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Public Participation
In Historic Preservation Planning
 
Public Participation
in
Preservation Planning

Goals of Public Participation
 
Identify the Public
 
Determine the Nature of Public Participation
 
Get the Public Involved
 
Keep the Public Involved
 
 

TO LEARN MORE.....

Reaching Out, Reaching In:
A Guide for Creating Effective Public Participation in State Historic Preservation Planning
 
Sources in Public Participation
 
 
 

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Disclaimer, Liability, & Ownership Notice
 
 
SLHR 2002

 
We are advised by the Secretary of the Interior in the "Standards and Guidelines for Preservation Planning," that

Preservation planning is based on the following principles: …Preservation planning includes public participation. The planning process should provide a forum for open discussion of preservation issues. Public involvement is most meaningful when it is used to assist in defining values of properties and preservation planning issues, rather than when it is limited to review of decisions already made. Early and continuing public participation is essential to the broad acceptance of preservation planning decisions. The success of the preservation planning process depends on how well it solicits and integrates the views of various groups.
 
The historic preservation movement has always been strong in grassroots and public participation action, and this tradition should be well integrated into preservation planning efforts. Preservation planning, in common with all planning that affects how and in what form land is used, is a public process with implications that go beyond the office originating the plan. An active, ongoing involvement of interested and affected parties – citizens, professionals, businesses, government agencies, and others – is a key feature of preservation planning and is critical to the plan’s success. It is essential to build coalitions and reach consensus about preservation values, issues, and goals. The broader the base of support for the plan, the greater is the chance the plan will be accepted and used.

Opportunities for collaborative exchange and discussion of information between preservation planners and the public are important, both in refining planning data and recommendations, as well as in developing support among the affected public for the outcome of the planning effort. The communication of facts, ideas, and opinions between planners and the public can build mutual awareness of problems and needs, which in turn serves as the basis for the development of politically acceptable solutions. Further, public participation introduces a variety of different perspectives into the planning effort, and often expands the range of ideas considered, making the planning process more responsive to complex needs. Early, continuing, and active public involvement is essential for broad-based acceptance and support of preservation planning outcomes.

Goals of Public Participation

The goals of public participation are to:

  • Provide the public with information so they can understand the process, the issues, and the values, and can participate effectively.
  • Provide full opportunities for the public to share their views and to influence the outcome of the planning process.
  • Build consensus and public support for the vision and goals of the plan and of the entity charged with developing and implementing the plan.
  • Ensure that the planning effort addresses issues of importance to those affected by the plan.
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Identify the Public

Specific identities of the various "publics" that should be involved in the planning effort at various stages need to be clearly identified early in the process. It is important to recognize that the "public" is not a single group or organization whose members share common interests and concerns or speak with one voice. The public is comprised of a multitude of diverse groups with varying, often competing, interests and responsibilities. A number of these should be considered for involvement in planning. To involve only those groups who share the planners’ views would be "preaching to the choir" and counterproductive.

To identify a range of viewpoints and issues, it is important to reach out to a wide range of groups, beyond the usual preservation special interests. Groups that have the greatest potential to affect historic and cultural resources should be involved, as well as those that will be affected by the plan. For example, a planning process without federal agency involvement would not be very effective in a state with considerable federal activity or landholdings. Preservation planners are encouraged to consider a wide range of public groups, such as:

  • Preservation professionals and others who have interest and expertise in historic preservation, such as historians, architectural historians, archaeologists, anthropologists, historic landscape architects, and members of non-profit organizations, academic institutions, government agencies, private firms, avocational groups, and Main Street programs.
  • Federal, state, and local government officials who may be major users of the preservation plan, especially those government agencies that control land or affect how it is used. Government agencies are important because they are likely to be primary consumers and users of planning information, and may be rich sources of information; their early and continuing involvement is important.
  • Elected officials and others whose decisions affect or have the potential to affect historic and cultural resources. This includes members of state and local legislative bodies, mayors, politically appointed boards and commissions members (including, but not limited to historic preservation commissions or architectural review boards), policy advisors, judges, etc. Political and elected officials and government staff members are important because they make policy, laws, and decisions; they are interested, and they need to have knowledge to respond to constituents.
  • Individuals and groups who may be affected by the planning process and the plan, such as property owners, business owners, users of public lands and historic properties, developers, Chambers of Commerce, tourism councils, environmental groups, etc. This segment of the public is particularly important, given the increased concerns of private property rights activists.
  • American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians and other ethnic groups who may have special interests in the historic and cultural resources for which preservation is being planned.
  • Certified Local Governments that have a special partner relationship in the federal-state-local national historic preservation program.
  • Minority groups and the disabled, including the physically, visually, and hearing impaired, the elderly, and others whose views are generally not well known and who typically have not been part of the preservation system.
  • Others, such as those who play key roles in shaping public opinion; for example, "power brokers" or "opinion leaders," the League of Women Voters, and the print and broadcast media; and groups who are or may be enlisted as "partners" in helping to implement the preservation plan.
This list of public groups is broad enough that it probably includes everyone in the planning area. Since it is usually not practical to involve everyone in the planning effort, you can reach out to the most relevant groups by asking what the consequences would be if any group or individual were excluded from the process. You can further winnow down the participant groups to a more manageable number by considering the following series of factors.

