Public meetings might not offer an easy template for twenty-first-century democracy. Yet they are one of the most widespread methods of public participation in the United States. Employed across all levels of government, most local governments conduct regular meetings to discuss and decide public issues. But as the most frequently used method for involving residents in public decision-making, local meetings don’t guarantee participation or engagement. To add to this, traditional face-to-face meetings have been beset by problems of underrepresentation. Where dominated by a vocal minority or special interest groups, public meetings have led to polarizing views that worsen inequalities. And while COVID-19 ushered in the necessity of online public meetings as governments’-imposed regulations to restrict physical meetings, remote participation did not necessarily improve representation or participation.
The new ebook, The Future of Public Meetings: How Public Meetings Can Sustain Public Participation in the Community, explores academic research and scholarship surrounding the history of public meetings in the United States. From the examination of traditional meetings’ widespread application across governments to their digital modernization, it asks how dedicated platforms might address key issues and democratic challenges we face today and how public meetings can sustain participation and build trust in government.