Collecting Public Input in the Sierra: Challenges and Opportunities

As you know, SBC has been working with Nevada City, Loomis, Jackson, Plymouth and Amador County on energy plans with local strategies and actions to promote cost-effective energy efficiency, renewable energy and water conservation in our communities. The overall goal of this work is to improve the economic prosperity of our region through cost-effective projects that reduce the burden of high and often-volatile energy costs. This mirrors SBC’s own goal of fostering thriving communities in the Sierra Nevada region through “on the ground” local projects that promote, develop and amplify the area’s social environmental and economic capital. As part of this process, SBC in partnership with local government staff hosted two rounds of in-person study sessions.

COMM BG Blog Loomis 2014 08We published notifications of the study sessions in local newspapers, on our website and on the local government websites as well as personally reached out to our contacts in the region by email and phone. We did everything we could think of to drum up interest on a very important topic though wound up admittedly disappointed with the low level of community attendance. We learned from our local government partners that low turnout at public meetings is the norm, unless of course a highly controversial issue is on the docket. We hoped that the low attendance did not translate to low interest in energy planning, so we decided that we needed to go back to the drawing board and figure out more effective ways to garner public input.

After brainstorming with colleagues, we decided what was needed were other opportunities for community members to provide input. We decided to take a lesson from the Gov 2.0 movement and turn to the web. Instead of asking people to attend an in-person study session, we would provide them with the study session materials online and request comments through a short electronic survey. Our thought was that people would be more comfortable providing input in their own time, at home or work, rather than having to attend a public meeting on a set date and time.

We also understood that not everyone is comfortable or able to provide input electronically, so we wanted to give community members the opportunity to provide input in-person. To provide this chance we hosted our second round of study sessions concurrently with the release of the electronic survey. While the second round of in-person study sessions were very productive, we learned that people overwhelmingly preferred providing input electronically. Again, the second round of study sessions had limited attendance but this time with the help of the electronic survey we collected input from over 40 community members, an average of over 10 comments per local government.

If you live in one of the participating jurisdictions and have not been able to provide input yet, please join us at the upcoming public meetings where we will be presenting the plans for acceptance/adoption – unfortunately an electronic survey simply isn’t going to have the same effect as bodies-in-house with these meetings.

For further information about our energy and climate planning programs contact SBC’s Climate Planning Team or call (530) 582-4800.