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Where Do We Want To Be? - Community Involvement

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Horse & Carriage City TourBy now, you may have formed a coordinating committee and have utilized a technical advisory committee to develop a Community Profile and Trends Analysis. At this stage, you will need to get broader community involvement to ensure that the Vision Statement truly reflects the community's desired future(s). An outside facilitator is often valuable in ensuring that all the community's interests are being considered and integrated into the Vision Statement. The Community Visioning and Strategic Planning Handbook can provide more information on this subject.

Below are topics to help with community participation:

Tips for Success: Hold visioning brainstorming sessions in a variety of locations: churches, schools, town halls, community centers.
Strive to work with larger groups to encourage that synergistic effect associated with brainstorming.
Provide access to drawing materials to create visual representation of ideas.
Make use of small break for groups to contemplate their future scenario.

Check out Leading and Communicating: A Guide for Watershed Partnerships, Know Your Watershed, Conservation Technology Information Center Exit EPA Click for Disclaimer

Meeting Skills and Formats

Bringing a large group of people to consensus can seem like an impossible task. Besides dealing with differences in opinion, and different levels of knowledge and education, there may be hidden agendas, and there may be people who will not voice their opinions in front of other people. And, there may be people who believe that the meetings are a waste of time because nothing will change. Collaborative processes, the sharing of information and pooling resources, can build a better understanding of issues and result in better decisions. Special interests will be less inclined to overwhelm the process or roadblock action planning and implementation. Collaboration, although not appropriate for every situation, is key to successful visioning.

The following represent key ingredients in achieving successful collaborative efforts:

Structuring the meetings for success is very important. A number of methods exist for reaching agreement in a group.(See Resources section.) It may be best, however, to hire professional facilitators, people who are aware of the pitfalls and know how to avoid them. In any case, those who handle the meetings should be nonpartisan, so that all sides feel comfortable in expressing their opinions.

Meetings should be scheduled at times convenient for most of the residents. And, for those who cannot attend, there should be a way for them to express their opinions, whether by mail or at subsequent meetings.

Copies of documents produced (both in draft and in final forms) should be easily available to residents both during the day, in the evenings, and on weekends. The local library may be a good choice, as well as a local business (e.g. a supermarket) that is open extended hours.

Example: Agenda (from Take Charge: Economic Development in Small Communities)

Take Charge: Economic Development in Small Communities is a workbook that describes a community approach to help envision alternative economic development scenarios. This approach can be adapted to address environmental and social visions, as well.

Tips For Structured Brainstorming (from Take Charge: Economic Development in Small Communities)

Brainstorming Procedure

  1. Identify a problem for discussion
  2. If more than 10 participants, divide into smaller groups
  3. Ask each group to select a recorder.
  4. Explain the purpose and rules of brainstorming:
    Quantity is the goal: More ideas mean more likelihood of winners.
    Defer judgment: Do not criticize. Evaluation comes later.
    Be creative: Wild ideas are great, because they spark wilder ideas. It is easier to tame a wild idea than to think up new ideas.
    Combine and amend ideas: Expand, delete, consolidate, substitute, reverse, make analogies, make the problem bigger and smaller.
  5. Brainstorm responses to the problem or question. The recorder lists all ideas on flip charts. Give a two minute warning before calling time.
  6. Analyze: discuss unfamiliar terms or ideas. Establish criteria for selecting the best ideas, then evaluate each idea against those criteria.
  7. Action-plan: For the idea(s) chosen, outline the steps needed to implement the solution.
  8. List forces (situations, people, events) that work for and against implementation of this solution.

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Conflict Resolution

(from, Managing Conflict: A Guide for Watershed Partnerships. Know Your Watershed. Conservation Technology Information Center)

What Is Conflict?

Conflict is the natural disagreement resulting from individuals or groups that differ in attitudes, beliefs, values or needs. It can also originate from past rivalries and personality differences. Other causes of conflict include trying to negotiate before the timing is right or before needed information is available.

Conflict is not always negative. In fact, it can be healthy when effectively managed. Healthy conflict can lead to...

Five Steps to Managing Conflict

  1. Analyze the conflict
  2. Determine management strategy
  3. Pre-negotiation
  4. Negotiation
  5. Post-Negotiation

For more information about this approach, click here for Managing Conflict: A Guide for Watershed Partnerships. Exit EPA Click for Disclaimer

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Building Your Community's Skills and Awareness

It is to be expected that most community members will not have had formal training or experience in planning and environmental issues. How, then, to build their skills? Here are some suggestions.

Reaching the Tough to Reach

With today's hectic lifestyles, we sometimes ignore issues until they are urgent and right in our faces. Sometimes then, it is too late. It can be a real challenge to get people involved in planning, to keep them informed, and to sustain their interest. Neighborhood champions can be important in getting the word out to the community. These champions can communicate information on a one-to-one basis and draw out persons who are too shy to voice their opinions at a meeting. The best champions are those with the time and energy, are diplomatic and non-judgmental, are good listeners, are respected and known within their neighborhoods.

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How Are We Doing?

Every so often it's a good idea to get feedback from community members on how they think the process is going. Then you can make adjustments to make things better. Two ways you might try are surveys and focus groups.

Surveys can be sent through the mail or administered over the phone or in person. They should be easy to understand and quick to complete.

Focus groups are groups of carefully selected people brought together and questioned as a group. Sometimes the questions are hypothetical, such as "If this happened, then what would you do?" Sometimes the group members are asked to brainstorm or role play.

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Making It Easy For People To Do The Right Thing

In setting up meetings, designing surveys, and typing up brochures, keep your audience in mind. Try to structure whatever tool you are developing to make it easy for people to do the right thing.

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