Week 9 (October 28) - Visioning and Long-Range Planning

Berke, et al. (2006), in the most widely used text on land use planning, say "planners make six critical choices:
1. Administration - whether to prepare a participation plan and how to staff citizen involvement efforts.
2. Objectives - whether to share power by educating citizens, seeking their preferences, or granting them influence.
3. Stage - when to start encouraging citizen involvement in the planning process.
4. Targeting - what types of stakeholder groups to include in participation efforts.
5. Techniques - what types of participation approaches to employ
6. Information - what types of information and dissemination processes to incorporate in participation activities."

If you were offering advice to planners about how to make these choices, what advice would you give?


How planners make these choices totally depends on what type of planner they are and what project is in question. Context is always important. I'm curious about what people have opinions on in different contexts.

For example, in a project that is likely to affect a large number of consitutents in a profound way, like the central corridor, it is imperative to have staff whose job it is to incorporate public involvement and outreach.

The most critical of the six choices facing planners is whether or not to have a plan to involve public participation. If I were offering advice to a planner, the choice is easy; take the necessary steps to involve the public in the planning process. The remaining five choices will then fall into place.

First, I think it is important to get out information about the plan and to continue to disseminate it as things change. Next, the planner needs to decide who key stakeholders are, who should be involved, who is most likely to show up, and how to get those who are not likely to come, to come. Depending on who is involved in the public meetings will determine what participation tools are used (i.e. cultural differences, languages, etc. should be considered). Finally, the amount of influence the stakeholders have will unravel with consensus building. If a majority of the group share an opinion it will be difficult to get around that. Planners should therefore be prepared to be flexible and open to change.

I would like to offer suggestions related the targeting choices that planners can make. I agree with Greta that context is very important. In this case, however, I feel that context comes from networks of people that maintain relationships and could either get involved or help to get other from their networks involved in the planning process. In other words, planners need to tap into people have relationships in a neighborhood or with a subgroup within a city of neighborhood. If planners make other choices and don't think about how they will really target people to be involved, they are operating without thinking of the context.

I would encourage planners to target many groups in order to reach diverse groups. For example, just because 5 Latinos participated in a process does not mean that the "Latino" voice has been heard and incorporated. Planners need to continually develop and maintain relationships and try to get new people involved.

At the same time, planner need to really listen to the direct and indirect messages that they get from those who get involved. Too often, planners think that the participation is done once people come to a meeting. Instead, planners need to really listen, be accountable, focus on building trust, etc. This will then make planning processes productive in relation to future planning processes instead of just participation "islands" separate from any other participation opportunity.

If I were provide advice to a planner about making the six choices described above, I would encourage them to first develop a preliminary list of actions that they believe should be included in the visioning process. Next, the planner should consider meeting with a small group of community leaders or a task force to gain insight about whether additional actions are needed and to determine whether to involve stakeholders, and if so, at what stage(s) in the process. Even though a planner can attempt to be as objective as possible, an individual carries a limited set of experiences and values that shape how they respond to problems and perceive community needs. After determining who should be involved, the planner can begin thinking about the techniques to use and which methods of communication are likely to be most effective.

If the planner invests time in determining stakeholder involvement at the beginning of the process, they will be saving the community time, as a plan produced with community guidance has a much greater chance of being implemented than one which did not consider stakeholder opinion (or key stakeholders) in a meaningful way. Assigning a committee or task force to assist in determining stakeholder involvement at the beginning could help the planner avoid long-term issues and community mistrust.

As mentioned in the Kelly and Becker article I feel that the most important task is for planners to realize that the plan evolving is the community’s plan, not the planner’s plan. Planners should try and encourage participation at every level of the process. Thorough participation is one way of assuring that plans get implemented. Planners should aim at creating processes that are both meaningful and representative. To maintain participation through visioning and long-range planning is often very challenging and planners should be effective managers and keep the stakeholders meaningfully engaged through out the process. The identification of key stakeholders early on and using them not just for visioning and long-range planning but also for the determining stakeholder involvement through the six critical choices is essential. This helps create a clear and transparent process that encourages greater participation. I feel that the use of key stakeholder advisory panel or task force to actually design the participation process itself would help create a more effective process. This would make stakeholders feel more involved in the process and encourage further participation.

