When the goal is to collect input, the result is often a transactional engagement process and a missed opportunity to understand or address people’s needs. Shift to an action-oriented approach to co-create a solution.
Assemble a team of varying backgrounds and expertise that all have different stakes in the project. Prioritize cross-silo work.
In Macon, Georgia, the community is innovating around “democratized implementation,” meaning that Macon residents and community groups are active participants in planning, designing and building projects, and responsibility is dispersed among multiple organizations rather than centralized solely through the city government.
The Macon Action Plan (MAP) is the key form through which democratized implementation takes place. Unlike most master plans that gather community feedback but rely on the government to execute, MAP elevates the role of the community to not only provide input but also implement projects. “The magic of MAP is that it doesn’t belong to anybody,” said Alex Morrison of the Macon-Bibb Urban Development Authority. As a true collaborative effort, MAP brings together the City, downtown booster organization NewTown Macon, and local foundations.
Through grants, such as Macon’s Downtown Challenge Grants, the community has the opportunity to take ownership of programming and improvements that help achieve the goals outlined in MAP. And residents and small businesses can leverage their creativity and energy to beautify and revitalize their public spaces. Five years into the plan, Macon had accomplished more than 90% of its goals, with more ambitious aspirations for MAP 2.0, launched in 2020.
Read the full case study on this approach in Macon, starting on page 28 of Investing with Intention: Civic Engagement.
Plan a site visit to another city as an opportunity to nurture team cohesion, learn how other communities have addressed similar challenges and see the work in a different context.
To envision a world-class gathering place, in 2017 Detroit Riverfront Conservancy assembled a Community Advisory Team to “dream about the future of West Riverfront Park.” Assembling over 20 community advisors, residents that reflected the diversity of the city, the team embarked on trips to Philadelphia, Chicago and New York City, visiting 14 parks and exchanging knowledge with 17 other practitioners and community leaders.
From these experiences the team could dream big, learn from other places and gain new perspectives on the potential of the Detroit riverfront, while crafting a uniquely Detroit approach. This group’s insights informed the design competition for what will be known as Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Centennial Park opening in 2024.
Design elements like “The Water Garden” and “The Hill” seem reflective of takeaways from Philadelphia and Chicago, where the team saw how the water was accessible and topography could be used in compelling ways. Planning for programming and hearing from voices of all ages were essential takeaways from New York.
By creating a team for travel and learning, the Conservancy exemplified the power of elevating community voices and deeply embedding local knowledge and expertise. Many years into an ongoing and expanding project, the Riverfront continues to receive accolades and national recognition as a top riverfront nationwide.
Case studies produced by the Sustaining Robust Engagement & Stewardship Working Group of the Civic Commons Learning Network.
Lead image credit: Mike Young