What is Community Engagement and Why is It Crucial for Urban Planning?

29.09.2022, Maarit Kahila and Anna Broberg, Maptionnaire

Community is the key to most urban planning projects. But how to engage with citizens to make sure their voices are heard and all involved parties – planners, clients, residents – are happy? This article is sponsored by [Maptionnaire](https://www.maptionnaire.com/) — a community engagement solution for comprehensive collection, analysis, and reporting of citizens' feedback and ideas for developing urban environments. [Maarit Kahila](https://www.linkedin.com/in/maarit-kahila-6196061a/) and [Anna Broberg](https://www.linkedin.com/in/anna-broberg-4b843820/), both holding a PhD in urban planning, founded Maptionnaire in 2011, which has since been used [in over 40 countries](https://www.maptionnaire.com/customer-stories). Maptionnaire believes that successful, resilient, and inclusive planning is achieved only together with residents – because they are the ones who have unique knowledge about their living environments. In this piece, Maarit and Anna explain why community engagement is essential and how Maptionnaire can help you navigate the key tools of efficient community engagement. # WHAT IS COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT Community engagement is an array of participatory processes where the public is involved in urban planning. Community engagement aims to achieve equitable and impactful participation of residents and stakeholders in the development of their living environments. In a community engagement process citizens share their ideas and feedback on planning projects, contribute to the redevelopment at the beginning of the planning cycle, or even decide directly on how to spend the budget. At the same time, planners get a chance to tap into residents’ local knowledge and use this information to develop resilient and livable environments. To successfully implement community engagement in urban planning, any planner needs to know the possible forms of engagement, the expected results of public participation and what tools will help them to implement and run community engagement activities with residents. That’s what you’ll learn below! # FORMS OF COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT IN PLANNING Community engagement comes in three major forms depending on the level of residents’ involvement and the stage of the planning process. We differentiate between: Informative participation, preparatory planning participation and decision-making participation. You don’t have to choose just one form of engagement and stick to it — a balanced combination of all three forms will bring you the best results. The choice of the form also depends on your goals, specific features of your project and legislation requirements, and on the tools you have at hand. {{Pic1:An infographic explaining the three types of community engagement in urban planning. Copyright: Maptionnaire}} # 1. INFORMATIVE PARTICIPATION Essentially, informative participation is about communicating the upcoming changes, procedures, and decisions to the public about their living environment. Residents often learn too late about master planning or detailed planning processes that impact their immediate surroundings — and it gets on their nerves and causes planning conflicts. Informative participation often fails because of this incorrect timing and the use of jargon and expert vocabulary that hinders citizens from understanding what the actual changes are. When done successfully, informative participation leads to increased buy-in and transparency and has the potential to mitigate planning conflicts. # HOW IS IT DONE? For successful informative participation, use inclusive and non-manipulative language, avoid jargon, and include translations into languages spoken in your area. Communicate with the public about plans and results consistently and through different online and offline channels residents actually use. For better resident engagement, it’s also crucial to visualize the upcoming changes with maps or images. The Finnish city Vantaa uses a dedicated webpage for informing its residents about all the upcoming changes and various participation processes available for the community. This page is a single stop for all the residents who want to know about the changes and leave their impact. Here you can read more about [the city digitizing its community engagement](https://www.maptionnaire.com/customer-stories/vantaa-digitalizes-community-engagement). # 2. PREPARATORY PLANNING PARTICIPATION In preparatory planning participation, the public shares their ideas and feedback about ongoing development projects. While some groups of people are hard to reach, online tools (especially in combination with offline options available for residents who have hard time using digital solutions) help involve a wider demographic and bridge the gap between cities and residents. For example, in [Kosovo, online community engagement opened up a safe and convenient way](https://www.maptionnaire.com/customer-stories/public-engagement-method) for female residents to bring in their opinion. # HOW IS IT DONE? Preparatory participation is often used in the [early stages of the planning process](https://www.maptionnaire.com/blog/public-participation-plan-for-early-phases) when planners want to evaluate residents’ values, attachments, and attitudes to an area under development. You can also present residents with a draft masterplan and ask for their feedback. The key to impactful planning participation is taking this valuable insider information seriously. It helps when feedback and ideas come as structured or geolocated data that is easy to analyze and integrate into the planning process. With an [engagement tool like Maptionnaire](https://www.maptionnaire.com/product), you collect exactly this type of data created by public participation. Traditionally, participative planning was organized through community workshops. But online tools — like map-based surveys, discussion forums, and dedicated webpages for citizen participation — give planners novel possibilities for running community engagement that is more inclusive and equitable. The City of Stockholm used a [Maptionnaire map-based survey to gather community opinions and feedback on a housing project](https://www.maptionnaire.com/customer-stories/stockholm-brings-public-participation-online). With this online public participation tool, city planners reached out to diverse groups, especially the youth, and included their opinions in the further plans for area redevelopment. <iframe title="vimeo-player" src="https://player.vimeo.com/video/724475232?h=e54a20130c" width="960" height="540" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe> # 3. DECISION-MAKING PARTICIPATION In the decision-making participation model, residents have the power, tools, and information to submit proposals and make informed decisions about budget spending, urban planning, environmental initiatives, or transportation development. This type of public engagement is, however, quite a rare case: in the urban planning context, council members are often making the final decision through representative democracy. # HOW IS IT DONE? The community decides about the use of resources allocated for city development](then it’s called participatory budgeting) or about certain policies (participatory policy-making). In this process, citizens contribute with proposals and decide by voting which of the qualified solutions should be implemented. The Finnish City of Lahti introduced [yearly participatory budgeting activities to its citizens](https://www.maptionnaire.com/customer-stories/participatory-budgeting-101-the-city-of-lahti-demonstrates-how-its-done). Maptionnaire secured the flexibility of combining online voting with in-person meetings and offered a smooth process for evaluating citizens’ contribution and turning them into realistic proposals. # NEXT STEPS TO ADVANCING COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT IN YOUR PROJECTS Now you know what aims are behind each type of community engagement and what tools will help you run and facilitate public participation. And it’s not that you have to choose just one type of participation and live by it. Different forms of engagement can be used at different stages of the process, depending on your needs and goals. What’s more important is to deliver on the promises you’ve made to the public and take their ideas, contributions, and decisions seriously. That’s a way to planning with people.