NCI Cross-disciplinary Public Involvement Forum
Support Provided in Part by a Grant from
the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
In October of 2003, a unique event took place at the Princeton offices of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Experienced leaders from a range of disciplines came together to discuss best practices in public involvement and collaborative decision-making processes. For the first time ever, professionals from the fields of Public Health and Safety, Land Use and Transportation Planning, Restorative and Community Justice, Community and Political Process, and Facilitation and Collaborative Organizational Management met to discuss the challenges they face in their efforts to improve the health of communities through collaborative efforts. Participants represented diverse organizations including AmericaSpeaks, the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Interaction Associates, The Great Valley Center, and The RAND Institute.
At a critical moment in time – when grassroots efforts have the ability to make or break an attempt to change a community – these leaders convened to discuss ways to make the practice of community involvement better. Three key agreements rose to the top of the conversation quickly: 1) collaborative public involvement is essential to community change efforts, 2) there are both principles and challenges that are common to any community change effort, and therefore 3) resources should be dedicated to institutionalizing and supporting collaborative public involvement.
The goals and specific problems faced by the range of disciplines vary, as do the populations they serve, but the common challenges to public process and collaborative decision-making were prevalent across fields. By looking at these common challenges and considering common solutions to public involvement efforts across distinctly different fields of practice, we can better understand obstacles to community involvement in general and address these challenges with comprehensive solutions to benefit the practice for all collaborative efforts.
The Public Involvement Best Practices Forum was convened by the National Charrette Institute (NCI) and sponsored by a generous grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The purpose of the event was to bring together successful practitioners from the above-mentioned disciplines to learn from each other and discover commonalities in their collaborative, community-based change efforts. Why was community-based planning, or public involvement, the topic of this forum? The premise was that professionals in many fields who are working to improve the health and well-being of communities are learning that lasting change can be achieved through shared understanding and support for solutions. This shared understanding and support for change within a community can be successfully facilitated through collaborative public involvement processes.
More specifically, public involvement and collaborative decision-making processes are becoming inevitable in the development of solutions to a variety of issues across the country. In some fields, such as land use planning and design, public involvement is becoming a legal requirement in a number of communities and is seeing increased grassroots, community-based engagement in others. In other fields, such as community justice and public health, community collaboration is a necessity. As Dr. Michael Stoto writes, “most health problems require community-based solutions.” Given the complexity of issues facing communities today and the finite supply of resources, many practitioners involved in community change efforts are finding that broad-based public involvement and community-based solutions may be the only means for successfully improving the health and well-being of communities.
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