The Rochester-Monroe Anti-Poverty Initiative (RMAPI) has teamed up with the Participatory Budgeting Project and will use this process to decide how best to allocate up to $200,000 granted through the Empire State Poverty Reduction Initiative. RMAPI and the Participatory Budgeting Project hosted an introductory meeting on April 18, where we learned about the fundamentals of participatory budgeting and even got to try out the process.
While the concept is not entirely new to many Rochesterians, it was helpful to get an overview and a practice run. After explaining how the process works, our facilitator, Melissa, from the Participatory Budgeting Project, pulled a $20 bill out of her purse and told us we were going to use the participatory budgeting process to decide where the money should be donated. She grouped us together into smaller groups and asked each group to develop a “proposal” about where the money should go. We picked a charitable organization and explained why we thought it was the best place to donate the $20. Each group then presented their proposal, after which everyone voted on their top three proposals. The $20 went to the winning proposals, which were for Teen Empowerment and Ticket to Ride.
It was a fun meeting—I can’t wait to see this process in action in the coming months.
Participatory budgeting (PB) is a different way to manage public money, and to engage people in government. It is a democratic process in which community members directly decide how to spend part of a public budget. It enables taxpayers to work with government to make the budget decisions that affect their lives.
by Susan Hopkins, AICP
For practitioners of public engagement, the chance to experience participatory budgeting is what I imagine it’s like for a classic car enthusiast to drive a 1967 Mustang Shelby, for hippies to go to Burning Man, or to find a Mickey Mantle baseball card in your attic. In other words, it’s the holy grail. And participatory budgeting is about as close as a process can get towards truly empowering a community to make decisions about how to spend public dollars.
By Christopher Dunne
“Gamification” is an ugly word but it's also one of our favorite techniques for making complex information and tough choices more fun and engaging for members of the public. We talked about using a "Guess Who" game board to teach participants about tradeoffs in the world of transit back in February. More recently in Auburn, we handed out March Madness-style brackets to help launch a discussion about what criteria should be used to select an alternate water source for Cayuga County as part of the Regional Master Plan for their water system.
These tools are light-hearted but that never detracts from the conversations they create. The discussion this exercise generated in Cayuga County was productive, informative and maybe even as engaging as your conversation by the water cooler about the Ramblers blowing up your bracket.
A March Madness-style bracket with match-ups between different criteria used to assess an alternate water source for Cayuga County.
Committee members fill out their brackets before an in-depth discussion.
by Susan Hopkins, AICP
We're excited to announce a new initiative called Opt-In, an online panel we created to gather feedback and understand public opinion on a variety of topics impacting the future of cities, such as transportation, parks, economic development and quality-of-life.
We aim to understand public opinion and delve a little deeper on particular topics so we can understand why people feel the way they do. Participating in Opt-In is quick, easy, and confidential. We won't contact you more than four times a year and the results of each survey will be shared on Highland Planning's Facebook page and website.
by Tanya Zwahlen
Sue went up to Toronto this week to take the International Association of Public Participation (IAP2) Foundations in Public Participation course. It's a three day course, and she's been radioing back to our team through Slack to tell us how it's going. In summary, she is fired up. Look for a zillion blog posts from her when she returns after the holiday.
By Susan Hopkins, AICP
Shared experiences and serendipity are key elements of a healthy community—and a healthy democracy.
This morning, as I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts, I realized something about the work we do at Highland Planning. Community engagement is not only fun and meaningful for our clients and communities. It is essential to sustaining our democracy.
The podcast, entitled “Defending the Republic,” featured Cass R. Sunstein, a legal scholar and author of the recently published #republic: Divided Democracy in the Age of Social Media. Sunstein’s premise is that while free speech is important, it’s not enough to ensure a healthy democracy. Serendipity and shared experiences are also key elements.
What is Serendipity?
In simple terms, serendipity is something that happens by chance in a beneficial way. These are experiences that promote chance encounters and democratic deliberation. The way most of us digest news and social media today means that we have fewer and fewer opportunities to experience serendipity: things like “public forums of old,” traditional TV news, and generalist newspapers. This applies to public spaces, too. Parks, buses, plazas, and trails are all serendipitous places that foster shared experience and diverse encounters. It also applies to public meetings, open houses, design workshops, and focus groups.
Shared face-to-face experiences and unchosen serendipitous experiences, even when we don’t like them, can lead to encounters with diverse ideas. They allow us to hear opposing viewpoints and unfiltered perspectives. In other words, we’re increasing the odds that we become engaged in something that challenges our convictions, and that we will be able to understand, and learn from, people we might otherwise disagree with, distrust, or even demonize.
What Does this Mean in Practice?
Many of us have seen the viral YouTube videos featuring angry crowds at “town hall” meetings around the country. Admittedly, that is not the type of shared experience many of us want to have. What is missing from those meetings is a carefully orchestrated meeting design that elevates the conversation and gives everyone a chance to be heard.
