Project Spotlight

The Value of Community Engagement!

Keeping your community and stakeholders involved in your planning process is a critical part of any successful parking plan. Creating a successful plan requires community engagement and public participation because it allows members of the community, as well as stakeholders the opportunity to voice their opinion and have an influence on decisions that affect their everyday life. Community engagement can be defined as any process that directly engages the public in decision-making and considers public input while making those decisions. Community engagement is a process, it consists of several meetings and surveys throughout the lifespan of any project to both inform the public and obtain their input. Community engagement has been proven to result in better outcomes through several of our parking studies, decisions that are informed by public participation are usually less subject to challenge. Public participation contributes things like additional facts, values, perspectives and challenges to the decision-making process of any project. Along with our fieldwork and expertise here at Rich & Associates, public participation during our studies allows communities to develop long-term capacity to solve and manage challenging parking issues, eventually allowing them to overcome longstanding differences, misunderstandings and concerns, while setting them up for future success.

Building and maintaining public participation and community engagement throughout the lifespan of any project takes time and ultimately depends on our willingness and ability to involve the public in the decision-making process. Community engagement throughout the planning process promotes open lines of communication with stakeholders in the community which results in transparencies and acceptance of decisions made during the planning process. Stakeholder meetings provide a venue for people in the community to express their concerns, suggestions, and potential solutions to us knowing we will present their topics to the city and include them in our study.

Rich & Associates Parking Planner Wanda Norman

We sat down with our Parking Planner Wanda and discussed how to build public participation in an effective way, impacts it has had on recent studies, and methods she uses to achieve and maintain public participation.

How do you effectively build public participation?

“Get the word out, set an agenda, listen and analyze results. Provide training to community leaders and stakeholders and provide technical assistance to the public to help them understand information that is relevant to the outcome of their decisions.”

What methods do you use to achieve and maintain public participation?

“By creating public surveys, holding open houses and conducting stakeholder interviews.”

How has public participation impacted one of your recent studies in a successful way?

“One of the ways we engage the public is to host stakeholder interviews.  We find people are willing to share experiences, issues and even data with us.  In one of our recent rounds of interviews, several people provided additional resources we should talk with to gain more insight for our project.  We did reach out to these people and were able to gain valuable information for the study. During one recent stakeholder meeting members of the community helped us develop a more efficient grid system to use while conducting our fieldwork.”

What has been one of the challenges you’ve faced regarding maintaining public participation?

“Offering online surveys regarding the study is another way we engage the public.  In some cases, we receive wonderful response rates to the surveys.  Other times, the initial response rate may not be as high as we would like.  This may require additional effort and outreach to educate the community about the opportunity they have: to get involved, to voice their opinion and provide valuable feedback regarding the study.”

Why is public participation and community engagement such an important part of our studies?

“There are well-defined processes and tools we use when we perform a parking study for a community.  But these processes don’t always paint the total picture.  Involving the public on a project provides a variety of perspectives, builds opportunities for communication and trust, and gives individuals the opportunity to take ownership in their community.

As consultants, we are not always aware of every detail associated with a study.  We take the time to listen to (and later analyze) the input provided by individuals and teams that participate in public engagement.  Hidden in each perspective may be a valuable nugget of information that can be used to support the study outcomes.  

Community engagement provides an instance for open communication.  Not only does it help us understand what the everyday user experiences, it gives the consultants an opportunity to educate the community on what outcomes and results can be expected during and after the study.

Public involvement also allows the people to become a partner in the study method.  It provides a setting for individuals to take ownership and pride in their community – because they were involved in the process.”

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