Weird stuff happens when you actually go through the Draft Stuff file on your computer.
I found this piece the other day, and while it’s painfully obvious that this is my writing…. I don’t remember writing it. But it appears to have been an earlier version of an introduction to the Crowdsource Wisdom book that I am working on.
And whatever was going on that day, it must have been a doozy.
I’m trying right now to figure out whether any of this can be salvaged — I like the directness of it, but I can’t tell whether the tenor is engaging or off-putting. Plus, the book doesn’t need two introductions.
So please let me know what you think I should do with this. Thanks again
In a true display of democracy, a town hall meeting held at the New Bedford High School auditorium Monday gave the crowd of approximately 550 residents the opportunity to publicly voice every last one of the inane thoughts and concerns they would normally only have the chance to utter to themselves.
Though the meeting was ostensibly held to discuss a proposed $21,000 project to replace the high school’s grass football field with synthetic turf, City Councilman Thomas Reed inadvertently opened the floodgates to a deluge of ill-informed, off-topic diatribes on inconsequential bullshit when he allowed those in attendance to demonstrate their God-given gift of language.
Yes, the Onion is a fake news site. Yes, that’s satire. No, that town meeting didn’t really happen
But it just made you squirm a little bit, didn’t it?
Let’s tell the truth: we don’t want to deal with the public. We expect it to be painful, We expect that it will be miserable. And we often expect that it will be useless.
We expect that they won’t know what they’re talking about. Or that they will figure out that we don’t know as much of what we’re talking about as we thought we did.
In any case, we don’t wanna do it. We do it — we hold our public meetings and town hall sessions and “Vision Sessions” — because we know we’re supposed to do it. Because we’re required to do it. Because some one or some thing is making us do it.
And maybe, deep down in the guts of the place where we still remember why we got into this work, where the good intentions and the honorable purpose still lives, we know that we need to listen to the people, get their feedback, understand their concerns, because it’s our job to help democracy function and this is how you do it.
But it you’ve been at this more than six months, if you’ve gotten dragged through at least one ugly zoning battle or listened to a few hours of debate over how that new bike trail will lead to the destruction of everything worthwhile to the community — if you have tried to swallow your anger while some ignoramus spouts falsehoods about your pet project, or struggled to stay awake while mumble-mouthed old men drone on at the microphone — the words “public engagement” start sounding like the doctor with the needle: “hold still, this won’t hurt a bit.”
I hate to say it, guys, but we’ve done this to ourselves. We’ve been using the dumbest, bluntest, most ineffective of all the tools and methods we could be using to get feedback from the public. We decide that we’re going to involve people in making decisions about our communities — probably the most complicated thing any of us encounter — and then we stick them and us into the most ineffective, stiffest, most ill-fitting system for getting them involved that we could come up with.
It’s like trying to build a Chippendale bureau using only a rubber mallet. It ain’t ever gonna work.
No wonder we hate public meetings so much.
Next time you get a chance, talk to a teacher about how they do their teaching. If you have kids in school, you might find it hard to discuss anything except whether your kid is following instructions or why he can’t seem to get his head around multiplying fractions, but at your next conference try to learn a little about how the teacher actually does the teaching. If you don’t have kids in school, you’ll probably have it even easier — someone you know has a spouse or a sibling or a neighbor or someone who’s a teacher. Trust me, there’s a lot of them. Go take one out for coffee some Saturday. Ask them how they actually make anything happen in all those little heads.
Let me give you a little preview of what I think you’ll probably hear from them. I actually was a teacher, early in my adult life — I have an education degree and a couple of long-expired state teaching licenses and everything.
And I learned early, early on, that lecturing at a class, no matter the students’ age or the subject…was about the worst possible method for trying to get students to learn anything. There’s a ton of research backing this up. Talking – especially talking on and on – is about as ineffective a method for simply conveying information as we have. And God forbid you actually want anyone involved to think about the topic, dig into it, try to uncover new insights or conclusions.
Think about the Intro 101 lectures you probably had to sit through in college. How much did you learn from them? How much of your time did you spend just trying to stay awake? Perhaps more importantly, how much of that time were you able to spend grappling with the information, making sense of the information, using that information to figure out something new? How did that lecture hall experience compare to a small discussion group, or a team project, or a studio?
Which one was the more meaningful, more constructive, more valuable activity?
I think anyone who’s had at least some decent experiences as a student, can answer that question. But now think about how we typically set up public meetings:
lecturn or microphone.
chairs in rows.
small number of people get to talk.
lots of words.
primarily one-way communication.
If that wasn’t bad enough, we take this public meeting/classroom lecture process and we layer onto it the trappings of everyone’s total faves place to hang out:
Even if you’ve never been in trouble, we’ve all seen ’em on TV. And comedies and Judge Judy notwithstanding, it’s hardly an environment we associate with a happy experience:
Serious People In Charge Behind Big Desks.
Two Combating Sides.
Some one is right and someone is wrong.
We combine these two systems, and then we use it as the framework for public engagement. And on top of all that, within this highly structured set up, we basically only ask any of the public to deal with two questions:
What’s wrong with the thing we’re talking about?
What do you want?
Believe me, folks, I got lotsa answers to those two questions. Whether my answers do you, me or the rest of the community any good whatsoever…
You never asked me for that.
Of course, there are times when we need to tell people things. Teachers still lecture when they have to put across a bunch of information in a hurry. And there are times when we need the trappings and structures of the legal system — I don’t want my lawsuit decided by a book club in someone’s living room.
But if we want to figure out what’s best for the complicated, messy, confusing things that we call communities, we need constructive and meaningful ways to draw together the full range of the people who can best help solve it.
We need to crowdsource wisdom. And in this book we’re going to learn how.