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Next Chapter for Jocelyn Hittle

Today is my last day at PlaceMatters, and I’m taking some time to reflect on the last six years. My work here has ranged from the complicated (multi-tool GIS and spatial analysis) to the mundane (sticking labels on our equipment for meetings) in a pattern familiar to anyone working for a small non-profit or business.  Since our inception, the nature of our work has changed as well, focusing more on advising and training agencies and organizations (building long term capacity) and less on organizing and running public participation events.

While many things have changed over that time (for example, I think the first time I helped run a keypad polling event at a meeting the keypads were the size of toasters and now they are the size of a credit card), there are a few constants as well. Some things that I’ve learned:

  • A successful public engagement process is thought out clearly at the outset, but is flexible.
  • Some people love technology.
  • Some people love maps.
  • The integration of many different channels of information into a public process is difficult, but seeing participants better understand the impacts of their choices (and sympathize with the agency staff who have to make difficult decisions all the time) is worth the effort.
  • When running a public meeting, have a Plan B for everything. Also have a Plan C.
  • Online and mobile technology are changing everything, and changing nothing, at the same time. Face-to-face interaction is still the best way to truly engage people in the decisions that impact their lives, in part because it helps establish trust and accountability. That said, a mobile phone poll gets a nugget of information from someone who otherwise wouldn’t be engaged at all.
  • Some people hate technology.
  • Some people hate maps.
  • Our understanding of how the systems in which we live operate is getting better all the time–we have huge datasets and remote sensing and complex analysis and crowdsourcing–and whether something in a community works or doesn’t work still often depends on some ineffable quality we don’t yet get.
  • Also have a Plan D.

Some food for thought.

For those of you that have not heard, I have taken a new position with Colorado State University as Director of their Denver Operational Initiatives. I’ll be working on a variety of projects, but will be focused primarily on CSU’s role within the partnership working on the redevelopment of the National Western Stock Show and Coliseum site. I am, of course, sad to be leaving PlaceMatters and our great partners and clients, but I’m also excited at the new opportunity.

Our Region, Our Plan wins NADO Innovation Award

SC-CRCPicTonyWinnThe Our Region, Our Plan process, which outlines the future for the Berkeley-Charleston-Dorchester, South Carolina region, recently won a NADO Innovation award for 2013. PlaceMatters’ project Creating Resilient Communities produced some valuable analyses, maps, and datasets that were then incorporated into the Our Region, Our Plan process. The Creating Resilient Communities work was part of a set of demonstration projects recently published in the Journal of Conservation Biology.

We congratulate the BCDCOG and the team that worked to develop this innovative plan, and we are thrilled that our work was useful for this award-winning project. We will watch the implementation of the plan with interest!


PlaceMatters Presenting at EcoDistricts Summit (and get a discount!)

PlaceMatters is a Community Partner for the EcoDistrict Summit coming up in Boston in November. I am also moderating a panel with James Miner from Sasaki Associates and Liza Morehead from Greater Portland Pulse called “Communicating Complexity: Using Interactive Data to Inspire Neighborhood Action.” We’ll be focusing on how to collect and communicate complex information to shape decision making and inspire action. If you are interested in attending, friends of PlaceMatters get a 10% discount. Contact us for more info.

The EcoDistrict folks just announced the keynote for the event as well–Steve Pemberton, Chief Diversity Officer and Divisional Vice President at Walgreens. I’m looking forward to hearing his thoughts on district scale work and sustainability.

Jennifer Evans-Cowley on the Future of Online Education

PlaceMatters’ Board member Jennifer Evans-Cowley, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Administration for the College of Engineering and a Professor of City and Regional Planning at The Ohio State University, is well-versed in the use of online education. Below, Jennifer comments on the future of online education–read on for her guest post.

