When managed well, public engagement in the design process can build momentum and support for the project, solve problems, and help ensure the project is as responsive as possible to the community’s needs and desires. With decades of public involvement under our belts, we offer the following tips for planning and executing a successful public engagement meeting.
1. Uncover hot button issues ahead of time.
It is important to understand the multitude of perspectives in the community before kicking off any public engagement event. While some hot button issues may be easily recognized or well documented from past experience, others may not be so immediately obvious. The project team should work together with the client to proactively identify these concerns and ensure that the team is prepared for the broad spectrum of topics that could arise during the meeting.
2. Invite the right people.
Once key issues have been identified, it is important validate these concerns by inviting the right people to address them. Not all concerns are best addressed by the design team. For example, questions about community safety might be best answered by a member of local law enforcement, while the City Manager might be best suited to address inquiries about funding or fiscal impact. Similarly, it is important to consider the stakeholder group and ensure that all interested parties feel welcome and invited to participate. Sometimes this offers an opportunity to creatively expand beyond the traditional stakeholder group. As an example, when designing the Quarry Splash Pad project for Williamson County, RVi held a design charette with local families, focusing on engaging the children in planning for this exciting project.
3. Select the appropriate format.
Once you understand the hot button issues and the dynamics of the stakeholder group, the next step is to plan the format of the event. For example, on particularly complex projects, small focus groups could be an effective tool. For particularly contentious projects, an Open House format allows for one-on-one meetings where individuals feel like their concerns are personally addressed.
Good design is rooted in the practice of understanding the needs of the community and responding with fine-tuned design solutions. Many stakeholders approach public engagement with a genuinely curious mindset and a desire to have a positive impact on their communities, and oftentimes this feedback is critical for a project’s success.