Equitable Adaptation Legal & Policy Toolkit

Community Visioning

At the earliest stages of an adaptation planning process, state and local policymakers can invite residents to provide input about project objectives, intended benefits, and outcomes. Community visioning is a process and planning tool that gives residents the space and opportunity to express their vision for the future of their community. Guided discussions take place in a series of meetings, workshops, and listening sessions that offer residents a platform for discussion in an open environment. By offering residents an opportunity to voice their goals and priorities for their neighborhoods, the community visioning process informs land-use decisions and planning priorities while giving residents ownership over the decisionmaking in their neighborhoods.See footnote 1

At a public engagement session, four women sit around a table discussing while one writes their ideas down on a poster-sized notepad with a red marker. Behind the woman writing is a poster on a tripod that says, "Our County" and has a picture of a child examining a plant, and a map of the county. There are other tables in the background having similar conversations.
Our Voice, Our County: Environmental Fair + Expo in Commerce, California. (Credit: OurCounty, Los Angeles County Chief Sustainability Office)

The discussion sessions in community visioning processes can inform the foundational documents, including theories of change, mission statements, and wish lists that can provide guidance about the intended benefits of a new project or initiative. When planning professionals share initial data, metrics, and strategies for adaptation plans, feedback from community visioning processes can help assess, and possibly reframe the goals for a proposed project. The initial presentation of data and evidence-based justification for the project may also include proposed metrics to measure the effectiveness of the project once implemented.

Community visioning can also inform the likelihood that zoning ordinances, capital improvement programs, and other local government initiatives are aligned with the community's experience in their neighborhoods and the cultural values of the residents.See footnote 2 Third-party experts or consultants can provide assistance to determine whether there are any legal or policy barriers to implementing the project and provide education and outreach to residents about prospective solutions. Project leads that assess and react to community responses to proposed plans can determine whether or not the agency’s initiatives are consistent with the prevailing interests of the community, and if not, make revisions to realign project design and outcomes with the will of the community.See footnote 3 The success of the community visioning process benefits from efforts to assemble a broad-based representation of community, agency capacity and technical expertise to ensure that all parties are equipped with the data, metrics, tools, and other educational materials to complement community knowledge and inform project development and implementation.

Steps for the Community Visioning Process

Once the project team and resident outreach have been established, each step in the community visioning process provides an opportunity for the project participants to gather neighborhood insights and develop a clear and consistent focus on the goals and outcomes of the process.

  • Set outcomes: The community visioning process begins with the intent among all parties that adaptation planning and project selection will align with the neighborhood’s vision for its future. Some community visioning processes begin with a vision of the outcome.See footnote 4 Through dialogue, residents can work from the desired end result to the current state of affairs to inform decisionmaking about the step-by-step initiatives needed to reach that end result. In addition, the community visioning process can identify and align the direct and indirect benefits of project implementation and ensure that the needs and cultural values of the community are captured in the metrics for measuring the success of the project. At this stage, project participants may also address ways to avoid the systemic and programmatic contributors to the conditions that have created the harms that the project is intended to resolve.
  • Involve Stakeholders to Collect & Analyze Additional Data: Equally important to setting the desired outcomes for the community visioning process is establishing data and metrics to measure whether the proposed outcomes of the planning and implementation process are achieved. Data and metrics may be collected and developed through a combination of both qualitative and quantitative data collection processes that can include criteria to indicate the effectiveness of reaching the communities facing environmental, economic, and social challenges. Data and metrics may also indicate whether the community engagement process has strengthened the likelihood of achieving the indirect benefits of the project (e.g. democratic participation through enhanced voter and community participation in a participatory budgeting process). The collection of data can include tracking mechanisms that ensure that agency participants are accountable and support efforts to continue to communicate with and involve stakeholders.
  • Ensure Partnerships with Community-based Organizations: When local governments partner with leading community-based organizations that play a leadership role in the community and in neighborhood associations, decisionmaking is better informed by the prevailing concerns and insights of the community. By including these key participants in the decisionmaking process, adaptation planning is better informed by participants who can provide insights about the use of a potential site, the unique challenges that the community confronts, and potential solutions that may have impacts that exceed the narrow solutions initially contemplated in the planning process.
  • Report Back Mechanism: A report back mechanism can include a process for sharing information learned at each stage of the community visioning process. Periodic reporting provides opportunities to share findings from the collection and analysis of data and metrics that can provide evidence to confirm and clarify project priorities and improve the likelihood of success. The report back mechanism is also a way to hold government agencies accountable for determining how effective the project planning and implementation were in achieving the intended result.See footnote 5 A report back mechanism also provides a useful tool for ensuring transparency throughout the process. Furthermore, the community is more likely to participate in an ongoing and meaningful way with a periodic feedback mechanism in place. 



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