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Participation by Design: Connecting People to Place

This post represents the wrap-up of our 20 blog series called Participation by Design.  The series focused on the diversity of participatory decision-making tools that communities can use for land use plans, transportation plans, sustainability plans, or any other type of community plan. Our guest bloggers covered the gamut, from low-tech to high-tech, web-based to tactile, art-based to those based on scenario planning tools, and more. We welcome your feedback and would love to hear about the participatory design strategies that you’ve found to be the most useful.

Participation by Design Blog Contributors

Thank you to all the contributors to this series!  I really enjoyed reading each of the pieces and the different perspectives they brought to an ongoing conversation.  It was interesting to see common links amongst diverse topics. Not surprisingly, the importance of place-specific context came up frequently as a critical ingredient for planning, from multiple standpoints.  Here are some highlights showing the range of contributions and how they address the issue of context.

On data, tools, and technology issues, we have several contributors including Rob GoodspeedDaniel Saniski, Jason Reece, and Jason Lally.  Daniel describes how local information is critical to understanding complex data sets, giving an example in Denver where place-specific context was needed to accurately interpret unemployment stats in a region. Rob addresses techniques that integrate GIS and visualization tools to help people understand tradeoffs within the context of a specific transit oriented development.  Jason Reece of the Kirwann Institute examines spatial analysis techniques that can be used to address some of the more complex issues of equity, mobility, and economic development linked to place. A technique known as Opportunity Mapping provides a GIS-based platform for engaging a broad number of community stakeholders, and simultaneously focusing on the equity concerns of marginalized communities.

Nick Bowden and Jennifer Evans-Cowley provide observations on the efficacy of online sites and the use of social networking tools to encourage public participation linked to community planning.  For Nick, it boils down to content and context.  Online sites should not shy away from content that is emotional since emotion drives interest. Sites also need to be rich in context—linking people to the efforts of others and connecting people to the places they care about—since it is this context that fosters a sense of personal ownership and motivates people to get more involved.  Jennifer’s research looking at the use of social networking tools in Austin shows how communities can dramatically increase the number of people engaged in planning conversations by tapping into the blogosphere of respected bloggers and writers in the region.  Instead of trying to create a new following for a given community initiative, she suggests engaging established bloggers, adding to their conversation with thoughtful responses, and encouraging them to encourage others to link to the initiative.

On the artistic side of the planning spectrum, we had great pieces on museum exhibits, public art installations, and variations of performance art.  Jasper Visser notes the effectiveness of Candy Chag’s art installments in drawing people into meaningful conversations.  It is her skillful balance of urgency and simplicity that causes people to pay attention and to contribute their own personal reflections. Nina Simon, a thought leader in the museum world, focuses on how to make exhibits more engaging.  On her Museum 2.0 blog she suggests the role of museums is to create space that “encourages safe, friendly collisions in a community-wide pinball machine.” And in our last installment of the series, PlaceMatters’ own Jocelyn Hittle explores the potential of combining the somewhat whimsical qualities of flash mobs with the popular desire to celebrate the places we love, and how these gatherings might be used to catch people’s attention and encourage them to participate in other community building efforts.

The series also included terrific posts by Corey Connors on engagement with smartphones, Ethan Zuckerman on communicating complex data, Eric Gordon, Carissa Shively Slotterback & Cindy Zerger, Matt Baker, Jeff Warren, James Fishkin, Chris Haller, and Karen Fung on a range of very specific tools and techniques, Ariana McBride on using storytelling in decision-making, and Augusta Prehn on engaging kids in planning.  Thanks again to the contributors and thanks to many of you that provide comments and follow-up insights.  Stay tuned for our next series to be announced in the Fall.