In a perfect democracy, the people and the states are one and the same element. In this accord, it is extremely unethical and unprofessional to segregate the public’s involvement in state affairs. In this regard, prudent and essential that the public is allowed to be the key players in the community development projects. Not only will the act of fostering public involvement in planning, sparkle the public’s cooperation, but also, tremendous advantages will be accrued from the government-public corporation. The planning of community development projects tends to foster betterment of the standards of living within a particular region encapsulated by the project. Hence, the success of a project relies on the harmonious corporation and total adherence to the stipulated work ethics by all involved parties, in this case, the government, community, planners, and other groups which could influence the formulation and implementation of the planned project, which is designated to help the community. In this regard, this case study paper seeks to analyze ‘Shape Our Future’ Whittlesea 2030 strategic community plan as formulated in 2013. Moreover, the case study strives to give vivid insist into the tools of participation employed in the planning process, in motivating public involvement and incorporation in the formulation and implementation of the plan.
The community strategic plan for the city of Whittlesea in its entirety was named “Shaping Our Future.” The project can be regarded as a long-term endeavor to tackle the city’s disastrous elements that are jeopardizing the quality of life in the city. In this accord, the plan strives to articulate the transformation of the municipal system to foster economic and social growth in the city of Whittlesea by the year 2030. The plan was formulated in the year 2013, and it is underway in its implementation. Moreover, the plan states the speculated outcomes resulting from the alteration of the methodology employed in conducting various state affair. Hence, the established expected targets that are designated to guide the government in the prioritization of country’s projects and guide the government’s budgeting process. Moreover, the plan encapsulated promoting the fundamentals of good governance; which included fostering an increase in the inclusion of the public in state affairs and improving and enhancing accessibility in and out of the city. Also, the plan targets to instilling economic growth within the confines of the city and polish the leadership scheme employed in the municipality so as to motivate good governance. Furthermore, the plan is aimed at creating a sustainable society that is enjoying enormous advantages ranging from ramping of healthcare facilities to improvement of the services provided in the facilities.
Public involvement in a tentative decision that shapes the lives of citizens is a rapidly encroaching development in the spheres of community development throughout the world, with grassroots activist, soliciting for more participation in shaping their destiny. In this regard, various participation tools have been developed to spearhead public indulgence in developmental projects. Such tools include cartooning, Charrettes, Graffiti wall, walk around the block, mapmaking, visual &dramatic art, survey, writing workshops, guided visualization, oral history, and focus groups. It is fundamental to note that the ‘Shaping Our Future’ project involved participatory tools such as the use of interaction with the public in various events and establishing the thoughts and comments of focused groups. Moreover, the planning pannel conducts online surveys on various distinct platforms, which include online surveys, surveys in shopping centers, and public libraries. In this accord, the use of this methodologies paid off and saw to it that the panel got over 5000 views and comments within five months of conversation.
Regarding the culmination of strategic planning and widespread adoption of the aspect of incorporation of the public in planning, it is fundamental that the historical commencement of advocacy planning, or rather an indulgence of focused groups in planning is given a glimpse. Advocacy planning started within the 1960s, sparked by the Civil Rights Movement, otherwise known as the Bargeoning popular movement, which was geared towards addressing the urban crisis that was facing the urban dwellers at the time. In this accord, planners and implementers of community development projects experience massive attacks and opposition from students and the community, since the planners were the core cause of the crumbling urban strategic plan and failing public service. Therefore, it dawned to the planners that working concurrently with the public will generate a common ground and mutual understanding, that will motivate the public to support and provide critical opinions in matters involving the development of the community. In this regard, advocacy planning made a massive breakthrough in revolutionizing the principles invoked in the planning of developmental projects. Hence, the movements that were formulated in this regard pushed for reforms that saw to it that institutionalization of the notion underlying the involvement and full participation of the public in community development is addressed. In this accord, the advocacy planning movements immensely shaped the phase of community work, governmental strategic planning methodologies, and the role of the public in the betterment and influencing the planning process of community development projects.
Surveying is a fundamental aspect of the planning toolkit that dictates the level of community engagement achieved in the formulation and implementation of the project. Thus surveys, in their distinct forms, online surveys, and physical surveys, tend to foster a particular outcome, which is feedback in the form of opinions, comments, or new ideas of what should and should not be prioritized in the plan. Surveys thus tend to create a communication chain that fosters mutual understanding between the planners and the public. Thus, efficient surveying should guarantee the formulation of a plan that is concurrent with the interest of the focuses groups, and the general public, concerning variations in gender, age, culture, and religious affiliation.
Objectives of the Case Study
This case study seeks to unveil the tools of participation employed in the strategic planning process of the “Shaping Our Future” project of the City ofWhittlesea. The project has accrued remarkable results so far, and it is still underway, owing to the vast number of individuals from the community involved in the planning process. The project incorporated more than 2000 people, from the ordinary masses of the city, into the panels charged with the mandate to formulate the plan.
Moreover, this study seeks to shade more insight into the importance of community participation in developmental projects and determine the degree of success that can be attributed to the level of community involvement from the “Shaping Our Future” project.
Furthermore, the efficiency of the tools of participation, employed in the project, such as surveys, and the involvement of focus groups in the planning process, in shaping the endeavors of the project, and dictating its success should also be exhaustively addressed.
