Crickets. That’s what we heard last night at our first public budget priorities meeting. No one showed. (Well, one gentleman stopped in to share his feedback about route #3, but he wasn’t there for the meeting and wasn’t interested in staying.)
Low attendance is a challenge faced by a lot of public entities when they are trying to engage the public on an issue. Recently I chatted about that very topic on the blog, and about the SNAPPatx project that is gathering community input and dialogue on transportation topics via social media. As a community, we’re developing different models and strategies for effectively getting public participation, but there are pros and cons to each strategy, and community meetings will continue to be the foundation of the outreach for a while yet. For a topic as complex as a ~$200 million operating and capital budget, the community meeting model is necessary to really delve into the details in an understandable way.
Last night was a downer because we have been working for a few months with our board to develop a more interactive, more proactive, and more inclusive public outreach process for creating Capital Metro’s budget for next year, FY2011 (Oct. 1 – Sept. 30).
Some of the ways this approach is new for Capital Metro:
1. We’re doing the outreach before we have a draft budget put together–so the focus at this point is learning about your priorities. If we’re facing another shortfall year, what cuts are most amenable to riders? Is the most important thing to hold fares steady? If we have money left over, would you rather see us invest it, add more service, save it? Etc. Those priorities would then be used to develop the draft budget for public comment.
2. We’re using multimedia tools to improve the overall experience. We are using a voting system that allows everyone participating to vote on or prioritize options, anonymously, and then instantaneously see the results of the poll projected on screen. The system will collect the data from all the outreach meetings so it can be shared with the board. Additionally, for the budget, Capital Metro has prepared a 10-minute video to layout the basics of the Capital Metro budget and the budget challenges we face for the next year. As budgets are typically a dry subject, the video adds a bit of interest. We can also show the video outside the meeting room…. on the blog and our Web site for example, among others. When we post the video online (hopefully by tomorrow), we will also have an online survey that mirrors the polling taking place at the meetings.
3. Incentives! We’re giving away one $70 MetroPlus pass per meeting for the budget discussions. We know it’s tough for people to squeeze in another meeting, and to talk about budgets, no less! The drawing for the monthly pass is at least one way we can show our appreciation for people who give us their time and their ideas.
There are five more meetings in the pipe this week about our budget. We hope to see you!
Wednesday, June 02, 2010
6 – 8 p.m.
Southeast Austin Community Branch Library
5803 Nuckols Crossing Rd. Austin, Texas 78744
Bus routes: 311
Thursday, June 03, 2010
6 – 8 p.m.
Little Walnut Creek Library
835 W. Rundberg Austin, Texas 78758
Bus routes: 1M, 1L, 101, 325
Friday, June 04, 2010
12 – 1:30 p.m.
Capital Metro Transit Store,
323 Congress Avenue, Austin, TX 78701
Bus routes: downtown routes
Saturday, June 05, 2010
Spicewood Springs Library
8637 Spicewood Springs Rd. Austin, Texas 78759
Bus routes: 383
Monday, June 07, 2010
6 – 8 p.m.
Carver Public Library
1161 Angelina, Austin, Texas 78702
Bus routes: 2, 320