Information about potential participants comes from three sources:

  • Self-identification – they have contacted you through telephone calls, letters, prior involvement, complaints, petitions, etc.
  • Lists of special interest groups (e.g., environmentalists, affected industries, landowners, clients) compiled by the planners.
  • Suggestions from well-informed persons, organization officers, etc.
The public can also be identified by determining:

  • What groups, organizations, agencies have an interest, or are already involved, in historic preservation?
  • Who has a vested interest, a stake in the outcome of the planning process?
  • Who are the opinion leaders, the power elite?
  • Who would be affected by the outcome of the planning process?
  • What elected officials have an interest or could make a difference?
Organizations and individuals who are especially important to include are those that are key sources of information and feedback, representatives of various interest groups, and opinion leaders or power brokers. Opinion leaders play a key role in shaping public reaction to programs and proposals described by technical experts and the media. Opinion leaders can be identified by a combination of three approaches:

  • List individuals who hold formal leadership positions in various private and public organizations.
  • List individuals who have been active and have taken advocacy positions on important planning issues.
  • Interview people on the first two lists about individuals whose opinions carry weight if a decision had to be made on a planning issue of the type being studied; list those mentioned by at least three of the interviewees.
You could also identify some public entities by asking "who makes the decisions that affect historic and cultural resources?" The sample matrix that follows can help you organize information on decision-makers.

Care will need to be taken that some important groups have not been left out. It may be a challenge to encourage the active involvement of groups that are not typically involved in public policy development and decision-making, such as recent immigrants and groups whose traditional cultures rely on different processes of group decision-making. Examples of such groupS may include the Old Order Amish in Southeastern Pennsylvania, some Native American tribes, or elders in some Asian-American communities. These groups may need special attention in order to ensure that their views can be incorporated into the planning process.

 

SAMPLE MATRIX
WHO AFFECTS THE RESOURCES?

 

Government Agencies

Private

Federal

State

Local

Groups

Individuals

Whose decisions affect the resources?

         

What resources are affected?

         

What laws & regulations govern decisions or actions?

         

What kinds of decisions are made? (e.g., policy, permitting, project-specific)

         

What is the decision-making process?

         

Who is involved in the decision-making process?

         

What information do they need to make the decisions?

         

When in the process do they need the information?

         

What are their policies, goals, missions?

         

What kinds of planning do they carry out, how, with whom, under what authority, what is covered, and what official status does the plan have?

         
 
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Determine the Nature of Public Participation

Once the relevant segments of the public have been identified, it is important to determine how they will be involved in the planning process. How you want the public involved, in addition, to who they are, will affect the techniques, formats, and scheduling of specific public participation activities. The following questions may help you determine the role for the public.

  1. What do you want from the public?
    • Technical expertise, information?
    • Opinions, attitudes?
    • Financial support?
    • Political support, commitment?
    • Volunteers, action?

  2. What will you give to the public?
    • Information?
    • Technical, financial assistance?
    • The power to advise, make suggestions?
    • A real voice in the development of the plan?
    • Some responsibility for undertaking preservation activities?

  3. What level of public involvement do you want, need?
    • What role should the public play?
      • Make decisions?
      • Approve decisions?
      • Review decisions?
      • Receive information?
      • Provide information, opinions?
    • How much is "too much" public involvement?

  4. When is public involvement appropriate, most effective?
    • What kind of involvement at what times?
    • Are there any conflicts in scheduling meetings, release of reports, events?

It is useful to remember that there are two basic kinds of public involvement:

  • Active involvement is characterized by involvement from the beginning and making meaningful contributions to the outcome. This level of involvement is high cost, but high benefit. It builds public ownership in, and support of, the planning process and the outcome.
  • Passive involvement, in which opportunities for meaningful contribution are over, is a reactive type of involvement. It is low cost, and low benefit.
 
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Get the Public Involved

Publicizing opportunities for participation as widely as possible will help ensure that the maximum number of agencies, groups, organizations, and individuals learn about how, when, and where they can get involved. Publicity may range from notices in the mass media to specialized invitations to target groups and individuals. However, little worthwhile input comes from merely placing an announcement in the newspaper that a public meeting is scheduled or a report is available for review. The goal is not merely to publicize, but to encourage people to participate. Accomplishing this may call for some creative marketing skills.

