The most successful community-planning efforts involve residents as partners, from the early planning stage through to implementation. Some community leaders hire planners and avoid involving residents for fear that potential conflict will become a barrier to progress. In reality, that conflict can be an asset, providing residents with an opportunity to express their passions about their community, while potentially offering ideas that planners (who usually are not from the community) may have failed to consider without resident involvement.
Resident participation should not be limited to focus groups, but instead be planned community conversations. Residents identifying community issues and considering potential solutions together also creates a sense of accountability among participants.
Guidelines for organizing community-planning dialogues, based on experiences from successful planning efforts:
Build Trust Up Front – Community plans are more apt to succeed when there is resident support. Help people understand how community planning works and the role they can play in the process; they need to ‘own’ it.
Involve Everyone - Invite everyone who lives or works in the community, with extra effort on the ‘hard to reach.’ Increase the likelihood of diverse participation (both racially/ethnically and in terms of perspective) by creating a broad-based coalition from the start to work on the planning goals & strategies. Reach out early on to naysayers; continue inviting them in during the process.
Hold Facilitated Dialogues – Create a dialogue guide that reflects community concerns and hopes. Trained facilitators & dialogue guidelines increase the likelihood of productive conversations.
Follow-up - Reconvene dialogue participants to update them on the developing community plan. Let them know their feedback is appreciated. Lack of follow-up with residents is the most common community planning error.
Get the Word Out - Use conventional media and technology to inform the overall community. Newspapers, bulletin boards, announcements during community meetings, information sessions, websites and social media are invaluable.
Help Build Social Capital– Taking part in community planning dialogues will not only result in good ideas, it also builds relationships, which help move action ideas forward.