Modern Tools, Modern Times
Engaging stakeholders in the virtual space
Many of the Cape Cod Commission's projects and initiatives include robust stakeholder engagement: public meetings, presentations, design charettes, and public comments. But the pandemic rendered in-person meetings infeasible. So how do you connect with stakeholders when you can't meet in person?
Creating Complete Streets
In 2019, the Cape Cod Commission worked with the Town of Orleans to develop its Complete Streets Prioritization Plan. The public input process included in-person meetings during which residents would share thoughts and ideas verbally and using printed paper maps. That process yielded about 30 comments from the citizens of Orleans.
When working with the Town of Falmouth to create its Complete Streets Prioritization Plan in 2021, in-person public meetings were still off the table, meaning that all public interaction for this process had to be done in the virtual space. Using ArcGIS Experience Builder software, Cape Cod Commission staff built a new online, interactive public comment tool to offer information on the project background, display existing features, and provide a platform for public comments. This new process yielded 57 comments.
The Town of Bourne also developed its Complete Streets Prioritization Plan during the pandemic, and 171 members of the public commented on the plan using an online public comment tool like the one developed for Falmouth.
In 2022, the Complete Streets Prioritization Plan for the Town of Barnstable combined in-person meetings with a public comment tool – that process yielded more than 500 comments from the public.
These online, interactive tools allow users to explore their neighborhoods, examine existing conditions, and add suggestions such as bike lanes, crosswalks, and stoplights, along with comments, directly to the map. Users can also see others' suggestions and comments. The tools are also used to present the project to the public.
Improved public engagement
The use of online, interactive tools has benefits that will extend beyond the pandemic, as they provide opportunities for more people to learn about and share comments on projects in their towns. Busy parents, young professionals, seniors with mobility issues, or anyone for whom attending a public meeting isn’t ideal can all interact with online tools from the comfort of their own homes and on their own schedules.
Beyond Complete Streets
Several Cape Cod Commission projects and initiatives now include interactive public comment tools. A map and data viewer developed for use with the Town of Barnstable’s Local Comprehensive Plan has grown into a comprehensive, fully interactive data site with maps and dashboards detailing demographics, village characteristics, zoning, transportation, housing, watersheds, and much more. The site is designed to help residents understand existing characteristics and provide informed input as the town develops its Local Comprehensive Plan.
Citizen participants and stakeholders engaged in the Commission’s low-lying roads project are also using online interactive maps to identify and prioritize roads vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.
The pandemic provided opportunities to experiment with new and expanded technologies to create interactive experiences that will be a component of robust public engagement well into the future.