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Thread: Lengthy plans: do plans have to be long?

  1. #1
    Cyburbian
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    Lengthy plans: do plans have to be long?

    I have been browsing some older plans my organization has created in an effort to do some research for a grant application. One of the plans I printed out is in excess of 200 pages. I feel like this is overkill, and may actually detract from the usefulness of it...after all, who wants to sift through 200+ pages of watershed planning. Does anyone have any information or experience on the benefits of shorter plans v. longer ones or vice versa?

  2. #2
    moderator in moderation Suburb Repairman's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by CubbieBlue View post
    I have been browsing some older plans my organization has created in an effort to do some research for a grant application. One of the plans I printed out is in excess of 200 pages. I feel like this is overkill, and may actually detract from the usefulness of it...after all, who wants to sift through 200+ pages of watershed planning. Does anyone have any information or experience on the benefits of shorter plans v. longer ones or vice versa?
    We've gone to creating Executive Summaries of our older plans, which leave out all of the background data for the most part and stick with explanations of policy statements, a few necessary maps, and applicable portions of the implementation schedule. I knocked a 50 page plan down to about four pages through some creative formating, use of tables/charts, etc. This is also good for making handouts at community meetings.

    "Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

    - Herman Göring at the Nuremburg trials (thoughts on democracy)

  3. #3
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    Master Plans should be easy to read and understand. They do not need to be so complicated that citizens cannot understand them. I told my Planning Commission that the Plan can be anything they want it to be. So we addressed such things as climate change, alt transportation, urban forestry and a lot of fun stuff and added cool pictures to create interest. We went lite on the "goals" and "policies" that the city commission would just ignore anyway. www.boynecity.com

  4. #4
    Cyburbian Coragus's avatar
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    Plans only need to be as long as it takes to get all the points across. The bigger and more diverse the population, the longer the plan. It also depends on what chapters you decide to add beyond the typical ones found in most plans.

    It's not a plan, but this is illustrated by the sign ordinance that I'm writing. I took it over three months ago after it had been worked on by 3 other planners over 4 years. I took on a 78 page document and took it down to 63. That's still pretty large, but it's a diverse community, includes 3 cities and a rural county, and includes 5 full page maps. As a result, it's a long ordinance, but it has to be and it's only as long as it needs to be to cover all the required bases.
    What do you mean I can't plan? My SimCity has 200,000 people with a 99% happiness rating!

  5. #5
    Cyburbian btrage's avatar
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    I think it's obvious that a plan only needs to be as long as it takes to get the point across.

    What often makes plans longer is the background/historical/demographic/survey information that is done. However, this part of the plan is essential in showing that research was done, and that your analysis was based on this research. This is very important for when plans become "legal" documnents that must be defensible in court.

    I would suggest a very thorough (and again, this could be short or long depending on the situation) official document, as well as a summarized document that is distributed to the general public or even used on a monthly basis by your Planning Commission and/or legislative body.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian
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    Alternatives

    There are a variety of alternatives:

    1. Put everything in one report. This will probably make it bulky, then an Executive summary will be needed - which makes the totality even larger;

    2. Have a clear & concise main report, with all the essentials, then put all the background material, technical studies etc either as separate voumes or as annexes. Most people would only need the main report. This might also save time effort and costs in printing multiple copies.

    3. Have a "popular edition" that anybody can read and understand, have lots of pictures that generate interest and understanding, and of course essential maps. Back this up with a more technical version for technical departments, legal purposes, whatever. If you're into encouraging the general public to understanding the planning work, and certainly if you've had a lot of public participation, this is the prefered alternative, because it recognizes that participation with its own "people oriented" edition.

    Physical size/volume/weight of the plan documents will depend on many things and is not directly related to either quality or value. When we got some consultant inception phase documents in that weighed several kilograms, we had to make it very clear to them that they would not be paid according to the weight of their submissions! Some consultants seem to think that volume means quality. It doesn't.

  7. #7
    Cyburbian mike gurnee's avatar
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    I went the separate binders route on my last plan. Really saved on printing costs. While I always work on being brief, the move towards form-based codes involves lots of examples, lots of pages.

  8. #8
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    From the consultant's perspective, I find that the client is often the one who adds length to the report. There is quite a bit of documentation, or discussion of topics that do not need to be in the report. But the client wants to edit. In the case of a project I just completed, they wanted additional maps and appendices for data that took the report from about 30 pages to about 80. Most of the data was provided to them in excel files or other electronic formats, but they decided they wanted it in appendices as well. Will anyone ever look at it? No.

    On the other hand, I have worked with a consultant that always seems to pad their product. It isn't intentional, I think, it is just their style. The fact that they write incomprehensibly only makes it worse.
    Anyone want to adopt a dog?

  9. #9
    Dan Staley's avatar
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    IME - similar to cardinal - whoever is concerned about transparency or accountability or honesty or appearance competence or some such is going to add verbiage.

    Regardless of length:

    Do an Executive Summary for your plan, then a good intro to give everyone a sense of whether you covered everything.

    At any rate, you'll get a feel for the length by your public process and your electeds - more skittishness, more prolixity. More trust, fewer pages.

    My last big plan was organized from big picture to more detail as the sections went on and within each section - you could read as much as you wanted to read without missing anything, and the developers went right to the back where all the detail was (and I told them to go there in the intro).

  10. #10
    Cyburbian vagaplanner's avatar
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    I never understood in school when we were told to write a 3-page (or whatever) report. It really shouldn't matter how long it is, it's the content that matters. We have a Comp Plan that is about 80 pages and it's a piece of sh!t. We also have a corridor plan that is about 200 pages and it's a piece of sh!t. The Comp Plan doesn't have enough information and the corridor plan has way too much information that is useless.
    ...my lifestyle determines my death style!
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  11. #11
         
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    As I learned in grad school --

    1) Say what you're going to say
    2) Say it
    3) Say what you just said

    Length shouldn't matter; however, excessive verbiage is neither useful nor interesting to the average reader.

  12. #12
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    Well, from my experience (as a practicing planner), it all depends on the objective of the plan and its intended use. I work with a plethora of land development plans - some consist of an exorbitant amount of civil engineering related information, whereas others may consist of one sheet of information that is pertinent to the site's objective (i.e. - to site one single family detached house).

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