A civic-minded citizen seeking the singularity

An entry

How to parse a public agenda

Series: Civics
Date: 2023-05-16
Status: release
Tags: public comment public meeting agenda chat gpt
This Entry is part of the Series Civics.

"Get involved" is so easy to say. But what does this mean and what does public participation look like today?

Public representatives and staff are working on the public's behalf full-time, whereas each citizen is living their own life, and public participation is typically limited to a small amount of time, in between other things, and often at inconvenient times.

Yet, a primary interface for many cities is via City Council or Commission Meetings, and its important for people to be aware with the format of a public meeting and the supporting documents that accompany them.

  • Understand the purpose and structure of the document: Before you start, take a moment to understand the aim of the document and its general structure. This can often be gleaned from the introduction or table of contents. This will provide you with a roadmap and can help guide your reading.
  • Start with the summary and conclusions: Many long documents will include an executive summary at the beginning and a conclusions or recommendations section at the end. These can provide a good overview of the main points of the document and give you a sense of what the planners think are the most important takeaways.
  • Identify key sections to focus on: If the document is about a specific topic that interests you, use the table of contents or search function to identify key sections to focus on. You don't have to read every page of the document to get a good understanding of the issue.
  • Take notes as you read: It's important to keep track of key points, data, or arguments that stand out to you as you read. This will not only help you remember what you read but will also provide you with material to refer back to later.
  • Highlight or underline important points: As you go through the document, highlight or underline points that seem particularly important. This can make it easier to find them later and can also help you process the information as you read.
  • Break it into manageable chunks: Don't try to read the whole document in one sitting. Instead, break it up over several days or even a week, if possible. This will allow you to digest the information more effectively and reduce the risk of information overload.
  • Research unfamiliar terms or concepts: If you come across terms or concepts that you don't understand, take the time to look them up. This will help you better understand the document and also increase your knowledge about the topic.
  • Formulate questions and seek answers: As you read, formulate questions about the information presented and then seek to answer those questions either by further reading or research.
  • Discuss what you've read: Discussing the document with others can help solidify your understanding and may bring up points you hadn't considered. This can be done in a community meeting, with a friend, or even in an online forum.
  • Identify actions you can take: Based on your understanding of the document, identify any actions that you can take. This might include attending a planning commission meeting, writing a letter to your local representative, or organizing a community group to address the issue.
  • Review the document: After you've finished reading and understanding the document, it can be helpful to review it again after a few days. This can solidify your understanding and help you identify any points you may have missed the first time.
  • Remember, the goal is not to read every word, but to understand the document's key points, how they affect you and your community, and what actions you can take as a result. It's also important to remember that understanding complex documents is a skill that improves with practice. The more you do it, the better you'll get.