Getting the Wheels on Planning

This week there was a public meeting concerning the future of Port Elgin's Downtown.  The council has asked for community involvement for planning purposes.

In July, there was another meeting about Port Elgin at the Plex.  At each table was a County employee acting as a facilitator.

In the July article in the Saugeen Times we contrasted that type of community involvement with Professor David Douglas' way of doing cooperative community planning. 

In essence he did a great job with two meetings per week over an entire summer. By contrast these public meetings don't cut it.

Think about having a company that had a huge budget, environmental and safety responsibility, lots of real estate, lots of brick and mortar and 12,500 stockholders and customers. 

Such a company would have a sizeable marketing department that would organize day to day, region by region survey work with their customers to find out what they wanted.  A couple of meetings over a few years would not do.  The company would fail for lack of market awareness.  Their competiton would 'eat their lunch'.

One of the Saugeen Times readers gave us a computerized survey that is done in England in villages and communities.  It is revealing

The survey outline is contained in a 119 page booklet. You can pick up the booklet and answer the questions or do it on a PC.

 It consists of the following categories and is given to each citizen in the community.  There are about 300 questions.  You can mark your answers or do it online so everyone can participate.  All answers are eventually computerized and updated over time.

Here are the questions categories:

  • People
  • Housing
  • Employment
  • Education
  • Transport and Highways
  • Local Countryside and Environment
  • Health and Social Services
  • Emergency, Environmental and other Services.
  • Retail and other Services

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13/01/2009 04:24 PM

(continued)

  • Sport, Social and Entertainment
  • Transport and Highways.
  • Information and Communications
  • Religion
  • Local Government
  • Art and Culture

This type of questionnaire gathers a great deal of information quickly and easily

So is the questionnaire way of doing things better than Town Meetings?

That's a question that has no answer because it does not deserve one.  Surveys are a prelude to Town Meetings.  They are a tandem.

In this area government is fond of an occasional Public Meeting.  If you go to them, you'll soon find out that there is not much accomplished because nobody is prepared for them.

 Professor  David Douglas knew that and did two per week for June, July and August.  After a while you had homework to do and he used two graduate students to assist the people.

The aforementioned surveys are not an end in themselves.  They are, however, a basis for Town Meetings.

To hold a few Town Meeting on a very difficult problem like saving the downtown core of Port Elgin will not work effectively.  It could be that the Council will come up with a few very good ideas and the downtown will bloom again, but 99% of the people will not have contributed and they may not care, but then again they might.

Most people have given up going to Town Meetings because they don't seem to accomplish much.  The citizens are not happy, but they don't think they can do much by going.  That's not a good thing.

A survey would be a good basis for going to the next step.  It's not the cart before the horse, but surveys give you wheels to go forward.

The Town has to think Marketing ... not the type that concerns publicity, but the part that knows what the customer wants.

Sometimes the customers have the right answers... ask them.