Approaches and tools

San Francisco, February 2023

With several public participation strategies underway, we can take a step back to reflect on our approach, and the tools we are shaping along the way.

The work of equitable community engagement is extremely complex and nuanced. Drawing on our collective experience, we have developed a civic engagement compass to guide our approach:

Perhaps our most meaningful —yet elusive— contribution is in the skills that we bring to the field of civic engagement. We seamlessly draw from our experience in strategic planning, urban design, architecture, landscape architecture, and social research. We are well prepared to bear naturally co-existing tensions: bringing more robustness and accountability to our work, while using design thinking to navigate emergent processes. The tools we have created grow from a need to support multi-directional partnerships and collaborative approaches.

The Public Participation Framework (also known as Community Engagement Framework) is a tool developed by our team and grounded by the Public Participation Spectrum 1. This "living" document is an internal alignment and collaboration tool engaging project stewards and champions in the development of community engagement strategies. In other ways, is a tool "to engage on the engagement". This process is intended to (1) amplify existing efforts by partners and communities, (2) identify priority communities and equity goals (3) establish intentional engagement strategies and synergistic feedback loops, and (4) map the civic partnerships needed to support long-term transformation. The Public Participation Framework is supported by three additional tools: Community Partners Methodology, Community Partners Framework and Ethics and Transparency Guidelines.

The Community Partners Methodology guides leading organizations in the development of intentional partnerships. It brings transparency to the process of identifying, reaching out, and ultimately selecting civic partners, and supports the creation of a shared agenda. Once a partnership is mutually accepted, the Community Partners Framework helps define specific goals, roles, responsibilities, deliverables, estimated level of efforts and financial supports. This tool functions as a memorandum of collaboration and includes the Ethics and Transparency Guidelines. These guidelines aim to recognize and balance the flow of power and accountability in the partnership by centering human dignity and integrity, accountability, transparency, agency, consent and privacy.

A Qualitative Analysis Methodology brings scientific rigor to our public participation approach. While the tools described earlier focus on who and how to engage, a Qualitative Analysis Methodology is centered on what the issues at hand are, and why they matter. The methodology lays out the foundation for a process where complex problems can be clearly identified, contextualized, and communicated to a diverse range of stakeholders. The resulting research questions inform the methods for collecting feedback, or strategies, described in the Public Participation Framework and provide structure to the analysis process. Consistency in data collection methods ensures data integrity and facilitates coding of emerging themes and new insights.

Over the coming year we will continue to refine these tools through our collaborations. In particular, we look forward to unlocking the potential of software assisted data analysis, working with mixed methods, and further integrating qualitative and quantitative data analysis to bring more robustness and accountability to public participation processes.