A Guide to Creating Effective Public Participation
for State Historic Preservation Programs
Barry R. Lawson, Ellen P. Ryan, and Rebecca Bartlett Hutchison
Web Edition 2002 (originally published in 1993)
Sources in Public Participation
"PRESERVATION VISION 2000"
PUBLIC PARTICIPATION AND THE MARYLAND PLAN
IN SECTION 2:
The historic preservation movement had its genesis in the tireless efforts of grassroots organizations to save landmarks and landscapes for future generations. This legacy continues to be a factor in today's preservation activities and represents an important opportunity for state historic preservation offices to strengthen partnerships with fellow advocacy groups, with land-use professionals, and increasingly with groups whose interests sometimes conflict with preservation.
The Maryland Historical Trust (MHT or Trust) is currently [in 1992] revising its 1986 Comprehensive Historic Preservation Plan. Goals and objectives are being reassessed to determine if they are applicable to today's prominent preservation issues, and priorities are being redefined to ensure that they address current concerns about the future of historic preservation in the state. Throughout this process, public participation is playing a valuable role in forming and augmenting statewide historic preservation for the years to come.
This case study was prepared to assist state historic preservation office staff and other interested parties in designing and executing a public participation program associated with the development or revision of historic preservation plans. Insights gained from the experience of the Maryland Historical Trust have been recorded to both expedite and enrich the public participation process in other states.
Maryland is often called "America in Miniature" in reference to the breadth of landscapes and industries found in the state. From the coastal plain of the Chesapeake Bay through the rich farmland of the central Piedmont to the Allegheny mountains, Maryland has encountered many of the same cultural conservation issues found in other regions across the country. Increasing encroachment of development on scenic rural communities, aging infrastructure, neglected historic properties, destroyed archeological sites, lack of funding, and unsupportive citizens are just a few examples of the many challenges that the preservation community in Maryland and throughout the country are now facing. Maryland has also had its share of successes with the establishment of various historic districts, the protection of farm complexes and landscapes, the documentation of declining traditional cultures, and the identification and preservation of maritime resources. It is hoped that this diversity, and the ways that MHT approaches it, will contribute to the usefulness of the case study in other states.
The Value of Public Involvement
The first three goals of The Maryland Comprehensive Historic Preservation Plan of 1986 (see box) very clearly refer to the importance of informational exchange between the public who enjoy and use historic and cultural resources and the agencies entrusted with preserving and maintaining them. MHT has long stressed public participation and public outreach as a priority that extends beyond the scope of a single workshop or seminar. This attitude is demonstrated by the quality and breadth of the Trust's publications, workshops, and seminars; and by its ongoing actions to cultivate proponents of historic preservation. This emphasis on reaching out to the public is the fundamental catalyst behind expanding and documenting the role of public participation in the plan revision process.
MHT recognizes that strengthening existing lines of communication while creating new alliances will help tailor preservation programs and services to community needs. A large pool of partners can be particularly helpful when preservation challenges require diverse solutions and quick response. Outreach to the general public and allied disciplines, such as planning, landscape architecture, and economic development, can lay the groundwork for broad-based support of historic preservation programs. These increased efforts can also expand dialogue with traditionally under-involved groups such as the disabled, ethnic groups, and the development community.
MHT expects that effective implementation of the revised Maryland Comprehensive Historic Preservation Plan will depend upon the contribution and support of a variety of audiences. Affiliations range from local governments that use the Plan as a basis for their community preservation efforts to developers who must work within the framework of historic preservation legislation and ordinances. MHT also recognizes that involvement should not be limited to those people or organizations sympathetic to preservation - the practice of so-called "preaching to the choir." Groups skeptical or outright opposed to historic preservation must also be approached, for they could represent the most formidable obstacle to achieving the Plan's goals.
One of MHT's first tasks in designing the public participation process was to methodically plot out the intent of the process. What were the goals of this undertaking? What could be learned? What could be conveyed? What format could best accommodate the selected goals?
In answer to the first query, the primary goals of the public participation process were agreed upon and outlined as follows:
When the staff of MHT's Office of Planning and Public Outreach began designing the public participation process, the issue was raised about whether a theme as broad as "comprehensive plan revision" would attract as many participants as, say, a critical site-specific topic. Recognizing that this factor might affect audience attendance, the staff resolved to present a clear mission for the public participation process. To characterize the purpose of the process, the effort was named Preservation Vision 2000: The Maryland Plan. Naming the process helped to create a strong identity and promote awareness across the state. Putting "2000" in the name symbolizes the Plan's future orientation and identifies the next time it will be revised. [Note: this was written in 1992.]
