One of the most important principles of sustainable growth is broad and sustained community involvement.  Ensuring effective public engagement is necessary to gain public confidence and establish credibility for the planning and implementation process.  Successful and sustained engagement over a long process can be challenging as communities compete with the many demands on their citizen’s time.  Creativity, transparency and clear two-way communication is needed to provide diverse opportunities for involvement and feedback and prompt response to ideas and concerns presented by the public.  Greater understanding of the goals, polices and strategies that a community is trying to achieve can help alleviate fears and create a community dialogue that can build understanding of divergent points of view.  Success of any project is much more likely if a wide range of community members have a direct and active role in the process. 

The Issue

Are you concerned that local residents do not come to public meetings? Are residents complaining that their views are not being heard? Public participation has long been part of the tradition of planning, but effective stakeholder and community collaboration does not happen automatically.  Communities must develop creative ways to engage citizens in transportation, land use, and environmental resource planning issues.  Active collaboration is important for the following reasons:

  • It gives residents the opportunity to learn about the perspectives of others and develop an appreciation of the common ground between their values and those of others.  Communities are made of different types of people, with different backgrounds, needs, and expectations. Some people have just moved to their community, while others have roots in the community spanning several generations.   Well-designed public collaboration strategies encourage an open exchange of information and ideas that can help put people at ease.  In this way, public collaboration can bring a community together to establish a shared vision and path to ensure that vision becomes a reality.
  • Public collaboration can help governments be more accountable and responsive and ensure that decision-making becomes transparent.  It can help establish (or re-establish) public confidence and trust in local government.   This is absolutely essential if a community is to take on the difficult and contentious issues that are at the heart of land use, from protecting working lands to concentrating new development in and around existing built-up areas to ensuring that everyone has a decent home.
  • The collaborative problem-solving that characterizes a well-designed public process can lead to innovative solutions that might not have emerged otherwise.   As participants come together to understand the opportunities, costs, roadblocks and options involved in a proposed project or policy, they may come up with creative ideas that can be incorporated into the plan, policy or by-laws.


  While an effective stakeholder and community collaborative process is well worth the effort, poorly designed and executed public collaboration can waste staff and volunteer time and financial resources and increase public frustration and distrust.  Thus, it is critical to take the time up front to carefully design your public engagement process and consider asking the following questions:

  • What do you want to achieve by involving the public?
  • How do you hear from different perspectives, rather than from a vocal minority?
  • How the information you receive will be incorporated into your planning process?
  • How will you communicate the process to the public?
  • What tool will most effectively engage the community?

The National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation’s “Public Engagement Principles Project” has identified seven key strategies of effective public collaboration and engagement:

  • Planning and Preparation - Plan, design, and convene the engagement specifically to serve both the purpose of the effort and the needs of participants.
  • Inclusion and Diversity - Incorporate diverse voices, ideas, and information to lay the groundwork for quality outcomes and democratic legitimacy.
  • Collaboration and Shared Purpose - Support organizers, participants, and those engaged in follow-up to work well together for the common good.
  • Listening and Learning - Help participants listen, explore and learn without predetermined outcomes -- and evaluate public engagement/collaboration efforts for lessons.
  • Transparency and Trust - Promote openness and provide a public record of the people, resources, forums, and outcomes involved.
  • Impact and Action - Ensure each participatory effort has real potential to make a difference.
  • Sustained Participation and Democratic Culture - Promote a culture of participation with programs and institutions that support ongoing quality public collaboration and engagement.

There are many different tools for stakeholder and community collaboration and engagement, and not all are appropriate for every situation.  If all you need to do is raise awareness or educate the community about a particular issue, a promotional flyer, newsletter, or open house might be appropriate.  Perhaps you want community interaction and collaborative partnership, in which case a survey, design charrette, workshop, focus group or citizen commission might be better suited to your needs.
The key is to understand your community and design a process to involve a diverse cross section of the population, old and young, fifth generation landowners and recent immigrants, business people and stay-at-home parents.  Be creative -- hold a pot luck to kick off the project, get folks to take photographs of what they like and dislike about the community, have participants identify their “sacred spaces” on a map, go to them at the mall or at their community or social function, or hold a pancake breakfast to discuss what people want the community to look like in twenty years.

The principal elements of the public collaboration and involvement process include:
  • Effective coordination and communication with affected public agencies.
  • Ensure broad-based involvement in the study process.
  • Engage a variety of interests and stakeholders, as well as the public-at-large, especially those who have not been involved in the outreach process historically.
  • Provide meaningful opportunities for involvement and input during the study process.
  • Utilize locally proven and effective educational tools to inform stakeholders of the benefits of alternative forms of transportation and land use concepts.
  • Listen to and fully consider participants’ comments and concerns while at the same time documenting the issues.
  • Meet environmental justice objectives to ensure public participation is broad and inclusive.
  • Adopt or consider outreach procedures outlined in local Council of Governments and County Transportation Commission Public Participation Plans in accordance with federal requirements.  Such plans are posted on most regional agency websites.
There are many challenges when planning and identifying support for innovative transportation and land use concepts in outreach campaigns.  We know that the public wants change.  They have expressed that desire through passage of local transportation sales tax measures and during development of the San Joaquin Valley Blueprint Planning Process – residents throughout the Valley want alternative modes of transportation and land use “Choices” to enhance and sustain their mobility, quality of life, and natural resources. 

