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We all know the drill. We hold a public hearing on a controversial planning issue and the expected proponents and opponents with strongly held and often emotional opinions show up. At the end of an exhausting session, planning board members may be comforted that they have conformed to all the legal requirements, but, on reflection, may ask themselves: Have we received sufficient and accurate information from the public? Have we heard from a cross section of the community? Do we really know what most people think about this issue?
...Though it is more an art than a science, you are remiss if you rely only on public hearings, or any other single method, to gauge public opinion. Let's explore a few others.
Advisory committees and task forces. The planning department is undertaking the arduous task of updating the comprehensive plan. The more you get into it, the more obvious it becomes that there are many factors to consider if you are to craft a living document that will meet the needs of your community today and in the future. To help you in this task, consider appointing one or more citizen advisory committees or task forces, each with a specific charge and deadline. It is not always important that the committees be balanced. For example, a group of developers and another representing neighborhood interests can be asked to explore their issues in depth and present them at a commission meeting. Listen to them respectfully, after making sure they understand they are advisory, not policy-making. ...
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Elaine Cogan's article then continues with a look at use of: surveys and focus groups; open house; newspapers; and web page.
Elaine Cogan, founding principal of the Portland, Oregon planning and communications firm of Cogan Owens Cogan, has consulted for more than 36 years with communities undertaking strategic planning and visioning processes. Cogan has been honored for her work on a variety of citizen involvement projects.