We had our first meeting of the budget subcommittee last week, during which I mentioned the idea of getting public input on the Timberland Library budget through some sort of online forum. Since the district is five counties large, it would be pretty hard to for people from throughout the district to personally attend a forum. I like the idea of in-person forums, I think a web forum would be a great compliment.
Here are few thoughts on these two efforts:
1. Both are either free or cheap, the tools that is. Both DNR and the governor’s office are using free and low cost tools. While there is obviously some customization, planning and staff time to run the forums, there’s no software install.
2. Both are moderated, heavily. In the DNR forum, the forum moderator took an active role in the conversation, both answering questions and posting for people who sent their comments in by some other fashion. In the governor’s forum, in which ideas for the budget are submitted and ranked, the ideas themselves won’t be posted until they’ve been vetted for things like spam and vulgarity.
3. Both have a specific purpose and timeline. The DNR forum was a “question a day” sort of thing and only lasted a week. The governor’s budget forum will only last as long as it takes for the budget writers to start writing.
All of these points put hard limits on what is being talked about, and I think the last point is the most important, because it focuses the conversation into something useful. It seems if we ask specific questions, we get specific answers from the public.