A New Age of Participatory Planning

apapeopleOver the past week, I spent a lot of time at the American Planning Association national conference, speaking with planners from across the country. These are the public’s future thinkers of today, convening to figure out the best of the best practices for improving areas, urban to rural. Clearly, one trend at the conference and of great interest to all whom I spoke with is the use of citizensourcing in participatory planning.

I wanted to summarize a few of the key takeaways I gathered from this year’s APA conference to hopefully inspire others to start practicing participatory planning.

Participatory planning

Participatory planning is not a new concept. Certainly there are those who overlook it, but in general, planners know the importance of involving citizens and elected officials in planning processes. What some planners don’t realize is that, for successful participation, it’s not enough to come up with a plan, present it to the people, and then offer a feedback segment at the end of the presentation. “Participants” will not feel they’ve participated in planning at all, instead, they’ll feel like they’ve been given a few moments to give a thumbs-up.

This lackluster result is why the old idea of participatory planning is giving rise to new methods focusing on online crowdsourcing techniques. We like to characterize this concept of crowdsourcing a little differently at Granicus, we call it “citizensourcing” because it brings the focus back to your constituents. Citizensourcing is organized, effective, and efficient digital participatory planning, involving interested citizens and parties throughout the entire ideation process. More involvement means better input. Better input means better outcomes.

Perpetual engagement

If involving affected people in your planning process from the very beginning is more effective trying to ramp up collaborative efforts only for a few projects per year.  Through new technologies you now have an opportunity to make perpetual engagement a reality If you are perpetually connected to the pulse of the people for whom you are planning, you can more effectively anticipate what is important to your citizens and quickly gather feedback without having to build your audience for every project.

Integrating in-person and online conversations

It is now possible to combine in-person feedback like prioritization or polling with online feedback .  The value of this kind of online civic engagement is that you are able to not just replicate the in-person communications online, but also integrate it in real time.   .

High-quality data and reporting

The better the quality of data, the smarter the choices made. Online systems for citizensourcing allow you to ensure that as much meta-data is provided as desired. Geo-coded ideas for bike paths, age-range data for public wi-fi hotspots ideas, population densities for public pools, etc. – all this data affects the quality of your planning.

Citizensourcing is now being used for development projects by the Pentagon, the White House, and various other federal agencies for everything from understanding what’s important to the public to developing advances in quantum computing. The effectiveness has been so clear that the trend cannot be ignored.

Throughout history, societies that are open and engender collaborative efforts have surpassed those that have not. As a planner, this speaks to the unending success we find by working with the people, by cultivating great ideas wherever we may find them.

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