Innovation in Public Engagement for Regional Planning

by Nick Hayward
Tri-County Regional Planning Commission

TCRPC seeks to be innovative in how it engages residents during its planning processes.

Tri-County Regional Planning Commission is a regional planning agency that serves Peoria, Tazewell and Woodford counties. TCRPC focuses on providing transportation planning, land use planning and environmental planning services in order to help the Tri-County region become a more attractive, competitive and dynamic place to live, work and visit. In recent years, we have helped coordinate planning for new roadways and trails, helped local communities develop comprehensive land use plans, and assisted with efforts to improve the health of the Illinois River and local waterways.

As a government agency, our planning work impacts the lives of residents in the Greater Peoria area. Therefore, public engagement is an important part of our planning work. Through public engagement, we seek to inform local residents of planning processes underway, gather ideas on projects that should be included in final plans, and obtain feedback on what projects should be given the highest priority in final plans. Effective public engagement is important—but finding the best ways to inform residents of planning processes and gather their input can be challenging.

Given the busyness of our daily lives, where does “get involved with local planning processes” rank? After work commitments, spending time with family, community service activities, personal hobbies and other interests, how much time is left for attending a long meeting, reading lengthy background material and sharing input? The challenge with effective public engagement is identifying easy and fun ways in which residents can be involved.

With that in mind, TCRPC has sought to be innovative in how we engage residents during our planning processes. Our recent innovations in public engagement include…

Online Engagement
The Internet has changed how we do just about anything, including public engagement. Recently, TCRPC has used a website called MindMixer to engage residents in planning processes. With MindMixer, specific questions can be posted online so residents can log in anytime to answer the questions, share ideas, post comments and rate the ideas of others. They can also post comments on a map identifying specific physical improvements they would like to see. With MindMixer, residents can not only interact with project planners; they can interact with their fellow residents.

TCRPC is currently leading a regional bicycle planning process called BikeConnect HOI. Its purpose is two-fold: to identify a regional bicycle network that connects communities, and to identify other ways Greater Peoria can become a more bicycle-friendly region. Check out the BikeConnect HOI MindMixer website, online at bikeconnecthoi.mindmixer.com.

Innovation Board
Effective public engagement must include going out into the community to gather input from residents. One way we do this is by using our Innovation Board, a portable chalkboard developed to gather public input at community events. As different questions are posted on the Innovation Board, residents, armed with sidewalk chalk provided by TCRPC staff, can write their responses on the board. The Innovation Board has proven to be a fun, effective way for TCRPC to go out into the community to gather input for planning processes.

The Innovation Board has been used recently to gather input for the region’s Long Range Transportation Plan and the BikeConnect HOI Regional Bicycle Plan. Some of the events at which the Innovation Board has appeared include Bradley University’s Welcome Week, the Central Illinois Artists Organization’s First Friday event, and the Central Illinois Black Expo.

Open House Events
Meetings remain a valuable way to gather and share information about a planning process, so TCRPC has sought to make them fun and easy to attend by using an open-house format so residents can come to the meeting at any time and stay as long as they like. Different stations are set up throughout the meeting room so residents can learn about the planning process and provide input at their leisure.

Residents also have the opportunity to engage in fun activities. At an open house for the Long Range Transportation Plan, residents played the “Money Game” in which they used “play money” to vote for the transportation projects they thought were most important for the region’s future. At an open house for BikeConnect HOI, residents had a chance to win several gift certificates donated by local bicycle shops. They were also able to draw on large maps to provide their ideas for where bicycle connections should be established in the future. By making these meetings fun, TCRPC hopes residents have fun as they participate in local planning processes.

TCRPC continues to look for ways to be innovative in our public engagement work. How can we make it easy and fun for you to participate in a planning process? Whether online, at a community event or at an open house, we hope to interact with you soon! iBi

Nick Hayward, AICP is a planner with Tri-County Regional Planning Commission. Let him know your thoughts at nhayward@tricountyrpc.org or (309) 673-9330.

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