What is the future of online education anyway?IMG_7540
What is the first thing you do when you are out and about and come across something you don’t know? If you are like me you Google it. For example, I was recently in a debate over different kinds of crabs and I had to look it up on line to see what they look like. We have increasingly come to expect that we can learn the things we need to know on demand, whether it is the trivial to that which we need as professionals.

Enter the massive open online course (MOOC). A MOOC delivers access to connect anyone, anywhere to a course. MOOCs allow people to learn in a highly flexible environment and allows participants to engage as much or as little as they may wish with the content in the course. At Ohio State University, we partnered with Coursera as our MOOC platform.

This past May I offered a course, TechniCity, bringing together thousands around the world to discuss technology and its applications in planning. PlaceMatters’ Jason Lally (now with the SF Mayor’s Office of Innovation), participated in a lecture speaking to the importance of code-a-thons.

The result was thousands of people imagining how technology can better be used to enhance their city. One of the most exciting ways that participants shared their ideas is through their final project. Ranging from videos, to posters, to reports, we were truly impressed with the diversity and practicality of the exciting ideas that participants brought forward.

TechniCity will be offered again in February, 2014 and is open for registration at

Book Review: Who Counts? The Power of Participatory Statistics

WhoCountsCoverIn the past year, I’ve been focusing more on one of the roles that PlaceMatters is uniquely positioned to play—getting information from academics and researchers into the hands of practitioners. Because PlaceMatters bridges the research and tool/method development world and the practitioner world, we can help make sure practitioners are learning from research happening in universities on topics ranging from individual and group decision-making to tool development to effective data visualization.

Along these lines, I was recently sent a copy of the book “Who Counts? The Power of Participatory Statistics,” a collection of articles and case studies on the use of participatory data and information collection and knowledge sharing. The book, edited by Jeremy Holland at the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex, focuses on international development and describes best practices for a variety of participatory techniques.

The book’s introduction is packed with useful information and an overview of participatory statistic and grassroots data collection and use, and how recent improvements in methodology are making participatory research more robust. In addition, I was particularly interested in the chapter on Participatory 3D Modelling, by Giacomo Rambaldi of the Technical Center for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation in the Netherlands.

Rambaldi discusses examples of the use of large 3D representations (generally the base of which is constructed using thin layers of durable material. Participants then add push pins, yarn, and other markers to represent their mental maps and knowledge of the area. Many features can then be verified using GPS, and the resulting maps are frequently more accurate than official maps. Rambaldi describes a process like this in Ethiopia that was geared toward helping the community repair environmental degradation from deforestation.

The mapping process in Ethiopia provided an opportunity for adults to remember and describe to youth what the environment had been like, and realize the impacts of deforestation on livelihoods. In addition, it provided an educational opportunity for all, since the mapping exercise meant participants thought about the connections between different parts of the ecosystem.

While this chapter was perhaps the most similar to work that PlaceMatters does in the U.S., there are many case studies and articles that are relevant to informed civic engagement in decision-making processes as well as the use of participatory statistics in evaluating program success. A few points that were raised overall, among projects around the world:

  • Participatory GIS, research, modeling, etc. must be carefully designed to be authentically participatory and include not only the elite
  • The information that comes out of participatory processes can lead to community empowerment, but also to the use of the data and information to further disempower residents—for example, identification of additional resources to be extracted by business or government. (PlaceMatters has been working on the flip side of this coin, advocating for the opening of datasets for the public to use).
  • New technologies such as OpenStreetMap, Ushahidi’s Crowdmap, wikis, and mobile tech are making participatory research, data collection and statistics easier and more accurate.

While “Who Counts?” focuses on international projects, its take-home lessons resonate with anyone working on engaging community. Some of the methodologies described would be easily transferred to domestic settings, and could be an improvement on the way we are engaging (particularly in non-urban settings). The book is worth a look, even for those of us not in international development.

Want the book? Here’s the info: “Who Counts? The Power of Participatory Statistics.” Edited by Jeremy Holland, with an Afterword by Robert Chambers. Published by Practical Action Publishing.




