The overall goal of public engagement is to ensure that there is public input about policy decisions that may require difficult choices among competing values (IOM, 2012a). This involves two-way communication: both informing community members of sensitive policy decisions and receiving community input on difficult matters.

Shah highlighted five essential tenets of public engagement discussed in the IOM CSC report (2012a):

1.   Policy makers may seek public engagement for a variety of reasons.

2.   Adequate support and resources are needed to allow for a high-quality process.

3.   Participants should represent the diversity of the community, especially underrepresented populations.

4.   The process should offer participants a meaningful opportunity for deliberation (but not necessarily consensus).

5.   Policy makers should ensure transparency around how community input will be used in policy development and share final policy decisions.

Many of the benefits of public engagement are obvious, Shah said. In the short term, public engagement provides greater visibility and public awareness about the need for local disaster preparedness plans and initiatives and the importance of community and individual preparedness in general. In the long term, policies that reflect community values and priorities will be met with greater public acceptance and adherence, should they ever need to be implemented.

One of the main challenges to public engagement is ensuring the credibility of the process, for example, convening participants who reflect the diversity of the community and facilitating meaningful conversations. There are also challenges in applying the outputs of community engagement to policy making, for example, collecting actionable data and managing expectations around how those data will be used. Initiating and sustaining the public engagement process amid ever-increasing competition for resources is also a challenge.

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