Participation Format Options
Based upon the goals of the public participation process outlined above, MHT staff quickly decided that the most appropriate format would be a workshop series similar to those held during the development of the 1986 Plan. By their nature, workshops provide an interactive environment - an open forum for the exchange of ideas and information - in contrast to lectures, which primarily allow one-way communication. The workshops served as the cornerstone of the entire public involvement process and were supplemented as needed by a variety of other formats described in the box.
Upon consideration, the full-day workshops that produced the 1986 Plan proved too ambitious for MHT for several reasons. Foremost among them were budget and schedule constraints which required reducing the number of speakers, changing locations to low- or no-cost public facilities, and eliminating meal provisions. Additionally, it was felt that an all-day workshop would not be a viable option for many people whose schedules would not permit attendance. Consequently, a half-day workshop scheduled from 2:00 to 6:00 p.m. on a week day was chosen as the best option. This timing allowed professionals to attend as part of their job responsibilities and advocates to participate without taking too much time from work.
The half-day workshop format was viewed as the most cost- and time-efficient way to give the workshop participants ample opportunity to express their views and voice their concerns. The length and number of presentations were scaled back to cover the most prominent preservation and planning issues, and the last half of the workshop was dedicated to a group discussion session. Eventually, staff added a Saturday workshop in response to several requests for a weekend meeting.
To capture Maryland's strikingly different regions and their associated concerns, the MHT staff decided that the four regions used for the 1986 Plan revision process would not adequately fill the goals of the current public participation effort. Using a greater number of smaller regions would allow a fuller expression of regional diversity and would give interested citizens a reasonable opportunity to contribute by not requiring them to drive more than an hour to any of the workshop locations. It was important to demonstrate the state's commitment to gathering public input by conducting a more extensive outreach effort. Therefore, the number of workshop regions was increased from four to nine as shown in the accompanying map.
Identification of Workshop Participants
Early in the process, MHT staff recognized that the "public" sought for participation was in fact made up of many different groups, some representing conflicting interests. The term used for these groups is stakeholders. According to John M. Bryson and William D. Roering in chapter 2 of Strategic Planning: Threats and Opportunities for Planners, a stakeholder is "any individual, group, or other organization that can place a claim on your organization's attention, resources, or output or is affected by that output."
Many of MHT's stakeholders had already been "captured" via an extensive mailing list maintained by the Trust for publication distribution and general notification purposes. Over 2,000 names and addresses had been accumulated and updated, providing a ready network with which to communicate upcoming events and publications. This list, however, was composed primarily of "pro-preservation" interests, so additional effort was needed to search out the untapped players. These groups include community leaders, land-use planners, those in the development community, and property rights advocates. Failure to reach these interests would defeat the purpose of the public participation process - to garner views from all those directly affecting or affected by implementation of the Comprehensive Historic Preservation Plan.
The publicity tools used by MHT are just a few of the various means to communicate with constituencies. Those used were considered the most expedient, cost-effective, and appropriate measures available for MHT's purposes. Other state historic preservation offices will have different needs and resources and will choose from among the available options to achieve the best results.
The extensive mailing list maintained by the Trust was a strong tool for sending informational flyers to interested parties. Other state agencies, such as the Community Assistance Administration (CAA) and the Maryland Environmental Trust, provided additional mailing lists that were extremely helpful in reaching new and broader constituencies. In addition, several local preservation organizations further augmented the mailing campaign by providing their mailing list labels to MHT.
Flyers announcing each workshop were circulated through mass mailings. Visitors to the Trust rarely left the office without having a few flyers put in their hands for further distribution. Newsletters
Trade associations such as the Maryland Chapter of the American Planning Association, the Maryland Association of Counties, and regional chambers of commerce were contacted to assist in reaching their members through their newsletters. The Trust's own newsletter, In Context, also informed readers of workshop activities, especially for the tenth and final workshop held on Saturday in the Trust's offices.
A press release was issued for each regional meeting approximately one to two weeks prior to the particular session. An important element of the MHT press release was a statement by [then] Maryland Governor William Donald Schaefer on the importance of public involvement in the retention of the state's cultural and historical heritage (see box). This endorsement helped strengthen the public appeal and underscored Maryland's commitment to historic preservation.
A letter was developed to target those individuals and organizations in allied fields and disciplines who would want more detailed information than that found in the flyer. The letters were a personal form of communication and proved effective in increasing workshop attendance and in reaching previously untapped individuals and organizations.
In some cases, personal telephone invitations are warranted. In Maryland, this strategy was primarily used for local land-use planners and public officials. Though a time-consuming activity, the effort proved worthwhile for two reasons. First, the majority of the people contacted by telephone attended the workshops, ensuring that a large percentage of local planning offices or jurisdictions were represented at each of the meetings. Second, the personal invitations assisted in forming enduring partnerships with planners and local officials across the state.
