Advisory board restructuring input sessions provide a new way to have your voice heard

The Chapel Hill Town Council is moving forward with its advisory board restructuring process. As I described in an earlier post, the first stage of this process deals with creating a new advisory boards to oversee development review. Starting tomorrow (July 8) at 6:30PM, and continuing for the following five Mondays, there will be public input sessions at the Chapel Hill Public Library. The first session will describe what the input on this process will look like, and the next five meetings will focus on a specific board:

  • Transportation and Connectivity (July 15)

  • Community Design (July 22)

  • Environmental Stewardship (July 29)

  • Community Housing (August 5)

  • a restructured Planning Board (August 12)

Given that this process is happening over the summer, when many people are out of town, the Town of Chapel Hill is providing two different ways of providing input. For the first time ever (that I am aware of), citizens who want to attend these sessions with have the option of doing it online. The Town is using an online service called Go To Meeting to allow for real-time interaction between remote attendees and those that are attending in person. Judging from a quick glance at the Go To Meeting website, I believe that it will be similar in format to a webinar. Registration is requested by the Town (I assume so that they can send a link to the online meeting our before it starts). If you would like to register, you can do so here. At this time, the form only lets you select one type of input (online or in-person) for all of the meetings. I emailed Jennifer Phillips, the Town’s Community Participation Coordinator, on Tuesday to ask what I should do if I am interested in attending using both formats. I still haven’t heard back, but I will let you know in the comments when I get a response.

I commend the Town for trying to expand their engagement with citizens using technology (which is something that editors here at OP are very passionate about). I think that providing an online meeting option (if publicized and facilitated well) could bring in input from some different segments of our population who are currently underrepresented (people without their own transportation (including many seniors and students); people with irregular work schedules or who travel for work frequently; parents with young kids who can’t get away from the house for a meeting). However, for the online format to succeed, the Town needs to allow for flexibility in citizen’s schedules, and find a way that allows them to provide input with minimal effort.

I am not sure if attending this specific online format will meet any of those goals, but I am willing to try it and see. I will attend at least one of these meetings online, and will report back with my experience. If anyone else attends a session online, please let us all know what you think!



Here is what I received from Jennifer Phillips:

 Thanks for your email.  If you send me a note letting me know which sessions you would like to participate in online, then I can add you to the list.Just to clarify, the meeting is not being videotaped. Those participating online will be working together as though they are one of the small groups in the room and their feedback will be shared with the larger group via their facilitator.

So, if you want to participate in a mixutre of online an in-person sessions, email Jennifer Phillips at I wish that there were an easier way to sign up for each session.Also, it sounds like the online component is not as interactive as I thought. If there is no taped feed, how will participants online know what is going on in the in-person discussion? It will be interesting to see how this effects the discussion in both formats.


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