Community planning: Methods listing

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Brief summaries of methods for helping people get involved in planning. With links to further information, on this and other websites.

Also see Featured methods – Full details on a selection of the most effective methods for helping people get involved in physical planning and design.

Key to links:
Principles A-Z Principles Scenarios A-Zs Projects Scenarios A-Zs Publication/ film
Featured Methods Featured Method Scenarios A-Zs Case studies Scenarios A-Zs Contacts
Methods A-Z Method in listing Scenarios A-Zs Toolbox Websites A-Zs Websites
Scenarios A-Zs Scenarios Glossary A-Zs Glossary Scenarios A-Zs all other links

Activity week activity_week.php
A way of focusing energy and attention on the local environment and initiatives to improve it. Particularly effective if they become an annual event and even more so if part of a national programme.

Activity year
Year of activities designed to promote interest in, and debate on, a chosen theme.

Alternative plan
Plan for a site or neighbourhood putting forward a different approach to the prevailing plan.
Glossary community plan

Appreciative inquiry
Group working process which builds on potentials, solutions and benefits to create change.
publications and filmsThe Thin Book of Appreciative Inquiry

Architects in schools
Environmental education programme involving architects working with children in schools.
ContactsRoyal Institute of British Architects

Architecture centre architecture_centre.php
Places set up to help people understand, and engage in, the design of local buildings and the built environment. They can become focal points for local environmental initiatives and a shop window and meeting place for all those involved in shaping the future of their surroundings.

Area audit
An area audit uses people's working knowledge of their area both to build up a picture of their area and to establish priorities for action. Similar to community profiling, it includes the use of ‘mapping’ or diaries but also other methods such as getting people to describe their daily use of an area.

Area forum
Body or meeting designed to improve relations between local authorities, public service providers and local residents. Provides an opportunity for residents to raise matters of local concern, give feedback on how services are being delivered and influence decisions being made about where they live. Also gives local authorities and service providers the chance to improve their knowledge and understanding of local issues.

Awareness raising day
Day of activities designed to promote interest in a community planning issue, normally held prior to a planning day or other intensive activity.

Before and afters
Photos, drawings or computer simulations showing a place before and after development has taken place from the same viewpoint. One of the most effective ways of helping people understand proposals.

Best fit slide rule
A visual discussion tool designed to examine alternative street infill solutions and their consequences. An elevation of a street is drawn or assembled with photos and alternative designs inserted.

Online journal or noticeboard (web log) where individuals or organisations can comment on specific subjects and invite responses so generating an ongoing debate.

Vigorous discussion to generate ideas in which all possibilities are considered. Widely used first step in generating solutions to problems.

Neighbourhood ‘branding’ uses simple images and text to establish a desired identity for an area. The branding process can be used as a core element of a community involvement strategy.
Special Features APaNGO project. Download the final report. (pdf 2.3 MB)

Briefing workshop choice catalogue
Simple, easy-to-organise working sessions held to establish a project agenda or brief. Simultaneously they can:
    * introduce people to the project;
    * help establish the key issues;
    * get people involved and motivated;
    * identify useful talent and experience;
    * identify the next steps needed.

Identification of individuals who believe in an idea or theme and will promote it through thick and thin. One can have Design Champions, Sustainability Champions, Project Champions or Community Champions for instance. Mostly they will be high profile individuals, possibly ‘celebrities’, capable of inspiring others.

A multiple-day collaborative design and planning workshop held on-site and inclusive of all affected stakeholders. The term is increasingly popular in the US to describe what elsewhere might be called a community planning event or design workshop.
Method Community planning event
Method Design workshop
PublicationThe Community Planning Event Manual
PublicationThe Charrette Handbook
Contact National Charrette Institute (NCI) (USA)

Choice catalogues choice catalogue
Catalogues which provide a way to make design choices within a predetermined structure. Particularly useful for helping people understand the range of options available and provide a way for making choices where large numbers of people are involved.

Choices method
Visioning process based on four steps:
  1. Meetings throughout the community to brainstorm ideas for making life better.
  2. Consolidation of ideas into goals and vision statements.
  3. A ‘vision fair’ where people vote on which visions they would like to pursue and make personal commitment pledges.
  4. Setting up of action groups to carry out chosen ideas.
Publication Chattanooga
Publication Participation Works!

