This tactic is so old, I don't even know (or much care) where it originated. All that matters is that it has become an industry "best practice" that needs serious reform. Transmission companies who utilize "Open House" format are doing nothing but shooting themselves in the foot right out of the starting gate.
The idea behind presenting a project to a community via an "Open House" format is to neutralize the combined energy of an angry crowd, such as would occur if the company presented its project to all attendees at the same time in a town hall format. By keeping attendees separate, the company believes it is keeping the public from sharing information and validating their ideas with others who share the same unfavorable opinion about the information presented. An assembled crowd listening to the same information from one speaker would feed off the energy of just a few naysayers until everyone is on the same opposition bandwagon.
But "Open House" meetings simply delay the inevitable. Unless companies meet with community residents separately, multiple attendees will talk with each other and share opinions. People band together at times of crisis, and transmission company "Open Houses" are a fertile enabler of impromptu discussions and exchanges of information by community members. The commiseration of strangers will spill out of the "Open House" venue and continue long after the transmission company employees take off their little name tags and pack up their display posters. The transmission company "Open House" is the birthplace of transmission project opposition groups.
In the past, each community opposition group had to reinvent the wheel and it took them longer to cause transmission project approval headaches. Today however, the internet exponentially expands quick access to resources and information used to spray gasoline on an opposition bonfire while anger is fresh. It's an opposition inferno!
Is there a way to change that outcome? Sure. But it's not about meeting format. It's about how company information is presented. Current "best practice" intends to lead attendees through a maze of "information stations" where company representatives explain electric energy, environmental protection, the transmission grid, transmission grid planning, need for new transmission lines, and the appearance and function of new lines. Then the attendee is dumped out into an "information station" where they can look at maps to find out how close their property is to the proposed transmission line. That's all the attendee cares about, everything else learned at the early stations is completely forgotten when they come to the realization that the project is going to directly affect them. Then the transmission company hands them a "comment card" and the idea that their opinion matters in the ultimate transmission route. Attendees are conditioned to frame their comment around pushing the line off their own property and onto that of their neighbor. That only works for a few minutes while the attendee is earnestly at work trying to avoid the transmission line. Comment card deposited, the attendee leaves the venue, where others have gathered on sidewalks and in parking lots to discuss the project and resolve to fight it. Opposition is born.
I came across a news photo recently depicting a transmission company employee talking to attendees at a Southern Cross transmission project "Open House." It's classic. Every news story about a transmission line "Open House" includes the obligatory photo of attendees speaking with company employees. I've seen this photo thousands of times, only the faces change.
Look at this photo. The body language tells the story.
But wait... is transmission guy also in the process of shoving his hands in his pockets? Ahh... insecurity! And why not? Who wouldn't be insecure facing down these three?
So, what's the problem? Transmission guy is presenting them with a fait accompli. He (and his company and possibly a regional transmission organization) have already made the decision to build a transmission project. Now, maybe the project is a necessary response to a problem that must be solved. But nobody likes hearing the solution to a problem, without first considering the problem.
A better approach is not to attempt behavior control of a community to go along with a pre-determined solution, but to involve the community in crafting the solution to a problem that affects them. Presenting the problem to the community and soliciting possible solutions within a range of possibilities, and being open to new possibilities, creates a whole different dynamic. It causes attendees to listen to the problem, the possible solutions, and to become involved in solving the problem. When communities are involved in crafting the solution, they cooperatively "buy in" to the ultimate solution. Now the solution may not be the company's desired transmission project, so the company needs to demonstrate flexibility in the selected solution. As long as it gets the job done, right?
But wait... a solution that's not the company's solution might not make the most money for the company. Look at yourselves, transmission companies, you want to be public utilities, but yet you believe that also gives you the right to make the most money possible from the public you serve. It doesn't.
Stasis or momentum? The choice is yours!