Your Guide to Creating an Effective Public Involvement Plan
Creating an effective public involvement plan is a critical step in any effective public involvement process. It does require a certain level of investment in terms of time and research at the beginning of the process. But this investment is more than worth it. By taking the time to do such things as clearly articulating the goals of your public involvement process, identifying key stakeholders and matching public involvement activities to the level of input you need, you can help insure that you receive high quality input that meets the needs of your project or program.
This guide will help you as your gather information and ideas for each of the public involvement plan's section. As you are working on the template, please don't forget to take advantage of the other tools and resources available in the PBOT Public Involvement Resource Center. If you have any questions, please contact John Brady or Irene Schwoeffermann.
Description of the overall Project, Initiative, or Plan:
In this section, please provide an executive summary of your proposed public involvement process. Please identify the nature of the project or program. For example, is this a construction project or a planning process? You should also provide an overview of the public involvement process and what it is meant to achieve. Identify the key project phases and the key public involvement milestones. You can use this description in future communication about your project and the public involvement process, so please use accessible and inclusive language, avoid jargon and spell out all of your acronyms. Your constituents will thank you!
What key decisions are being made by PBOT, Partner Agencies, Contractors, City Council?:
Public decisions makers are one of the key stakeholders in any public involvement process. Being clear about who is making key decisions and what they are deciding will affect what you will need to include in your public involvement plan. For example, if City Council will be making decisions about aspects of your project, you may need to plan for formal public hearings. It is also important to inform your constituents who the key public decision makers are. This will help them set their expectations about their input. Who the decisions makers are will vary with the different phases of your project. You should identify the key decisions and decision makers for each phase of your project.
Public input is needed for the following key questions/problems:
What do you need from the public to ensure that your project will be successful? How you answer this question will help to determine the type of public involvement strategies that you adopt. If for example, you need your stakeholders to be informed about the key aspects of your project, you will want to make sure that you choose tools that will help you do that. By contrast, if you need your stakeholders to give you ideas about key elements of the project, you will to plan for a more intensive public engagement process.
What is the interest in this project?
Interest and impact are two of the key aspects of your project that you should consider as you design your public involvement plan. In general, the higher the level of public interest and the larger the impact of your project, the more robust your public involvement process should be. At the same time, there may be cases where the interest in your project or issue is low, but you need it to be higher. In this case, you may need to integrate tools such as social media campaigns that can help you generate public interest. We have created a public involvement spectrum infographic. It matches public involvement tools to different levels of public involvement and different levels of interest and impact. You should use the infographic as a prompt to determine what tools are appropriate for your project.
To determine the level of interest, it is helpful to conduct a stakeholder analysis. Tools to assist in the stakeholder analysis include: Stakeholder Analysis Worksheet. In general, you want to determine who the main stakeholders for your project are. It is also important to determine how organized your stakeholders are. For example, are they represented by a neighborhood committee or an industry organization? Organized stakeholders will be in a better position to express their perspective on your project. As a result, they may need more attention in your public involvement plan. There also may be stakeholders who you need to hear from, but who have traditionally not been at the table when it comes to working with PBOT. If this is true, you will need to build in special tools, such as focus groups or other specialized outreach, to bring these groups into the conversation. Finally, as you are determining the level of interest, you should research whether there is an existing level of controversy or public conflict about the issue your project addresses. The Public Involvement Staff Directory is an important tool as you are trying to gauge the level of interest. It will help you identify PBOT staffers who may be familiar with the stakeholders that you will be working with and who can provide advice and guidance.
What is the impact of this project?
As you are considering the impacts of your project, you should think about the positive and negative impacts, the direct and indirect impacts and the short- and long-term impacts. It is important to also consider which group of stakeholders will experience which types of impacts. You will find that projects, especially complex ones, will have multiple different types of impacts on multiple different types of groups. Also, different types of impacts will necessitate different public involvement tactics and strategies. For example, during an infrastructure project the businesses that will be negatively and directly affected in the short-term by construction noise and traffic diversion will need to be engaged more directly and more consistently. A good public involvement plan will recognize the need for a multi-pronged approach based on a project's different impacts.