Citizens advisory group
A group made up of members of the public (usually between 10 and 30) which informs and advises decision makers. Can take many forms.
direct link People and Participation

Citizens jury
Informal inquiry method where a group of around 16 people, selected to be representative of the community, spend a few days examining an issue, listening to witnesses and producing a report.
Publication Citizens Jury Handbook
Publication Consult your community
direct link Community Involvement
direct link Jefferson Center
direct link People and Participation
direct link Office for Public Management

Citizens panel
A large, demographically representative group of citizens used regularly to assess public preferences and opinions.
direct link People and Participation

Citizens summit
Large-scale deliberative public meeting (typically involving between 500 to 5,000 people) that uses advanced communications technology to facilitate discussions.
direct link People and Participation

Community architect
Architect who lives and work in the neighbourhood he or she is designing for and works closely with local people. Also known as a barefoot architect.

Community Chest
Small grants available to community groups for projects to help them renew their own neighbourhoods.

Community design centre direct link
Place where a community can get affordable technical help to plan and manage its environment. They are the environmental equivalent of health centres and are invaluable for helping local people design and implement environmental projects, particularly in poor communities.

Community indicators
Measures devised and used by communities for understanding and drawing attention to important issues and trends. Useful for building an agenda for education and action.
direct link Communities Count!

Community learning and education centre
Focal point for information and education at community level.

Community plan
Plan for the future of a community devised by the local community. Sets out proposals for the way in which a community wants to develop and respond to changes in the future. No set format. Will usually contain statements of principle, physical design proposals and targets.
checklists Community plan content

Community planning event direct link
A carefully structured collaborative event at which all stakeholders, including the local community, work closely with independent specialists from all relevant disciplines to make plans for the future of that community or some aspects of it. Similar to a charrette.
Community planning event

Community planning forum Featured Method
Open, multipurpose event lasting several hours. A three-stage format (interactive displays; open forum debate, workshop groups) is designed to secure information, generate ideas and create interaction between interest groups with a minimum of advance planning.

Community profiling direct link
Involves building up a picture of the nature, needs and resources of a community with the active participation of that community. A useful first stage in any community planning process to establish a context which is widely agreed.

Consensus building
Procedure for helping people with different views to come together interactively on a dispute, project, plan or issue, to work towards agreeing a sensible solution or way forward which is mutually satisfactory.

Design Assistance Team Featured Method
Where a number of specialists from a variety of relevant disciplines visit an area and take part in a participation process (for instance, a planning weekend). Particularly useful for providing a fresh and independent viewpoint.

Design charrette
Intensive hands-on design session where people from different disciplines and backgrounds explore design options for a particular area or site. Same as a design workshop.
Featured Method Design workshop
Method Charrette

Design fest Featured Method
Event where creative concepts for the future of an area are developed by getting multidisciplinary design teams to develop and present their ideas in public. A good way to stimulate debate and develop imaginative solutions, particularly on controversial issues.

Design game Featured Method
Like a jigsaw puzzle with pieces representing physical objects to scale. A highly visual way of helping people to explore physical design options for a site or internal space.

Design meeting
Meeting for developing designs. Usually organised on a regular basis during the design stage of a project. Users and professionals will be present. The users, or clients, set the agenda but the meeting is normally conducted by the professionals. Various techniques will be used to present information and make decisions: showing photographs, models, drawings, catalogues. Normal arrangement is for participants to sit round a large table.

Design surgery

Where architects, planners or other professionals work through design issues with individuals, for instance occupants in a new housing scheme.

Design workshop Featured Method
Hands-on sessions allowing small groups of professionals and non-professionals to work creatively together developing planning and design ideas. They will normally be held as part of a planning day or other community planning event.

Development partnership
Arrangement for collaboration by two or more parties to facilitate development, usually between the public and private sectors.

Development trust Featured Method
An organisational mechanism for communities to undertake regeneration and development projects themselves. They make it possible to achieve the long-term sustained effort that is needed to evolve a community's own plans and put them into action.

Diagrams Featured Method
Diagrams and charts are a highly effective visual way to collect, discuss and display information at all stages of the planning process.

Drop-in office
Working office open to the public. Set up by architects or urban designers working in a neighbourhood to encourage local involvement in the design process. May be permanent or temporary (on an open day for instance)

Electronic map Featured Method
Allows people to explore an area and make comments at computer terminals with specially created software. They have immense potential for helping people to visualise proposals and make their views known.

Elevation montage Featured Method
Show the facade of a street by assembling photos of individual buildings. Can be useful for helping people gain an understanding of the building fabric and devise improvements.

Enquiry by design
Intensive community planning or charrette workshop process involving urban designers and local stakeholders. Devised for developing plans for new urban extensions.
Contact The Prince’s Foundation
Toolbox/timetable Enquiry by Design
Method Community planning event

Environment shop Featured Method
Provides a permanent way to disseminate information and create dialogue. They can be independent outfits or part of a local regeneration agency or community centre.

