Follow Up Q & A on Evaluate, Already
In response to Evaluate Already section of The Local Economy Revolution:
Editor’s note: this and additional questions and comments about this section of Della’s The Local Economy Revolution, can be found on our Linkedin group page. You can still add your own comments or questions there.
Della, you write in the chapter “Evaluate, Already” that “other than anecdotes and our gut sense, we often don’t really know whether a particular recommendation was a good idea or a bad idea, even years later.” Then you give three very good reasons why we don’t often evaluate our plans and learn from them: we don’t like to admit mistakes; going back through the records and teasing out how the plan did or didn’t influence development is a luxury planners don’t have time for; and a lot of time has to pass before the recommendations of many plans play out — and by then everyone is ready to move on to the next plan update.
I’m hoping there are at least some examples of communities that have tried to evaluate their plans over time! I thought that at least some plans now include specific benchmarks that can be more easily re-checked as time passes. Can you offer any glimmers of hope — or advice — for communities that DO want to set up a system for evaluating their plan recommendations over time?
I talked in one of the previous Q&As about a couple of communities that have done that. They’re rare, but if you look around your area you’ll probably find a few.
The reason why there’s still relatively rare in action is that there’s two pieces that have to be done reasonably well: First, the plan itself has to include a decent monitoring process with benchmarks that are specific enough to give you something measureable, but not sooo specific as to make it too binary of a decision. If the plan specifies 347 new accessory dwelling units will be built, but you end up with 312, is that hitting the benchmark or not? It’s a balancing act that needs to be figured out up front. Having ranges of successful outcomes instead of getting obsessed over one number, can help.
Second, there have to be pretty demonstrable ties back to the fundamental priorities that the Plan was designed to address, and these need to be clear, relevant and supportable enough to allow the plan’s proposals to withstand the inevitable criticism, fights over funding, etc. An author in a British journal just gave an excellent review of how this can be done better; you can find more about it and a link in the Good Ideas File at The Local Economy Revolution’s website: http://wp.me/p3SamA-cf.
I am seeing more and more plans that are more sophisticated on these points, but we’re just starting to see what happens as they get implemented. I think we will have a lot more good examples in the next couple of years.