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Winners of OPTG Innovation Awards Announced!

The OPTG is pleased to announce the winners of the inaugural Innovation Awards. Awards were presented in two categories. The Innovative Tool Award highlights a tool that has made a significant contribution to the open planning tools landscape. The second award for 2014 is the Exemplary Implementation Award, which recognizes a planning process or project that utilized planning tools in an innovative manner to create effective public engagement or improved analysis supporting the resolution of a significant challenge.

This year’s winners are:

Innovative Tool Award
Forest Planner | Ecotrust

Ecotrust’s Forest Planner brings free decision support tools to Oregon and Washington’s forest owners. Using Forest Planner, forest managers can map properties, prepare forest management scenarios, and evaluate the results based on key indicators of forest production and health. The innovative use of open-source software to bring improved analytics and scenario planning to forest land managers for free is a perfect example of the Open Planning Tool Group’s goals in action.

Key Innovations:

  • Connecting science to decision-making: Forest owners and managers can evaluate the effects of management strategies using a system developed in collaboration with Oregon State University Extension foresters.
  • Broadening Access: Previously, analytics of this type were available only through the use of expensive and complicated software. Forest Planner’s web-based interface makes complex data accessible to land owners and other decision-makers. Using open source software further opens up the access to this tool to new audiences.
  • Innovative Analysis: Forest Planner brings together years of forest and conservation modeling with tool development in the open source Madrona framework.

Forest Planner is scheduled for rollout on March 22nd at the Clackamas Tree School, an annual event of the Oregon State University Extension. Learn more about the tool at:


Exemplary Implementation Award
Massachusetts Priority Mapping Protocol | Metropolitan Area Planning Council

The Priority Mapping Protocol creates a framework for using civic engagement and data-driven technology to identify priority areas for housing and economic development in Massachusetts. It exemplifies the Open Planning Tool Group’s linked goals of advancing the use of open access and open source tools to improve planning decisions through engagement with the public, providing improved analytics and information to decision makers, and supporting the use of scenario planning practices in policy development.
Key Innovations:

  • Linking Data and Civic Engagement: In the two projects where it has been used, 80 public meetings allowed participants learn about the complex factors that shape their community, and more importantly to share information with and learn from each other.. The innovative use of geospatial tools like Community Viz allowed technical staff to gather public feedback that provides significantly more precise, and thus useful, guidance for future policy decisions.
  • Multi-Agency Collaboration: The Priority Mapping Protocol was implemented in collaboration with the State’s Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development, the South East Regional Planning and Economic Development District (SRPEDD), and MAPC. Collaboration between MAPC and SRPEDD involved a considerable amount of learning across the two agencies and helped to build the capacity of SRPEDD to implement more advanced scenario planning tools in the future.
  • Availability and Scaling: The tools developed to support this protocol are available to any region in the State of Massachusetts and include a library of supporting data and guidance for the inclusion of locally sourced information.

In addition to recognition for their achievements, the award recipients will receive a cash prize of $500. Congratulations to both of the winners! We’ll be rolling out more info about each tool and process in the coming weeks.

Cross-posted on


Call for Entries: 2014 Open Planning Tools Innovation Awards

The Open Planning Tools Group is initiating an annual innovation awards program to facilitate the advancement and utilization of innovative open access planning tools.  Initial awards will be made both for innovative tool development and for an exemplary implementation effort. Self-nominations are welcome. Deadline: Feb 3, 2014

2014 Awards

Innovative Open Source Planning Tool Award: An annual award to the best new contribution(s) to open source planning tools.

Exemplary Implementation of Open Source Planning Tool Award: An annual award to a planning endeavor that utilized planning tools in an innovative manner to create effective public engagement or improved analysis supporting the resolution of a significant challenge.  Projects must have utilized open source software.  The applicant could be a lead public agency or consultant involved in the activity.

In addition, each award comes with a $500 cash prize.


