Streetpoll: Are We Ready for Virtual Meetings

Should public agencies replace in-person meetings with virtual ones?

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Now that the advertisement for the 710 Conversations Virtual Meeting and Open House is down off the sidebar, it seems a good time to review the concept and execution of the Virtual Meeting and Open House.

A view from the lobby...

First off, let’s put aside our feelings on the SR-710 Big Dig project and focus instead on the meeting itself.  I famously missed the virtual meeting, apparently being in San Francisco ruined my ability to read a calendar two weeks ago, but I have spent some time bouncing around the virtual tour that will be available online until April 14th. The virtual meeting had staff from Caltrans and Metro online to take comment and was the first meeting of its kind to be held in Southern California.

Personally, I found the online open house to be pretty easy to navigate and used the system to mail in my own public comment.  My complaints with the system were that the Metro and Caltrans staff seemed a little stiff in their presentations.  I actually laughed at one Caltrans employee who told me how excited he was to be taking part in this program in the same tone of voice that a voice actor trying out for “droopy dog” might use.

Now for the statistics.  According to Consensus Inc, 153 people have registered to use the website and 101 unique visitors have entered the site from March 21 until today.   One hundred forty three resources (uploaded informational materials) have been accessed by community members.

As for the March 21 meeting, 54 people attended and were able to chat with members of the team from Caltrans and Metro.  Consensus estimates that Metro and Caltrans were able to save “around half a ton of CO2 emissions” from entering LA County’s atmosphere by hosting the SR-710 scoping meeting online.

The negative in holding meetings in a virtual format is that it eliminates human interaction and a chance to meet like-minded allies and opposite minded people that may or may not have good points of their own.  The reality is that public meetings aren’t just about the give and take between government and citizens, but also between citizens and other citizens.  And of course, for the experienced advocate, public meetings are a great time to work the press and create some leverage.

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