What, Exactly, is a Robust Public Process?
Certain words have their moments in the sun, where they seem to be on every tongue and carry strong meaning that is generally recognized. Later they become trite or worse and fall into disuse. A particularly good word right now is “robust”. The dictionary meaning of this word is “strong, healthy, vigorous”. It is used in particular fields, such as referring to a robust statistical test or a computer system that is resistant to failure.
The word made a marked entry into Ann Arbor politics with the passage of two resolutions on April 4, 2011. As we reviewed in our previous post, this was the night that the Library Lot Conference Center was laid to rest. The first resolution, that killed the Valiant proposal and terminated the RFP, contained this phrase:
RESOLVED, That future planning and proposals for this site shall include a robust public process.
The second resolution, which assigned responsibility to the DDA for RFP development of the four city-owned lots, laid out four phases in the process. In Phase II, the DDA is enjoined to
Solicit robust public input and conduct public meetings to determine residents’ Parcel-level downtown vision.
For Phase III, the DDA should
Solicit robust public input and confirm the extent of community consensus for the Parcel-by-Parcel Plan through public meetings and surveys.
These admonitions were welcome to many of us who support public participation in important civic decisions. But what does it mean, exactly?
CM Sandi Smith objected to the inclusion of the word “robust” in the first resolution. When we commented on that in an earlier post, she commented in return that “I do not at all object to the public process which is not only important but mandatory. My objection was to the subjective nature of the word ‘robust’.”
CM Smith has a point. On hearing the word, many of us think we know what it means. But on examination, what satisfies this requirement? A single public meeting on a subject? Opportunity for public comment? Computerized surveys? Focus groups? Working exercises? And to what extent and how should public sentiment be incorporated into a final conclusion? Is overwhelming opposition a veto? Perhaps we need a consensus on this question before we will be able to answer the more substantive ones.Explore posts in the same categories: Downtown, Neighborhoods, politics