In fact, the design of a meeting—from activities to the type of venue—is one of the most important ways to create a valuable shared experience that encourages people to see other points of view and consider other perspectives. Two techniques we use to facilitate dialogue in larger groups and/or in situations where there may be diverging values and opinions are Cardstorming and World Café.
These are just two of many techniques we use to create serendipity and foster productive discussion.
So, the next time you attend a public meeting, talk to a candidate campaigning door-to-door, or have a serendipitous encounter at a park or on the bus, consider that you aren’t just participating in your community, you are helping to preserve and strengthen our democracy.
by Susan Hopkins
As New Yorkers, we cherish our summers. As planners, we know that summer can be a challenging time to engage communities in planning initiatives. We’re competing with summer vacations, festivals, backyard cookouts, and sunny weather. No one wants to sit indoors on a beautiful summer evening. How can we take advantage of summer weather to engage community members in our planning initiatives?
Here are some examples of engagement techniques that take advantage of warm weather and long days!
Host a paddle meeting. Invite participants to experience a waterfront site or trail from a new perspective (i.e. from the water itself). Give community members the chance to experience the water, learn about waterfront access, redevelopment, and think in new ways about future opportunities. Kayaks, stand-up paddle boards (SUPs), and canoes can offer a low impact and accessible way for people of all paddling abilities to participate.
Lead a bike tour. Help community members experience a trail, connection, or street by bike—for the first time or in a brand new way.
Host a Bike Trolley Pedal Tour. Fifteen people on a giant bike. Need I say more?
Use alternative forms of transportation to engage elderly or disabled community members. Consider including golf carts along with the above techniques to allow less mobile members of the community to participate.
By Mary Rowlands
It’s been 16 months since I joined Highland Planning and the spectrum of projects that I have had the pleasure to work on has enlightened me. I have a 30+ year career in traffic and transportation operations and planning, and my experiences facilitating public outreach activities on a multitude of project types has taught me a lot.
First and foremost, the knowledge that Tanya has shared with our team regarding the techniques and tools for effective public engagement has allowed me to incorporate unique, fun and successful methods with all of my projects. The days of holding a public meeting and hoping someone shows up are gone. We design our engagement processes in response to our stakeholders preferences for locations, times, format, and even the topics for discussion at meetings. The way to tailor public engagement is talk to stakeholders *before* designing a strategy.
As a rule, we ask the public questions about:
I had previous experience working on comprehensive plans, Brownfield Opportunity Area studies, transit and traffic operations studies, and Complete Streets projects. Today, I am applying engagement techniques to a variety of projects. For instance, I am working on two Law Enforcement Shared Services studies with the Center for Government Research (CGR). Although I know nothing about consolidating police agencies, our methodology has helped me solicit the input needed for CGR to complete their analysis. It has been very rewarding, and I have seen firsthand that project outcomes are better when you include the public.
by M. André Primus
One of the more exciting projects we have had the opportunity to work on lately is the Greentopia EcoDistrict. Last month, we held our first public meeting, and it was a great time! The public meeting was held at ER Studio and Lounge, a dance studio and event space on State Street in the EcoDistrict. This unique space really helped show off what the area already has to offer.
The purpose of this first meeting was to get initial input and ideas, so we started off with a presentation from Rachel Walsh, the EcoDistrict Coordinator, before splitting into groups to generate ideas.
Why an EcoDistrict?
Rachel’s presentation began with a description of some of the issues in cities today. Sixty percent of North America’s population lives in cities, a proportion that is expected to reach three-quarters by 2050. Cities account for 80% of global greenhouse gas emissions and 75% of energy consumption. Our cities also contribute to a vast equity gap: the zip code a child is born into has a bigger role in determining that child’s future than any other single factor. Cities in the US also face a $1 trillion+ infrastructure backlog, comprising everything from ruptured water mains to decaying public buildings, bridges, roads and transit. On top of all this is the growing threat of climate change.
The EcoDistricts Protocol is a response to those issues. The EcoDistricts Protocol is a process-based framework and certification standard that empowers equitable, resilient, sustainable neighborhoods and districts for all. It is designed to support diverse project teams represented by public, private, and non-profit groups. One distinctive of the EcoDistricts Protocol is equity, which isn’t consistently addressed in other district-scale projects, often distorting the benefits and intensifying the negative impacts of investments.
Rachel presented information about two other EcoDistricts. She explained the projects, priorities, and roadmaps of the Sun Valley EcoDistrict and the Capitol Hill EcoDistrict.
Public Input Sessions
The group then split and went to the three stations. At the first station, attendees were invited to ask questions and learn more. Rachel answered questions and explained the details of the Protocol and the High Falls EcoDistrict. At the second station, ideas for the new EcoDistrict were collected and discussed. André documented the ideas, which ranged from using water power to power streetlights, to bungee jumping from the Pont de Renne. At the third station, attendees shared their vision for the EcoDistrict by finishing the sentence “My vision for the EcoDistrict is…” on a blackboard. Jen took “Vision Portraits” of each peron with their board.