What is citizen-centered planning? Our forums identified at least three factors:
- Adequate notice and opportunities to be heard.
- Opportunities for meaningful input.
- “Reporting back.”
What is adequate notice and opportunity to be heard? It includes reaching out to citizens in ways that get their attention and adequately inform them why input is needed. Consider Dave Meslin’s Ted Talk “The Antidote to Apathy” for ideas on how this area of planning might be improved. Ideas shared by our participants included more readable notices provided in a variety of formats, scheduling meetings at different times of day, and at accessible places served by public transit.
What makes for meaningful input? This would include opportunities to help define the problems to be solved, not just comment on proposed solutions. It includes timely provision of information — citizens should not be asked to a meeting and then told a 100+ page report has been issued just that afternoon. It also includes efforts to help break down complex issues and provide information in context and formats that help citizens digest that information. Boone County’s recently released Citizen’s Guide to County Finances is a good example of one effort to do just that. “Meaningful input” also means that there is actually a possibility that the input will make a difference. It is the opposite of what our participants described here:
“With the trash issue, the city asked for opinions, and then it appeared they were definitely going to use roll carts. At that point I stopped responding to surveys.”
“Was the city really “up in the air” about rollcarts, and wanting to gauge opinions, or were they trying to find out “If we do this thing, how many people will hate it?” I am being facetious but the perceptions were there that participation was meaningless.”
Reporting back simply means communication on what input was received, how it was used, the decisions made, and the reasons for these decisions. Forum participants thought this was an area where significant improvements could be made.
Share your thoughts on “citizen-centered planning” in the comments. Where do you see it? What changes would you make?