The Boiling Springs Historical Society wishes to develop and implement a plan to prioritize preservation projects in the Boiling Springs Historic District (BSHD). The BSHD includes the man-made Children’s Lake, the dam retaining the lake, the nineteenth century trail system (which is now part of the Appalachian Trail), the nineteenth century village that grew up around the town, the buildings and features related to the iron industry in the town before it became a resort community, and two historic bridges. Many of the features that contribute to the BSHD are recreational as well as historic. The BSHD is a significant resource on which the community places great importance. One of the major purposes of the public outreach process is to understand the public’s association with the places with which they identify (Brown 2012).
In order to develop the preservation plan, the BSHD would like to conduct an extensive digital public outreach program to engage the community. The BSHD is interested in learning in which recreational and historic features the community is interested. They are inviting everyone who is interested to leave a reply or visit our Facebook page. We can then decide which projects to pursue in the short, interim, and long term, determine which grant applications we want to apply for, and assess other forms of fund-raising.
Our community engagement plan will involve a Facebook page where we will post regular updates on the progress of the development of our preservation plan as well as comments we have received so that others can weigh in on them as well.
In addition to the Facebook page, we will be using a public participation geographic information system (PPGIS). The PPGIS will have a map of Boiling Springs with clickable features – buildings, trails, the lake, monuments, and other resources. When each resource is clicked, photographs and information about each one will be available. From each feature, there will be a link to a comment field. The PPGIS will also be Web 2.0, which will allow the community to upload additional information, tag items, and add their own photographs (Bugs et al 2009). Finally, it will allow the users to set up their own discussion threads, which has been shown to facilitate productive discussions among members of the community (Rinner and Bird 2007). These types of participatory tools encourage a bottom-up type of approach in coming up with creative solutions and developing plans (Khan et al. 2013).
Brown (2012) notes that PPGIS is believed to create planning decisions that are more equitable across social and income classes. However, research has shown that PPGIS doesn’t significantly impact community engagement. He also points out that research has shown that those who participate in the PPGIS process are not generally representative with the general population. Higher participation levels have been found with white males, with an average older age and higher levels of education. Public participation cannot also not be a cookie cutter approach. It should be tailored to the particular community (Gordon et al. 2011).
My professional experience and research have shown that a digital community engagement plan is not sufficient to reach all members of the public whom should be included in the process. In order to bridge the gap between digital engagement and old fashioned public meetings, we intend to have public meetings where tablets or computers are available so that the community can interact with PPGIS during the meeting (with snacks provided) and receive guidance from staff if needed. This has worked successfully during a project with which I have been involved – Destination Erie: A Regional Vision, where we had an interactive public meeting. We provided about 30 tablets and invited the public to work through an interactive survey. Staff was available to help walk people through this, and also to assist people in taking a paper survey if they preferred. The interactive survey had a game-like component to it, which many people found to be fun. Our community engagement plan for the BSHD will be implemented in a similar manner.
2012 “Public Participation GIS (PPGIS) for Regional and Environmental Planning: Reflections on a Decade of Empirical Research.” URISA Journal 25(2).
Bugs, Geisa, Carlos Granell, Oscar Fonts, Joaquin Herta, and Marco Painho
2009 “An assessment of Public Participation GIS and Web 2.0 technologies in urban planning practice in Canela, Brazil.” Cities 27(2010).
Gordon, Eric, Steven Schirra, and Justin Hollander
2011 “Immersive planning: a conceptual model for designing public participation with new technologies.” Environment and Planning B: Planning and Design, 38.
Khan, Zaheer, David Ludlow, Wolfgang Loibl, and Kamran Soomro
2013 “ICT enabled participatory urban planning and policy development.” Transforming Government: People, Process and Policy, 8(2).
Rinner, Claus and Michelle Bird
2009 “Evaluating community engagement through argumentation maps – a public participation GIS case study.” Environment and Planning B: Planning and Design, 36.