What situations is this tool used in?
Public forums may be used for a number of reasons, including awareness raising, mobilisation of public opinion, and formulation of policy and planning. They bring together citizens of a city, state, country to participate in discussions about issues of importance to their everyday lives.
Who is this tool aimed at?
Public forums can be driven by local, regional or national government, or by civil society organisations. Irrespective of the model used, forums will tend to include people from diverse and representative interests and communities. The process can help to inform policy on specific issues of public importance, as well as strengthening a culture of deliberation amongst those community members that participate.
How Is the Tool Used?
Those participating in a public forum are given the opportunity to share information, highlight issues, and hear a diverse range of views and personal experiences. Often a forum will lead to a more sustained dialogue with decision makers, for example through an agreed set of follow-up activities.
A typical model might involve an initial stage of publicity, in which the scope and purpose of the forum is clearly laid out and communicated via the media or key organisations and individuals. The forum itself will tend to be facilitated by a neutral party, and might involve a predefined programme of discussion at a range of locations. For example, discussions might cover issues and concerns, barriers to resolving these issues, resources for change, and recommendations for solutions or alternatives.
Who has used the tool?
In 2009, mayors and council members from a number of cities in Arizona began to use various models of public forum to engage directly with members of the public on policy issues. This involved elected officials going to places where people would naturally congregate or feel comfortable, such as coffee shops and grocery stores. The reaction amongst councillors undertaking these exercises was positive in terms of gaining a better understanding of how policy decisions are working in the real world and whether or not the council had its priorities right.
Article on use of public forums in Arizona: http://www.azcentral.com/news/articles/2009/10/29/20091029mayorcityhall1029.html
Where to find out more
Public Forum Institute: http://www.publicforuminstitute.org/
National Issues Forums Institute's overview of their public forums methodology: https://www.nifi.org/en/about
US Institute for Local Government guide to planning public forums: http://www.cnrep.org/documents/handbooks/Planning_Public_Forums.pdf