Whether or not the public actually becomes involved depends on at least three factors:

  • The degree to which individuals and organization leaders are aware of the issues to be decided in the planning process and whether they perceive their interests to be affected by the types of decisions to be made.
  • The extent to which people believe they can influence the development of the plan on their own behalf.
  • A balancing of the time and energy costs of participation against potential benefits resulting from involvement.
Creating multiple opportunities for the public to actively contribute to the planning effort and to shape the outcome will ensure that diverse needs will be addressed in the plan. Limiting public involvement to a review of decisions already made rarely encourages the public to support such decisions. Additionally, limiting public involvement solely to the activities of a "planning advisory committee" or a "planning task force" may not be an adequate level of public participation. Such an "elite" group may be seen as exclusionary, and may not express the diversity of public opinion and concern across the planning area. On the other hand, a task force combined with other public participation activities can be quite effective. One meeting held to provide technical information to a passive audience does not promote public contributions to shaping the outcome of the planning process.

A public participation strategy should be tailored to the needs of each planning effort and the relevant groups. No single technique or format for public participation will be appropriate in all situations throughout the plan development, implementation, and revision process. Nor will a single set of techniques be appropriate for all types of planning efforts, which can vary according to the planning situation. A variety of strategies and techniques will provide the maximum opportunity for the public to learn about the issues, share its views, and help shape the outcome. Strategies could include, but are not limited to, combinations of the following:

  • Discussion and working meetings, such as forums, workshops, focus groups, charettes, retreats; and the use of brainstorming, nominal group technique, force field analysis, Delphi method, or other techniques.
  • Advisory committees, task forces, study groups.
  • Questionnaire surveys, opinion polls, interviews.
  • Public hearings.
  • Special events, open houses, speeches, exhibits.
  • Media coverage, public relations.
  • Newsletters, posters, flyers.
  • Volunteer opportunities.
The appropriateness of any one of these techniques will depend upon the type of public participation needed at a particular step in the planning process. The following chart illustrates some strengths and weaknesses of various public participation techniques.

EFFECTIVENESS OF SELECTED
PUBLIC PARTICIPATION TECHNIQUES

Participation Technique

Providing Information

Receiving Information

Interaction with Public

Giving Assurance to Public

Broad Cross-Section of Opinions?

Public Hearings, Meetings

Good

Poor

Poor

Fair

Poor

Workshops, Focus Groups

Excellent

Excellent

Excellent

Fair

Potentially Good

Presentations to Clubs & Groups

Good

Fair

Fair

Fair

No Assurance

Advisory Committees

Good

Good

Excellent

Excellent

Chancy to Good

Contacts with key persons in neighborhood, community

Excellent

Excellent

Excellent

Excellent

No Assurance

Mail Solicitation

Excellent

Poor

Fair

Fair

Very Chancy

Questionnaire Surveys

Poor to Fair

Excellent

Poor

Poor

Potentially Good (depends on follow-up)

Radio/TV Talk Shows & Community Cable

Good way to alert people to other opportunities

Fair
(if call-ins allowed)

Fair

Fair

No Assurance

News Releases Media Presentations

Good

Poor

Poor

Poor

Poor

 
[Chart adapted from "UPARR Recovery Action Planning for the 1990s," Urban Park and Recreation Recovery (UPARR) Grant Program information materials, National Park Service, 1991]

 

It is important, as well as courteous, to report back to participants to thank them for their contributions and to let them know that you heard their opinions and considered them in the development of the plan. Two easy ways of doing this are to (1) send each participant a draft report of the results of the participation event, asking for comments or corrections; and (2) send each participant a draft of the plan, asking for comments.

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Keep the Public Involved

To be successful in the long term, public participation cannot be limited to a role in the development and revision of the plan. The public can be very useful partners and allies in helping implement the plan and providing support for historic preservation. This relationship, however, must be carefully managed for it to succeed: it cannot be left to chance. According to Douglas C. Eadie (Taking Command of Change: A Practical Guide for Applying the Strategic Development Process in State Historic Preservation Offices, published by the U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, Interagency Resources Division, and the National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers, 1995), there are generally two kinds of relationships:

  • Intensive, high stakes relationships. If this kind of relationship is not well managed, there will be immediate consequences. What do we want from managing the relationship? How do we get it? What do we have to pay? Can we or should we pay it? What would happen if we don’t pay it? What is our accountability to each other (who does what)?
  • General, ad hoc relationships. We pay attention to these groups, but the relationship is more reactive and situational.

Public participation should continue beyond plan development, and could cover a variety of activities, including taking action to help achieve plan goals and objectives, contributing to ongoing information assessment, conducting activities on their own initiative, and helping to monitor goal achievement and evaluate the plan’s effectiveness.

The development of measures for assessing the success of public participation and for ensuring that public views are incorporated into the preservation plan will allow planners to keep track of how well the public participation program is working and serving the needs of the planners, as well as those of the public.


 
To learn more about public participation in planning, please visit the following sources:

  • Reaching Out, Reaching In: A Guide to Creating Effective Public Participation in State Historic Preservation Planning – an on-line booklet containing guidance on public participation activities with a case study from the Maryland Historical Trust’s statewide preservation planning effort. Originally published in 1993 by the National Park Service, this guide provides useful information for involving the public in historic preservation planning at the local and federal levels, as well as at the state level.
  • Sources in Public Participation – a list of print and web sources of information in public participation.
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