What do you think?
Seems like somebody is always posing that question about one topic or another. More people than you think might be interested in what you think. Opportunities to have your say are plentiful and come in the form of surveys, information forums, online commenting or public hearings.
Government and nonprofit organizations alike understand the value of seeking public input, particularly on major projects or proposals. It’s a way to encourage involvement and perhaps even affect collective decision-making.
Currently, Confluence Gallery and Art Center in Twisp is conducting an online survey to collect ideas about how to plan for its next 10 years.
Recently, TwispWorks did the same thing, on the occasion of its 10th anniversary.
The Okanogan County Public Utility District is surveying the community to determine the feasibility of adding high-speed internet infrastructure in the area.
Friends of the Pool is conducting a public survey to develop a needs assessment and gather ideas about how to proceed with a campaign to build a new pool in Twisp.
Just last week, the National Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said they are reopening the public comment period on the Draft North Cascades Grizzly Bear Restoration Plan/Environmental Impact Statement (Draft EIS).
Methow Trails recently completed a community survey to solicit ideas about future trail use and expansion.
Friends of the Winthrop Library has been relentlessly seeking public input since it began a campaign to build a new public library.
Those are just a few examples — I’m sure I missed some — of ways we can participate as citizens of the Methow Valley. More are on the way.
The value of encouraging public input is dependent on how genuine the offer, and how willing the recipients are to listen. An open, responsive process can make a difference. The potential risk is that participants might feel they’re just window dressing for decisions that have already been locked in to place. We’ve seen examples of that.
Showing up is significant, but I think that participation also comes with a certain amount of responsibility. It requires preparation and action, which may include investing time and energy in becoming knowledgeable in advance of a hearing or presentation. There is almost always information available ahead of time. Of course, credible sourcing is critical — bad information is worse than no information. These days, I’m as interested in what you know as I am about what you think.
Presence is important. In my view, anonymous trolls and flamers don’t count as feedback. I’ve never publicly advanced an idea or opinion that didn’t have my name attached to it. If you’re only going to snipe from behind a cloak of invisibility, go back to your hidey-hole and shut up. They say that opinions are like — um, noses — everybody has one. Which means exactly nothing if those opinions stay stuck in the echo chamber of your head, or are only voiced to the guy on the next barstool over.
Often, the ultimate say-so is at the ballot. There’s no more definitive way to express an opinion, and may be the only time we hear from most citizens. We’ll be considering ballot measures and tax proposals this year and next, and the all the public discussion will come down to turnout and voting patterns. Recent history indicates we should no longer be surprised by surprise outcomes.
Self-expression is an exercise. Fair questions to ask yourself: Why do I care about this? What’s at stake? What does it mean to me and my community? How much more am I willing to investigate, how much time will I commit? When you say what you think, it will be more meaningful if you’ve thought about it.