In this short but insightful TED speech, Dave Meslin outlines why people shy away from public engagement and argues that it is not because people are too selfish, stupid or lazy.
Meslin blames the authorities and institutions who implement processes which intentionally exclude people from actively participating.
Meslin says that part of the blame lies with the fact that current consultation processes can act as barriers to public feedback.
Let's start with city hall. You ever see one of these before? This is a newspaper ad. It's a notice of a zoning application change for a new office building so the neighborhood knows what's happening. As you can see, it's impossible to read. You need to get halfway down to even find out which address they're talking about, and then farther down, in tiny 10-point font to find out how to actually get involved. Imagine if the private sector advertised in the same way — if Nike wanted to sell a pair of shoes and put an ad in the paper like that. (Applause) Now that would never happen. You'll never see an ad like that, because Nike actually wants you to buy their shoes. Whereas the city of Toronto clearly doesn't want you involved with the planning process, otherwise their ads would look something like this — with all the information basically laid out clearly. As long as the city's putting out notices like this to try to get people engaged, then, of course, people aren't going to be engaged. But that's not apathy; that's intentional exclusion.
Meslin concludes by saying that it is essential to rethink what apathy is and that increased engagement can be achieves by reducing the complexity involved in the engagement process.
My main message is, if we can redefine apathy, not as some kind of internal syndrome, but as a complex web of cultural barriers that reinforces disengagement, and if we can clearly define, we can clearly identify, what those obstacles are, and then if we can work together collectively to dismantle those obstacles, then anything is possible.