In Their Words: How to Write About Your Planning Project

I loved this recent post from OpenPlans.org — in part because I enjoy how Frank writes, and in part because I think it contains essential and important advice — no matter what kind of public engagement you are doing.  We so often talk to the public in our abstract lingo, not in concrete terms that mean something real to real people.  We don’t give them a clear understanding of why this is worth spending their time and how what they do will end up making a meaningful difference.  And if you can’t articulate that, then you need to re-examine the structure  – and the purpose of your project.  If it will just make people more cynical, it might now be worth the effort.

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We’re seeing some great project websites being created on OpenPlans.org. To help you create better pages, we’re sharing tips and tricks here on our blog. Drop us a line anytime with questions, or head over to our community pages to share ideas and projects with other OpenPlans users. 2134509401_fd8277a5a2_b

In Part 1, I talked about shaping your project description – how to explain the purpose of the project in a way that encourages involvement, not snoozing. Today, here are some ideas about discussing community involvement when creating your OpenPlans page. Someone seeing your OpenPlans project for the first time is thinking, “Why get involved?”. Either that’s a direct thought, or bundled up with other reactions and emotions about the project. People are rational, especially when it comes to deciding how to spend their evenings. So offer concrete, meaningful evidence that community involvement matters.  Like this:

  • explain why community involvement matters – concretely, not in the abstract sense of warm fuzzy feelings. For this project, community input matters because…?
  • show how the project team will review and use what you hear.
  • demonstrate that you will close the loop – if someone gets involved, how will they know about followups and next steps?
  • give yourself a shout out for using great engagement tools like OpenPlans and Shareabouts. Everyone wants to get involved via modern, fun activities that don’t feel like the same boring old planning.

When talking about getting involved, don’t just fall back on providing a list of meetings – the when and where matter, but initially you want to explain how public input will inform and guide what happens. Use the timeline feature to go into detail later. Of course, all this only works if your project puts community involvement at the center – and if it doesn’t, we should talk about fixing that, because there’s only so much a nice website can do.

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