Effectively assembling community partnerships can advance important projects such as downtown revitalization or economic development
As engaged residents of our communities, both personally and professionally, we’ve all had opportunities to participate in roundtable discussions, strategic planning exercises, and master planning projects. But what happens when those meetings end? How do you support forward momentum and achieve your goals? During the planning process, it’s imperative to take a careful look at the composition of the stakeholder groups. But it’s even more important to continue leveraging the dialogue into community partnerships long after the document has been adopted.
While we’re experiencing an increasingly divisive political environment in our nation, our communities remain in an arena where we can work side-by-side with residents toward a common goal—which is often tied with projects that improve quality of life.
Whether the issue is technical education, economic development, or downtown revitalization, it’s crucial to consider an unconventional approach in building a foundation of support. For leaders who are looking for ways to advance initiatives for community projects, here are a few considerations for building strong partnerships.
With diverse partnerships, and a collaborative approach to considering what community projects may accomplish, everyone can benefit. When the Oconomowoc Parks, Recreation & Forestry Department wanted to redesign the Fowler Lake Waterfront, their goal was to make this area a downtown destination for community members and visitors alike.
Understand the dynamics of the issue
Every worthwhile project—from replacing an outdated elementary school to building a new industrial park—helps build a strong community. However, these benefits aren’t always understood or communicated to all residents beyond the business community. It’s critical to know your stakeholders. Consider the attitudes, perceptions, and needs of residents so that you can identify strategic partners to effectively communicate the positive aspects these projects bring.
Intergovernmental conversations are a great way to understand the needs of all constituents who might have a stake in the project. One example of this can be seen with the development of Career and Technical Education (CTE) facilities across the nation. With increasing focus on STEM careers in K-12 education, many communities are establishing partnerships between city leaders, school districts, higher education institutions and private industries. CTE facilities are providing diverse career opportunities to fill the workforce demands in both urban and rural communities but also require broader support to achieve success. Examples of necessary partnerships for CTE projects include:
- City leaders to provide support for necessary infrastructure and funding mechanisms to construct CTE facilities.
- School districts to integrate workforce training opportunities into established curriculum models and to operate and maintain CTE facilities.
- Higher education institutions to sponsor accreditation of certificate and degree programs.
- Economic development organizations (both local and state-level) to communicate and endorse the added benefit that CTE facilities have on workforce development and talent attraction—and to help leverage local and state incentives for project funding.
- Private industries to guide program priorities, provide input on the design of curriculum and instructional spaces, and to provide financial support for the construction of CTE facilities.
When you understand the various organizations within your city (or region), as well as their goals and missions, you can confidently put forth a project that moves your community forward.
With increasing focus on STEM careers in K-12 education, many communities are establishing partnerships between city leaders, school districts, higher education institutions and private industries. CTE facilities are providing diverse career opportunities to fill the workforce demands in both urban and rural communities. (Pictured: Academies of Loudoun)
Reach across the table (and around the room!)
Beyond local government entities, have you thought about how others will benefit from your project? Recreation facility planning is a great example of how strategic community improvements require a diverse and coordinated foundation of partnerships.
School districts, sports clubs, institutions, and civic organizations all benefit from the common spaces and wellness amenities provided through community parks and recreation organizations. Stakeholder engagement is critical for these types of projects—both during the planning phase and well-beyond the completion of the study. Engage local partners to help identify program improvements as well as to fundraise and help finance community projects. Local sports clubs, primary-sector employers, and economic development organizations can each play a role in bringing these types of projects to fruition.
Engaging a diverse range of community partners—from initial planning stages through project financing and construction—helps to communicate the benefits of the project to residents and ensures every angle of the project has been examined.
Engaging a diverse range of community partners—from initial planning stages through project financing and construction—helps communicate the benefits of the project to residents and ensures every angle of the project has been examined.
Remain focused on the endgame
What has been done to address community needs? What continues to get in the way of achieving your community’s goal? Even with a strong partnership of varying perspectives, it’s not uncommon for some projects to encounter obstacles or even stall. However, when you build a project team with diverse community partnerships, there are even more solutions available to overcome potential challenges.
For example, when residents and representatives from the business community in Topeka, Kansas recognized the need to revitalize their downtown in 2009, they initiated their efforts by partnering with the local chamber of commerce to host a community forum for all residents to provide input. When more than 800 residents attended, it was clear to local business and industry leaders that downtown revitalization was a necessary priority for the community.
_q_tweetable:With diverse partnerships, and a collaborative approach to considering what community projects may accomplish, everyone can benefit._q_
Despite this strong show of support, project progress became difficult two years later, when initial implementation strategies began to falter. Undeterred, local business leaders joined forces with downtown advocacy groups and economic development organizations to identify other opportunities to deliver the project. Recognizing that vibrant downtown spaces help attract and retain a talented workforce, area companies provided financial support for pocket parks and other amenities downtown. Combined with the City’s planned infrastructure improvements, these diverse partnerships contributed to the completion of what is now a growing downtown community.
It often takes multiple players to bring a project to fruition, so don’t be afraid to get creative with partnerships. Have you engaged regional development commissions, or economic development, housing redevelopment, and/or port authorities? These entities might have technical assistance or even funding programs to help advance your projects. Business associations and private companies may have missions that align with the goals of your project(s). They can help inform the design of your project if they have needs that can be supported through the proposed improvements. Or, they may have the means to provide financial support.
With diverse partnerships, and a collaborative approach to considering what community projects may accomplish, everyone can benefit. Through these efforts, important projects can not only be achieved but can also build community support along the way.
About the author
Working with the team in our Bismarck office, Wendy Van Duyne is an associate and landscape architect with a focus on master planning. With more than 12 years of professional experience, she has successfully provided leadership to multi-disciplinary teams on a wide variety of master planning projects in market sectors including municipal, higher education and industrial development.