Making Community Engagement an Asset, Rather than a Chore

What does it mean to truly involve the public in planning processes? Neeraj Mehta finds "too much placation, manipulation and tokenism in our engagement efforts," and identifies principles for collective problem-solving and shared decision-making.
November 1, 2012, 5am PDT | Jonathan Nettler | @nettsj
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The public is an incredible, and essential, asset in the successful creation, implementation, and utilization of the products of planning and development. However, Mehta finds that too often, planners neglect the value of this asset to the planning process by "wanting people to participate without giving them the opportunity to make real decisions."

"Much of the challenge, as I see it, is based in reflection of what we actually believe about the public and about the role and value of engagement more broadly," says Mehta. "There is a distinct difference between assessing people's opinions or attitudes and actually sharing planning and decision-making responsibilities. There's a difference between real partnerships and simply asking people to rubber-stamp decisions we've already made...We devalue investments in time and relationship building, which often leads to us more easily devalue the contributions and expertise of those we engage."

She offers three fundamental principles that can guide the development of truly meaningdul community engagement strategies:

  • Acknowledge our interdependence and need for increased diversity.
  • Be honest with the complexity.
  • Be comfortable with uncertainty and controversy.
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Published on Wednesday, October 31, 2012 in Next American City
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