This post is short as I have been really working to move projects along, but I had a great conversation with Mike Ciriello, Person County’s Planning Director and I wanted to share some of my thoughts and take-aways. Adora has already given a great explanation of what planning is so I will direct you there for the background on what planners do.
Before starting grad school I worked as a middle school teacher and then I worked on a residence hall with 36 high school juniors and seniors for three years. Throughout classrooms, hall meetings, and summer camps, the most common question I have received is “Why?”
“Why can’t I roll through the hallway in my desk chair?”
“Why do we have to walk in a straight line?”
“Why do we have to have a meeting?”
Never a fan of “because I said so” or “the rules say…” I always (okay, most of the time) tried to explain why things happened the way they did. Little did I know the constant grilling from my students would be a perfect set-up for working in local government.
One of the projects I have picked up is helping the Planning department think about how information is shared with the public. Specifically, I am focusing on revamping applications and information sheets, and reviewing the planning website. This project led to a great discussion with Mike about how citizens see the Planning department. As highlighted by Adora, planning serves an important function in communities, but often people don’t have a good idea about what planners do. Because of this, a big responsibility of planners is to think about how the information they have is shared and received.
Planning interacts with citizens in a variety of ways depending on project and role the citizen is playing. Ensuring that information is focused, relevant, and accessible is key to improving the experiences citizens have with any agency. In my work, this has meant figuring out what is most important and relevant and creating forms and information sheets that are visually appealing and explain why the document is relevant. As someone who has not had any direct interactions with a planning department outside of my work as an intern, I have been able to look at documents and question why things are needed and what is the most relevant information to a layperson who needs to read or fill out the form. This has also given me the opportunity to understand how planning functions from the perspective of a citizen seeking to get information or relevant documents.
The thought process involved in this assignment carries across government. We are all part of this iterative process to improve our communities, but sometimes we may forget to explain the why or really question our basic assumptions about our work. This lesson is especially relevant when you have spent a lot of time immersed in your work. You may forget that not everyone understands the big picture, and it is important that we always think about how the information we share fits into people’s understanding of our larger community vision.