Governments tap public input
- By Eric Kulisch
- Jan 18, 2001
Technology is providing public officials with new ways to solicit public
input for transportation and development plans.
Internet surveys, Web-based policy simulations and audience response
systems are tools that regional planners can use to gain greater public
participation, according to panelists at a session of the Transportation
Research Board's annual conference in Washington, D.C.
Relying on public meetings usually does not generate enough turnout
to gauge community opinion accurately. "The problem isn't with the citizens
but with typical meeting formats," said Lisa Beever, a researcher with the
Charlotte County-Punta Gorda Metropolitan Planning Organization in Florida.
"Why would an average citizen come to a tedious public meeting where they
have limited opportunity to participate?"
To help that, planner Tom Phillips created TownMeetingDirect.com. The Seattle-based company uses visual surveys over
the Internet to help communities develop more accurate readings of public
The customized questionnaires show pictures of various types of street
improvements, housing, open space and mass transit. "Before" and "after"
slides help people see the impact of their choices.
Denton, Texas, used TownMeetingDirect.com to develop zoning regulations.
About 1 percent of the city's 80,000 residents took the survey on the city's
Web site. To maximize participation, the city heavily promoted the survey
and offered weekly prizes, the most popular of which was a free year of
Las Vegas, Nev., and Hillsborough, N.J., also used Phillips' system,
which incorporates product research methodology, to help develop comprehensive
plans and main street plans.
Phillips said his approach does not ensure a representative sample,
but said it is a way to "reach beyond the vocal minority."
"It's more like an election than it is a random survey," he said.