I like Kirti's idea of involving key stakeholders on an advisory panel as part of the process of determining stakeholder involvement throughout the planning process. I think it is important however, to continuously circle back and encourage the involvement of new stakeholders in the process. While an advisory panel is a great idea, it could risk becoming seen as exclusionary over a lengthy process.

I also would give a planner the advice that whatever their choices, it is vitally important to create a clear connection between the input received and the ongoing plan. When you invite public particpation into the planning process, you must be prepared to illustrate how their input will be used and how it has influenced the final product.

I agree with Greta that this question is largely contextual, and after reading the post by Abby i would have to make the further assertion that strictly having a plan is not enough to allow the other 5 things to fall into place. That would assume that peoples roles and and stakes do not change over time. It is my experience that often despite the best efforts to create an effective plan: means of participation, the way people/groups are allowed to participate, at what level, and the amount/type of information they are given may change at some point in the planning/design phase of a project. This could be a result of many different influencing factors.

The take home message here is to understand that creating a participation plan may not always remain static. It is important to consider the fact that certain stakeholders may either by their own actions or by outside influence wish to change their views, opinions, or level of involvement. Knowing this will allow you to facilitate effective planning and participation over long periods for larger projects that may last many years and involvement different interests at different junctures.

A plan for public participation takes work, and its implementation is not free in terms of time, effort or treasure; neither is actually responding to wishes and concerns raised by the public during the participation process. What with deadlines and restrictive budgets, it may seem tempting to minimize or delay public participation in the hope that things will move more quickly and smoothly if the project is presented to the public as a fait accompli. Regardless of the ethical issues raised by such an approach, I think the temptation is actually a perilous one for the success of the project in question. Though an early, broad based, good faith effort to involve the public in the planning process guarantees some hard work, some delays and some early opposition, it also greatly reduces the likelihood of a project derailed by public outcry. Partly, many potentially controversial projects require some public education—most people, after all, are not professional planners and do not necessarily understand the likely results of many planning decisions. Public education can be quite successful—even welcome—if it begins early enough in the planning process to build a relationship of trust between planners and public. However, if planners attempt and end-run around the public’s legitimate expectation of a say in the planning process, such a relationship of trust is nearly impossible to build. This is the type of situation where opposition—even misinformed opposition—can understandably become entrenched, and a significant threat to the realization of the project in question.

I believe that a planner needs to spend a significant amount of time gathering information in the forefront of a project. I would suggest the planner help create a citizen focus group that identifies citizen wants and like Julie suggested, find out whom the citizen group believes should be active stakeholders. Allowing citizen participation in the beginning of the process should help citizens feel connected to the project and would build trust with the planning staff – sooner rather than later. This step however, should not preclude the planner from identifying powerful stakeholders and identifying goals, barriers, and steps to overcome such barriers – much like the stakeholder analysis exercise we completed in class.

The types of participation techniques utilized throughout the process greatly depend on the context of the situation as Greta mentioned earlier. Educating citizens and stakeholders about the project and building trust between these groups and the developer (if there is one), is another vital step. I believe that visioning sessions are an easy way to bring all stakeholders together in order to form a baseline of wants and needs for a project or a plan for a community. As the process continues however, I would suggest limiting the number of high interest and lower power groups as their input should have been documented and included as much as possible.

Major stakeholders should be engaged throughout the duration of the project and at a point when finalizing alternatives is met, bring in the original focus group to comment on what has been completed. At the end of the project, all stakeholders should be brought back together to celebrate the process and provide feedback to the planning staff to determine areas of improvement. This feedback should identify what worked and didn’t so that for the next project, the staff will know what to improve upon.

