planningI thought that given that Michael has been so prolific at blog writing (the guy is a machine!), that I might start to contribute. I couldn’t help but laugh at the current state of affairs for a large-scale (comparatively) development proposal in the City of Penticton. This week saw a parade of tractors (literally, that’s not a figure of speech) down Main Street in opposition to this proposed development. The reason for the parade was due to an upcoming rezoning application decision that will be considered by City Council in the next few weeks.
consensus, self-selection bias, value-focused thinking

Brad sent me a link to a recent article by Michigan sociologist Jeremy Levine: It’s Time to Move On From Community Consensus

How do debate in the public square when the public square is roped off?  How do you maximize attendance at open houses when your public health officer limits the size of public gatherings?  One approach is to simply suspend public participation in important decisions for the duration of the pandemic.  But this is not a workable approach as COVID drags on.  No community can afford to make decisions in a vacuum for a year or more.  Moreover, the pandemic itself is creating an urgent need for decision making in the face of high stakes, uncertainty, and significant polarization.

tradeoffs, structuring, project management, fundamental objective

A critical stage in our process is “structuring” preferences.  What does this mean and why is it critical?  We like to express preferences in the form of fundamental objectives.  These are aspirational statements that emerge from an initial, problem-specific, consultation with your community.1  A fundamental objective typically consists of a directional verb plus an outcome.

means objective, fundamental objective, division of labor

I have written elsewhere about the distinction between fundamental objectives and means objectives (see the classic work by Keeney). What is the difference? To use an example from our success stories on this site:

Means objective: Build an ultra-violet water treatment plant
Fundamental (end) objective: Provide safe water for the lowest possible cost

value-focused thinking, demonization, design thinking

What follows is my to-do list for decision makers in local government faced with a thorny problem:


The objective of many public consultation processes is to achieve consensus within a community behind a particular policy or initiative.  As discussed below, achieving true consensus around anything other than the most trivial motherhood statement is difficult, if not impossible.  And failure to acknowledge this difficulty is one reason that so many public consultations so quickly degenerate into a sales job, in which a local government desperately tries to convince its constituents that their favored course of action is best.

consensus, consultation

Some believe that, if we can just get citizens together in a room, we can engage in dialog and work rationally towards a consensus.  But our view—which is plastered all over our website—is that consensus is not a realistic goal for local government decisions.  Before I talk about why consensus does not (and should not) exist, let me backtrack a bit and recount one of my first experiences with consensus: