Trying to Get Government to Blog

We have a few examples of elected officials with blogs. Locally, is the stand-out example. Even Mayor Potter has a blog of sorts.

But how about using blogs to really involve citizens in the process of government? Again the City of Portland has a start at this, with a blog on the Charter Review project. But that blog is directed at an appointed commission, one step removed from the seat of government power.

Since Metro is about to undertake an update of both our regional land use and transportations plans, and has expressed a desire to do it differently this time, in my capacity as a citizen representative on MPAC (the Metro Policy Advisory Committee), I suggested that the internet outreach component of the project should include an element that let citizens talk to each other, not just send feedback back to Metro. In short, a blog.

The response from staff was underwhelming. Staff expressed concern that moderating a blog would be difficult, and sorting through and summarizing all the citizen input would be very resource intensive.

I intend to keep pushing for the idea, but it appears it will be an uphill climb…

6 responses to “Trying to Get Government to Blog”

  1. “sorting through and summarizing all the citizen input would be very resource intensive.”

    Hmmm… In other words, the blog would be highly effective at obtaining citizen input – so much so that it would be hard work to read it all.

    Blogs. Too effective. Yeah.

  2. Chris and Kari,

    you all are much more knowledgeable about this technique than i can claim yet the issue of staff resources for sorting and responding to citizen comment is a real one. Metro has always done a great job of responding to almost every citizen comment in a meaningful way, even if those suggestions were declined. How would you design a blog that would allow comment and discussion to blossom and flourish butwould somehow not require a Metro response to each and every comment? is there an “engine” that can distinguish among these different types of input?

    I will return next week and would like to have a discussion with you and our public involvement people about this.


  3. Rex,

    Keep in mind that what I was suggesting is a way for citizens to converse among themselves. We want Metro to listen, but they don’t have to respond to each comment.

    For example of what I’m talking about, look at our discussion of the Columbia Crossing options a few weeks ago. It’s a structured discussion of a set of policy options.

    P.S. I did get a request today from Metro staff to talk about how a blog might work, so I have some hope that the cause is not lost.

  4. Chris –

    I think this is something that should be taken to the Metro Citizen Involvement Advisory Committee. I’m not sure they are necessarily going to have much influence, but it would help to have their blessing.

    I think Rex is raising the question of whether comments made to the blog are part of the public record. I think Metro has done a very good job of responding to even the most off the wall comments (as the author of some of those, I appreciated getting the responses). I think that does encourage a wide net of opinions to at least be considered.

    But it is possible to create a blog that is designed to give citizens feedback on their ideas before they are submitted for public comment. This might improve the quality of public comments and reduce the number of off-the-wall comments. It could be made clear that the purpose of the blog is for citizens to help citizens develop comments, rather than a place to make them.

    That doesn’t mean metro staff and/or elected officials and/or citizen committee members couldn’t both read and weigh in on the ideas while they are being formulated. Or with information where that is appropriate. But the purpose of the forum would need to be clearly defined as citizens communicating to citizens, not to metro.

    At least I think that might get around both staff concerns and the legal requirement that metro maintain a public record of decision making that shows they considered all comments submitted.

    Its a great idea if you can overcome the resistance.

  5. Ross, I actually took the whole discussion on the CRC stuff here and submitted it into the public record for the project, so I’m not sure NOT having a blog is any protection from having a lot of stuff submitted!

    Here’s the sort of model that I have in mind:

    1) Metro staff organizes the key policy questions. A blog post is generated for each policy question (or some other sort of grouping – for the CRC I broke 30+ crossing options into about a dozen groups).

    2) The public gets to discuss each question/category/group for some defined period of time. Metro staff monitors the discussion and jumps in if there is some point worth clarifying. But they can be judicious about this and certainly don’t have to answer all (or even most) comments.

    3) At the end of the defined period, comments are closed on the post. Metro staff could then write a single “thread capping response” to reply to items in the discussion.

    I thought about going to the Citizen Involvement Committee, but since staff are being a little bit more responsive, I’m going to hold off for now.

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