Urban planning projects around the globe require a public participation plan. Despite the trendiness of public participation, many challenges remain in achieving transparent processes and acceptable outcomes.
A noticeable pitfall is that a public participation plan kicks off too late in the planning process. Why is this a problem? Because residents can get annoyed with the coming changes in their neighborhood when the nearly-ready plan proposals are laid out in a public event.
Late community engagement creates mistrust and frustration. At worst, the discord can grow to resistance that postpones the implementation of the planning process for years or even decades.
Design a Public Participation Plan for the Initiation Phase
Easily one ends up thinking, “let’s just try to support the participation efforts already in the very early phases of the urban planning process.” Unfortunately, the case is not quite that simple. Why?
It’s often difficult to think of ways of implementing participation during the very early steps of the process. In the initiation phase there is rarely a very clear picture of the coming changes in the environment that could then easily be discussed with the public.
Public participation GIS (PPGIS) tools offer a relevant option for tackling public engagement during the early steps. In the projects which planners have implemented independently, they have utilized PPGIS tools—such as Maptionnaire—during the initiation phase of the project.
The Value of Community Engagement for the Initiation Phase
Let’s unpack first what’s happening in the initiation phase of the urban development project from the planner’s perspective.
First, the idea appears on the planner’s table. The idea can materialize from different sources, such as the city’s strategic work, decision makers, its planning organization itself, other city departments, public agencies, or even from one single resident.
The contextual analysis and problem definition take place during the initiation phase, leading to the conceptualization of problems, proposals, and demands that are later transformed into plans and programs. This phase describes the “actual” beginning of the planning process, where the preliminary clarification of the context, the definition of the participants, the choice of the level of participation, and the preliminary selection of the tools are made.
From the participatory planning perspective, the initiation phase demands at least two action points:
- informing the public and various other actors
- gathering of comprehensive background data.
PPGIS tools such as community engagement platforms allow planners to source opinions and concerns of citizens in form of geo-located data that is utilized in the further stages of the planning project.
This step is crucial because it formulates the foundations for the whole collaboration. More established public participation process means that the involvement cannot be viewed as a one-directional flow of information towards the residents, but instead, it must be viewed as a phase in which participants should become inclusively bound to the process.
4 Tips for Designing Your Public Participation Plan
We’ve established that involving residents early in the urban planning project is beneficial for all parties. Here’s a a roadmap for planning a public participation process and designing a PPGIS survey:
- Planners responsible for the actual plan are involved in designing the PPGIS survey. Ideally, the public can also participate in defining the survey’s content.
- Planners should have necessary skills to analyze the experience-based data produced by residents.
- Planners should be motivated to ensure the effective use of collected data.
- Planners should carefully design the following steps in the process to guarantee the later utilization of the collected data.
To ensure that planners source the data that is valuable and usable, it’s necessary to carefully plan the survey itself — here are some tips on designing a good public participation survey.
Streamline the Public Participation Process with PPGIS Tools
PPGIS tools enable residents to act as information producers. At the same time, residents have an opportunity to react and communicate with the understanding received from other respondents.
By reaching out to the public in a comprehensive way, the pluralistic and versatile experiential landscape is illuminated. At best, the controversial views and opinions are brought to light and the planners’ understanding of the local situation is improved.
→ Here you can read more about advantages and challenges of using PPGIS in your public participation process.
In addition to gathering the data online, public involvement needs to be supported by face-to-face collaboration and communication to validate and supplement the data gathered. This also creates cohesion between the various actors and the experts. The face-to-face events should be turned into settings that are more functional where coworking and collaboration truly take place.