The (R)Evolution of Public Outreach

By: Vanessa Solesbee

As parking professionals, engaging the communities we serve in meaningful dialogue about their parking preferences and experiences is an undeniably important of our work. Many of us have learned the hard way that if decisions are made behind closed doors, our proposed projects, policy recommendations and/or initiatives can quickly fall victim to project-killing resistance from outraged citizens, the results of which have played out in countless City Council meetings and on the front of our local newspapers. 

While outreach used to be a “nice to have”, it is now an expectation and the options are seemingly endless. 

  • Should I livestream my public meeting on Facebook?
  • Where are my customers…Facebook? Twitter? Snapchat? Instagram? 
  • Are in-person meetings even a “thing” anymore?
  • What the heck is involved in a walking audit anyways?
  • Create a citizen’s academy?? How terrifying could that be?!

And with all the decision-making, time and resources that goes into planning and conducting outreach efforts, that’s just the first step. The real challenge comes with finding ways to incorporate what we hear and learn from community members into our planning efforts and operational decision-making. How do you effectively message what you’re doing to different audiences and (even more terrifying) what happens when you do everything “right” but those in charge don’t want to expend the political capital to move your recommendations forward. Was it all just a waste of time?

I would argue that it’s exactly the opposite. Outreach is about the journey, not the outcome. Since outreach is a people-driven activity, it is reflective of all of us. Messy, contradictory and confusing, yes, but in the end, hopeful that change is possible and focused on leaving our neighborhoods, cities, universities and public spaces better than we found them.