How can more information get to more people?
Note: I originally wrote this post on August 4th. A couple days later, it turned into a full-on discussion between author/analyst C. Grammich and DGreport editor/publisher Elaine Johnson, with a couple crucial add-ins by Council Commissioner Martin Tully. I’m smart enough to know when I walk into a crowded room I’ can probably learn something while I’m there: here’s another example.
I had a brief conversation with John Schofield several weeks ago that resonates (rattles around) in my head on and off ever since. We were talking about how the bike path issue was so poorly presented to the public that no one really knew what was going on. Staff’s response was to create a web page explaining the Proper Use of Bike Lanes
John’s comment about passive versus active information was accurate and bothersome. In my years of observation and involvement, accessing and publicizing information are two huge stumbling blocks to residents having fast, easy, well known information. The problem reared up again about possible public pools: while Park District Board Commisioner Art Jaros knows about every minute detail, is willing to engage on the subject, and while much has been discussed in Park District meetings, most of us are in the dark. So ,much of the information is out there, but where?
This is one of those topics where I readily admit I don’t have answers, just the questions.
- Do you know why the phrase “I’m in!” has special significance for DG?
- Do you know what the proposed pool recreation facility footprint looks like?
- Are you aware the village has trained social work professionals?
- Do you know the particulars of why the Police Department needs a new facility?
That’s just scratching the surface.
What makes it even more vexing is most of our elected and hired public staff are just as frustrated. You can lead a resident to information, but you can’t make them learn? The problem is how to shove that information in front of our eyes, under our noses, so we can’t avoid seeing and hearing and knowing-and maybe learning.
Take that pool for example. I suggested when the three choices are ready, the PD prepare sets of three posters and a comment box for each set, and put them in conspicuous places; the train stations, the Lincoln Center, out at youth sport events, the Library, Village Hall, heck even the Moose Lodge, the Tivoli, grocery stores, make it so you couldn’t turn around without running into three posters showing three pool sites, and a comment box for instant feedback. And an email address for further feedback. And contact the newspapers (Sun, Reporter, Grover) and push for a news article. See if that shoves it far enough out there that people notice.
In some regards, pushing information out to the public may require a sea change in how our public servants operate. Take council. They do a lot more than meet once week, and have coffee once a month; they’re busy folks assigned to committees and commissions, and having more responsibility than residents realize. But they can be very effective at pushing out information when they are organized and coordinated. They (and staff) pushed information out down in Springfield about the Belmont Underpass very effectively, even though the target audience was smaller and sometimes harder to find than DG. They did it with stormwater too, using newspapers, village publications, existing business and community service groups to get the word out that they would need to raise taxes to fix the #1 problem in DG.
But for the most part, here and everywhere, information is a passive thing. If you look and can find it great, but it won’t come looking for you. It often isn’t locked behind executive session, or in some devilish plan to slip a fast one by; it’s there waiting to be read and digested, and questioned, and discussed. It’s there, just not right there under our nose. And then it becomes a done deal and people raise the cry Why? Why weren’t we told? Why didn’t you tell us?
So how does DG become more outgoing in getting information front and center? Most times the information is dull and dry to start. Often people don’t care to know. If you need to buy a house you look in the paper or online to start, but what if you didn’t know you needed a house? Maybe an extreme example, but underscores the point. I forget who said it, maybe Rumsfeld: we don’t know what we don’t know? So how do we make sure we all know?
To boot, there isn’t much out there to learn from. Like I said, I don’t have the answers, just the questions right now. Our local government works best as a partnership effort. When residents get involved, actively involved with our government, better decisions are a direct result. Better decisions serve us all, and in most cases, better reflect the will of the people.