Maximizing Public Input, Minimizing Pseudo-Input Into Public Projects

In the November 2010 Brownbag session I mentioned how important it is to “Keep an Ear to the Ground” . . . to “Beat the Bushes” . . . to listen to any–even the most unconventional “Input.” And, I gave an example of “unconventional” input on a mountain road realignment project in Wyoming. Right after the session, Jennifer pointed out to me that what’s going on at the moment with what are being called the “Pentagon Shooting,” is a real contemporary example of unconventional public “input.” As of right now (November 5, 2010), what is being called the” Pentagon Shootings” are the following:

  • Someone fired at least 10 bullets into the glass ceiling of the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Triangle.
  • Two days later, six bullets were fired – according to the FBI, by the same gun – through some windows at the Pentagon.
  • Next, a gunman – the FBI is not yet sure that it was done with the same gun – shot up the Marine Recruiting Station in Chantilly.

As I mentioned in the Brownbag session, this – besides being against a bunch of laws – nevertheless, can and ought to be considered “Input” of sorts.
When you get ANY kind of input — even “Input” like this — you need to ask yourself:

  • What does this mean?. . . Why is this happening? . . . If we understand our various public as we think we do, this should NOT be happening!
  • What’s the Message?

Just like the vandalism example of unconventional “Input” that I brought up in the session, the challenge is to INTERPRET the message. There is plenty of room for MIS-interpreting behavior of this kind. If you misinterpret it, you miss the opportunity for making progress in an obviously difficult communications situation.

We have to give the Pentagon and FBI credit for realizing that these shootings DO constitute “Input.” From what we’ve heard in the media thus far, they are making a darn good effort to interpret the weird (or at least unconventional) “Messages.” In fact, they are making a VERY good effort. Our guess is that they’re on the right track.

Here’s what their interpretation – as of today (again, Nov. 5, 2010) – is… They’re saying that their guess is:

  • That someone has “issues” with the Marine Corps.
  • That the person, probably, is a member – or a former member – of the Marine Corps.
  • That, most likely, the person feels that s/he has been unfairly treated.
  • They go on to say that they would like to talk to the person to find out what “the issue” is, so that they – the Marine Corps – can look into whether, maybe, the person has a point and whether something can be done to correct the situation . . . If, indeed, the Corps has been unfair.

It takes a big person – and a big Marine Corps — (“big” in the sense of “the opposite of petty”) to say: “Hey, maybe this person has a point.” when being (literally) shot at.
My hat is off to whoever is doing that kind of head-scratching in the Marine Corps!

One of the courses we teach now and then (in fact, we’re going to be teaching it in Montana in December 2010) is “How to Deal with Domestic Terrorists and Other Extremist Opponents to Legitimate Government Proposals.” If you read the newspapers closely, you will realize extremism is not so unusual, and all too often individuals and groups feel they have to resort to this kind of behavior to effectively be heard.

Dealing with folks who are going off the deep end – like the Pentagon Shooter is – challenges public agencies to respond with brain-power rather than with brawn-power. What you are aiming for in a case like this is for the extremist to come to the conclusion that what s/he is doing is NOT ok. . . And that the agency is being reasonable and fair, and their own extremist behavior is neither reasonable nor fair. The Marine Corps is – at least thus far – on track to do just that.

For that reason, this is a good example of understanding that information comes in various forms, and you better interpret it correctly. In this case, they hope to understand the assumed grievance the shooter has so that things do not get worse and someone actually gets hurt or killed in a future shooting.