Monica Pascatore
Monica Pascatore
November 7, 2019

Designed To Thrive: 3 Key Components for Community Buy-In

Monica Pascatore
Monica Pascatore

I recently had the pleasure of presenting at the National Recreation and Park Association’s (NRPA) Annual Conference. As a fairly new member of the CannonDesign team, I wanted to share my passion for designing and overseeing a number of interesting civic and community projects, including recreation centers, cultural centers, visitor centers and nature centers.

As many of you know, these civic projects come with additional opportunities and challenges when it comes to community buy-in. This “Speed Session” (15-minute topic presentation, 5-minute Q&A), provided a simple and straight-forward approach for all stakeholders to consider when planning and implementing a community-based project. Here are the key concepts I shared:


#1: PLAN

Gauge the Scale – Whether it’s a 1/2-acre dog park, a new facility or a multi-phase regional park, it’s critical to make sure everyone in the process understands expectations based on the scale of the project. Many factors come back to scale. Ask yourself or your team: Do you have resources to manage engagement? This might include dedicated personnel, public relations specialists and/or community liaisons. Do you have current deadlines or future hurdles to manage simultaneously? Gauging the scale of a project is a great first step for successful engagement as it influences the process along the way.

Identify All Stakeholders – Who should be involved? Will you be working directly with the community at large? Are there other stakeholders who should be part of the conversation, like funding sources, third-party programming groups or others? Either way, it’s important to establish a comprehensive list of ALL stakeholders; this will be invaluable as you move through the design and implementation process. It’s also critical to be upfront with decision-making and how flexible you will be with stakeholder input. Establish an understanding of who the decision-makers will be. Think ahead of the curve. Brainstorm with your team on groups that aren’t currently stakeholders, but that you’d like to be involved in the future.

Understand Stakeholder Relationships – Above identifying the stakeholders, it is our responsibility to understand stakeholder-to-stakeholder relationships and whether they have aligned priorities or conflicting. Community engagement offers the opportunity for all voices to be heard, though be sure that the biggest voices are not the only ones being heard. If you are working with a community that feels neglected, acknowledge that the process will give ample time for their input.

Outline and Promote Anticipated Meetings – Outlining community meetings ahead of time will provide great insight; this is likely a series, a minimum of three. Think about the type of meeting that’s appropriate for each stage of the process: Is it informative, information gathering, collaborative, town hall, or a combination? Identify manageable steps and goals for each meeting and be conscious not to overload any single meeting. Given that participation typically results in ownership, plan for how to maximize participation. How best can you promote the meetings: online (website/social media), mailers, door-to-door, or other?


Intro Meeting – The big strategy for the intro meeting is to level the playing field: introduce the project and any basic information about it. Before the meeting, make sure to set goals for it and make sure to stick with your agenda. Share the intent with your participants. Be Open with them about what you know and don’t know (about the site, the community, their desires)! They can often help fill in the gaps. Invite their feedback. Make sure to be Flexible and accommodating with the feedback.

Progress Meeting – Summarize what you Heard from the previous meeting: The priorities identified and anything specific that was a hot topic. Share what that Means regarding feasibility and spatial comparisons; this might be related to building, site or other. This may be in the form of an idea or “essence,” but it doesn’t need to be a design yet! Be Open with regards to program and budget challenges. Make sure the group understands project limitations; it’s not feasible to include a unicorn petting farm in the program! Invite their feedback and listen for both hopes and concerns about project specifics so they can be addressed moving forward. As always, be Flexible to accommodate feedback. Like the intro meeting, set goals and stick to the agenda.

Development Meeting – Summarize what you Heard from the previous meeting; this helps get everyone back into it as well as brings newcomers up to speed. Share how what you heard translates to what it means: from initial intent, stakeholder feedback, alignment of priorities to a concept. Be open and transparent with your design process. This may be a series of simple diagrams and precedent images for materials and “feel.” Invite their feedback (starting to be a theme here). Walking the group through your process in simple steps allows them to follow the story and will result in incredibly higher support than if you simply show them a design. Talk with them about Next steps. At this point, you should have more clarity regarding the schedule and what it means for future engagement with the group. Future engagement might be with a smaller advisory group or other.


It’s critical to continue communication as it helps build on the rapport you’ve established with the group during your engagement series. You are continuing to build trust; it’s not solely about this one project, it’s a long-term partnership.

Where You Left Off – Summarize where you left off, what you heard and what you’ve been doing since. Share if the project has developed (full steam ahead) or whether there have been delays in the schedule. It’s important to understand that most stakeholders don’t fully comprehend the process for design and construction. Keeping them in the loop will further their support.

Development – Share project development. This can be the first time a rendering is shared with the group. At this point, you should have good buy-in with the concept and the step-by-step process that led to it. Because the stakeholders are completely on board, questions can be geared more toward schedule and completion. Remember that the owner and design team may go away for months, sometimes longer, to complete documentation.

Schedule – Share key project timeline events with stakeholders, not the minutia of a detailed project schedule. This transparency allows them to understand the big moments that keep the project delivery on time. Work with them to identify additional points of check-in that are reasonable for all involved. Check-in may be in the form of additional meetings (likely unnecessary) or may utilize social media such as your organization’s website, stakeholder websites or other.