Eligibility Criteria

Innovative Tool Award

  • Topic Areas:
    • Applications to advance scenario planning
    • Applications that facilitate community engagement and/or public education
    • Efforts to facilitate use of current scenario planning tools for exploratory scenario planning efforts
    • New enhancements that can be used with scenario planning tools – such as linking land use and public health issues
    • Applications that assist with assembling data for use with planning tools
  • Requirements
    • The “Key Elements” of the tool being submitted for the award should be licensed under a recognized OS license and the code publicly accessible at the time of judging to be eligible
    • At least some portion of the nominated effort must have occurred within the last year

Exemplary Implementation Award

  • Topic Areas – Exemplary planning efforts in any of the following areas
  • Requirements
    • Scenario Planning
    • Community Engagement
    • Comprehensive / General Plans
    • The tool being used as the “key” element or enabling technology in the nominated planning and implementation effort would ideally be licensed under a recognized OS license and the code released for public access at the time of judging.  Non-open source tools that embody the OPTG principles will also be considered.
    • Entries will be judged both on the planning process used and the final product or outcomes
    • At least some portion of the nominated effort must have occurred within the last year


Scoring Categories

Innovative Planning Tool

How innovative is the tool? 20%
How readily can other people or projects use the tool? 20%
User-Friendliness (including documentation) 20%
Effectiveness & Utility 20%
Potential to Change the World (for the better) 20%


Exemplary Implementation Award

Effort produces or uses open data 20%
Improves analysis as it relates to planning 20%
Public engagement / How well was the tool explained, given its complexity 20%
How exemplary/innovative is the process? 20%
Relevance of issue 20%


Submission Materials
The combined nominating materials specified below must total no more than 4 pages in length (12 pt type):

  • Project Summary:  this should be suitable to be used as a public information piece and as a description of the project in a best practices database
  • Advancing OPTG Principles:  identify how the nominated project advances the 12 guiding principles of the OPT Group (attached).  This is not expected to be an item by item list but a synthesis statement
  • Documentation of Innovation:  Identify the uses of the application / tool / or planning process and the transferability of the lessons learned or the tool for other efforts
  • Contact Information:  A listing of responsible individuals and their name, organization, phone number and email address.
  • The Nominated Product:  Submit a copy of the actual product, or a link to see or use the product or a website created to support and document the planning process.
  • Additionally, the applicant may optionally submit up to 2 letters of support. These letters do not count as part of the application length.


Submission Details

  • Final deadline is 5pm on Feb 3, 2014.  All materials must be received by the deadline
  • Submit materials electronically to:
  • Awards will be announced during the New Partners for Smart Growth Conference, Feb 14 – 16, 2014 in Denver, Colorado.


2013 – 2014 Awards Committee

Ted Cochin, U.S. EPA

Gordon Garry, Sacramento Area Council of Governments

Ruth Miller, Independent Contractor

Nathaniel Roth, University of California, Davis

Garlynn Woodsong, Calthorpe Associates


Download the Full Announcement, including the OPTG Mission and Guiding Principles.


Cross-posted on

Opening Access to Scenario Planning Tools and a Changing Planning Paradigm


Download the report “Opening Access to Scenario Planning Tools” from the Lincoln website.

Having come off of a really great APA 2012 in Los Angeles, I’m very excited about the energy and momentum building for some of the topics I’ve devoted a lot of my professional and personal energy to.  One of my main roles at PlaceMatters is to open up the tools available in planning by supporting and building a community around tool development, use and experimentation.

While we’ll still build and experiment with tools at PlaceMatters in our on the ground work, we are turning things inside-out here and making tool development an exploratory and collaborative process as much as we can.  We’ve started this through our involvement with the Open Source Planning Tools group, which has regular monthly calls and, so far, 2 annual workshops [join our discussion on Google Groups] supported by a joint partnership of the Lincoln Institute and Sonoran Institute.  While I am excited about the tools we can build together as a community, my ultimate passion lies in the possibility for paradigm shifts and transformations about how we think of planning and the mechanisms we have for implementation.  The scenario tools that we want to open access to are a means and not just an end for me.

