Last night, I took advantage of the “public comment” opportunity in front of our city council for the first time. I was quite dismayed at the absence of recycling or any environmental efforts at our city-wide festival and decided to complain to someone who could do something about it. I asked the council to direct the staff to either take on the responsibility as a city or to seek a volunteer to oversee recycling efforts; in any case to do something besides fill the Dumpster. 

The prescribed council procedure is to listen to comments, but not to respond. They take their mandate literally. No non-verbals. No communication in any way that they even heard what I had to say. I knew they couldn’t reply, but to talk to an invisible wall was unnerving.

I think that if you are going to be relegated to one-way communication, it makes more sense to use a one-sided communication vehicle like a letter or social media post. In person should mean an exchange, even if it is to ask questions without being compelled to provide answers. A “thanks, we’ll get back to you” or “we appreciate you sharing your concerns” would have been a good start. 

Look at your communication channels from the perspective of the user. Does your format align with your expectations and theirs for what kind of exchange will occur? Do you encourage comments and do so in a responsive manner? Have you done all you can to acknowledge the time and interest invested in commenting, even if you don’t agree with what was said?

I’m afraid my future city activism is going to be relegated to the pen, not the podium. Using recycled paper, of course.

beth triplett

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