High-Touch Public Engagement

Face-to-face public participation is the most time-tested way for local governments to involve citizens in the planning process. In Delaware’s small, close-knit communities, relying on the power of in-person conversations makes sense. High-touch approaches enable local governments to build a collaborative environment that actively involves the community in all aspects of a decision-making process.

High-touch public engagement


Successful high-touch engagement initiatives give citizens the tools they need to express their concerns and ideas. Visual preference surveys, windshield/walking surveys, charrettes, and world café sessions are examples of techniques that local governments can employ to achieve this result.

A visual preference survey (VPS) helps citizens, decision-makers, and other stakeholders determine preferences for various types of community design, architectural styles, land-/streetscaping, and/or built-environment options. A VPS allows participants to view and rate visual aspects of, and preferences for community design images (either existing or proposed). Participants rate each image based on its visual appeal and results are tabulated. As both a visualization technique and public engagement tool, a VPS gives citizens the opportunity to provide public input as a factor in decision-making on community design components that may impact land-use patterns, transportation options, the built environment, and/or site design features. A similar technique is to hold a public session where community members are invited to take pictures of public spaces that they like, as well as those they see as less desirable. The results of this exercise are then presented in a public forum setting.

Windshield and walking surveys allow facilitators and stakeholders to observe the environment of a community in the way that most community members experience it. Small groups of participants either drive or walk around the community depending on what features are to be assessed. The group’s facilitator leads discussion, notes the group’s comments, and reports back to relevant decision makers. Windshield and walking surveys are often used at the onset of a planning process to map or identify community assets, conduct a Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats (SWOT) analysis, or assess community issues on a first-hand basis.

Image showing the feedback pattern of public engagement through a charrette. The pattern is as follows: public meeting vision, alternative concepts, public meeting input, preferred plans, open house review, plan development, and public meeting confirmation.

Feedback cycles incorporated into charrette style public engagement.

A charrette is a form of collaborative planning that educates citizens on upcoming projects, and invites them to share their ideas. Charrettes are held during the pre-design phase of a project, and help steer the decisions of project designers. At the conclusion of the charrette, designers present final project options to the participants. The National Charrette Institute provides resources, training, publications, and project consulting services for interested jurisdictions.

The World Café method circulates participants through a series of tables where different questions are discussed. Participants record their own feedback and participate in discussion. At the end of the session, results of the discussion are summarized as a large group.

There are many high-touch public engagement strategies, and any of them can be successful if a wide variety of community members are invited to join in the process of planning the future of their community.

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