I am most concerned about what groups are and are not involved in the planning process. This factor is captured in the “Targeting? strategy chosen by planners. It is impressive to gather a large group of engaged citizens, but does this group adequately represent the views of a given community? A typical conflict is how property owners traditionally dominate neighborhood meetings, due to apathy or discouragement in the renter population. Planners must identify to causes of a target populations lack of involvement.

It is the responsibility of a thoughtful planner to use certain “Techniques? to engage as much relevant participation as possible. Antonio Roselle demonstrated some of these techniques in last week’s class when he talked about his organization’s planning process for the rebuilding of Lake Street. Noticing a void left by Hennepin County’s planning department, his organization organized a novice-friendly activity to engage affected small business owners in street redesign – a typically complex process. Realizing this group was largely Spanish-speaking, Roselle’s organization convened a meeting in Spanish to get beyond this linguistic barrier. Regardless of how the information was used, the meetings were highly effective in engaging a largely ignored group.

I’m going to agree with Greta on the very case-specific nature of all of this. Different projects and different groups call for drastically different approaches. In addition, the role of the planner in the outreach phases of any plan is continually evolving and highly dynamic. So are the roles of the stakeholders. The problem with having stakeholder input in the outreach process is that the identification of stakeholders itself must occur in the very early stages of outreach. This begs the question of what comes first.

I think Abby is correct to say that the ideal array of outreach tools employed is highly dependent on those who you are trying to engage in the process with said tools. Everything in this world is decided by those who show up, so getting bodies through the door is the first hurdle to overcome. It’s difficult to say whether certain tools work better for particular communities based on age, race, socio-economic status, or any other axis of identity. I'm sure the literature has established some best practices here.

The issue with a stakeholder advisory panel is tyranny of the majority, and the concentration of power into the hands of a few. There’s no way a small panel can embody the multiplicity and divergence of interests at stake in a very contentious transit, infrastructure, or any other development project. However, a highly decentralized process of empowering the masses all too often neglects the importance of charismatic leadership, real accountability, and effective oversight. The balance lies in the middle ground, perhaps as established by consensus-building.

The advice I’d give a planner would be threefold:
1) Identifying and engaging stakeholders may not be such a flat and static process; try to allow for a more fluid understanding of both who is affected by and who is affecting the planning process.
2) Spend plenty of time in the research and outreach planning phases; there’s nothing worse than getting bodies through the door and not knowing what to do with them.
3) If the information, techniques, and objectives are not used to implement or address the aspirations and concerns of the targeted groups, this will lead to a distrust of and secession from the planning process. Outreach should never be devolved nor tokenized to the last step of the planning process in order to satisfy a supervisor’s request or the agency’s protocol. It should be well thought out, accomplished at the front end, and extended throughout the process. Reach out early and often.

My advice to planners concerning these six critical choices is to first
understand the problem. Second, understand what level of participation is
actually needed, if any, based on the problem. The Kelly article talks
about the six approaches to planning and citizen participation which can
help benchmark the levels of participation needed, given the problem or
situation. Stated another way, and aligning with other postings, planners
need a firm grasp of the context in which they are operating and need to
adjust their participation approach accordingly.

One example from the Kelly article talks about the opportunity-driven
approach. Assessing community opportunities requires processing a fair
amount of technical information. The outcome is a plan which may, for
discussion purposes, identify policy areas that could boost economic growth
based on proximity to natural resources. Given the technical nature of this
process, there is not a lot of room for public participation, according to

Once this first phase of the plan is complete, the public is brought in to
vet the information. Kelly sees participation in this approach as highly
structured. As such, choices concerning the six objectives become clear.
With this more structured approach, participation techniques and processes
may operate with highly defined objectives and high involvement from
stakeholders. The trade off with this approach is that there could be
higher administrative costs to gather and process this information.

As stated in the Kelly and Becker article, an important question to ask is “where do we want to go?? A clear vision and goal is important to state to make efficient use of time.