EcoDistricts Summit Coming Up! Submit a Proposal

POSI_Summit-LogoPlaceMatters has recently been talking with EcoDistricts (formerly the Portland Sustainability Institute) about their work in Portland, and their pilot projects in Target Cities across North America. We are particularly interested in how communities can be engaged in and informed by an EcoDistrict in their city. We have also signed up to be a Community Partner for their upcoming summit in Boston. Figuring that some of you might be interested in participating, the info on their call for session proposals is below.  For more info on the summit itself visit the EcoDistricts website.


Join us in Boston November 12-14 for the EcoDistricts Summit, a can’t-miss event for leaders who are shaping and building the cities and urban neighborhoods of the future. Each year the Summit convenes leading municipal policymakers, developers, business leaders, planners, and community leaders – people with decision-making power – to share best practices and shape the growing EcoDistricts marketplace. We invite you to shape the 2013 Summit by proposing an innovative education session. Deadline for submissions is Friday, July 19. Please see our Proposal Guidelines for more information.

PlaceMatters’ Work Published in Journal of Conservation Biology

Alternative Scenario for BCD Region

Alternative Scenario for BCD Region

Since an important focus of PlaceMatters’ work is informed decision-making (and the technical tools this sometimes requires), I thought I’d share some more detail on one of our past projects, partly because the work–integrating ecosystem and hazard data into traditional planning– was recently published in the Journal of Conservation Biology. Co-authored by Patrick Crist of NatureServe, Kiersten Madden of the University of TX Marine Science Institute, Doug Walker of Placeways, Tashya Allen and Dave Eslinger of NOAA, and myself, the article, “Supporting cross-sector, cross-domain planning through interoperating toolkits,” includes work PlaceMatters (and partners) did to demonstrated the benefits of addressing conservation goals and hazard mitigation simultaneously through a holistic approach to traditional planning. The article focuses on two pilot projects, our work in the Charleston area and the work done by UT in the Mission-Aransas NERR, both funded by the Packard Foundation to investigate the use of tools to improve ecosystem-based management within traditional planning contexts.

I won’t go into the details here (since you can read the paper), but essentially PlaceMatters’ project, called Creating Resilient Communities, first focused on measuring: 1) how well the region would do with respect to the conservation goals identified by a team of regional experts and 2) how many people (particularly vulnerable populations like the elderly or low income households) would live or work in hazard prone areas if growth patterns in the region continued as is. We then suggested an alternative scenario that moved new development out of hazard prone and biologically important areas (which were frequently the same areas) to show how conservation goals and hazard mitigation goals were aligned. In addition to making a case for different growth patterns, the project tested a toolkit of analysis tools–  CommunityVizNatureServe’s Vista, and NOAA’s Roadmap for Adapting to Coastal Risk. While we found that they worked reasonably well together, there is still room for additional improvement in interoperability.

One of the reasons we use scenario planning processes like this one is to help people–stakeholders, decision-makers, members of the public–understand the linkages between sectors and topics, as well as the linkages between policy choices and the things that they care about. Scenarios let us explore possible impacts and see where there might be unexpected results.  Toolkits like the ones used in each of these pilot projects help us to better understand and communicate these linkages and potential outcomes. While there are improvements that remain that could make analysis tools, and the data they require, work better together, the real challenges to integrated planning are not technical.

Planning that truly takes into account the system in which we live–including natural, economic, and social systems–is frequently hindered more by the ways in which decisions are made than by the tools we use to model it. At PlaceMatters, we are working hard to make sure that decision-making is better informed by “systems thinking,” but this will take commitment from decision-makers, both individuals and agencies. Stay tuned for future blog posts about communities or organizations that are great examples of using scenario planning effectively to promote and achieve cross-sector, multidisciplinary, holistic decision-making.


