My wife forwards me a text message. Our friends are rallying to head downtown to give feedback on the proposed fracking at a nearby lake. I’d like to go, but I have commitments at work and can’t make the meeting. If it wasn’t my job blocking my aspirations for civic participation, it would be my dad duties. Or me wanting to spend time with friends. Or whatever. Why can’t I just tap the text message, read up, and add my voice to the conversation from my phone–in that instant?
Public hearings are suffering from extremely low participation. We have become a nation of time poverty–who can blame people for not wanting take personal time away to sit through hours of a meeting where only a few minutes are relevant to them?
Public hearings are failing to serve their fundamental purpose of being “public”.
A Changing World
In the last century we have seen unprecedented change facilitated by technology.
Take mail, for example. Throughout history, the only way to communicate over distance was by sending physical mail. In fact, the establishment of post offices is one of the only government services explicitly created by the US constitution and virtually every national government in the world is involved in mail delivery. Mail delivery continued to rise throughout history. In the US, the system peaked around 2001, when 104 Million 1st Class letters were sent.
What replaced it? Email of course. In 2001, 12 Billion emails were sent, eclipsing the past levels of communication. By 2016, only 61 Million 1st Class letters were sent but 260 Billion emails.
Presentations are a bit more tangible example. It used to be you could only give a presentation to those in the same room as you. Think chalkboards, overhead projectors, printed slides sitting on easels. Until thirty years ago, the height of presentation technology was an overhead projector and a sound system. Now we have like-magic video conference technology. GoToMeeting, BlueJeans, Google Hangouts, Skype are just a few examples and you can give a presentation to an audience around the world–many you can use for free!
Journalism is perhaps one of the most compelling cases. The physical printing press revolutionized the ability to distribute information and for over 500 years, paper was the medium of news and information. Newspapers, magazines, books, fliers. The wide adoption of Internet changed everything. Suddenly, not only could anyone read the news, now anyone could write or distribute the news. Sites like Craigslist offering inexpensive classifieds eliminated advertising revenues adding to the demise of the long held industry. Nowadays, news can be amalgamated and spread using inexpensive platforms to reach a global audience.
Every industry in the world has been reformed by technology. Robots conduct surgery and drive cars. We shop at entirely different “stores” than previous generations. Men who used to dictate to secretaries now tap tap tap into their palm. The list is endless..
Yet public hearings haven’t changed in over a century.
We still make public decisions on a weeknight in a wood paneled room at the civic building. It is at a set time and place. I can’t make the meeting–nor can millions of others.
Innovating Public Hearings
We believe it is time for public hearings to evolve to meet the demands of the future.
We believe public hearings should be available to every citizen, any time, any place.
We believe it should be easy to participate in public hearings, whether in-person, or via a mobile or desktop device.
We believe public hearings should be presented in every language and not be cost or lifestyle-prohibitive, whether that means leaving a job, family, or friends.
We expect Truly Public Hearings.