Hennepin County, the most populated county in Minnesota, faces the prospect of significant reductions in state and federal funding for social programs it offers. The county board of commissioners wanted public input on a wide range of issues and programs, and guidance about whether county taxes should be increased or programs scaled back to reflect these realities. The traditional Town Meeting format with citizens vocalizing complaints on narrow and unpredictable topics didn't offer much promise of gathering meaningful input.
In April 1995, Padilla Speer Beardsley devised and facilitated the county's first ever use of interactive audience-response technology to add a fresh dimension to the meeting and to generate more focused and "actionable" feedback from constituents. Commissioners found the audience feedback about county programs' perceived importance and constituents' perceived personal use or benefit from those programs was very informative. Additional feedback was focused on specific county policy approaches and programs in various social service areas.
Constituent feedback was gathered in a meaningful way using only 45 minutes of a two-hour meeting, allowing plenty of time for a brief presentation by the board and open questions and issues from the audience. Each of the commissioners commented on the interest and involvement the technology brought to their process and 90 percent of the constituents said, using the keypads, that the technology was "helpful" or "very helpful" in giving them a voice on county decision making.