Evidence scanning universal

Enables communities and individuals to evaluate vital evidence without having to plough through reams of statistics. Involves actions such as: checking a few key statistics; using other people’s analysis; testing statistics against your own knowledge; doing a small survey; finding an expert from amongst your group. (from Kelvin MacDonald)

Feasibility fund Featured Method
Fund which provides money to community organisations for paying experts to undertake feasibility studies on possible projects. They are a highly effective way of kick-starting local initiatives, by getting projects to a stage where they can attract capital funding and support.

Field workshop Featured Method
A way for local communities to draw up plans of action where there is little data available to start with. Particularly suited to disaster prevention work in developing countries.

Fish bowl
Workshop technique where participants sit around, and observe, a planning team working on a problem without taking part themselves.
Publication Community Participation in Practice

Focus group
Small group of people who work through an issue in workshop sessions. Membership may be carefully selected or entirely random.

Non-statutory body for discussing and coordinating activity and acting as a pressure group for change.

Future search conference Featured Method
Highly structured events, usually lasting 2.5 days, at which a cross-section of community members or 'stakeholders' create a shared vision for the future. More suited for dealing with genera issues than specific sites.

Gaming Featured Method
Games are a good way to help people understand the planning process and other people's viewpoints. Also an enjoyable way to get people working together. Particularly useful at an early stage of any community planning activity or to prepare people for a specific challenge ahead.

Guided visualisation
Group process using mental visualisation techniques for establishing a community’s aspirations.
Publication Participation Works!

Historical profiling
Construction of historical profile in groups. Information about past events is gathered to explain the present and predict possible future scenarios. One approach involves people describing and explaining their life history with respect to particular issues. Information is marked up on maps or charts to build a comprehensive time-line of events and issues that mould and affect a community.

Ideas competition Featured Method
A good way of stimulating creative thinking and generating interest and momentum. They can be designed to allow everyone a chance to put forward their ideas or be just for professionals.

Imaging day
Day when people visualise the future with the assistance of a skilled artist.

Informal walk
Walking in a group without a definite route, stopping to chat and discuss issues as they arise.
Method Community profiling

Interactive display Featured Method
Allows people to engage in the issues and debate, on their own and in an enjoyable way, by making additions or alterations to pre-prepared exhibits.

Recorded conversation, usually with prepared questions, with individuals or groups. Useful for information gathering. More flexible and interactive than a questionnaire.
GlossaryGroup interview
Glossary Key informant interview
Glossary Semi-structured interview

Jigsaw display
Exhibit where groups prepare different parts of a plan or proposal which are then assembled as a whole.

Local character workshop
Workshop designed to help people identify what makes an area special. Usually undertaken as part of preparing a local design statement or landscape character assessment. Involves mapping and photo surveys.
Featured Method Local design statement

Local design statement Featured Method
A way for local people to provide guidelines for new development in their area. They can be incorporated in local planning policy and provide a valuable way for local people to make a positive input into the planning process at an early stage. Particularly useful in areas where local character is threatened by insensitive development.

Manual Instructions on how to maintain a building or open space. Important for helping users to keep places in good order.

Mapping Featured Method
An effective non-verbal way of finding out how people view their area. It is a good way to gather and present site-specific data, understand differences in perception and stimulate debate as a basis for joint planning.

Microplanning workshop Featured Method
A comprehensive community planning procedure for producing development plans for upgrading settlements. Originally designed for use in developing countries, it is based on regular intensive workshops which involve a minimum of preparation, materials and training.

Mobile unit Featured Method
Mobile office and studio units providing technical support wherever it is needed. Particularly useful for working in communities lacking facilities or where a series of similar events are planned in several locations.

Full-size representation of a change or development, usually on its proposed site, prior to finalising the design.

Models Featured Method
One of the most effective tools for getting people involved in planning and design. Particularly useful for generating interest, presenting ideas and helping people think in three dimensions.

Neighbourhood planning office Featured Method
Office providing a local focal point for community planning activity and making it easier to follow up and sustain initiatives. Ideally every neighbourhood should have one, but they are particularly valuable in rundown areas or where there is a lot of building activity.

Neighbourhood skills survey
Survey to establish what skills and abilities people have in a neighbourhood. Used to find out what a community can do for itself and to generate interest. Sometimes referred to as a neighbourhood talent survey.Toolbox/checklist Neighbourhood skills survey checklist

Neighbourhood warden
Semi-official presence in a local area to prevent anti-social behaviour, maintain the local environment, reduce crime and fear of crime. Provides a complementary service alongside the police and environmental services.

