If You Want to Build, Build Consensus

The reality of many projects in the public sector is that funding requires a bond and that bond requires public approval. You may want to build, in fact need to, but you can’t build anything until the public agrees with you. Building consensus starts at the beginning of the process and not at the end. To do that we suggest you ASK, INVESTIGATE, COMMUNICATE and ENGAGE. ASK People like to be asked. They may not agree with everything you decide, but they are more likely to support you knowing they were engaged in the process, their opinion was valued, and your solution represents the wisdom of a good process. Asking may include surveys of teachers and key staff. It may include follow-up interviews. You may even consider a parent or community survey to assess facility concerns. Be cautious of these – they can hurt you more than help you if your questions are not well thought out. While communicating is the third step in this article. It’s the first, second, and last step in this process. It’s ok to let the teachers, the parents, the press, and therefore the public, know that you may have some facility concerns. You don’t have all the answers yet, but you’re investigating potential solutions. INVESTIGATE People won’t pay for wants, but they will support needs. So what are your needs? Not enough space for growing enrollment? Too many attendance centers to staff and maintain with declining enrollment? Security issues? Accessibility issues? Roofs that are leaking or mechanical systems that are shot? Lacking the technology or types of spaces needed to educate students today? Libraries that should be repurposed for an electronic age? Here is where you should engage professional assistance. We can help you investigate the problems, develop and analyze solutions, and estimate potential costs. As always, ask and communicate. The public should know about the problems long before they hear about proposed solutions. COMMUNICATE You’ve been communicating – so don’t stop now. Make sure your school board is 100% in agreement. Have a conversation with the Chamber Director, City Manager, Mayor or any other influential community leader. Get their input on the problems you’re facing before you finalize the solutions. Ask them for their support. If you have not already, it’s time to engage your committees. Identify your Bond Chair(s), continue to keep the press updated on your progress, perhaps request letters of support from a few respected community members. ENGAGE Engage the community by presenting the NEEDS in public forums. Tell them about the process you went through, the options you considered, the solution you’re proposing and the financial impacts. Prepare press releases to make sure the information is correctly relayed to the majority of the public who won’t attend a forum. Present at service clubs. Generate answers to those frequently asked questions (FAQs). Mobilize your supporters. Activate your social media. Line up those “get out the vote” call banks. Remember, building consensus starts at the beginning of the process – not at the end.

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