Taking the time to prepare and plan for public workshops are important steps to ensure success. Specific issues and needs vary among projects, but the suggested tools and strategies described below can be adapted and tailored to work for each unique process.
Public Workshop Preparation
Encourage stakeholders and champions to volunteer to help with public workshops. They can help set up, clean up, greet attendees, deliver presentations, and facilitate mapping activities or other small group exercises. Prior to a workshop, provide stakeholders and volunteers with a brief training on their role as facilitators. Having stakeholders involved allows them to see firsthand that the alternative scenarios developed later on come directly from the public input.
Basic planning for public workshops includes preparing a presentation that frames a community's issues in a values context and explores what matters to citizens. The presentation carefully identifies the issues as well as the urgency, and may show a visualized baseline. The presentation encourages discussion among participants and allows them to contemplate whether or not their region or community is headed towards a desired future. Building public understanding ensures that participants have a common frame of reference and understand what is in current plans and policies. An expanded understanding of existing plans and their likely outcomes also helps those involved formulate and evaluate options.
Before the public workshop, draft the questions that will be asked during the interactive keypad polling activity. Different types of questions can be asked to get valuable community feedback. Questions may include general questions about the issues, questions that spark thought about the implications of the choices participants are considering, and/or questions about community attributes that tie back to the values of the community. Asking questions like these help participants begin to see some of the implications and imposing forces of various choices and helps them understand they may not be able to have everything. This process enables participants to think about different trade-offs and identify the things they value most.
In this example from Cache Valley, there may be conflicts with large yards and preserving agricultural land. A base map will need to be prepared for the mapping activity. Keep in mind not everyone can read a map; help orient participants to the map and provide information that's easy to use and understand. Familiarize participants with the base map by including things such as: aerial photography, topographic data, roads, landmark names, existing structures, water bodies, or other well-known spaces. Information that is pertinent to the issues can also be provided. At a smaller scale you may include data like RDA-owned property or historic structures. At a regional scale critical lands and steep slopes may be important. The data provided for the base map is dependent on scale and the set of identified issues. Keep in mind this information should not be leading.
During mapping activities, participants work in groups to place paper "chips" on a base map to identify preferred development locations, densities, and patterns. Prior to the public workshop, the chips are scaled to the base map so the area they cover on the map represents the actual land area they would cover on the ground. The trade-offs among preferences become very clear if chips are carefully scaled to the base map.After completing the public workshops, the maps, survey results, and other public feedback gathered throughout the process are compiled, analyzed and used to develop alternate scenarios.
National Spotlight: Michigan Street Corridor
The Michigan Street Corridor Plan in Grand Rapids Michigan will engage urban anchor institutions, particularly institutions of higher education and academic medical centers, in a collaborative partnership with local government, community stakeholders, landowners, neighborhood residents, and business owners to develop a comprehensive, Integrated model that will advance housing, economic and community development, transportation, and environmental outcomes to insure a sustainable future for Grand Rapids (Ml) and the West Michigan region.
The Planning Department used the "Quality of LIFE meeting-in-a-box" game to creatively engage the community in the planning of the Michigan Street Corridor. Residents were provided with a free game containing a map of the Michigan Street Corridor to play with family and friends. The game allowed participants to add features such as street trees, transit, and multifamily residential developments, to the corridor. Once the participants added their desired features, the games were returned to the planning department and used to inform the planning process.