Effective Engagement Creates Successful Outcomes

By Mary Rowlands

It’s been 16 months since I joined Highland Planning and the spectrum of projects that I have had the pleasure to work on has enlightened me. I have a 30+ year career in traffic and transportation operations and planning, and my experiences facilitating public outreach activities on a multitude of project types has taught me a lot.

First and foremost, the knowledge that Tanya has shared with our team regarding the techniques and tools for effective public engagement has allowed me to incorporate unique, fun and successful methods with all of my projects. The days of holding a public meeting and hoping someone shows up are gone. We design our engagement processes in response to our stakeholders preferences for locations, times, format, and even the topics for discussion at meetings. The way to tailor public engagement is talk to stakeholders *before* designing a strategy.

As a rule, we ask the public questions about:

  • ​​Existing issues
  • Potential opportunities
  • Key people to include
  • Existing meetings where we might reach more people
  • Social media channels to advertise surveys and meetings
  •  Venues with Wi-Fi, ADA accessible, free parking, adjustable lighting, enough space for break-out sessions or stations around the room, etc.

I had previous experience working on comprehensive plans, Brownfield Opportunity Area studies, transit and traffic operations studies, and Complete Streets projects. Today, I am applying engagement techniques to a variety of projects. For instance, I am working on two Law Enforcement Shared Services studies with the Center for Government Research (CGR).  Although I know nothing about consolidating police agencies, our methodology has helped me solicit the input needed for CGR to complete their analysis. It has been very rewarding, and I have seen firsthand that project outcomes are better when you include the public.

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