A master plan is a guiding document intended to provide a community’s vision of its long-term future, usually 10 to 20 years. Our aim was to analyze barriers to citizen engagement in master planning process and find new ways to gather constructive feedback from the citizens.
We interviewed various stakeholders of the master planning process, including the planning director, planning firm, planning commission, council members and the city manager, to understand the current system and identify research questions. Next we studied existing literature on citizen engagement and conducted citizen interviews.
We found two key barriers to citizen engagement in master planning in Jackson, MI:
- Finding 1: Citizens do not understand the master plan and why they should participate.
- Finding 2: Cost of participation is very high (attending meetings and design charrettes).
We implemented our recommendations in 2 phases. First by increasing awareness and understanding about master plan through an infographic. The infographic explains who is involved in the master planning process, why it is relevant to citizens, and most importantly, how they can participate. It highlights the urgency of taking action by emphasizing on the existing conditions of the city, such as the severity poverty rates and population decline.
Step two of our solution is to increase citizen engagement outside of public meetings in a way that is cost effective for the city and can be implemented instantly, as the master planning process has already started. To do this, we are integrating a question and answer web page on the Jackson Master Plan website. The forum web page is designed to be simplistic and easy to understand without having much familiarity with online forums. Key features include:
- All entries are in one page for more accessibility
- Preview of posted questions
- Sidebar Updates on who has posted and commented
- Easy identification and filtering of the content through use of Tags
- Ability for the planner to provide official response, after which citizens can engage in a discussion around the topic