Volume 1, Issue 2, 2007Matching Public Interaction Skills with Desired Outcomes
Public interaction requires certain sets of skills. The more we want from the interaction, the more skill the form of interaction will require from us. This article surveys selected public involvement typologies and proposes that skills-identification warrants more attention than it is usually given. Identifying the skills best suited to the purpose and goals of a participatory process is important because, when skills match the requirements of the task, outcomes are more likely to match expectations. I introduce the ‘Scale of Public Interactions’ as a useful and graphic way to stimulate discussion of the different skill sets required to achieve outcomes defined by increasing levels of interaction complexity. The Scale points to a gap that exists between the most common forms of public interaction and those required to achieve comprehensive social change. I suggest that new skills and a developmentally-designed process must be learned and employed to bridge this gap.
This article will be of interest to people working with complex social issues: public participation practitioners, deliberative democracy practitioners, non-profit directors, government leaders, evaluators, policymakers, journalists, and grant-makers, among others. In the paper I describe a tool for ascertaining whether methods of public interaction are aligned with intended outcomes and compare this tool to other typologies of public participation. I try to answer questions about why some activities do not produce the hoped-for social impacts. This article does not attempt to teach skills of facilitation but does conclude with recommendations of resources for developing skills if facilitators wish to consider processes for achieving comprehensive social change. I hope the paper will motivate inquiry into assumptions about the effectiveness of common forms of interaction.