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Citizens & Town Officials Form Consensus to Update 20-Year Strategic Priorities for Lake Lure, NC

Lake Lure, NC, USA
Vital Clarity

Government Champion

Town Manager

Cost

Initial:
11 Thousand USD

Project Status

Operational since 2015

Project Type

At a Glance

With 60% of scheduled initiatives implemented 8 years into their 20-year Comprehensive Plan, the Town of Lake Lure committed to a thorough plan update. The process engaged 60+ citizens and resulted in consensus on 42 vetted & prioritized projects, as well as a deeper, shared understanding of critical issues.

Problem Addressed

Shannon Baldwin, Community Development Director, said, "We are seeking a process that will deliver an updated, community-informed Implementation Matrix that gives Department Heads, Town Council & the Town Manager a unified framework from which to develop annual work plans and budgets as we strive to realize a jointly developed, long-term Vision."

Beyond the Town Council's and Zoning & Planning Board’s desire to replenish the 2007-2027 Comprehensive Plan and capitalize on the impressive strides achieved in the first several years, the Mayor felt strongly that engaging the greater citizenship as partners with the Council would elevate the caliber and relevance of selected strategies and goals while strengthening community ownership and accountability.

As the composition of Town Council had changed since the original Plan’s creation, convening the Council, key Town committees and citizens together in a series of facilitated meetings provided a unique opportunity to prioritize future initiatives while also further deepening working relationships and celebrating successes.

Town of Lake Lure used/is using a participatory facilitated planning approach to address this/these challenge(s).

Solution(s) Used

The Town committed to a participatory process that expanded engagement and input opportunities for Town Council members, community volunteers serving on key committees and the community-at-large. The Town contracted with Vital Clarity to design and shepherd a process that would maximize citizen involvement and partnering opportunities throughout each phase of the plan update initiative.

Snapshots of Phases

• Distributed a "State of the Town" report recounting assets, strengths, weaknesses, accomplishments & opportunities, along with an invitation to respond to a 3-question survey. Both were widely distributed through multiple communication avenues. (What recent accomplishments have had a positive impact? Which future projects being considered will have a positive impact? What additional projects will address issues and concerns that matter to you?)

• Developed an easy-to-use Implementation Matrix scorecard for Town Council, Town committees & citizens to assess the status of all Comprehensive Plan initiatives. (Where are we now?)

• Convened small work groups to create a Shared Vision that articulates what the Lake Lure citizens and stakeholders want to see in the future as a result of their combined efforts.

- Staff and community volunteers were trained to facilitate the 5 concurrent Vision sessions for 60+ participants. The consultant facilitated a plenary session during which participants combined key consensus items from each of their sessions into one unified Vision. With the opportunity for everyone to reflect on the final product, citizens and Town leadership recognized they had authored a Master Vision that truly represents a consensus of their shared hopes and dreams for the future of Lake Lure.

• Operationalized and translated the high-level vision elements into specific, measurable initiatives and projects roughly sequenced over the duration of the plan. This refreshed Implementation Matrix, the essential and ultimate purpose for updating the plan, directly correlates the relationship between projects and vision elements jointly generated. Underscoring the correlation intentionally reflects the integration of the work completed by the citizen/Town partnership.

With community engagement as a central aspect of the process, Town Leadership developed a prioritized list of projects and initiatives for the balance of the Comprehensive Plan's duration, to be updated periodically and implemented as fiscal resources and timing warrant.

Outcomes

  1. An Implementation Matrix that reflects consensus & has widespread support on 42 priorities across 12 Town functions, e.g., Water Utility Infrastructure, Lake Management, Transportation.
  2. An almost 30% survey response rate verifies the benefits of employing a variety of communication channels and gave citizens options for expressing their views and interests.
  3. 60+ citizens & town officials crafted a Practical Vision reflecting consensus on nine key vision elements that served as criteria for deciding and aligning priorities & future initiatives.
  4. Developed a scorecard that established a precedent for tracking future progress on Implementation Matrix initiatives and projects and ensured alignment with key vision elements over time.
  5. Retained all participants' verbatim ideas throughout the facilitated process that affirmed the value of individual perspectives & conveyed the Town's commitment to engage as true partners.

Lessons Learned

  1. Citizen engagement methods can yield a genuine sense of ownership & alignment when consensus is leveraged to articulate common purposes before deciding on specific strategies and tactics.
  2. Periodically engaging active citizen participation throughout the lifecycle of a municipal plan upgrades the relevance of the plan while boosting citizen pride in their community.
  3. The power of a shared vision that fully engages a diverse cross-section of the community & its leadership cannot be overstated in its potential to forge an inclusive, energizing plan.
  4. Shifting from merely inviting citizen input on a comprehensive plan to partnering with citizens in a series of facilitated consensus workshops lays the foundation for success that endures.

Something Unique

The facilitation process used throughout the Comprehensive Plan update initiative offers an ingenious antidote to citizens' tendency to doubt that their input will actually be used in a meaningful way. During the plenary session, citizens merged their ideas from each of the five small group sessions into a unified Vision composed of their very own words. Those words make up the Town's Shared Vision to this day.

Who Should Consider?

Any size community needing to update their Comprehensive Plan and committed to authentically engaging and partnering with the community throughout the process.