Improve Your Development Review Process by Improving Public Engagement

Posted on January 9, 2020

Public Notice on Side of Road to Intro Article

Brought to you by Engagement Manager, Michelle Stephens, of Bang the Table.

Public meetings full of angry and misinformed residents?  A community that doesn’t understand their purpose and role in the development review process?  Inefficient input analysis and reporting process?  Voices missing from the conversation?

All of these are common challenges faced throughout the development review process and all of these challenges can be addressed by improving your public engagement tools and techniques.

Development Review is required by many jurisdictions to ensure that proposed developments meet public safety and welfare standards and provides for community needs and infrastructure.  This review is key to ensuring that the community remains a place people want to call home.  The review process for each community is as diverse as the size and complexity of projects that may be subject to a review; however, the requirement that the public be notified of a project that is under review is common among most jurisdictions.  According to the American Planning Association “The development review process should be predictable, efficient, and open, and it should add value to the community.”

Public engagement, or conducting activities to elicit input from the public, as part of the development review process, typically consists of a posted and/or mailed notice that invites the public to provide comments.  The notice may provide a brief project description and include a link to additional information on the community’s website.  The notice also includes a method to submit comments, typically via email or post, regarding the development application.

A yellow sign with black text Description automatically generated

The image above demonstrates the current standard in public engagement as part of the development review process.  This method of engagement is not working because:

It is not transparent and does not build trust.  Public comments (as part of a development review process) are typically received by a project planner who summarizes them and includes them with the project information that is forwarded to the decision-makers.  Occasionally, the input received by the public will impact the review process, but the vast majority of comments, which tend to be in opposition to the proposed development, are read and archived.  In many cases no response to the feedback is provided from the project planner and individuals who took the time to provide comments are left wondering if their comments were even received.  Likely, the project was approved and the individuals who provided feedback are left wondering, “what’s the point?” fueling their distrust in government.