Public involvement has become a staple of review processes for major public projects. However, public expectations for genuine engagement have outstripped the techniques most commonly used to collect public input.
Typically, project sponsors schedule meetings in a public library or school auditorium to present their idea and solicit opinions. Just as typically, about a dozen or so people show up. The exception is when the project is highly controversial. That can draw hundreds of people, some to listen and others to protest loudly. Neither scenario equates to engagement.
Engaging affected publics means affording them an opportunity to participate at the ground floor of a project. This could involve a poll to measure support for relative project sizes, locations or costs. It also could involve in-person or online focus groups to understand how respective publics view different project options.