Civic Engagement in Comprehensive Planning: A Tool for Education and Empowerment

2023 NACo Achievement Award Winner

Howard County, Md., MD

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About the Program

Category: Planning (Best in Category)

Year: 2023

As part of its General Plan Update, HoCo By Design, Howard County took a comprehensive and inclusive approach to civic engagement, following the Plan’s motto, “Every Voice, One Vision.” While many community members are extremely knowledgeable about land use and zoning and engaged in planning processes; there are an even greater number of residents with minimal experience and knowledge regarding these topics. These residents’ voices are frequently unheard and underrepresented in planning processes and tend to be from those with diverse socio-economic backgrounds. In response, HoCo By Design’s engagement strategy targeted not only traditional community groups and members of the public but also populations that are generally under-represented in planning - students, young adults, working parents, residents from whom English is a second language, renters and small business owners - ensuring that a diverse set of perspectives was considered in the process and the plan. The County’s Department of Planning & Zoning built relationships with diverse community leaders, lead equity-focused events, and improved communications by using more accessible and less jargon-based language. Through these efforts, the department had a more inclusive approach for the draft General Plan and advanced equity-focused policies for the wider community.