To ensure that these expectations and desires are met, the public involvement process would:
  • Identify the possibilities for a wide array of transportation solutions.
  • Include a wide array of individuals from community leaders to those without experience on influencing their communities, businesses, property owners, transit and bicycle riders, and others.
  • Educate the community helping it envision different scenarios of transportation and land use.
  • Determine the level of support for investing in transportation, land use, and environmental resource solutions from the broader community to those businesses and property owners who might shoulder some of the cost.

The Tools  

Below is a list of some tools that can be utilized to promote public engagement. 

  • Public Involvement Plan – A Public Involvement Plan can be prepared documenting the proposed outreach elements that will inform and involve the public in a meaningful way in your community.  The Plan will help “guide” the outreach process so that it is successful and provides the information and feedback that affected agencies need.  It is expected that the Plans will evolve over time to address changes in the outreach process.  At least every six months, agencies should provide a synopsis of outreach conducted, and report back on successes and improvements necessary to achieve Public Involvement Plan objectives and goals.  If an outreach component is not proven effective, then it should be known sooner than later to enable changes to the Plan that will be more effective.

  •  Design Charrette:  A series of workshops that take place over a defined period of time during which community members collaborate with professional designers to create a conceptual plan for a particular project. The goal is to create consensus amongst the stakeholders, interest groups and public participants.  The design charrette is an alternative to the traditional planning meeting that brings together a wide range of stakeholders along with a team of architects and designers to translate community ideas into workable plans in a very short time period.  In a cycle of meetings over a couple of days (or sometimes weeks or months), participants brainstorm ideas for a project, designers sketch up plans that incorporate those ideas, participants review the sketches and provide additional guidance, designers revise the drawings based on participant comments, and so on until a satisfactory product is created.  The end products of this process consist of sketches and accompanying written guidance that help to ensure that stakeholders' ideas are translated faithfully into a finished project.  While design charrettes are typically held at locations requiring citizens to schedule and travel to a location, design charrettes can be held at the mall or other locations where large numbers of citizens already gather.
  • Community Visioning:  An event through which all community members are invited and encouraged to describe their own visions for the future of the community.
  • Alternative Dispute Resolution:  Aset of techniques that help participants in a contentious process identify and move past their differences, focusing instead on areas of common ground.
  • Community Design Workshop:  An event with site plans, models, and maps whose goal is to help the public understand and engage in the design of local buildings, parks, or other community spaces.  

  • Breakfast Meetings – A meeting with selected leaders to keep them apprised of study intent, progress and findings.  This small gathering technique will make it easier for people to actively participate and offers another venue for creative, flexible interchange of ideas and meaningful dialogue.  A breakfast meeting is an informal setting for active listening and resolution of specific concerns raised by key stakeholders.  Following the breakfasts, representatives from each stakeholder group would be able to disseminate information to their constituents.
  • Visual Preference Survey:  An assessment of public preferences that present a range of design elements and densities and ask participants to rank them.
  • Publicity Techniques:  Effective use of posters, flyers, and media outlets such as newspapers to capture the public’s attention, generate new ideas, and build support.  Some examples include the following:
  ·        Project Website – Websites are especially popular with young adults and enables  
       them receive information when they want it.  The latest newsletters, video clips,
       public survey forms, and other project related material can be available on a      
       project website.

Email Fax Phone Tree – A Stakeholder/contact data base and listing of special
        interest groups to be involved in the study efforts.

  ·        Newsletters– A series of newsletter articles.  The newsletter could either be a one
       page flier with an article in English, Spanish, or other language, or an article within
       the body of other newsletters.

  ·        Video – A video would be used at all presentation, workshops, even at interviews
       to gain an initial understanding of a project or study.

  ·        PowerPoint Presentations - Presentations are critical to the dissemination of
       information and project facts during stakeholder presentations, workshops, and
       other similar meetings and hearings. 

  ·        Brochures or Fact Sheets – Brochures and fact sheets would be prepared as
       necessary to support public involvement and education.

   ·    Media Relations  - Provide all media relations work activity including development
       of public service announcements (PSAs) for radio, television, cable, or printed
       media, coordination of media events, letters to the editor of major newspapers, talk
       show attendance, and paid advertisements in each of the media types listed. 

  • Effective Meeting Facilitation:  Strategies and tips for facilitating meetings in a way that maximizes effective public engagement.
  • Citizen Advisory Groups:  Small groups of stakeholders that are charged with researching a particular issue and advising local officials on how best to address that issue.
  • Focus Groups:  A facilitated small group meeting where community members are invited to express their personal insights about an issue of planning concern.  A focus group is a tool to identify the concerns, needs, wants and expectations of the public as customers.  Focus groups can inform the project team of the attitudes and values the public holds and why.
  • Survey:  A written series of questions that is typically distributed to all residents and/or property owners in a given area to establish broad parameters of public opinion about planning issues of concern.

