Whether you’re working in the public or private sector, you’ll inevitably find yourself needing buy-in from community members and other stakeholders. Comprehensive plans, economic development plans, strategic plans, climate action plans, mobility plans – whatever your mandate, most planning processes share the same core components and necessitate public engagement. 

When to engage the public in a planning process

A typical plan’s lifecycle starts with a high-level kickoff and an analysis of existing conditions. Once that is complete, you move on to setting a broad vision with goals and priorities, compare alternatives, and boil these down into a draft plan. Usually, most local governments choose to focus on engaging the public at this stage to help review, finalize, and adopt the plan. After that, it would get tracked and amended, and perhaps it would even start over if the plan expires after a certain time period. 

While engagement mainly happens in the middle of this process, ideally, you’d engage your community in these four phases to ensure you’re aligned throughout the process. 

As you go from early-stage to late-stage planning, the type of feedback and input you’re looking for should change. You go from big-picture feedback on the big goals you want to achieve and your vision for the community, to more detailed feedback around the specifics of the final draft. 

Typical public comment issues in traditional engagement  

In-person engagement on planning processes tends to be rich and opinionated. But by the time a draft makes it to the review and public comment phase, the traditional public comment process becomes less interactive to gain depth with the feedback. 

Some of the most common issues with traditional public comment processes include:  

  • Everything ending up in PDF, usually with a long list of different documents that the public (and public servants!) have to spend hours pouring through. 
  • Once you finally do find the PDF you need, you end up in a sometimes-hundreds-of-pages document in which you have to read an overwhelming amount of information with pixelated maps and photos to get a bare minimum of context. This is usually laden with jargon.  
  • Even if you still have the clarity needed to provide feedback, it’s usually requested as an email. This requires careful mapping to each piece of the document you reviewed, which the public servant then has to move into a spreadsheet to track page numbers and line numbers. More often than not, this mapping doesn’t happen on the community side, so public servants have to make sense of which comment was meant for which part of a document. 

How CitizenLab and Konveio can help streamline public commenting on planning processes  

CitizenLab and Konveio are partnering to make collecting feedback much more intuitive and efficient. In a few simple clicks, you can now embed Konveio’s interactive document engagement tool in a CitizenLab-powered engagement platform, allowing you to: 

  • Enable context-rich feedback so it can be shared on specific draft language versus just on a general document. This also lets residents classify comments, such as a: suggestion, question, or a custom field to help organize their feedback. 
  • Spend less time reviewing comments, copy-pasting them into spreadsheets, searching for page references, and analyzing results to create reports. 
  • Maintain go-to workflows for drafting documents, recognizing that planning documents must still be print-first and easy to maintain by staff – with the added benefit of digital feedback enablement. 
  • Engage more people by enabling them to navigate long documents more quickly, dive deeper into issues they care about, and understand complex public documents with a simple, user-friendly interface. 
  • Make document feedback more interactive by allowing their team and community members to comment on feedback, and upvote or downvote suggestions. 
  • Reduce confusion by providing clear instructions, guided experiences, and a user-friendly interface to empower public engagement. A summary tab lets you give your document an introduction, a video, or break down different sections or focus areas of the project. A glossary can also be overlaid within the text to help break down acronyms and jargon that you want to ensure your community feels comfortable with 

How the CitizenLab and Konveio integration is being used today

Newham, one of the biggest and most diverse boroughs in London, launched the newest phase of their Local Plan consultation using the CitizenLab x Konveio integration to embed their consultation document and collect input within their digital community engagement platform. Their Local Plan – equivalent to a comprehensive plan in the US – includes policies on where homes, shops, parks, schools, health centers, workspaces, and community spaces should be located, what they should look like, and what they should be used for. Their plan is being updated for the next 15 years to set a path for inclusive growth, building a more equitable Newham, and addressing the climate emergency. 

The introduction to their project outlines why the public should get involved in the planning process, maps the Local Plan review stages (which are taking place over a three-year period), and offers the option to sign up for mailing list updates. Using Konveio they break down a 500-page document into a summary screen with the Konveio embedded on their platform. 

Each part of the planning project includes core information-sharing elements such as a video, summary, and access to the full PDF for download/print. Depending on the project phase, it also includes the Konveio-integrated, interactive PDF for public comment or an interactive policies map to engage with visually. Thanks to the CitizenLab platform’s clear project phases, the timeline for public comment and integration of feedback into the planning process is clearly outlined, so the public knows when they can engage and what to expect next. 

What’s next for the future of public planning 

Utilizing technology to enhance the planning processes and public comment periods is a logical next step to enable more inclusive and participatory planning processes. By facilitating public comment with user-friendly tools that also provide clarity and save time for you as a public servant, we’re hopeful that the future of public planning will also be more responsive to local needs. 

Interested in learning how the CitizenLab and Konveio integration can help with your planning process? Schedule a chat with our team.