Monday, September 13, 2010
One of the hallmarks for the success of planning in Dover has to be our efforts to encourage participatory planning. The department works because we strive to understand the needs of the community and how we as a community want to develop.
We have tried various methods to engage the public and found some to be successful (our google maps for each planning and zoning application) and some unsuccessful (monthly planning discussion sessions). I like the idea of thinking out of the box and trying to encourage as many people to be involved with planning as possible.
I understand that planning is not about popularity contests, and polls, but rules and regulations, and that the flip side is that our rules and regulations should be community derived and proactive, generally, as opposed to reactive.
This Blog is one of the methods I have found to engage the public. I see, by the side counter, that we have 8 followers. This sounds low, but it amazes me to meet people that say they read the blog through RSS feed readers or other forms of aggregation. I like the free form though process that can be used here and the ability to get information out in a longer format.
Speaking of length of posts, I really enjoy twitter as a communication format. As far as social media goes, I'd say it is the best non-personal tool out there. Our feed twitter.com/DoverNHPlanning has a healthy following, and I enjoy the challenge of consolidating a thought into 140 characters.
This tool has been great for sending out links to agendas and meetings. I have also found that people ask questions via tweeting, and then I can respond to every follower (almost 100) with the answer. Seems to me, if one person has the question, so do others.
I have a love hate with Facebook. I see the benefit, but find it annoying. I created a FB page for the Planning Department, but find that it is not as intuitive a tool for non-personal information. It really works better for sharing info with friends.
That said, I tend to repeat tweets on Facebook, albeit with a bit more information and characters. The Community Trail and Friends of Willand Pond are also on Facebook and that is good to see efforts like that.
I really like this option. Google Maps are so intuitive and multi-functional. We use the maps to plot the location of project applications for Planning, Zoning and now Conservation commission applications. In the past we have also used the function to document the growth of the Community Trail and the Pay N Display parking meeter locations.
I find that these maps are well used and informative in a positive way.
The newest adventure we have undertaken is that weekly I am interviewed by the Media Services Coordinator for the City, and give a blurb, or two, about the Planning world for the video DoverDownload. This feature runs on Channel 22 and is also available online for viewing. This tool is good, because it allows for a more personal touch than a straight press release, but also isn't as wordy as a blog (ha ha).
While I don't see the need, anymore, for the monthly Planning Discussions, I do hope to have them maybe on an as needed basis or quarterly. I am not sure if no one knew about them, people didn't want to come at 7:30 am or maybe I need to switch colognes.
Email is still the most used way to interact with the public and I am constantly trying to keep up with it. I can be reached at email@example.com, and am happy to reply to questions, or assist with understanding plans or projects. I have a in-department policy with email and phone calls. Both must be returned within 24 hours. Even if the response is that you are looking into something, staff need to respond.
Press releases are also a good tool. They are definitely more traditional, but that isn't a bad thing. I think we have done a good job of noting successes and passing information along this way, and will continue to do so.
Overall I see interacting with the public as a trial and effort situation. We will continue to reach out and try to reach people via any means we can. I am open to ideas and welcome the challenge of trying new tools (tumblr anyone?).
Let me know if you have a suggestion, maybe I'll interact with it.