the public as possible. Often the complaint you hear is “we didn’t know” - and the best way to sidestep that is to make sure you publish and post all the information. It doesn’t always mean people will see it - but if you can show them the attempt, it at least can help cool the fire. In my own neighborhood, we’ve found a lot of value in setting up a website - and posting all sorts of information on our blog, on Facebook, on Twitter, and via a Yahoo! group. It’s probably overkill - but it means that people can find and hear from us however they’d like to do so. And I constantly hear from people that are so grateful to be kept in the loop.
You also have to allow a chance for people to be heard through the process. It doesn’t mean that the committee needs to agree or follow the directive of every complaint or counter opinion. But I’ve seen more things scuttled by the fact that the committee just wasn’t really interested in listening to something counter to their thoughts. I often understand that committee members are tired and they’ve already hashed through the issues. But more good can be done by just listening to people and expressing sincere concern- than by anything else. People need to feel that their concerns are at least addressed in some way - even if they don’t like the eventual outcome. Organizations can often accomplish a lot more - and keep more people happy - if they just talk and listen a bit more.
Michael Sonntag sits on the executive board of the Wellington Square Improvement Association, as well as the Mid City Neighborhood Council as the Region 3 Representative.