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When planning commissioners think of a crowd, one image that comes to mind is the angry mob at a public hearing on a zoning change or a development proposal. One after the other, they come to the microphone and rail against land use controls, city officials, developers – you name it.
So when a concept like the “wisdom of the crowd” suggests that we need to rely even more on public input to develop a master plan or a new zoning ordinance, the initial reaction may well be deep skepticism. Yet, is it possible to tap into the knowledge of a large and diverse group of people?
Back in 2004, James Suroweicki wrote a book called The Wisdom of Crowds, where he described ways of drawing on our collective wisdom. He identified four key factors that distinguish wise crowds from, presumably, foolish ones. They include diversity, independence, decentralization, and some type of mechanism to collect, organize, and distill all the different opinions,
- Diversity means that many different voices are heard – the crowd represents a true cross-section of the public.
- Independence means that the people involved are not unduly influenced by each other.
- Decentralization means that the group is not managed by some sort of hierarchical requirement – it’s hard for a new boot camp recruit to openly express a different opinion than their military higher-ups.
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