Public meetings have been a staple of democracy for centuries. But with the advent of online commenting software and virtual meetings, their days may be numbered. Online commenting software allows citizens to comment on proposed legislation or regulations from the comfort of their own homes. This not only saves time, but also allows them to comment more effectively. Virtual meetings allow people from all over the world to come together and discuss important issues without having to leave their homes or offices.
Why Everyone Moved Online
The pandemic of 2020 has forced everyone to move online. Public meetings are no exception. While we will be the first to admit that there is no alternative to in-person meetings, it’s just not practical for the intended scope of most large-scale projects. Nor can it scale with such ease as digital platforms offer. Public meetings are now being accomplished via webinars and video conferencing platforms like Zoom and Skype.
For better or worse (we would argue the positives far outweigh the negatives), virtual meetings have become the norm, and many public officials are now using online commenting software to collect input from citizens. In many ways, this can be seen as a technological upgrade to democratic processes. As momentous as this shift is for society, the reasons for it are easily understood by anyone in the workforce:
- Online meetings are more convenient for busy people. They can participate from anywhere in the world, at any time of day.
- Online meetings are less expensive than traditional public meetings. They don’t require travel or rental costs for meeting space.
- Online meetings are more inclusive than traditional public meetings. They allow people with disabilities to participate in a way that is not possible in person.
- Online meetings allow for more effective communication. Participants can type out their comments and questions, and they can be read by everyone in the meeting, both during and afterward.
- Record keeping, for this reason, is baked into the technology used to facilitate the meeting.
Will All Public Officials Adapt?
The shift to online public meetings has been driven by necessity. But now that we’ve seen how convenient, inclusive, and effective they can be, there’s no reason to go back to traditional public space. Especially when it comes to the large scale needs of public facing institutions (both governmental and private).
One of the questions a lot of people have is, will public officials adapt?
The answer, in short, is yes. Public officials are already using online commenting software and virtual meeting platforms to engage with citizens. In fact, many public officials have been doing so for years. The pandemic has simply accelerated the trend.
How long will it take for all of public officialdom to embrace online meeting software? Only time will tell. But one thing is certain: the pandemic has changed the way we do democracy, and there’s no squeezing the toothpaste back into the tube. The reality is that these platforms are, on the whole, increasing productivity, saving on travel costs, and improving communication. It’s increasingly difficult for any project manager to stand in the way of that.
What This Means For Public Meetings Of The Future
The move to online public meetings is not without its challenges. One of the biggest hurdles is ensuring that everyone who wants to participate can do so easily. This often comes down to basic access to technology. If you’re addressing issues that revolve around a community with, on average, less access to the internet and computers, this will widen the divide between technological haves and have-nots. Another challenge is keeping people engaged for the duration of a meeting when they’re not in the same room. But perhaps the biggest challenge of all is making sure that the decisions made during these meetings are truly representative of the will of the people.
What SmartComment Solutions Provide
Being able to communicate via multiple forms of online communication is key. That’s why SmartComment solutions provide an intuitive platform that is optimized for both webinars and video conferencing. But more than that, we provide a suite of features that make it easy for everyone to participate, regardless of their location or accessibility needs.
We also offer a secure, reliable way to keep track of all the comments and input collected during a meeting. This is important not only for record keeping but also for accountability purposes. After all, decisions made during public meetings should be transparent and available to everyone.
Finally, our platform is designed to help ensure that the will of the people is represented in the decisions made during public meetings. We do this by giving each participant an equal say, regardless of where they are located.
Besides allowing you to receive electronic comments, SmartComment accepts all traditional comment forms, including emails, letters, public hearing transcripts, hand-written comment cards, and even social media comments. If you are using Regulations.gov, our software can consume any comment related to your project so all comments are together in a secure database, assuring that no comment is missed.
If you’re looking for a way to make online public meetings more inclusive, effective, and representative, SmartComment is the solution for you. Contact us today to learn more. Public officials everywhere are adapting to the new reality of online public meetings, and so should you.