In a recent project I have been working on, a Comprehensive Plan Update, we were clear in identifying the key stakeholders, but missed on getting them involved in planning the entire process. Key stakeholder analysis is important early on the process. Even more important is to bring those key stakeholders together to work on a public participation process AND check back to see if the agreed upon process continues to work, or if further refinement is needed. This ties to “meaningful? participation as mentioned in the reading. In the end, it leads to a plan that is build upon consensus and people feel part of the plan, rather than responding to a plan devised by a planner. I’ve seen plans where the community did not feel part of the consensus, and the subsequent public hearing was less than productive.

I agree with the comment that this is the community’s plan, not the planner’s plan. This is why it is important to involve key stakeholders early in the process. I also agree that the plan for public participation depends on the situation. The Kelly and Becker article summarized several techniques ranging from focus groups to charrettes. Each technique will not be applicable in every situation.

Finally, there is a financial impact at stake as well. Communities must design efficient use of staff time that involves citizens and gives them the necessary tools to make educated decisions. A failed plan only costs a community time and money by forcing staff and elected officials to step back and try again.

In response to the six critical choices, I would suggest that planners get as many people involved in the planning process as possible but carefully. Effective community planning should involve as many participants as possible. A challenge to planners is the fact many citizens are not educated or properly versed in many complex planning decisions. A dilemma arises when planners want to involve as many people in the community as possible, but the planning decision involves a highly technical issue that can only be truly understood, by highly trained technical specialists. The participating public may come to the meetings unprepared to understand the importance of the technical nature of a planning project. Sharing power with community participants that do not understand the complexity of the project at this stage could be dangerous. What if there is a public health threat, if the planned project, is not implemented correctly because uneducated participants were allowed to make decisions about something they did not comprehend. The challenge to planners is getting the participating public to be better educated about the complexity of the planning topic, being considered. Those that are not knowledgeable specialists in the participation process should not be stakeholders in making final decisions about the technical aspects of a very complex project.

Planners need to make sure that specialists communicate the needs of the project honestly and unambiguously to ensure that those developing the plan are truly for the welfare of the community. Citizen involvement should only be approved after the public has been adequately informed about what the project is in detail, its technical aspects stated unambiguously, how much it will cost and why it is needed.

-Bob Jorgenson

In my experience planners need to involve the public in all stages of the planning process. However, there are different ways to do this. For example, there are many partnership efforts out there which include city staff from many different departments, neighborhood groups, banking institutions, foundations, intermediaries, and other such groups with a stake in the partership. Each member of the board works with his or her organization to develop priorities and then the board helps determine funding and project assistance. This model often has board meetings every so often. It has been a method to bring public and private sectors together and has been effective in different areas of the city. Obviously, this is not reaching out to the general public, but hopefully their ideas are shared through their representative. Results of any of these meetings should be transparent and meetings should also be open to the public.

It can go the other way too. If a community is in the process of creating a development project, plan, or vision for their neighborhood they should invite city staff whose specialty best reflects the project they are working on. I think it is then our duty as staff to attend (and at the very least) maintain communication with the organization and inform our managers what is going on in the neighborhood. This way, both entities are aware of development goals and possibilties. Sometimes one of the hardest things for the public is just reaching the city staff person they need to talk to. Making time to talk to them may seem like a small step in public participation, but it can help immensely.

I really agree with Dave's point that public particpation should not be "tokenized." It is all too common for public/stakeholder input to be reduced to a checked box at the end of a project merely satisfying a funding requirement or complying with a lofty vision statement. Participation can and should be a creative means to an end in any project setting that ultimately increases the likelihood of its success, especially if carried out during all major stages of a project.

Furthermore the critical choices of targeting and techinique are very important in the participation process. Virtually all public meetings that I have attended, and some that I have been charged with leading, reach a point where the participants either pursue a topic that is well outside of the realm of the meeting's objectives, or indulge in a tangent that does not allow for the planner to glean anything of use. Proper stakeholder assembly and clear statments of goals and objectives not only produce a better product but are necessary to keep focus in a given process.

I agree that participation is a must. In doing a lot of research the past few months, I've found it very valuable to know Who and What a community is - even if it's just through pulling basic Census Data or reading a neighborhood's website. Having some background on your community and those impacted by your project will give you foresight into the potential conflicts and challenges associated with your project.

