Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Public input

The arts council that I’m on is required to collect public input every three years to determine in what ways we should adjust our funding priorities. It’s a good requirement in theory, like the requirement that our meetings be open to the public. In practice, nobody ever comes to our meetings.

We had been planning to hold a big public meeting at City Hall where we would, um, well, ok, planning may be too strong a word. We had been vaguely contemplating a meeting of some sort where people would provide us with clear and thoughtful input. Or at least advocate for their own interests. Or at least show up. We didn’t have very high hopes, really.

Then someone from another arts council mentioned that they had recently tried doing a public survey instead of a public meeting, and had received far more input that way. So this time around, we’re trying a survey instead. It’s not the most exciting survey, but we’ve received about 20 responses already and we can look over those responses in a calm and collected way. It makes a lot of sense. We’re even planning to include a version of the survey in the 14,000 water bills that will be mailed out next month, and if we can get even a 0.5% response rate, we’ll be drowning in public input. And we can probably increase our response rate if we add a question about the water rates, though we run the risk of getting blamed for the water rates. Nobody really knows what the arts council does; maybe we set the water rates. It wouldn’t surprise me, and I’m on the arts council.

Being on the collecting side of a survey has given me a different perspective on surveys. When we went to an art exhibit on Sunday and they were trying to get people to fill out their survey, I felt obligated to hold up my end. And a little bad that I didn’t have a copy of our survey to hand them in return.

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