When it comes to public trails, parks or greenway projects, it’s important that the community is engaged and excited about the work you are doing. The best way to do this is to reach out and get them involved whenever possible.
But what if your project is considered controversial? And how exactly should you get the most beneficial feedback from people in your community? We recently spoke with a few municipal officials to get their recommendations. Check out their answers below:
How do you win over the public if your project is controversial?
“Try to find a compromise and focus on public benefit of the results.” - Peg Bors, City of Tampa, FL
“Control the narrative. In public meetings, give a general presentation and then break into ‘stations’ to discuss specific issues. This avoids the feeding frenzy that often occurs in an open Q&A/complaint setting. For electronic communications, provide a newsletter style document and direct comments / questions to a dedicated email link – and remember that any response provided will be distributed (and possibly edited) in a manner that may hurt in the end.
Identify the key supporters that have an established or expandable base (e.g. school cross country team, local cycling advocate, etc.) and work with them to begin generating momentum. If you have a master plan for the project or trail network, reach out to the folks that helped put that together. If you don’t have a master plan that was developed through an open process (community workshops, etc.), spend the time and money to get one done.” - Matt Compton, City of Charleston, SC
“Factual information and public outreach is the best way to address issues. Not everyone will agree, but giving accurate factual information about the purpose, need, and cost of a project goes a long way to help gain public support. After you have support, you must deliver the project as promised to gain trust for the next project.” - Russ Batzel, City of St. Peters, MO
“Transportation Development staff believes that public involvement best combat a controversial project’s perception. Often improvements that include new technologies or unfamiliar designs become the department’s most contentious projects. After providing a thorough explanation of a design choice through stakeholder and public meetings, as well as online, staff often finds that any negative feelings towards a project will disappear. The reversal of a project’s negative opinion often comes with keeping the public involved from conception to completion.” - Taylor Hall, Charleston County, SC
What are the best and most effective ways to get public feedback?
“Allow for email or Survey Monkey responses.” - Peg Bors, City of Tampa, FL
“If you want constructive feedback, identify the potential or existing users and talk to them. Set up a table on the trail on a Saturday morning. Go to an event that is at a similar nearby facility and ask the folks there. Attend the monthly / quarterly meetings of nearby neighborhood associations or reach out through a neighborhood ‘bulletin board’ (e.g. NextDoor.com). Host community workshops to create or update a trail / network master plan.
If you just want feedback, do an email blitz and allow comments to be visible to other users. There is no end to the range of comments generated in that forum.” - Matt Compton, City of Charleston, SC
“Providing multiple means of communication solicits the best feedback from citizens. When holding a public meeting for a project, Transportation Development staff offers comment sheets to fill out and submit at the meeting. These comments sheet usually double as mailers should a citizen prefers to mail their comments in at a later date. Citizens can also submit comments online or to the department’s main email address, which is provided on the comment sheets. For smaller projects that may not include a public meeting during the design process, Transportation Development will provide flyers to citizens directly informing them of any pending work. These flyers all display contact information, including the project managers phone number and email, as well as the department main phone line and email address. Staff finds they receive the most amount of public response when they give citizens multiple means to contact the department, and listing these means on all department related information.” - Taylor Hall, Charleston County, SC
What tips do you have for engaging with public? Let us know your suggestions!