Planner Speak: What do you mean by public participation?

We are in the midst of public participation for ‘Renewing Our Vision’! What exactly do we mean by public participation? You’ve probably relaxed on a bench in a public park or used a public restroom. You might have participated in an event in your neighborhood or at your child’s school. But what does it mean when we smush together the words ‘public’ and ‘participation’?


Public participation (n.) means involving people in creating and managing the world around them. The idea is that when everyone is actively involved, we can make the world around us even better. The people who live in a place are often the ones who are most familiar with the local history, culture, issues, and needs. When locals share their knowledge with planners, it is more likely that they can work together to come up with the best solutions for local issues. When everyone feels welcome to share their concerns and their ideas, it is more likely that their concerns can be addressed.

Public participation is about bringing people together to solve problems. It is about giving people the chance to help make decisions about their community.


What do planners hope to get out of public participation? The answer depends on what type of plan they are creating and whether they are at the beginning, middle, or end of the process. The goals of public participation could be to:

  • generate ideas,
  • identify attitudes,
  • share information,
  • resolve conflicts,
  • measure opinions,
  • get feedback on a proposal, or
  • start a conversation.

How does the public get involved with making a plan? Typically, planners invite people to come to public meetings to get involved. At the meeting, a planner might give a presentation to explain what the plan is about or share research that they’ve done. They might ask people to break up into small groups, discuss a particular issue, and then choose a spokesperson to report their ideas to everyone. There might be posters with maps or graphics around the room, and the planners might invite people to draw on the maps or write their comments down.


Public meetings can be a good way to bring people together and get their feedback, but not everyone enjoys or is able to attend public meetings. Sometimes people have a hard time getting to the meeting location.  Some people work evenings, when public meetings are usually held. Some people would rather just relax and enjoy time with their families after a long day.

For ‘Renewing Our Vision’, we want to make sure that as many people in our community as possible participate in the comprehensive plan update. Instead of making you come to us, we’re coming to you by popping up at community events and tagging along at existing meetings. We also have ways for you to share your feedback online, on your own time, from the comfort of your own home.  Here are a few of the creative activities that you and your neighbors can get involved with:

  • Pop-up planners: We’ll be popping up in your city and across the county, inviting you to play games. Your answers will help us set priorities for our region. To see where we’re popping up next, check out our calendar;
  • Tag-along meetings: Instead of making you come to us, we’ll come to your meeting. To invite us to tag-along at your meeting, fill out our contact form and select ‘I want a planner to come to my meeting;
  • Technical and community advisory committees: Folks from government agencies, nonprofits, and business organizations are giving us advice along the way;
  • This Blog: You can read other blog entries  and post your comments below to start a conversation about the ‘Planner Speak’ word of the week;
  • Social Media: Like us on facebook and follow us on twitter for quotes of the week, ‘Where’s Tim Now?’ picture games, and event announcements;
  • Quizlets: Answer fun questions like ‘What ice-cream flavor describes your neighborhood?’;
  • Our newsletter: Sign up in the upper right-hand corner of this page to receive updates about our progress;

Whether you prefer to share your thoughts in person or online, we have way for you to get involved. If everyone participates in ‘Renewing Our Vision’, we can work together to make the Chattanooga-Hamilton County area an even better place!

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