·         Public Opinion Surveys-A public opinion survey is a written questionnaire administered to a sample group of people through interviews in person, by phone or electronic media.   This can be the best outreach tool applied to engage the public that traditionally is not engaged in an outreach process.  A series of informal surveys could be distributed through public workshops, newsletter mailings, information booths/Roadshow events, and posted on websites.

·         Workshop or Design Charrette Surveys - A majority of the regional agencies have purchased “clickers” that enable agencies to gather input even from the least vocal at every design charrette or workshop.  This input allows everyone in attendance a chance to provide valuable insight and opinion on issues, recommendations and findings. 

·       Stakeholder Interviews - The main purpose of a stakeholder interview is an early exchange of information on project goals and study process.  The interviews will allow agencies to learn about the stakeholder’s perceptions.  Tapping into the knowledge and insight of stakeholders may uncover additional individuals who should be contact and involved in the participation process.  A stakeholder interview is a one-on-one discussion with an individual recognized as a community leader, agency staff member and/or neighborhood activist from across the region.  The stakeholders identified will represent various audiences and target groups expected to participate in the planning process.
·        Elected Interviews- Interviews of key elected officials would be conducted to determine support for a concept, strategy, or program.  It is helpful to understand how the elected officials feel about various related topics before actions are taken.
·        Developer Interviews- A cross-section of the development industry (industrial, commercial, residential, etc.) and their representative agencies (Building Industry Associations and Economic Development Corporations) would be interviewed to gain insight into their perspectives.  Furthermore, they will be asked about their plans to provide future development and the steps that would be necessary to gain their support of Blueprint recommendations. 

  • Roadshow The Roadshow or Tour Mobile Unit is an “out of the box” nontraditional method of delivering our public information message “Face-to-Face” to ALL RESIDENTS of a study area.  The Roadshow format allows a user to reach 1,000’s of residents, businesses and stakeholders at once.  The Roadshow is:
  • An effective, completely self contained, highly visible marketing tool that offers professional audio, video components, highly visual graphics as an outdoor billboard and an experienced, 8-10 person bilingual staff
  • The unit is flexible and can be adapted to be utilized for any function or event, any type of audience, in any language
  • An excellent tool to train and motivate groups of volunteers
  • It builds awareness and provides the opportunity to deliver a lengthy message in a very personable way in a comfortable environment
  • Gives us the opportunity to distribute study materials while also obtaining vital information through surveys.  Plus it creates excellent P.R., a positive emotional sentiment and goodwill through services that are provided

  • Speakers’ Bureau – Educate and train a group of individuals to go out into the community and inform social organizations and other community groups.  This group of individuals would meet with civic, business, community or special interest groups to provide information about the project, study, or process, listen to people’s concerns, answer questions, and seek continued participation and support.  By involving local groups on their own terms, the speakers’ bureau will expand opportunities for community participation and collaboration. 
  • Create Mechanisms to Continue Regional Collaboration - Our region has an abundance of organizations and resources to accomplish regional quality growth.  When our Region commits to use the strategies, tools, and resources provided in thisToolKit, we can move quickly to implement quality growth and sustainable development.  Many of these tools were used during development of the Valley Blueprint and proved effective.  We also can collaborate across the region to learn from each other, create additional training and technical assistance resources, and work together to implement best practices and approaches that are already being successfully used throughout the region.  The Region has many assets to build upon, including our commitment to preserving our unique communities and beautiful landscapes.  Maintaining and enhancing these assets is critical to our region’s continued livability and economic vitality.  It is up to us to work together to use our expertiseand resources wisely to create the future region that we all desire.   Ways to accomplish this objective include the following:

·        Maintain the regional committees and groups consisting of electeds, planning
     directors and staff from throughout the Valley.

·        Identify three to five regional action priorities focused on economic development 
     readiness and quality of life to be addressed collaboratively.

·        Develop recommended collaborative next steps for the group to pursue together.
·        Coordinate action by group members to take the lead on specific work items that will 
     create regional thinking and action on regional land use and transportation/
     infrastructure planning.  Work items include updated growth scenario development,
     creation of GIS data and regional tools for planning decision making, provision of
     training and technical assistance through the Implementation ToolKit, and continued  
     development of resources, tools, and incentives for regional environmental resource,
     land use, transportation, and infrastructure planning efforts.

The mechanisms described above can create the following awareness and opportunities:

·        Confirm the Region’s incredible base of knowledge, interest, and capacity for    
     regional thinking and action.

·        Help to focus diverse thoughts on productive steps to create an agreeable definition 
     of effective regionalism.

·        Create the understanding that regional growth is inevitable and desired, but must be
     guided to ensure quality of life.

·        Form a coalition of organizations to focus on and work toward desired regionalism in 
     economic development readiness and quality growth through effective land use,
     transportation, and environmental resource planning efforts.



A wide variety of resources and programs are available to help the San Joaquin Valley region engage stakeholders and the community.  The following listing contains relevant programs, resources and contacts for technical assistance, financial tools and specialized expertise available locally, as well as at the state and national level.

  • List here (to be inserted at a later date)