One of the most difficult things for urban planners to do is to garner accurate and worthwhile public opinion. Coincidentally, public opinion happens to be the driving force behind the concept of “urban planning.” After all, planners exist to serve the public, and if they can't figure out what the public's opinions are on construction and design issues, then there's no way for them to do their job effectively.
As many would argue, this speed-bump in the planning process could be due to the lack of awareness and/or availability of the public to attend scheduled zoning, policy, or planning forums. These meetings, which usually include overviews of potential construction projects and developments going on in the community, are crucial to any bottom-up planning division. Unfortunately, many valued members of the general public don't have the time or transportation means of attending these meetings to express their opinions.
There have been recent attempts, however, to remedy this situation with input from the general public garnered via web-based crowdsourcing. As Planning Theory states, “The medium of the web enables us to harness collective intellect among a population in ways face-to-face planning meetings cannot.” With web-based crowdsourcing, there are minimal time constraints, and nearly everyone would be able to give their input to planners. Awareness of planning topics could even be promoted via email marketing or social media marketing.
As seen in this thesis on public participation in transportation planning, web-based crowdsourcing has seen success in trial runs in the past. As the report describes, “The collective intelligence of communities is largely untapped by traditional [public participation] methods, which may result in less-than-ideal transit plans that neglect the needs of diverse constituencies.” The thesis found that utilizing web-based crowdsourcing was “effective in many ways,” including higher-than-normal volumes of participation and a diverse amount of participants.
The use of web-based crowdsourcing has a bright future in urban planning and public participation. What do you think planning departments should do when it comes to garnering more public participation in the planning process?