Engineering/construction firms (or government agencies that contract with such firms), constantly face the challenge of involving the public in the design and implementation of projects.
To help combat these obstacles, Cook + Schmid has compiled ten tips to help you plan a public participation program to increase awareness, capture input, gain consensus and support, and, ultimately, build the project:
- Start early!Be sure you have time to capture meaningful input and incorporate that input into project decisions. If there are no decisions that the public can influence, your effort should be to educate and inform, not ask for input.
- Determine your internal commitment to the program – and how your organization will use the input.Make sure everyone is on the same page.
- Have a clear understanding of the return on investment of participants. You’re asking them to commit time and effort, what do they get for doing so?
- Be honest! This is a chance to gather public input and create a better, more sustainable project. It is also an opportunity to build trusted relationships within the community and with stakeholders. Be open, transparent – sincerity and empathy matter!
- Do your research.
(a) Gain an understanding of the issues and how people perceive the issues or decisions that need to be made. Acknowledge that all parties bring their values to the process.
(b) Develop a comprehensive list of stakeholders
(c) Interview stakeholders who represent the range of perspectives
(d) Assess the level of controversy
(e) Review/refine your understanding of the issues
- Select the appropriate level of participation. It’s important to understand how much the public can affect the decision. Are you asking for their input, are you asking them to partner with you in making the decision, or are you asking them to make the decision?
(a) Assess internal and external expectations – see where the agree/disagree.
(b) Clearly define the decisions to be made and the level of impact the public can have on those decisions. The International Association for Public Participation’s Spectum is a helpful tool to help you choose the appropriate level of engagement.
- Understand and define the decision process and objectives.
(a) Define the scope of the decision(s) and the process to making the decision(s)
(b) Set clear objectives
(c) Make sure the objectives meet stakeholder needs and that they can reasonably be met through the decision(s)
(d) Clearly define how the input will affect the decisions and how you will communicate the decisions made and how the input influenced the decisions
(e) Design the process to legitimize the decision. Most decisions are argued based on the process, not the decision.
- Engaging hard to reach audiences.(a)
Plan to go to them. Plan public meetings in the communities you need to reach.(b)
Provide in-culture materials(c)
Enlist the help of trusted ambassadors/influencers in those communities
- Develop a public participation plan document. This document will serve as both an implementation guide and a historical document of the plan’s execution and outcomes.(a) Clearly summarize the data gathered to date including stakeholders and issues
(b) Provide background info necessary for participants to engage in a meaningful way
(c) Define the decisions that need to be made and the process for making them
(d) State the objectives
(e) Identify the techniques and meeting format or input vehicle that best fits your objectives and level of involvement required (refer to the iap2 Spectrum for guidance)
(f) Identify all support elements
- Close the loop. Define how you will communicate the outcomes from your public participation effort, then do it