For those constituencies not captured by the other methods, MHT used several different tactics. The most important of them was asking local governments to disseminate and public information on a community-wide basis. This method proved extremely helpful.
Statewide and local organizations were asked to co-sponsor the workshops. This mechanism proved to be a fruitful and efficient means of building a wider audience net. Co-sponsorship did not require funding from the organization, only an agreement that help would be given in spreading the word about the workshop series.
Several statewide organizations co-sponsored the entire regional workshop series. The Maryland Office of Planning, the Maryland Environmental Trust, the Maryland Chapter of the American Planning Association, the Maryland Association of Historic District Commissions, and Preservation Maryland were major contributors to the success of the workshops.
In addition to these statewide organizations, many local advocacy and public interest groups co-sponsored workshops in their area. Members of these groups were instrumental in advertising the workshop in their newsletters, serving as field representatives in securing meeting facilities, and troubleshooting for MHT staff.
One of the most important benefits of co-sponsorship is the establishment of long-term relationships with partners in the land use and environmental planning arenas. The initial contact, made for purposes of the workshops, often turned up important leads for MHT on other preservation issues.
The workshop series were planned so that everyone would benefit from the information exchanged in each meeting. MHT wanted to increase participants' understanding of its programs, services, goals, and objectives, and staff wanted to gain insight on participants' concerns and suggestions expressed in questionnaires completed by participants. Finally, creative solutions to specific community problems were expected to emerge from the collective brainstorming of the participants during group discussions. Through a combination of increased knowledge of statewide preservation efforts and expression of local concerns, it was hoped that the participants would share with their communities an increased sensitivity to preservation issues. Trust staff was also looking to increase its understanding of local viewpoints.
The workshop agenda, therefore, was structured to provide the best mix of speaker presentations and participant input. Three to four speakers provided information about preservation issues and activities relevant to the region where the workshop was being held, followed by a presentation on MHT programs and the current plan revision effort.
A break, with refreshments provided by both MHT and co-sponsors, offered opportunities for speakers, MHT staff, and participants to get to know each other and converse in a more informal setting.
The remainder of the workshop was devoted to facilitated discussion among participants about what they viewed as the most pressing issues of preservation and strategies that could be used to address those issues. All participants were encouraged to express their views freely, and each person was given an opportunity to speak. MHT staff did not actively participate in the group discussions, but were able to hear all the issues and solutions raised, and if a question was raised about the Trust's programs, a staff person was able to respond immediately.
Tools and Materials
A 20-minute slide presentation was developed to communicate both the nature of preservation planning and how it is accomplished in Maryland. It also served to explain the role of the Maryland Historical Trust and the Maryland Comprehensive Historic Preservation Plan. The slide show was prepared for use at all regional meetings and therefore covered a wide variety of geographic locations and historic resources. A copy of the 1986 Plan was also available for perusal by participants.
To help the participants understand MHT programs and the 1986 Plan, a simple-one-page fact sheet was developed to answer the most common participant questions: What is the Maryland Historical Trust? What is the purpose of the Comprehensive Plan? And, last but not least, why am I here? The goals from the 1986 Plan were placed on the reverse side of the fact sheet for reference during group discussions. The MHT slide presentation focused on these five goals and illustrated ways in which they had been addressed since 1986.
Several Trust publications such as In Context, Preservation Progress, the 1992 MHT Publication Catalogue, and the Guide to Services and Programs brochure were made available to participants for additional information on MHT's services. These items were put on display at the close of the workshop so that the materials would not divert participant attention from the speaker presentations and discussion sessions.
In addition to the above materials, several other important items bear mentioning despite their humble nature. Sufficient quantities of markers, pins, tape, presentation boards, easels, pointers, slide projectors and carousels, extensions cords, adapters, name tags, boxes (for returned questionnaires), and pencils should be ordered and brought to the workshop location.
For MHT's purposes, informal training for group discussion facilitators was thought to be sufficient. This training generally entailed giving the chosen facilitators guidelines about what type of input was desired and how to achieve maximum feedback. Facilitators, who also acted as recorders, were asked to begin the group discussion with casual introductions by each participant. Facilitators were asked to ensure participation by all group members, maintain focus on the designated issues, and keep discussion moving. Simply put, facilitators acted as objective discussion leaders who did not contribute to the discussion, but kept it on track and provided an environment in which all participants felt free to express their views.
Each meeting began with registration of the participants. Names and addresses of participants were taken for the purpose of sending issues summaries at a later date. Name tags were filled out to assist people in personal introductions. Questionnaires, fact sheets, and an agenda were distributed at this point to orient participants and answer some of their basic questions in the interim before the speakers began.
