by Tanya Zwahlen
Core values are the fundamental beliefs of a person or organization that guide behavior and help people understand the difference between right and wrong. Values reflect who we are, not what we aspire to be. They help us figure out if we are on the right path and fulfilling our goals.
Since Highland Planning began in 2007, we’ve had a few iterations of core values. Our team most recently reviewed our core values in January. As a result of our discussion, we dropped one and added one.
Here they are:
1. Honor People
All people. People who come to every public meeting. People who never attend public meetings. Conservatives. Libertarians. Anarchists. Children. People of color. The disability community. People who are emotional and upset. People who hate roundabouts. People who demand bike lanes, not sharrows.
Honoring people means respecting people’s values, positions, and interests and being mindful of our own biases. Honoring people means designing engagement processes so we use stakeholder’s time effectively in meetings. It means greeting people and thanking them for giving us their time and input. It means making our process efficient, accessible, and transparent.
2. Go to Them
We never expect people to come to public meetings. Go to them means we interview stakeholders to find out who should be involved in the project. We send emails, targeted social media posts, and electronic surveys. We hold pop-up events at farmers markets, transit centers, bus stations, libraries, and other activity hubs. We are also strong believers in door-to-door engagement. If you can talk to someone for five minutes, you can usually summarize your project and hear their opinions. It’s efficient and effective.
3. Make it Sparkle
This means our presentations are concise and well organized, and that our engagement activities are fun. It means there is coffee, water and snacks at our meetings. Our written materials are well designed and carefully edited. It means we arrive early and prepared for every engagement opportunity.
Listening is simple but not easy. We are always interested in hearing what people have to say, but sometimes we need to remind ourselves and project partners — the people who have studied and analyzed constraints and alternatives for years and months — that we must build in sufficient time at meetings to listen to what people think about our ideas. That’s the point after all, right? Sometimes it’s scary to hear what people have to say, but it’s a greater risk to over-schedule a meeting and leave people feeling frustrated. After the engagement, we always want to prove we listened by summarizing what we heard and how it was used to influence and change the project.