[WEBINAR] A Recipe for Award-Winning Online Community Engagement with Metro Nashville Planning Commission

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This highly visual webinar video presents research finding and proven best practices, practical tips and award-winning case studies to guide agencies towards the successful application of online community engagement for planning projects. Viewers will walk away with an understanding about how to leverage digital engagement to achieve unprecedented results using cost effective tools (see participant comments below). This session showcases some of the most effective case studies that have found innovative ways to combine online and targeted face to face community engagement to involve thousands of community members in the planning process. Participants will learn strategies to improve the breadth and effectiveness of community engagement efforts increase the level of community support to facilitate smoother plan implementation.

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Participant Comments

Thanks so much for the great comments and kudos. Here’s some of our favorites:
“The best presentation on outreach I’ve ever attended (and I’ve done outreach since 1993)”
“Wow! The webinar itself was a great example of effective engagement.”
“Great webinar. Really good info, efficient, relevant to my work.”
“Really well organized and digestible.”
“The presentation was really well put together. I really enjoy when a presenter is able to get to the key takeaway first then dive into the specifics of that takeaway. Well done.”
“Great suggestions for thinking outside the box when it comes to public engagement.”
“Excellent presentation. Concise discussion of lessons learned with real, transferable information.”
“Very good online presentation. Got a lot of out the speakers.”
“This was a very helpful and insightful presentation. It provided good evidence on the effectiveness of online community engagement.”

AICP CM Credits


Q: These campaigns were designed for larger metro areas. How could a small MPO in a smaller community get some success with a lower budget?
A: [From Dave] From our perspective, MetroQuest is used by agencies of all sizes including many smaller MPO’s with very limited budgets so we have seen a wide range of scales of engagement efforts. While Nashville had hundreds of meetings and used a variety of online tools, smaller agencies would decrease both of these factors significantly. Typically, smaller agencies reduce costs by only hosting a couple of community meetings thereby reducing staff and consultant time dramatically. As far a digital engagement goes these projects often only use one online engagement tool as opposed to many as Nashville did. Typically, if one tool is used it is an online survey tool that has an attractive cost per participant ratio in the hopes of broadening the participation cost effectively. [From Greg] Trying the same tools, but scaling them back. Knowing your regular participants and regular gaps is key, to then select tools (speakers bureau, street teams, or whatever) that match.

Q: In both presentations, it looks like the engagement was geared around scenario planning, and sometimes very specific scenarios. Is that the most effective way to gain public engagement? What if your plan doesn’t use scenario planning?
A: [From Dave] The Atlanta case study did not involve scenarios. We find with MetroQuest, that less than one quarter of the projects involve scenarios. The rest use a variety of other screen types depending on the phase and public input needs of the project. With that said, scenarios are compelling as they provide a rich picture of a possible future and can be a tangible way to gain the attention of residents. [From Greg] I don’t think it’s the most productive, but for Nashville it matched our needs. The critical thing is finding engaging ways to structure the decisions your community needs to weigh in on.

Q: In both Atlanta and Nashville – besides shaping the vision and end product…how impactful were these efforts in bringing elected officials & leaders on board?
A: [From Dave] If you are successful in drawing in input from a large and diverse population, you can be confident that elected officials will get on board. That certainly happened in both these cases where over 18,000 people were involved. [From Greg] I don’t think it’s the most productive, but for Nashville it matched our needs. The critical thing is finding engaging ways to structure the decisions your community needs to weigh in on.

Q: Speaker mentioned that “meeting to go?” did not work as well as it hoped. Any thoughts how it could be better?
A: [From Greg] I’m not totally sure. It may have been that we had too much going on in that phase, and so we couldn’t focus the public’s attention on it.

Q: For Nashville, how did you best get people to participate at markets, transit stations, etc. Was there a reward like a raffle, candy, or mugs?
A: [From Greg] In one round, we had some raffle prizes (coordinated with prizes we recruited to give away to active participants on MindMixer). We also had shirts and tote bags in a different round. And we had stickers throughout – another good way to draw families over.

Q: Did you find that more people would attend after online outreach or were those done simultaneously?
A: [From Greg] Generally simultaneously. I think each fed the other.

Q: What was the total budget for Nashville Next?
A: [From Greg] About $300,000 in outreach consultant costs, plus 10-12 staff working 60-100% FTE. Several other departments and divisions participated in Resource Team meetings, but did not design, develop, or implement public participation.

Q: What would the cost for Hispanic input have been had the Spanish language site not been used?
A: [From Greg] I’m not sure. If you want to follow up with me directly, I can try to run the numbers without that.

Q: What meaningful public input was gained for Nashville Next that Metro Planning wouldn’t have done otherwise?
A: [From Greg] The prominence of affordability, largely due to traditionally under-represented groups. Affordability hasn’t ever been far from our understanding of community concerns, but it really came to the forefront in NN.

Q: How long was the public participation process?
A: [From Greg] All told, three years. Individual phases lasted two to four months.

Q: How is the comprehensive plan provided online? Interactive? Static pdf document?
A: Sadly, several static PDF documents right now. We’re working to get the action plan into the open data portal.

Q: How is implementation affecting your existing zoning and subdivision regulations?
A: [From Greg] Primarily through a current effort to add inclusionary zoning. Some minor updates. No comprehensive revision is planned right now.

Q: Is book a planner like a road show or speakers bureau?
A: [From Greg] Primarily a speakers bureau.

Q: What is your take on Twitter Live Chats as a method of consultation?
A: [From Greg] They’re okay. They weren’t a focus; we participated in one handled through the daily newspaper.

Q: Albuquerque asks: What were the background reports and studies, and how did you pick the topics?
A: [From Greg] They’re available here: http://www.nashville.gov/Government/NashvilleNext/Background-Reports.aspx. They were developed partly through our own sense of the community and partly in consultant with our Steering Committee. We went wide with the background reports and then narrowed and consolidated them into seven plan elements.

Q: Was NextDoor utilized for sourcing participation?
A: [From Greg] We didn’t have very much of a NextDoor presence when NashvilleNext was underway.

Q: Did you use existing staff to do the staff level (non-consultant) work, or did you deliberately staff up to accomplish the task? What disciplines were the focus?
A: [From Greg] Existing staff of planners, landscape architects, and architects.

Q: What is cost for MetroQuest? Is it a subscription?
A: [From Dave] I apologize that I was not able to provide more detailed information about MetroQuest due to the nature of the session. This session was not meant to be an introduction to MetroQuest and only included examples to highlight the lessons learned via the case studies. We would be happy to provide additional information to those interested in a separate call. I can let you know that MetroQuest is available by annual subscription and the cost varies based on the size of the organization. The Nashville case study compares the cost per participant of various online and face to face approaches at 38:30 in the video.

Thanks again for your interest and participation in this webinar.

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