Community Planning: Methods
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Community planning forums are open, multipurpose events lasting several hours. The three-stage format is designed to secure information, generate ideas and create interaction between interest groups with a minimum of advance planning.

Community planning forums can be organised at any time but are particularly useful at an early stage in a participation or development process.

Forums can be organised by any interested party and can be organised at short notice.

The format combines interactive displays, an open forum, workshop groups and informal networking.

Key ingredients are a leaflet advertising the event, a means of distributing it, a venue and a facilitator.
top: Richmond, Virginia, USA, 1996,
Nick Wates.
open forum

Open forum
Debate in a horseshoe arrangement following a warm-up interactive display and before dividing up into workshop groups.

ideal layout

Ideal layout in a large hall

  • Keep the atmosphere informal to get best results. Good refreshments worthwhile.
  • Particularly useful events for students engaged in urban design projects because they do not necessarily need to relate to any 'real' development timetable or be organised by local people. They can be organised by anyone at any time (though they will normally work better if locals assist).
  • Getting students to organise the format themselves can be highly educational, particularly if linked with a process planning session (see Process planning session). Providing a framework may be helpful (ie arranging publicity and venue in advance).
  • Main costs: Venue hire; advertising leaflet production.
Sample Community Planning Forum Format
  1. Interactive displays
    As people arrive they are guided towards a variety of interactive displays where they are encouraged to make comments using Post-its, marker pens or stickers (see Interactive display). General mingling and discussion. Refreshments. (45 mins)
  2. Open forum
    People are seated in a horseshoe shape, perhaps with model, plan or drawing on a table in the centre. Introductions by organisers. Feed back on interactive displays by pre-warned rapporteurs. Open debate chaired by organiser. (45 mins)
  3. Workshop groups
    People are divided into groups and work around tables on various topics/areas, either pre-selected or agreed during the open forum. (45 mins)
  4. Networking
    Informal mingling and discussion. Refreshments. (45 mins)
  5. Feedback (optional)
    Reports from workshop groups to plenary. (Or separate presentation session later.)

    Total running time: 3 hours minimum
    Ideal numbers 30 - 150
Sample advertising leaflet

advertising leaflet

Key components: Slogan summarising overall purpose; venue; time; date; statement of immediate objectives and perhaps some background information; map of area with venue marked; name of organisers.
Key roles at a planning forum checklist
  • Chairperson for open forum
  • Facilitator/stage manager
  • Hosts as people arrive
  • Photographer
  • Reporters for each interactive display
  • Workshop and forum recorders
  • Workshop facilitators
    "It was a very effective formula. It allowed us, as a group, to find out what the inhabitants expected of their place for the future. And it didn¹t impose too much on people¹s time. In fact I think everyone had a very enjoyable evening."
Laura Dotson, Interior designer, Student organiser of a community planning forum at Richmond, Virginia, USA, 1996.
Thanks: Richard John

Last updated on: 9 August 2008