Linking Equity and Scenario Planning

Kirwan Opportunity Map

Example of Opportunity Mapping from Kirwan Institute

A few months ago, PlaceMatters hosted a webinar “Linking Equity and Scenario Planning” for the Sustainable Communities Grantees.  The webinar featured highlights of the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning‘s GO TO 2040 process and its equity components, including increasing access to the scenario planning work via interact kiosks placed in strategic parts of the region.   Jason Reece from the Kirwan Institute gave a great presentation on Opportunity Mapping, which provides spatial representation of some of the inequities in access to opportunity. Boston’s Metropolitan Area Planning Council then discussed the work they have done incorporating equity issues into both the process and content of their scenarios work.  Finally, I wrapped things up with a few additional thoughts on how to communicate complex information.

Our presenters had really valuable thoughts about the linkages between equity and scenario planning–both how to equitably engage people in the scenario planning process and what to measure and think about in scenario development itself. Issues of inequitable access to opportunity are complicated, difficult to measure, and difficult to talk about. Our webinar presenters are at the forefront of making equity a critical part of scenario planning discussions and are examples of how to embed the equity conversation in all aspects of our work.

Watch the webinar below, and please contact us with any thoughts and questions, as this is a topic we continue to explore.

Sustainable Communities Initiative: Equity and Scenario Planning Webinar from PlaceMatters’ Videos on Vimeo.

How to Launch a Project: Imagine Central AR’s Participatory, Celebratory Kickoff

Imagine Central Arkansas Kickoff

Imagine Central Arkansas Kickoff

PlaceMatters has had a bit of a blogging dry spell, but we have a good excuse! In the last month staff members have been to:

We’ve been working hard, listening to our partners challenges and successes, and supporting some great events. More info on some of these trips will be forthcoming on our blog.  I will start things off with some highlights from our first trip, where we helped implement Metroplan‘s (Central AR’s MPO) Imagine Central Arkansas kickoff event.

The kickoff was held in a pavilion at the River Market in Little Rock. Over 200 people enjoyed the local band, popcorn machine, and fantastic fall weather.  They also were able to provide initial input via several interactive stations:

  • An “I Imagine Central Arkansas” station where people could fill in a white-board with their vision for the future of the region and have photos taken with their boards (Metroplan has collected quite a few of these, check them out here).
  • A station for kids where they could draw their favorite places (some in great detail!) and/or build their vision for the future with Lego blocks and paper streets (I got to work at this station and enjoyed every conversation I had with all the young people who came through–not surprisingly, the pool is a popular place, but they also loved the Big Dam Bridge and other regional destinations).
  • Treasured Places Station had a (PlaceMatters’ DIY) touch-table that showed a map where people could place virtual “pins” highlighting places in the region they particularly value and “like” places that others have identified (this map and the Know Your Region quiz was set up by our friend Chris Haller at Urban Interactive Studio, who has done the project website)
  • A “Your Story” Station where we video-taped short statements about what people love about Central Arkansas
  • Know Your Region, a quiz for people to see how much they know about Central Arkansas.
  • A Participation Station where people could learn about how to participate in the process and scan QR codes using their smartphones to see more info on the project website.

PlaceMatters also set up live streaming for anyone who wanted to join the fun, but couldn’t come in person. We also had students from each class at the nearby eStem Charter School join us, and we loved seeing them interact with the technology and provide their ideas.

The following week, Brad Barnett, our Planning Analyst, was back in the region, helping use the touch-tables again for a round of “Hometown Visits” around the region. Along with Metroplan and Gresham, Smith & Partners, Brad helped provide opportunities for participation (similar to the kickoff) in places around the region, part of an ongoing strategy to reach people where they are in their day-to-day lives.

We feel that the model for the kickoff and round of local meetings was a good one, particularly with the level of interaction that both provided. We almost never want people to spend their valuable time at a meeting where they aren’t providing feedback and input. We’ll be pointing our partners and communities interested in a great model kickoff event to the Central Arkansas example. The hometown visits were also a good idea, and could be very successful in similar projects if the right locations are chosen where there is a lot of foot traffic.