To begin each workshop, a welcoming speaker explained the goals of the workshop, roles and backgrounds of the speakers, and the purpose of the discussion session. It was very important to specific how participant input from the workshop will be integrated into the revised Plan. Participants are often reluctant to contribute in a meaningful way if they perceive the session to be perfunctory; that is, if the host is "going through the motions" or "giving lip service" to the public participation process. A succinct yet complete picture of how public input will shape the plan is highly recommended.
Local Historic Preservation or Planning Professional
Typically, the Trust scheduled two local speakers to present issues, programs, and activities being conducted in their respective communities. Speakers were asked to highlight planning activities that aided preservation goals and to identify issues that demanded further attention.
MHT Preservation Planner
At each of the regional meetings, the Preservation Planner gave an overview of the Maryland Historical Trust's various responsibilities and the five goals identified in the Maryland Comprehensive Historic Preservation Plan. Vivid slides from around the state illustrated the various methods used to implement the Plan since 1986. The presentation included a summary of pertinent legislation and various issues affecting preservation in Maryland today.
A number of options are available to solicit participant views and concerns. The method actually used in any workshop will depend upon the number of participants and the composition of that audience. The method used by the Trust for the first two workshops was to divide participants into small groups and assign informally trained facilitators to guide and record the group discussion. Advantages of this method were an increased probability of focused discussion, more accurate and thorough reporting, and actual participation by all group members.
MHT asked local planning and preservation professionals and individuals from co-sponsor organizations to facilitate group discussions. At the beginning of the discussion session, each group's members were asked to select a spokesperson who, at the end of the meeting, would share the group's comments and recommendations with participants from other groups. Flip chart sheets generated by each group were retained by the Trust for use in completing the issues summary.
At the first two workshops, many participants said they would have preferred having one large discussion group so they could hear what others had to say. This approach was used successfully in the third workshop, and was continued in the remaining workshops. Having just one group allowed an exchange of ideas that was heard by all participants and gave MHT staff a better sense of why the issues were important to those who spoke. A representative from Preservation Maryland, one of the co-sponsoring organizations, served as facilitator for the remainder of the meetings.
Group discussion was begun by brainstorming about which preservation issues concerned participants most. If participants were hesitant to speak, the facilitator suggested a range of possible topics, such as transportation, the environment, housing, land use, or any issue unique to the region in which the workshop was being held. This type of encouragement seemed welcome, especially when a lull occurred in the discussion. The facilitator frequently urged people to elaborate on their concerns to generate broader discussion, and each participant was given an opportunity to express his or her views.
A summary of the issues discussed at all workshops was prepared and distributed to all workshop participants. A cover letter asked each person to review the summary and provide comments or additional suggestions. A summary tabulation of the questionnaire responses was also prepared for each meeting to condense the results and provide comparative information on participant occupations, residencies, viewpoints, and other important information. The information gathered from the workshops will be thoroughly evaluated before writing the revised Plan. All of the issues raised and the suggestions for addressing them will be included in developing the broader goals and objectives for the Plan update.
At each workshop, the questions and issues ranged from the most basic of how to begin a preservation program or designate a historic district to the need for protecting scenic viewsheds and manage growth while conserving agricultural activities. The most prominent issue expressed at each meeting was the need for more public education. Participants felt that many cultural resources were being lost because citizens did not understand or care about the value of their heritage.
Preservation issues identified by workshop participants generally fell into four categories: national, statewide, regional, and community-specific. Growth management, demolition by neglect, increasing public education about the benefits of preservation, and the need for more economic incentives for preservation activities are some of the issues raised that are currently affecting cultural resources throughout the country.
Issues that were specific to Maryland related more to state legislation and to activities for which state agencies are responsible. Legislative considerations included the desire for greater state grant assistance and tax incentives, improved cemetery protection measures, the need to protect community character while implementing the state's new growth management legislation, and concern about the need for stronger enforcement of the state's critical areas legislation.
Regional issues surfaced when discussing transportation, scenic by-ways and rural protection, growth pressures, and tourism opportunities. Citizens and planning professionals in rural areas expressed their concern about the need for scenic resource protection along major highways. Residents of counties surrounding urban centers verbalized their fear of increasing development pressure and insensitive growth patterns. Workshop participants from western Maryland and the Eastern Shore shared a feeling of isolation from the services and expertise of the Maryland Historical Trust.
In each of the workshop discussions, several questions arose that related to specific community issues. What could the Trust do to help the resident of Whitehaven protect their rural community? How could the Trust help revitalize an old commercial area in downtown Baltimore? What could the Trust do to promote citizen involvement in the protection of Allegheny County's heritage? Community-based issues were the ones that evoked the most emotion from participants and, in one case, the workshop provided a catalyst for strengthening local protection immediately (see box).
A number of "lessons" were learned from the total experience of designing and conducting the workshop series.