The Hard Truth You Need to Hear: Citizens Don’t Have Time For Your Meetings

The idea of a city council meeting is a fairly simple one; being open and transparent with your citizens. It’s a tradition in America that when government officials are discussing decisions that can affect their constituents, those constituents should be privy to the discussion. They should also have a chance to raise their voices, and be heard.

All of that sounds great, but there’s a problem. Most citizens do not have the time to show up to council meetings. Not because they aren’t interested, of course, but because we live fast-paced lives in the modern world. Even if citizens are very interested in the issues being discussed, they have jobs to go to, families to spend time with, and a thousand tasks filling every day. They can’t drop everything they’re doing just to show up to a city council meeting, much as they might wish they could.

The result is that, even if an issue is genuinely important to the public, the public largely won’t be able to show up. Fortunately, because we live in the age of the Internet, it’s possible to bring city council meetings into the 21st century. If you’re willing to roll up your sleeves, and find solutions that will work.

Bring The Meeting To Them

Even if a meeting isn’t attended in-person, that doesn’t mean you can’t make it possible for people to watch the proceedings. Thanks to the proliferation of technology, it’s possible to broadcast a meeting over the Internet. Not only that, but opening a forum for public commentary can allow people who may not be able to attend to still voice their opinions on the proceedings. This allows you to make sure the public is aware of what’s happening, and to collect the views of the citizens, without expecting people to clear their schedules to be in the same room as council members.

It isn’t enough to simply make access possible, though. You need to make sure the citizens can easily find when meetings are being broadcast, and that they can find the archives of past meetings in case they need more context for what is happening. All of the relevant information regarding the current issue needs to be on-hand, and it all needs to be simple to find. Putting the information on the city government’s homepage, social media accounts, and other locations are all positive steps forward to ensure everyone can be as informed as possible about what’s happening.

Encourage Participation, And Listen To The Citizens

Government is often slow to adapt when it comes to the latest technology. However, with communication moving at the speed of light, and shrinking our world on a daily basis, there’s no reason not to embrace it as a solution to the gap between the government and the citizens. Especially when most of these solutions can be implemented for relatively little cost (if not for free).

You don’t want your meetings to be the proverbial tree falling in the forest, though. You need to make sure you publicize your activities, and reach out to the public so they know where to go, and when to watch, to find out about the issues that matter to them. Check the metrics, and see how many people are watching. Listen to the criticism that’s made, and try to adjust to better suit the needs of the public. Make your meetings a conversation between the council and the citizens, and those citizens will make the effort to get more involved. Even if they’re doing it from a mobile device, rather than from the third row of the meeting room.