Stay tuned in the coming weeks for additional posts about our current project work and our thoughts about what is working well and lessons learned.



Participation by Design: Flash Mobs, Frivolity, and Fun–Performing Arts and Planning

This post, by PlaceMatters blogger Jocelyn Hittle, is the twentieth in a slightly-more-than-a-month-long series on the impressive 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 are covering 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.

Photo courtesy of Flickr User LegalAdmin, Creative Commmons.

Performance in Place! A Seattle flash mob, couresy of flickr user LegalAdmin

I hesitate to admit this, but as a once and future singer and dancer, I have often dreamed of walking down the street and having everyone around me—preferably a meter maid, constable (yes, a constable not a policeman), grandmother walking her dog, newspaper delivery boy, and cabbie—begin singing and dancing.  If you’ve seen pretty much any musical, you know the scene I’m sketching out here.

Here’s what many of you know already: This. Can. Actually. Happen.  Heard of flash mobs? Well, I have, and for me they are a dream come true.  Seemingly spontaneous public dance (and sometimes singing) performances, they are lighthearted, unexpected, and then over—everyone in the mob moving on as if nothing had happened.  They range from the most amateur to highly sophisticated (T-Mobile’s flash mob advertisement is probably the best known example).

Improv Everywhere, a group started by Charlie Todd, a comedian formerly of the Upright Citizens’ Brigade, is behind some of the most creative flash mobs, and other unexpected public acts of frivolity.  Their “no pants subway ride” event has been been livening up New Yorkers’ morning commute for years, and has now been replicated across the country, including here in Denver on our light rail.  Check out Todd’s TED talk for more examples.

What I’ve been thinking more about is how to relate this kind of public performance (mostly the kind that includes wearing pants) into the place where it is being held, because place matters (sorry).  There are examples of visual arts that use the context of their place, most famously Christo and Jeanne-Claude.  I’m interested in how we can similarly tie place to performance.  There are a few silly examples of using the context of a performance as part of the performance itself–this pool flash mob, for example–but I’m interested in rooting performance more clearly in the place in which is is happening,  linking these performances to planning processes to make the planning process more fun, involve the often overlooked groups of performing artists in a community, highlight a community’s strengths or challenges, and create excitement around a planning process.

Other performing arts options have been incorporated into planning processes–check out Winston-Salem’s video featuring local musicians that encourages people to get involved in the update of their comprehensive plan, for example.  The kickoff and wrap-up events of planning processes are also increasingly celebratory and feature live local music and cuisine (e.g., Imagine Austin’s launch of their comp plan, the New River Valley Livability Initiative’s kickoff).  On the more innovative end of things is the Sojourn Theater’s work incorporating dance and other performances into their BUILT process, which allows participants to discuss and place various land uses on a “game” board.  (On a side note, the BUILT process is being modified for the New River Valley Livability Initiative to fit a more rural context, and in this case is not using the performance art.)

There seem to be more examples of use of visual arts and storytelling in planning processes, including PlaceMatters’ own work on the Philadelphia LANDvisions project, than performing arts.  APA has a series of briefing papers on the arts in planning and they really don’t mention performing arts in any substantive way–and I’m interested in gathering more examples.  If you know of projects that have used performing arts (dance, music, theater, improv comedy, anything along these lines) please let me know.

I’ll be posting more about this topic outside of this Participation by Design series, particularly in cases where we are able to use performing arts in our current projects and have some lessons learned to share.

Jocelyn Hittle is the Director of PlaceMatters’ Sustainable Solutions Group, where she focuses on designing and implementing planning processes that are informed, equitable, creative, and transparent. She focuses on communicating complex information, involving typically underrepresented groups, and organizing spontaneous dance performances.