20 August 2012

Public Staff, Consultant and NGO Collaboration

Government planners are rethinking the way they do projects. Some agencies see smaller project budgets as an opportunity to increase their capacity to do more before and during a charrette. NCI recently completed trainings for the Dover/Kent County Metropolitan Planning Organization (DE), and the City of Las Cruces (NM). Both groups investigated new ways that staff could work with consultants on pre-charrette public outreach and data gathering as well as the charrette management, facilitation and design roles. Each of the trainings benefited from having a balance of cross-representation from different city and county agencies such as planning, public works, economic development and health. The groups quickly saw that a key to success was the ability to break down the traditional specialty silos and work collaboratively using the NCI Charrette System™.
Project teams worked during the three-day trainings to assess and organize their real projects. Each team completed a series of exercises for identifying project guiding principles, objectives and measures, stakeholder assessment and project products. These assessments provide them with the information needed to craft a project roadmap, charrette schedule and most importantly, a list of in-house and out-of-house project team members, their roles and responsibilities. A common scenario developed during the training was for agency staff to take on the project scoping, public involvement, meeting facilitation, charrette management and, when possible, transportation planning and economic development base data collection. The tasks requiring outside consultants were commonly transportation planning and engineering, environmental and urban design. Some saw NGOs as potential resources around public outreach, environment and health. This mix varied with the agency capability and capacity to handle the workload. A common issue was politics making it difficult for staff to lead a project through the public involvement process, thereby requiring third party facilitation.

At NCI’s next training in Vancouver this fall, we will further investigate this question of the appropriate mix of staff and outside advisors and specialists given each project’s budget and political context.