Planning participation is a requirement in most American states, and many municipalities realize its power; a sense of ownership in the community for an initiative can be a determining factor in the success of any plan.
To distribute and gather information to and from the community there are essentially three routes. Depending on the community and the talents of the planning staff, a team may choose:
1. Listening posts with surveys, public meetings, and community workshops;
2. Traditional public media such as a cable ad or a newspaper feature;
Route 1: Surveys, Public Meetings, and Community Workshops
More labor-intensive for the staff and requires everyone from the community who is interested in the project to be in one place at one time. This may work best for a smaller, tight-knit, rural community.
Route 2: Public Media, Cable Ad, Newspaper Feature
This is a happy medium between staff labor (writing or creating public announcements for television) and the ability of busy, but concerned, community members to be informed. These strategies only work for distributing information, not gathering. They also take time from writing/creation to distribution depending on the newspaper’s or TV station’s schedule.
Route 3: Online Approach with Social Media
The newest and most efficient means of communication, either way. Once a municipal website is created, it can be used over and over again for different projects in many departments. It can simply be a Wordpress website. To connect to members instantly, utilize Facebook badges and RSS feeds/email subscription services. Those will connect to the most people with the least amount of effort on the municipality’s part. Everyone and their grandma is on Facebook - I assure you.
No matter what choice your team makes, remember that it has to fit your citizen’s needs, and their choice of media consumption just as much as it has to fit the project and your team’s abilities. Or, create a social media/web design internship for a young person to handle a technological difficulty: the community’s input and the team’s information has a new facet, and a local kid has something positive to do!
What strategy (or strategies) would you participate in most? Do you wish your city or county implemented one of these methods rather than another?
Credits: Image and data linked to sources.