What is the promise to the public?
Be very clear about the level of public input you are promising your constituents. Members of the public get rightly frustrated when a public process promises a specific level of public input, but then delivers something different. It is important to be transparent and authentic with your constituents. Respect their time and do not over-promise.
Here is a break-down of the different types of promises typically made to the public during public involvement processes. This is based on work done by the International Association for Public Participation and it is also represented in our public involvement spectrum infographic.
- Promise to inform: PBOT will keep stakeholders well informed from start to finish.
- Promise to consult: PBOT will keep stakeholders well informed. In addition, we will listen and acknowledge your input and concerns. Furthermore, we will let stakeholders know if and how your input influenced our decisions.
- Promise to involve: PBOT promises to consult with stakeholders and make sure that their needs and concerns are directly reflected in the plans, approaches and/or alternatives that are developed. Furthermore, we will stakeholders know how their input influenced the bureau's decisions.
- Promise to partner: PBOT promises to gather the advice and innovative ideas from stakeholders and incorporate them into the bureau's decisions to the maximum extent possible.
- Promise to empower: PBOT promises to implement what you decide.
What are the intended outcomes or objectives of the public engagement?
What do you hope to achieve with your public involvement? Are there specific things you need from your stakeholders? What you hope to achieve with your public involvement should be tied to what you promise your stakeholders. Thus, if your goal is to keep your stakeholders informed about your project, you shouldn't make any commitments beyond the commitment to inform the public. Depending on the complexity of your project, you may have different goals and different promises at different phases of the project.
What are the intended and possible unintended consequences of the project and how will they be addressed in your public involvement plan:
Addressing the intended and possible unintended consequences of your project is important to understanding your project's impact. The vision of your project that you communicate to your stakeholders will be built on its intended consequences. Articulating this vision is an important part of inspiring stakeholders during the public involvement process. At the same time, it is important to be realistic about what your project can achieve. Being clear about possible unintended consequences will give your public involvement plan a needed dose of realism.
Equitable Outreach Strategy
Achieving equity is a key goal for both PBOT and the Portland city government as a whole. In terms of public involvement this specifically means strengthening outreach and public engagement for communities of color, immigrant and refugee communities and other groups that have been traditionally underrepresented in our public involvement activities, including people with disabilities and people from low-income households. The goal of such equitable public involvement is to ensure our projects, programs and policies fairly address the needs and concerns of these communities. As you plan your public involvement process, you should pay special attention to how you will engage traditionally underrepresented communities. To help inform your process design in this respect, we recommend considering the following six elements:
- Build personal relationships with target population. To do this, you should identify key constituents that PBOT either has a relationship with or should be building a relationship with. You should consider events to attend or venues to visit where you can identify natural community leaders.
- Create a welcoming atmosphere. To determine whether your proposed process achieves this, ask yourself if your process reflects, honors and welcomes the community and if the venues for your events are invite participation and engagement.
- Increase accessibility. It is important to eliminate or minimize barriers to participation such as language, childcare, food, time of day and transportation.
- Develop alternative methods for engagement. To encourage participation, it may be necessary to adopt non-traditional methods of outreach. Please see the case studies in the resource center for ideas about how to engage communities beyond the usual public involvement methods.
- Maintain a presence within the community. You will receive better input if you demonstrate to the communities that historically have not been at the table that your are committed to building a strong, respectful relationship. You should consider having a presence at community events. It is also valuable to establish places in the community where people can have sustained, informal interactions with you.
- Partner with diverse organizations and agencies.
The Equity and Inclusion section on our internal website also has some very good resources that can be helpful as you work on this section of your plan. This article explores the approach to equitable public involvement and outcomes at Seattle DOT.
Timeframe for public engagement activities:
You should match your public involvement process with key decisions and other milestones. Be sure that you provide adequate time for public input and to update your constituents on how their feedback influenced the project.
You should brainstorm where spending will occur to carry out the Public Involvement Plan. As considerations of impact, interest, and equity increase so too should the budget allocated to the public engagement plan. Additionally, consider budgeting for child care, transportation, and food so that events are accessible.