Aurora’s Silent Majority

This February 21st piece in the Auroran raises valid questions on the effectiveness of the Town of Aurora’s public engagement capabilities.

A range of opinions are captured with Clr. Gallo believes the town has failed miserably and the process is flawed. Clr Gilliland states that insufficient information has been communicated even though multiple events have been held to date with the purpose of engaging the public.

On the more defeatist side Clr. Humfreys believes staff had done what they could. Clr. Kim goes even further believing that 300 responses in a community of 60,000 is an accomplishment and doesn’t even expect to get in person turnout, emails or survey responses.

Wow.

Just wow.

I believe both Clr. Kim and Hunfreys approved the $30,000/yr cost of running PlaceSpeak. Touted on the town’s website as “the Town of Aurora’s online community engagement platform”:

My first question is if several means were used to engage more than 300 residents at various events through 2019 why was this platform not one of them?

I logged in but don’t see a consultation created for engaging the public on the Official Plan review:

I understand the town spends $30,000 year to operate this platform so how was the conscious decision made by staff to not use it for this particular public engagement effort?

My second question is if there are low expectations set for community engagement why exactly has the town has employed a “Community Engagement Specialist” for over 1 year and 7 months:

If the town is paying $30,000 a year for this tool on top of employing a full-time staff member responsible for community engagement surely they have set metrics to evaluate and measure the performance of this expenditure of resources.

There is an expected R.O.I. Even if members don’t agree as to what is reasonable what is it exactly?

Of course if any member of the public asked to be provided with such they would be treated with silence.

I think I understand why members of council, like Kim hold such a defeatist attitude with respect to public engagement. It goes back to the council workshop on March 27th, 2017 where the Town’s communications manager actually brought forward the concept of the “silent majority”.

You can watch it at the 1:15:00 mark here:

The notion of a “silent majority” was popularized by U.S. President Richard Nixon in a televised address on November 3, 1969 in an attempt to increase support his administration’s continued involvement in the Vietnam conflict.

What is curiously absent in this council presentation on this subject is any mention of the Spiral of Silence. Advanced in 1974 in Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann‘s Theory of public opinion.

In 1991 Serge Moscovici contributed Silent Majorities and Loud Minorities to the Annals of the International Communication Association.

This 2015 piece tests the spiral of silence theory under conditions of online communication.

There is enough groundwork here upon which to develop not only real strategies but actual tactics for acknowledging a lack of community engagement, but how to address it.

Failing to do so is a cop-out right from the start.

If Aurora is “Getting things done” then it is effectively getting what it does.

In the case of community engagement I see very little being done for the resources expended.

If council is serious then they need to ask themselves if this low community engagement is desired or not. But to do that will require the breaking of the spiral of silence.

I wouldn’t bet on it.

Watts on your mind?

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