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Thread: Rigors of Private Planning Practice: Question #5 : Public Input

  1. #1
    Cyburbian Wannaplan?'s avatar
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    Rigors of Private Planning Practice: Question #5 : Public Input

    How bad are private planning firms at public input?

    From the Rigors of Private Planning Practice: Question #4 thread:

    Quote Originally posted by Lee Nellis
    What I find most consulting firms lack is expertise/experience in constructive, successful public involvement.
    Quote Originally posted by mike gurnee
    Amen to Lee. I dismissed our last firm doing a citizen participation project.
    My firm includes public participation in all its master planning projects and most recreation plan projects. The feedback we receive from our clients in terms of public input is quite favorable. However, if you were to ask me, we could be a little more rigorous. But of course, that's a fantasy, and I know that: Too much public input slows down the project and ends up costing too much money. Profits go down the toilet. Frankly, a planner's job is easier if we have limited input from the public.

    How can we make a better effort at engaging the public while still making a profit?

  2. #2
    Cyburbian Emeritus Chet's avatar
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    I dont think private firms are necessarily bad at it. What I've been finding is that when responding to an RFP, the level of public involvement desired by the client can vary greatly, and is often never mentioned AT ALL in thier RFP. As a result, the scopes they receive bary dramatically as do the costs, and low cost often overrides what can be lengthy and costly public sessions.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    I can't blame the consultants for not doing participation. Consultants give us a menu of options, all with costs attached. Typically, we do not spend as much as we might on public participation, because the other elements of the project take precedence. It is a little too much to expect them to provide a high level of service without adequate reimbursement, and besides, out experience is that there are seldom more than a handful of people involved. We are the ones who really make the decision to have only a handful of meetings.
    Anyone want to adopt a dog?

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    Cyburbian Masswich's avatar
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    Not Usually Their Fault

    Actually, much as I trashed consultants in Thread #3, I think most of them are fairly good at public participation. Its often the client that pulls them back (usually at the behest of their superiors), or the limitations of the project scope that prevents public input from getting full attention.

  5. #5
    When I worked in the private sector, we did a lot of public participation exercises, especially for comp. plans. I think that residents like to have outsiders facilitating because it eliminates any us (residents) vs. them (city) type of atmosphere. However you have to make them comfortable.

    We did one visioning exercise in a rural farming community and showed up in suits the first day. Everyone in attendance came in off the tractor and was wearing farming attire, this included the Town board. The client encouraged us to tone down the attire and next time we wore jeans and polo shirts. They actually seemed more comfortable talking to us when we were dressed down.
    "I'm a white male, age 18 to 49. Everyone listens to me, no matter how dumb my suggestions are."

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    Cyburbian Michele Zone's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Repo Man
    We did one visioning exercise in a rural farming community and showed up in suits the first day. Everyone in attendance came in off the tractor and was wearing farming attire, this included the Town board. The client encouraged us to tone down the attire and next time we wore jeans and polo shirts. They actually seemed more comfortable talking to us when we were dressed down.
    My dad grew up on a farm. When my sister worked on a paper for an extension service, she went to a hog killing to photograph it. She asked dad what to expect and showed up in jeans. That is not "dressed down" on the farm. It is work clothes, same as your suits are to you. And it is clothes for hard, dirty work that your prissy, citified clean suits are not suited to. And they have good reason to be leery of 'the suits' (the faceless, stereotyped folks wearing the suits). Her boss and others there in suits -- who didn't want to get their clothes messed up amongst the mud and blood of a typical hog killing -- never got within 10 feet of any of the farmers. She was welcomed and fit right in. (Of course, she also was probably less grossed out by witnessing the slaughter. I can remember playing with the bloody squirrel tails when my dad would skin and gut the squirrels he hunted.)

    Not criticism. Just observation. Rural culture is different from what most of us here are probably used to.

  7. #7
    Cyburbian SW MI Planner's avatar
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    I think there are two issues here, getting the public to actually show up to the event, and then getting input from them. From my experience, it is usually the responsibility of the client to get the public there. (Is it that hard everywhere?)

    Getting input would be the responsiblity of the consultants. In order to get good input, it is more than just showing up and asking questions. You have to be able to read people and know in what way to approach them, you have to be able to mediate, you have to be able to keep the event on topic, you have to be diplomatic, etc. etc. etc.

    That brings up another point - is there ever *too much* public input? Maybe I am just jaded because no matter what, we hardly get anyone to show up. Then, when they do, it's the same ones (most from boards/commissions, very little general public), and they have an agenda.

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    Cyburbian Wannaplan?'s avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by SW MI Planner
    That brings up another point - is there ever *too much* public input? Maybe I am just jaded because no matter what, we hardly get anyone to show up. Then, when they do, it's the same ones (most from boards/commissions, very little general public), and they have an agenda.
    Those are some great points. I wonder, does anyone out there actively work to find new and innovative ways to seek input from the folks who are usually shy and don't show up at the public meetings?

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    Cyburbian Mud Princess's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Wanigas?
    Those are some great points. I wonder, does anyone out there actively work to find new and innovative ways to seek input from the folks who are usually shy and don't show up at the public meetings?
    That's what surveys are for! They can be a good tool as a part of the larger public participation process.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian SW MI Planner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Mud Princess
    That's what surveys are for! They can be a good tool as a part of the larger public participation process.
    Historically, here anyway, those haven't been that much more successful

  11. #11

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    I am not a fan of techniques that are not interactive, so I don't use surveys much. What I have found works for the folks who won't come to meetings is going to them. I have conducted or seen very successful "listening posts" in malls, at grocery stores, at community events like the county fair, etc.

  12. #12
    Cyburbian Wannaplan?'s avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Lee Nellis
    I have conducted or seen very successful "listening posts" in malls, at grocery stores, at community events like the county fair, etc.
    How many "listening posts" have you usually done for a client's project?

  13. #13

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    I am not sure there is such a thing as a typcial project. Every one is different. I have done as few as one and as many as a half-dozen. I have also done them at different points during the process, i.e, at the beginning for goal/priority setting, then later on to get comments on a draft. In those cases there were still only a half-dozen, or maybe in one place, 8. Remember that I usually work in rural places, so communication is easier and the audience is smaller. Some of these efforts have involved several hundred people stopping by, total. If I were working in a larger jurisdiction, I don't think I would necessarily do more listening posts, but I might need more space and more volunteers or staff to talk to more people.

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