If you were driving in Iowa over the Thanksgiving weekend, you probably saw the message on electronic message boards stretched across the state’s major highways – north to south and east to west.
“What doesn’t go with pumpkin spice? Drunk Driving”
With the holiday season at hand, pumpkin spice is seemingly everywhere. Unfortunately, drunk driving remains nearly ubiquitous. The Iowa Department of Transportation hopes the public makes the connection.
While the practice of public involvement has been studied and honed for decades, new questions are being asked about whether we are really doing it right. And, a recently completed city planning effort might point the way toward how how we can do it differently.
In September, Governing.com published an article that questioned whether public involvement as it is currently constructed favors people who have time and resources to participate in planning processes. Those people with means, the article claims, have an outsized ability to delay and thwart projects they don’t like – adding costs and, in some cases, sidetracking projects that might benefit lower socioeconomic communities or minority communities.
It certainly is worth considering whether and how the public meeting “regulars” – and most cities, counties and states have them – end up with an outsized level of influence on the outcome of various engagement efforts. In an “equal” process, everyone has access and influence.
However, some governments are asking whether equal is good enough. Perhaps it’s time to re-think when and how we conduct public involvement. In at least one city – and there are probably others – the new goal is equity through a process of continuous engagement that de-links the engagement process from individual projects.