I wish I could lay claim to the idea, but I can't. When I first began planning the community planning workshop with the Stoughton Community Preservation Committee (CPC), I did suggest to offer food as a way to encourage participation. But, the idea that really boosted participation in the workshop was something else - something the CPC members thought of - and it worked.
Communities often struggle to drum up interest in planning - it's tough to get people to come out at night to proactively plan (it's much easier to get people out to object to a controversial project!). I've written a few other posts on ways to increase public input and participation at CPC events, but this idea was new.
Although it's based on the concept of exclusion, in an counter-intuitive way it actually INCREASES participation! OK, so here's the idea - it's really quite simple - announce a cap on the number of attendees who can participate in the workshop.
Of course, it's important to point out that the meeting is an open public meeting where anyone can come to observe and offer comments during the public hearing, however the number of participants that can be accommodated in the workshop discussion groups actually is finite primarily due to room capacity and number of table facilitators.
Now, we don't really want to exclude anyone who is interested in participating! Our main objective in establishing the cap is to INCREASE participation - there is a certain psychological tendency to desire something more when it is limited. The key is to set the cap high enough that it can easily accommodate every person who is likely to express interest.
In Stoughton we set a cap of 70 participants for the workshop and allowed pre-registration to reserve a seat at the workshop. The result: we had 54 participants! This is a terrific turnout for a community preservation workshop! Link to Stoughton CPA workshop flyer to see how we announced the cap.
The workshop generated many thoughtful community preservation project ideas that we are combing through at JM Goldson and will present to the CPC next week. The workshop also gave the CPC members and workshop participants a community-building forum to share ideas and knowledge. Everyone also seemed to enjoy the hot buffet dinner provided by the Sons of Italy, which was a great way to begin the evening (and, as it turns out, get people to show up early.).