An evaluation of online participatory planning spaces : a case study of the Oak Hill Parkway Virtual Open House
State planning and transportation agencies continually face the escalating problem of increasing needs coupled with limited financial resources to meet those needs. In this difficult fiscal environment, the importance of meaningfully involving the public in the decisions that shape the future of our cities and regions becomes even more amplified. Proactively working with the public to gain buy-in from the early stages of the planning process is one of the most effective strategies to reduce project costs. The classic process in which state planning and transportation agencies have engaged the public is no longer an effective or efficient model as public meeting attendance has consistently decreased. As technology continues to shape the way that the public communicates with each other and their government, the onus falls on state planning and transportation agencies not only to continue to provide the traditional methods of engagement, but to look for new and innovative ways to gain increased public participation in the planning process. The traditional methods of public engagement will always be an important part of the planning process, but discovering the effectiveness of emerging technologies in order to develop new best practices for public engagement is the charge of the future. This report will evaluate whether a) online participatory planning spaces expand participation in the planning process and b) examine how evaluative metrics gathered by using online tools can inform decision makers of the utility of virtual planning spaces. This report will then present an evaluative criteria in order to establish a baseline by which to assess the performance of public involvement processes. This report will then present a case study of the Oak Hill Parkway Virtual Open House Pilot Project, a pilot study conducted in Austin, Texas to test the effectiveness of online participatory planning spaces in the field. This report will also share the results of interviews with Oak Hill Parkway Project representatives regarding the usefulness of virtual planning spaces. The report will conclude with a discussion of lessons learned and future research needs.