Key Considerations for Community Outreach

Posted by on Sep 13, 2011 in Blog Article | No Comments

Every planner should know the basics of citizen participation and if you don’t…shame on you.  Pick up a book, take a course, observe a public workshop run by someone that knows what they’re doing,…do something to become competent with community outreach.  For those familiar with its importance, good…keep developing your skills. Citizen participation is vitally important in the community planning process and residents are an important resource and essential for identifying the issues, needs, priorities, opportunities, and aspirations of a community.

However, there are several important outreach considerations that are often overlooked by “experts” and novices alike.  The better you understand the following the better and more effective your outreach will be.

Neighbors informing neighbors…
It is not uncommon for some residents (or officials for that matter) to think they know all the answers…what is most important for a city to address.  However, the range of issues and possibilities begins to expand when neighbors learn from one another.  As important as it is for planners, staff, and officials to hear what residents think is important, it may be more important for residents to hear what their neighbors think is important. This simple process expands how a community is viewed by its residents and allows individuals to see their community from a new and broader perspective. Remember, this is one of the most important benefits of effective citizen participation…an open dialogue that expands the insight and understanding of community residents…a process that lets residents hear directly from other residents.

Business owners are “residents”…
Remember, business owners, property owners, and business managers should be all be considered residents, whether the individuals live within the city or not.  Business and property owners are one of the more consistently excluded groups from traditional outreach.  Business owners have a unique and important perspective, often having a list of needs and issues not known to or understood by most residents.  Without business and property owners, cities couldn’t function or exist.  Make sure you reach the business folks directly.  Have a workshop just for them.  Have it in the morning before 9:00 a.m.  Give them lots of coffee and some bagels.  Be efficient with their time and get them back to their businesses in a timely manner.  If they are like most business owners, they always thinking about what would make their businesses better.  Make sure you know what is important to them and what would make the community more business-friendly and supportive.

But what about the children…
So much of our community is geared toward the kids, but when was the last time your city asked children what should be done to improve things.  You’d be surprised at how insightful kids can be.  Trust me, they’ll come up with ideas no adult ever thought of…and some of them are pretty good ideas.  Reach out to the schools. Outreach to kids for city initiatives makes a great civics lesson.  Teachers love it and kids appreciate distraction from math lessons.  It might not be as much fun as a field trip, but it’s more fun than a substitute teacher.  Kids view their world in a totally different perspective and it’s a perspective you need to understand. Be creative!

Cast a wide net…
The widest possible range of community input should be sought in the planning process. Drawing in the values and sensitivities of a broadly-based constituency ensures that all interests are represented in the evaluation and decision-making process. Use several mediums and outreach formats to maximize participation – face-to-face, on-line, one-on-one interviews, small groups, large groups, open houses, formal presentations, local television, radio, newsletters, surveys, work with established groups (chamber, historic preservation society, friends of the river, downtown business association, schools, whoever is appropriate, available, and willing). Be creative.  You can’t make people participate, but you should give them every possible chance to participate. Simply having the token “community meeting” is not enough. Trust me, it will pay off in the end when the plan has a broad base of support from a wide range of constituents. 

Circle back…
If residents take the time to participate, they deserve some follow-up.  Circle back after each outreach activity with a “thank you” to those who participated and a summary of what took place and what was accomplished.  Provide a summary or overview of the results in a newsletter or on-line.  This is a simple tactic that makes a big difference.  We’re not talking about a personal letter to everyone who participated, just an article, a memo, an on-line post, something that acknowledges, informs, and thanks residents for giving their time and letting everyone know what took place.

Make it fun…
If outreach is boring, disorganized, and poorly run and managed, people will not participate.  They may come to the first meeting, but they won’t be back. And rather than building support for the plan, you may actually be building animosity toward the plan and process.  Make outreach fun, but keep it well managed.  Use creative and effective techniques such as key pad polling, design charrettes, small break-out groups, and more.  Even large group workshops should be engaging, fun, and relatively informal.  The key is to engage residents and have them participate, not just show up and sit there.  Make it fun and informative for them and they’ll show up next time…and maybe they’ll bring a friend.



Houseal and Lavigne Speak on Delivering Better Plans

Posted by on Sep 7, 2011 in Headlines | No Comments

Join John Houseal and Devin Lavigne as they speak on an upcoming panel, Delivering Better Plans and Recommendations in Text, Graphics and Speech.  This presentation is sponsored by the Chicago Metro Section of the Illinois Chapter of the American Planning Association.  John and Devin will be joined by John Harris of a5 inc., a marketing and communications firm.  All three panelists will present the benefits of using multi-media to convey clear and concise messages in planning documents and presentations.  Planners of all levels will benefit from techniques and examples to help build the skills necessary to effectively communicate planning information and data in text, graphics, and speech. This event is also applicable to practitioners in other fields such as engineering, architecture, landscape architecture, development, and non-profit management. 

The workshop will take place Thursday, September 15, from 9:00-11:00 am in the CMAP offices (Willis Tower, 233 S. Wacker Drive, Suite 800) in Chicago.  The cost is $15 and is payable at the door but registration is requested by September 12 (via  Two (2) CM credits are available for AICP members.