I also liked what Danielle said earlier about making a connection between input given and the final product. There is nothing people hate more than giving their opinion and time and not seeing any fruits of their labor. It does breed mistrust and leads people to disinvest from the process. In the example of a Comprehensive Plan, perhaps all ideas aren't incorporated into the final plan - but references can be made to those who participated and alternative ideas considered.

Getting to the technique question, I have learned that if the goal of the participation effort is to reach people, give them information, collect their insight, connect with them, and present an opportunity for involvement, the most effective way to do this is to go to where the people already are. If you have the staff, be at local street fairs, farmers markets, city open houses, neighborhood block parties, etc. Then, when it is time to host your own meeting, people will come to you.
To gather more specific information about small areas, a more precise "targeting", as Joe calls it, is in order and as Eden says, should usually include city or other local government staff. Essentially, these two approaches allow for inclusion of a broad group of stakeholders, but also allow for intensive relationships with stakeholders very near to the project, both of which are necessary for the success of the project.

I would say first to evaluate the power of the planner and determine how the outcome of the process could affect the community and the planner. This evaluation of power should consider what the planner himself/ herself needs to be able to do without public participation. This may be things that people do not often comprehend with planning or things that certain planners specialize in to help struggling communities head in the right direction. To avoid adversity a planner may have to be quite tactful when presenting plans depending on the plan and the public. The power of a planner should not be handed over so easily without critical thought first. When a planner has realized the scope of the project at hand and understands what they are going to have to do on their own they must secondly consult the public for their opinions, input, and consensus.

Or, decide to not include the public because of possible resistance to something that would otherwise result in a positive outcome. Involving the public is a decision as a planner we have to be able to make. I am a firm believer that the public should be involved, whether they are stakeholders that are given power to change the process or the outcome, or they are just informed on updates of a comprehensive plan on a regular basis. I find that the rest of the “critical choices? are secondary and can completely affect the quality of the outcome and the time of process; but the power evaluation and power of the public given are the two that will decide the direction of the outcome when trying to complete a goal.

I agree with Kirti’s statement that planners need to realize that the plan evolving is the community’s plan, not the planner’s plan. The planners cannot choose a certain objective (whether to share power by educating citizens, seeking their preference, or granting them influence) without the consultation of the community’s needs and vision of the project first.

For example, a small town in Minnesota was updating their comprehensive plan and the residents participated in multiple visioning workshops. After many hours of meetings, there still was not any direction toward a solid land use plan. Therefore, the planners decided that they would instead create three scenarios based on the information thus far and have the residence choose which one was the best. This did not sit well with the town and the residents did not like that commissioned planners had more of a say on the town’s future.

In this instance, the planners lost the trust of the community by changing the objective of the participation process from granting them influence to seeking their preference. In addition, the planners did not create a meaningful and directive participation process that was in conjunction with the community’s needs. In order for the objective choice, as part of the six critical choices, to be successful, planners’ decisions need to be transparent to the public as well as representative of the community.

I agree with Greta and Derek, context sensitivity needs to be taken into consideration while planning. It is evident that no two places are the same. Whether retrofitting or planning for a new development, communities should be regarded as unique, so they should be built with sensitively to specific traits and interactions to foster a functioning area. Planners should also have an understanding of the demographic of the community; be sensitive to cultural and ethnic differences, varying income levels and household arrangements.

As Eden suggested, public needs to be involved in all stages of the planning process. It is not only important to involve the community but it is as essential to make sure that people from all walks of life are well represented. Consulting in a more rational and supportive manner is imperative to build trust within the community which can be embraced by community involvement and participation. Without trust, the community tend to find themselves unwilling to engage with one another, making the planning process virtually impossible. If the community are adequately involved in the decision-making process, then people see that their ideas and beliefs are being answered and heard. Also important is to realize and understand the changes that are happening in the community. To be able to plan well and be fair to all of those that will be affected by the plans, planners need to understand the changing needs of the people.

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