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2016 In Review: Helping Planners with “Public Service Essentials”

December 11, 2016

Part of this last year was spent attending various planning conferences throughout the West, as part of a traveling series on “Public Service Essentials.”

The workshop was originally road-tested at the Peninsula Section of the WA APA conference in Bremerton in the fall of 2015, and at that time it was split into two different sessions. Feedback was positive and helpful in developing the content.

paw-logoI spent the 2015 holidays in content development, and came up with an optional program where content could be contracted into one session. For 2016, that newly-developed workshop first rolled out at the Planning Association of Washington (PAW) conference in Everett in April.

apa-idIt was then brought to the ID APA conference in Boise, ID in October and saw its final production in San Antonio, TX at the TX APA conference in November.

The workshop focuses on two essential elements in public service:

  • Helping a planner understand the dynamics that are at work in their relationship with the public, so they may be more effective and successful on the job
  • Figuring out how to maximize the potential from the everyday tools a planner uses on the job

apa-txThe workshop began with an interactive PowerPoint presentation covering the various aspects of the planner/public dynamic, then attendees worked through usability exercises to understand how in-house documents may be more effective with findable content. The session would then end with a salon-style discussion in which the group discussed their work with the public and traded war stories.

What’s interesting about the last portion is how the stories expressed by planners are different everywhere you go; sometimes horrific, and in many cases amusing (I have a few of my own). However, the demands of planners, and the needs of these public servants in these town hall settings, are very similar. I heard repeatedly how planners feel they are not heard in their concerns and frustrations regarding job demands, including the expectations put on them by the public and managers who seem like they are out of touch with the realities they contend with; the requests, demands and drama taking place at the front counter, as well as through phone and email. And that’s in addition to the project workload and many other hats planning staff typically need to wear to not only be effective on the job, but sometimes simply survive it.

As is always the case with these conferences, the best conversations took place outside of the sessions during the evening events. Over a drink, I was able to dig a bit deeper as colleagues walked me though everyday scenarios and let off a little steam.

Overall, the feedback I received from the sessions was very positive and inspired ideas for new workshops. There’s more on the horizon for 2017….with new content in development!

Check it out, it's the Top Hat Indexer's top hat!

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