So Much Conversation…This Must Be Austin

MobilityATX recently announced that it has reopened its online forum in order to foster more conversation about Austin mobility challenges and ideas. Austin Mayor Steve Adler’s post about TNCs in Austin kicked things off.Screen shot 2015-07-06 at 9.29.45 PM

But MobilityATX is entering a very crowded space and will need to compete fiercely for public attention about transportation. It’s far from the only public conversation: a recent community health forum listed active transportation as a priority area; transit and parking is the February theme for the Conversation Corps; the City is requesting input on the Vision Zero draft plan; Capital Metro has a survey and public meetings for its service planning; and council just instructed staff to get public engagement on a fast track regarding potential Nov 2016 bond projects. But how is anyone to participate in all of this and know what is happening or being said, much less to decide how strategically valuable any or all of this “input” actually is in guiding responsible public investment?

While public outreach and engagement is certainly a good thing, we have to wonder if there may be dilution, fatigue, or simply a few voices consistently showing up to all these opportunities. Or maybe it is the exact opposite and each conversation is getting completely new and different input on related questions. Maybe it is time to consider coordination and collaboration of activities to create more portals to the same discussions and have more organizations reaching their constituents with compelling reasons to engage. Then maybe we will have a more representative volume and scale of public opinions, such that it a worthwhile investment in big data tools for aggregation and analysis of the information collected.

Then someone will need to decide the strategic value of all this information. In the absence of a more collective, collaborative, coordinated approach, one of two outcomes is predictable: (1) the decision will be left to staff or elected officials as to how to interpret unclear and conflicting information from the public or (2) the loudest and squeakiest of wheels will get their interests served.


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