Work with the community in all aspects of the master plan process to ensure that the community has a voice and decision-making power in data collection, analysis, implementation plan and execution. To create an equitable plan, make certain the process acknowledges past experiences of park access and allows for groups that face disproportionate levels of adverse outcomes and those traditionally underrepresented communities to participate in this decision making.
Community engagement is an ongoing process that requires patience and resources, so following specific steps will make the process easier to manage. These steps are outlined in detail through NRPA’s Community Engagement Resource Guide and include:
- Internal Assessment
- Building Trust with Communities
- Community Engagement Strategies
For more information on community engagement and these four steps, see NRPA’s Community Engagement Resource. While this resource provides comprehensive recommendations about conducting equitable and inclusive community engagement, there a few critical steps in a system-wide planning process that are important to consider.
Setting Goals for Engagement
Engagement in a system-wide process can often be more difficult for community members to understand, so outlining the process and being clear about goals and outcomes are particularly important. It is important to ensure the community members understand how this effort is different from other planning process they may have engaged in. Start with existing relationships and look at the past data before collecting new data to avoid engagement burden and fatigue. Additionally, be clear about realistic implementation timelines and identify and implement quick wins (improvements that can be made in 3–6 months). This will help build trust in the process particularly in communities that have experienced racism and seen a historical lack of investment.
Staffing the Community Engagement Process
Depending on your community size, significant time and resources may be needed to conduct meaningful system-wide engagement outside of your day-to-day park planning duties. It is important, however, to have these community engagement staff members involved in the system-wide plan, because they can help build and maintain relationships with community members and partners that last beyond the lifespan of the system-wide planning process. If you have a small staff and department, hiring a consultant for community outreach is another strategy, but it is important to have a plan in place about how those relationships will be fostered after completion of the plan.
An important part of community engagement is follow-through. Once the master plan has been published, it’s important to report on the implementation of the plan. Develop a webpage with a dashboard or other tracking system to help update community members on the status of the plan.
Case Study: The city of El Cajon, California, used inclusive community engagement strategies to focus on developing pocket parks in underserved areas. With a diverse population, they were able to incorporate translators at the community meetings and develop survey’s in a variety of languages. With a design to reach key populations such as audiences of different ages, ethnicities and geographies, El Cajon worked with their consultant to identify needs and priorities. For more information on their strategy, see Chapter 1: Introduction.