You can see a little preview of where all this is heading in the Lincoln Policy Focus Report Opening Access to Scenario Planning Tools [download] [and read more about the report here, here and here].  The final recommendation addresses “advancing new concepts to address future challenges.”  Maybe a bit vague and open ended at this point, but this is where the exciting transformations could occur if we move this conversation.  This recommendation speaks to the conundrum we have if we are successful at making scenario planning tools more adaptive and flexible and yet have static implementation mechanisms like zoning and subdivision ordinances that do not reflect emerging realities captured in our explorations of many possible futures.  Tools and ways of thinking are now catching up to the pace of change in our dynamic world.  We stand at a milestone in a conversation that arguably traces back to Christopher Alexander and early systems thinking, where technology, research and policy can converge to give us a regulatory system that is more adaptive and responsive to the needs and challenges of modern cities [see also: earlier blog post on a Pattern Language].

We haven’t formalized this discussion yet, but you can track it at  Ray Quay, who has many more intelligent insights into this topic, will help us shepherd this conversation into something more robust over the coming years and I’ll be prodding us along as much as I can in my role at PlaceMatters.  This is an important and exciting conversation to have and I think it will bring a number of folks together from many fields and interests.  It will also bring about a number of challenges we’ll have to figure out together as a community and profession like:

  1. What does a planning education look like in the future?
  2. What does the planning profession look like in the future? How should it change?  What are the unwavering core skills of the profession?
  3. What’s the right amount of flexibility in planning regulations (for example, some of the inflexibility is by design to save us from externalities of rapid and overwhelming development; what inflexibility can we cede if we have better systems for tracking change?)
  4. What are the challenges in fitting this into a democratic, representative decision-making process?
  5. How do we keep the process of planning and city-making human in light of these new tools and vast amounts of data?  Can we or should we avoid positivist approaches to planning and how can tool design keep us from marching down the path of metrics and data without human context?
  6. And many more…including more insight from Rob Goodspeed in this past blog post referencing E.S Savas’s 1970 Science Article Cybernetics in City Hall

Would you like to join us in the conversation and community building?  What other questions do we need to consider in this possible future?  Who are the early predecessors of this movement that we should bring out into the light again?  Help us shape the conversation.

Cross-posted on

Why net neutrality is important for planning

Recently, Google and Verizon announced their “policy framework” for net neutralityGoogle calls this a “principled compromise our companies have developed over the last year concerning the thorny issue of “network neutrality.””  While the compromise may be principled, maybe even well intentioned, it is a big gamble on such an important social and economic resource and leaves wide open loopholes for the corporate takeover of the Internet.

It allows for the creation of tiered services that would be differentiated from traditional broadband Internet.  And while overseen by the FCC, the role of the FCC beyond watchdog and complaint center is not defined well enough. This provision could easily creep into Verizon and other ISPs defining a completely separate parallel network, undermining traditional broadband services where the likes of Google, flickr, and Facebook were born in garages, apartments and universities.

Also, none of the neutrality rules apply to wireless networks.  The argument being that this is a nascent industry and providers need to be able to throttle services as they grow their capacity.  Again, this seems like it could be a reasonable argument, but my free market gut tells me that protecting network neutrality will spur innovation faster as providers attempt to capture fickle and impatient consumers.  Also, there are other ways to protect bandwidth including charging for different levels of service or per gigabyte.  The difference between this and tiered services is that service level plans apply equally across all content and applications and the end consumer pays the bill.  A tiered service model would allow ISPs to charge content providers different rates to send content out on to the Internet, effectively creating an Internet toll road.  So even though I’m still paying my $56 a month to Comcast, I may not be able to access the latest independent innovation at the same speed as it’s corporate backed brethren.

So why does this matter for planning?  Because planning has benefited from having the infrastructure to share public information (including transit efforts originally spearheaded by Google).  Open Source mapping and other tools are bringing down the cost of important information, which will increasingly benefit public planning processes as well as agencies.  And there are yet to be developed tools that could continue to transform public access to government in general.

While the Internet runs on the backbones built by corporations, we need policy that looks at the Internet as important infrastructure that can benefit not only planning, but education, science, access to jobs, and so on.  Government should put the right resources behind something so important to remaining competitive as a country.  Instead of tightening access, we should be opening up this vital innovation and information infrastructure to as many people as possible.