Newspaper supplement Featured Method
Special insert or section of a newspaper which can be used to cover local planning issues. Effective ways of communicating to large numbers of people and generating public debate. Particularly useful for presenting proposals from community planning events, especially if combined with other coverage before and afterwards.

Online consultation
Use of a website to consult people. Usually involves having presentation material with a survey form which people can complete.

Open day
Day when a project or organisation encourages people to come and find out what it is doing and how it works. Often used to generate interest and momentum.

Open house event Featured Method
Event designed to allow those promoting development initiatives to present them to a wider public and secure reactions in an informal manner. Less structured than a workshop and more informal than a traditional exhibition.

Open space workshop Featured Method
Workshop process which provides a highly democratic framework for enabling any group of people to create their own programme of discussions on almost any theme without much preparation. Particularly useful for dealing with general policy issues, generating enthusiasm and dealing with urgent issues needing quick action.

Pair-wise ranking
Rapid and simple way of selecting the most important issues or problems facing a community. Brainstorming generates a preliminary list. A group of people then vote on the significance of every item against each other item using a matrix.

Participation training
Short courses or workshop sessions on participation approaches. May be aimed at professionals or community activists.

Participatory 3D Modelling (P3DM)
Merges conventional spatial information (contours) with people's mental maps; makes information tangible and meaningful-to-all, and visualizes scaled and geocoded indigenous spatial knowledge.
Contact/website Participatory Avenues

Participatory appraisal
An approach to gaining a rapid in-depth understanding of a community, or certain aspects of a community, based on the participation of that community and a range of visual techniques. Allows people to share and record aspects of their own situation, conditions of life, knowledge, perceptions, aspirations, preferences and develop plans for action. Similar to community profiling
Featured Method Community profiling
Publication Whose Reality Counts?

Participatory budgeting
Mechanisms which brings local communities closer to the decision-making process regarding the allocation of public budgets.

Participatory building evaluation
Method for users and providers to jointly assess the effectiveness of buildings after they have been built.
Publication User Participation in Building Design and Management

Participatory editing Featured Method
Way of allowing people to help shape reports and news-sheets without necessarily leaving their own homes. Reports have a crucial role to play in crystallising the results of community planning initiatives and communicating to others.

Participatory theatre
Using physical movement and creativity to explore people’s experience and develop a common vision.
Publication Participation Works!

Pattern language
Method devised to enable untrained people to design their own buildings and cities in accordance with well-tried principles of good design.
Publication A Pattern Language

Photo survey Featured Method
Helping groups develop design ideas by getting people to take and discuss photos of their existing environment. They can be used as part of a wider community profiling or community planning event or as an independent exercise.

Planning aid scheme Featured Method
The provision of free and independent information and advice on town planning to groups and individuals who cannot afford consultancy fees Gives people the knowledge, skills and confidence to deal with the planning system and to become involved with wider planning issues.

Planning assistance kit
Series of worksheets designed to assist community organisations in physical planning, implementation and management of their environment.

Planning day Featured Method
Day when interested parties work intensively together developing urban design options for a site or neighbourhood.

Planning for Real Featured Method
Method for community involvement in planning and development which uses simple models as a focus for people to put forward and prioritise ideas on how their area can be improved. A highly visible, hands-on tool, which people of all abilities and backgrounds find easy and enjoyable to engage in.

Planning weekend Featured Method
Sophisticated and highly structured procedure in which professionals work with local people over a long weekend to produce a plan of action for a site, neighbourhood or city.

Policy task force
Policy task forces are multidisciplinary teams of students and professionals which produce a strategic vision for a neighbourhood or wider area based on an intensive programme of site studies, lectures, participatory exercises and studio working, normally lasting several weeks. Similar to ‘task force’ method already featured on the website but spreading wider to encompass strategic thinking and policy making.

Prioritising Featured Method
Deciding what needs doing when. Ranking of problems to be dealt with or projects to be undertaken. An important aspect of all decision-making which often needs to be done as a group activity if the results are to be generally agreed on.

Process planning session Featured Method
Event organised to allow people to work together to determine the most suitable process for their particular situation. Particularly useful at an early stage in a community planning initiative and then at periodic intervals.

Public forum
Public meeting with an emphasis on debate and discussion rather than speeches and a question and answer session. Participants will normally sit in a circle or a horseshoe arrangement.

Public meeting
Advertised, open access event at which issues are presented and commented on and at which decisions may be made. Term normally used to refer to fairly formal events with the audience sitting in rows facing a speaker or panel of speakers with a chairperson who controls the proceedings.