Tools of Participation, their Respective Strengths, and Weaknesses
Involved Parties in the Planning
Public involvement is pivotal and a global trend in planning. Hence, the City of Whittlesea, which is the fastest growing urban center in Australia, with the current population of 176,000 and expected to go beyond 250,000 by 2030 and covering 490 square kilometers, situated 20 km north of Melbourne’s Central Business District promotes public involvement in planning. The people and groups involved include community members, state government agencies, law enforcement officers, and non-government agencies, local businesses, Schools, churches, Whittlesea Disability Network, Health service providers, and transport service providers.
The Simply Better team which involves a vast array of professional in the distinct field of academics, including representatives from the private industry council, employment service agencies, and private sector. Moreover, the team involves service providers, community colleges, state agencies, among other prominent institutions; regards focus groups as being prudent for the success of a plan. Focus groups are fundamental since they provide vivid insight into the public’s perception regarding an individual area of interest. Therefore, careful and total incorporation of the comments and feedbacks generated from the focused group, shade light on priorities and perception of the public. It is fundamental to note that a focus group consists of people who constitute the ordinary masses of a state. A focus group entails six to twelve people. The psychology of this designated number is to induce a broad scope of ideas, and foster complete participation from every member of the group, owing to its size. In general, a focus group is a procedure employed to obtain data on the perception of the public on certain key issues underlying the plan. Hence, focus groups are mainly used for policy evaluation and understanding market trends. For efficient delivery by focus groups, it is prudent that the subjects of interest are reduced to a minimum, so as spur objectivity and centering or converging the points of discussion. In this regard, focus groups have focused the discussion. In this accord, focus groups are pivotal in community planning.
According to Richard, Krueger A. and Mary Anne Casey 2000, the creation of focused groups is fundamental to creating apparent validity of the project or policy prior to administration and implementation. Validation or rather certification of the plan is derived from the opinion and comments of the focus group on a specific subject of interest. As a result, planners are equipped with vital information on the manner in which the public would perceive the entire plan. The most eminent mistake made by most planners is assuming that they know the desires, priorities, and matters of great importance to the public. Hence, such planning panels are bound to enact developmental plans that are not entirely concurrent with the expectations of the public. The result is a plan that is sparkling massive criticism and rejection from the public, whose interests were purportedly being addressed. Moreover, obtaining data on public using focus groups is economical to the state, and it provided more information as opposed to individual interviews. Furthermore, the one-on-one discussion forums of focus groups tend to provide more insightful, valid, and applicable information that cannot be provided by other participation tools such as surveys. The bottom line is, focus groups provide more study information as compared to tools of participation.
However, the weaknesses of using focus groups as a method of promoting community participation in planning are the immense logistic challenge emanating from controlling and coordinating the diversity of schedule, place of residence, and the determination of a site for discussion. Moreover, expert involvement is paramount in moderating the discussion, and the fact that the data presented by the focus groups cannot be controlled, plans based on such information are vulnerable to sadist and pessimistic members of the focus groups.
According to Thomas I. Millers, (2013), not a single planning board can entirely create a master plan without infringing the priorities and perceptions of the public, if a survey as a participation tool is disregarded. In this accord, a survey of any kind; an online survey of a physical survey which involves administration of questionnaires and conducting interviews, provides vital information that should modify the plan and align it with the public’s priorities. A plan that is in perfect alignment with the catastrophes that citizens plea for immediate resolution, are more likely to gain the public’s acceptance. Hence, the implementation process is bound to face minimal opposition.
Furthermore, community engagement in the planning of development projects, achieved through surveys, where members of the public can air their grievances and provide valid information in the form of comments and opinions that shape the plan, renders the project successful or an absurd failure. In this regard, surveys provide information that unveils the limitation and other possible aspects of the project that need attention as per the opinions of the people, to whom the implementation of the plan would affect amicably. Moreover, surveys reveal disparities that are potential drawbacks to the implementation of the formulated plan. Therefore, planners can integrate flexibility into the planning process to account for the possible stumbling blocks in the implementation of the formulated project.
Surveys provide a wide diversity of information with a high degree of confidence and integrity. Also, the fact that it is conducted by an expert, appealing for the provision of more vital information is entirely possible. However, the weaknesses of the technique include the validity of the information, especially in the case of online surveys, where the legitimacy and integrity of the respondents are unknown. Moreover, conducting interviews and administration of questionnaires cause financial constraints on the planning process. Hence, it is uneconomical.
Visualization of Outcome
Visualization of the end results after the successful implementation of the project is a fundamental tool that enables the project to attract massive public support, in the totality of its engagement in the Whittlesea project. The project, ‘shaping our future’ is geared toward a prosperous and lucrative economic endeavors of the city. Hence, the occupants of the city feel obliged to participate in the planning of the project so as to spur the success of the project.
The tools of participation employed in the planning of the ‘Shaping Our Future’ project of the City of Whittlesea is prawn to various unprecedented setbacks such as self-centered focus groups which provide information that favors their operations and not the city at large. Moreover, the variation of information obtained from the respondent in the survey tends to divert the planning panel for the primary goals of the project. Hence, if this issue goes unattended to, the success of the project would be in jeopardy.
In conclusion, the participation of the public in community development planning processes is inevitably fundamental in the formulation of efficient and practical plans. In this accord, the City of Whittlesea’s ‘Shaping Our Future’ project succeeded in involving the participation of its occupants through conducting surveys, visualization of the outcome, and involvement of focus groups. Despite the disparities in data obtained regarding the perceptions and priorities of the people, the information provided by the participatory tools immensely shape the vital aspects of the plan. Hence, incorporation of opinion and comments from the residents of the city drive acceptance of the project as being in their best interest. As a result, they resiliently participate in making the project a success.
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