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Big Meetings Generate Momentum for Big Easy

Local political leaders are praising the large-scale, high-tech town meetings that engaged thousands of New Orleanians in as many as 21 cities at a time, according to a new Harvard University study.  The meetings increased both the credibility and momentum of rebuilding plans for the post-Katrina city, according to Abigail Williamson, a consultant at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

“Citizen Participation in the Unified New Orleans Plan (UNOP),” says that local political leaders began backing UNOP because the meetings, called Community Congresses, “gathered a representative mix of citizens, enabling conversation across differences.”  Working with local UNOP planners, AmericaSpeaks coordinated technology and facilitators for the sessions.

Participation at the Community Congresses reflected the demographic profile of pre-Katrina New Orleans: 25% with annual household incomes below $20,000 and 64% African-Americans.  The meetings featured interactive jumbo-scale televisions, tabletop keypad polling and groupware computers to identify the collective priorities of New Orleans’ citizens across 21 cities.  Participants also received on-the-spot summaries of their work at each meeting.

Public officials cited the variety of participation, involvement of citizens who remained displaced around the country and the ability of the participants to deliberate as key factors about their support for the meetings.   “I think it has done more to bring credibility to the table than all of the little individual meetings that people go to,” City Council member Cynthia Hedge-Morrell told Williamson.

The City Planning Commission is currently reviewing and modifying the plan prior to approval.  After this, City Council and the Mayor will review and revise the plan before final adoption.

"Citizen Participation in the Unified New Orleans Plan” can be downloaded from America Speaks (http://www.americaspeaks.org) Exit EPA Disclaimer(right side,Latest Publications, first item)

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