Planning Collaboratively

In recent years, public-private coalition building has grown and is becoming more common in community planning and redevelopment. Researchers point out that this has led to a shift in the planner's role as “expert" to planner as the facilitator of a consensus-building approach to decision making (Peterman 2004). Fortunately, the change has also resulted in increased opportunities for meaningful engagement in policy formation.

Collaborative neighborhood planning requires coordinated and cooperative efforts on the part of a wide range of stakeholders, individuals as well as organizations. These stakeholders come together in a process, bringing their own sometimes disparate interests and issues. The collaborative process is designed to provide a framework for building consensus through the adoption of shared rules, norms, and decision-making structures, as well as acceptance of responsibility for those decisions (Wood and Gray 1991). The collaborative process has multiple layers, but can be divided into three key phases (Margerum 1999):

Problem setting, whereby stakeholders come together and commit to developing a structure and working together to facilitate a collaborative process.

Direction setting, which focuses on working together to identify and develop consensus around issues, goals, and an implementation strategy.

Implementation, whereby a structure is established for implementing and monitoring actions and measuring outcomes.

Collaboration is viewed by some as a "way to mediate the interests of powerful groups, while promoting the interests of less powerful groups” (Julian 1994, 9). Having said that, collaboration appears to work best when certain conditions are in place to support the process. According to the Chandler Center for Community Leadership, it is important that collaboration occurs in a “transparent” environment where stakeholders' intentions and agendas have been made visible to all participants. The collaborative's diversity should be viewed as a strength, and a system for communicating, building trust, and sharing resources should be in place (

Consistent with the collaborative process, Detroit LISC's SIA model was developed with consensus building and shared decision making in mind. With LISC's support, SIAs have moved through the collaborative process to implementation. Establishing trust, a vital element of collaborative planning, is an ongoing, challenging process.

Multisector Collaboration

Researchers at the Community Tool Box (CTB) define multisector collaboratives as those established to address problems that affect the whole community – where public, private, and nonprofit organizations as well as community members work together in partnership toward a shared vision. That is, they are designed to solve systemic problems that might involve areas such as the environment, health care, or community-wide economic issues. According to CTB, multisector collaboration (http//

Is based on cooperation, not competition: Unlike the emphasis that mainstream American culture places on competition to be the best, most profitable, or most effective, collaboration is based on cooperation. Resources are pooled, stakeholders assist each other, and everyone achieves more.

Works better because it puts the decision-making process back in the hands of ordinary people: Those who are the most affected are involved in developing and implementing solutions. Participation is increased when individuals and other stakeholders feel included in the planning and decision-making process. The participatory and power-sharing nature of collaboration is beneficial because a community that operates more democratically promotes a greater sense of unity in addressing its problems.

Is messy: Multiple individuals and organizations representing a variety of interests and sectors require a good deal of flexibility and comfort with a process that is not always tidy and straightforward.

• Is a long-term enterprise that calls for a significant investment of time and resources but offers significant rewards: Collaboration should be undertaken with full awareness of the resources (time, energy, financial) needed to support the process.

In shifting from a bricks-and-mortar investment approach to a more comprehensive model, LISC clearly recognized that neighborhood revitalization calls for a coordinated effort designed to address multiple community issues. Redevelopment issues facing neighborhoods are not limited to the built environment, and therefore, the potential for LISC to make a greater impact by addressing multiple community issues is in the organization's best interest. No organization possesses the human, financial, and material resources required to meet most urban neighborhood needs. If an effective partnership is developed, collaboration becomes a “win-win” for individual and organizational stakeholders and, ultimately, the community.

Challenges and Limitations

As stated earlier, while the payoff can be significant, the collaborative planning process is not without its challenges and limitations. Although collaborative planning incorporates multiple community viewpoints, too often it appears that this leveling dynamic lasts only as long as stakeholders remain at the table. Once planning is completed, previous power relationships tend to reassert themselves (Peterman 2004). There are other challenges and limitations as well:

Difficulty influencing the allocation of resources: While a partnership may produce results, studies of past collaborative efforts suggest that changes in decision-making patterns are also difficult to achieve (Margerum 1999).

“Inside-outside” tension between those connected to the neighborhood and those outside of the neighborhood: Individuals and organizations such as funders or sometimes even technical assistance providers can be perceived as “outsiders” by the community, creating a tension that can make collaboration more difficult. When negotiated and balanced, this tension can enhance collaborative partnerships, but it involves a push-and-pull process that can be difficult to work through (The Aspen Institute 1997).

Limited community empowerment: The governance structure within some multisector collaboratives allocates agenda-setting authority and decision making to government, business leaders, and nonprofit organizations, with community members as advisors.

Inadequate resources: The lack of adequate resources, particularly funding, to actually implement the neighborhood plan can, understandably, derail the collaboration ( Throughout the planning process, there is an expectation among stakeholders that resources to implement the action plan, once developed, are available or forthcoming. However, without resources in place, there will be no activity to keep the collaborative moving forward.

Limited capacity building: It is clear that a collaborative planning process helps to increase community engagement. Residents and other stakeholders not usually involved can be drawn into the process. It is not clear that participation in a collaborative planning process actually builds capacity within those communities. Studies indicate that while local residents may feel engaged by the process, few planning efforts have increased residents' capacity to comfortably discuss planning principles, market dynamics, and approaches to neighborhood development (Burkholder, Chupp, and Star 2003).

LISC's Commitment to the New Model

In exploring alternative planning and investment strategies, Detroit LISC reviewed research on multisector collaboration and best practices in neighborhood planning. LISC wanted to ensure that its new neighborhood revitalization model incorporated all critical elements of a solid multisector, community-based planning approach. Consequently, the SIA strategy is a participatory planning model designed to maximize community involvement with its "always leave an empty chair for new participants" approach (Detroit LISC 2003).

LISC's commitment to capacity building is also evident in the resources the organization has allocated. SIA target areas have access to a wide range of TA in the form of planning, design and organizational development consultants, staff support, and training for building capacity within organizations. Further, the community governance structure is arguably the component that has the greatest opportunity for building capacity because ultimately the “ownership" of the plan and the process rests with community stakeholders.

< Prev   CONTENTS   Next >