Public wall
Area of wall space or display boards where members of the public can make their views known by putting up drawings or text and making comments on material already there. Sometimes called a people’s wall.
Featured Method Design fest

Questionnaire survey
Survey process which involves collecting of information in the form of written responses to a standard set of questions. Often a starting point for participation processes. Frequently used with other methods.

Reconnaissance trip Featured Method
The direct inspection of the area under consideration by mixed teams of local people and technical experts. Used to familiarise everyone with the physical environment and key issues at the start of many community planning processes and to review progress at intervals.

Public vote on an issue of special importance. May be used for strategic planning issues (for instance in the Netherlands).

Resource centre
Place designed to provide community groups with the facilities they need to make the most of their energies and enthusiasm. No two centres are exactly alike but will provide some or all of the following: information, office equipment, professional advice and support, meeting facilities, equipment for meetings and fund raising, training courses and opportunities for groups to meet and share ideas.
Featured Method Neighbourhood planning office

Review session Featured Method
Workshop organised to monitor progress and maintain momentum. Can be held weeks, months, or even years after a community planning event or other community planning initiative.

Risk assessment Featured Method
Examination of risks from disasters facing any community. Should ideally be used in all planning - since most communities face some kind of threat. But it is most necessary for vulnerable communities prone to natural or human-made disasters.

Roadshow Featured Method
Series of linked public workshops, exhibitions and public forums to explore the potential for improving the built environment and provide a catalyst for action.

Search conference
Conference or workshop for key interested parties organised as a first stage in a consultation process on a project. May include briefings, role play, reconnaissance, interactive displays, workshops and plenary sessions. Term much used in Australia. Similar to community planning forum. publication or film Community Participation in Practice
Featured Method Community planning forum

Semi-structured interview
Conversational open discussion with local inhabitants to understand their needs, problems and aspirations. Uses a checklist of questions as a flexible guide in contrast to a formal questionnaire. Different types include; individual, group, focus group, and key informant.

Simulation Featured Method
Acting out a real event or activity in order to help both participants and observers gain information and insights prior to formulating plans. It can also be used to test draft plans.

Verbal recounting of tales which may be actual or mythical. Used to understand local values, standards, practices and relationships. Particularly valuable with children and people who are illiterate. Also the singing of local songs and reciting of poetry. Performance sets off discussion to explain local knowledge and beliefs.

Street stall Featured Method
Securing public comment on planning issues by setting up an interactive exhibition in a public street or square. Make it possible to secure the views of larger numbers of people than is normally possible indoors. Particularly useful where the views of people using a particular street or public space are required.

Suggestions box
Box in which people place their written suggestions or comments on a place or proposals. Useful device in consultation allowing participants to remain anonymous if they wish.

Table scheme display Featured Method
Simple way of securing comment on design proposals by taping drawings on a table top and requesting people to vote with sticky dots. Allow large numbers of people to understand and make an input into development proposals, with or without engaging with others. They can be used as part of an exhibition or open house event.

Task Force Featured Method
Multidisciplinary team of students and professionals who produce in-depth proposals for a site or neighbourhood based on an intensive programme of site studies, lectures, participatory exercises and studio working, normally lasting several weeks. An efficient way of securing high quality design proposals at the same time as providing a first-rate educational opportunity.

Transect walk
Systematic walk along a pre-determined route through an area to gather information about such things as land-use, social and economic resources or the state of the environment. Usually done by community members with facilitators or technical experts. Information is subsequently recorded on maps and as text.
Featured Method Reconnaissance trip

Urban design studio Featured Method
Special units attached to a university or other educational establishment which undertake environmental project work, usually in the immediate locality. They can provide both a valuable educational experience for students and an important resource for local communities.

User group Featured Method
The creation or strengthening of user groups is a key element of most community planning. They act as clients in championing the views of those who will use the end product and keep the momentum going, often for many years.

Video project
Where citizens film their neighbourhood and interview each other as part of a community planning initiative.

Video soapbox Featured Method
Where members of the public can broadcast their opinions on video screens erected in public places. Particularly useful for generating public interest and debate for high profile events such as a roadshow.

Trip by a group of people planning an initiative to a community that has recently undertaken a similar initiative, to learn from their experience. May be highly structured with formal notetaking, interviews and feedback sessions, or informal.

Youth forum
Way for young people to meet to discuss issues that concern them in whatever way best suits them. CS Leeds City Centre Area Action Plan

Youth planning day
Day of activities designed specifically to involve young people in the planning process.

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Last updated on: 5 March 2008