There is little doubt that in public meetings where ‘difficult’ issues are raised, those holding strong views often shout the loudest. Such meetings often deter the majority of people from becoming further engaged in their community and decisions are sometimes made that do not necessarily reflect broad opinion.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the earliest understanding of the word ‘conversation’ comes from its Latin root where it implies a place of habitation, a home where those ‘in conversation’ share a common life: a community.
Compare this to the original meaning of the word ‘discussion’. While it is often used synonomously with conversation, it comes from a very different root – the Latin word ‘discutere’ which literally means to ‘dash to pieces’.
Discussion, then, is not the coming together of those seeking understanding, it is the clash of adversaries who wish to judge or examine an issue by argument.
No-one sees eye to eye on all matters with everyone they meet. But if a community conversation is to be productive, we need to listen carefully to the views of others, expressing our own views with care and sensitivity and showing a willingness to compromise.
Broad, anecdotal claims and statements such as “we don’t want this”; “no-one wants that” or “everyone thinks that…” are rarely supported by evidence and do a disservice to meaningful conversation. This is often the language of those who shout the loudest.
Where a Neighbourhood Development Plan is concerned, such statements carry no weight, because any objectives, priorities and policies that are not supported by evidence and cannot demonstrate public support through meaningful community consultation and consensus cannot become part of the NDP.
This is why informed conversation is the best foundation for effective community consultation. As far as possible, we will seek out evidence to support objectives, priorities and policies that we aim to integrate in to the NDP, and in some cases professional expert opinion and advice will be necessary. This is likely to be the case in the areas such as the environment, planning, social welfare, economic analysis or town centre management.
Being better informed will ensure the conversations have real lasting value and the results will benefit Hoylake for generations to come.