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Top Picks: Making Density Work, Using Tech to Engage with Citizens, Obliterating Worst Practices

April 13, 2016  by  Byron Katsuyama
Category:  Public Participation Management Comprehensive Planning-Growth Management

Top Picks: Making Density Work, Using Tech to Engage with Citizens, Obliterating Worst Practices

Each week I scan the web for interesting and useful news, blog posts, articles, and reports from a variety of local government-related sources, and post them to the In Focus section of MRSC’s homepage. Here are some of the most interesting “top picks” from my most recent scans.

Making Density Work

As we move forward with implementing the next 25 years of our state’s Growth Management Act, it will become increasingly important for communities to get better at incorporating higher density development within their urban growth boundaries. One of the keys to meeting this challenge will be creating spaces that people actually like to live, work, and play in. A recent Urban Land article, Drawing People In: Placemaking and the Density Discussion, focuses attention on the need for communities to have “specific strategies, strong design, and tailored community approaches” if they are going to be successful in meeting this challenge. Research has shown that successful high-density projects tend to have features like mixed uses, short blocks, good transportation connectivity, citywide planning frameworks, and a strong emphasis on placemaking, including 24-hour destinations that feature “energy, walkability and security.” On the other hand, projects that fail tend to have a single land use, no public spaces or amenities, dependence on a single mode of transportation (cars), and don’t offer a safe, 24-hour environment.

Other success factors include early and continuous engagement with community stakeholders, a strong, well-articulated vision, a clear sense of identity and character, and liberal use of “renderings, maps and graphs” that help citizens better visualize the project so they can see the benefits for themselves.

Using Technology to Engage with Citizens

Any local government official who has been tasked with getting citizens to provide input on a comprehensive plan update, offer testimony at a budget hearing, or share their ideas during a community visioning workshop, can tell you that such efforts don’t just happen by accident. Most such endeavors require a great deal of planning and public outreach just to get “a few good citizens” to participate. But how can local governments move beyond the old standby models of citizen engagement and develop new approaches that not only get more citizens involved but also in more meaningful ways? New communication technologies may offer the best way forward in many instances, and specifically, new cloud-based technologies that have been specially developed for this purpose.

A recent Government Technology article, Using Technology to Enhance Civic Engagement, highlights the successful efforts of the New York City Police Department (NYPD) in engaging with citizens through one such new technology -- a cloud-based “innovation ideation” platform called IdeaScale. The NYPD is using IdeaScale as a way to “crowdsource” input on problems in the community that need to be addressed and to create action items for department follow-through. The platform allows registered users to make comments and then to vote on policy suggestions in a way that pushes the most popular suggestions to the top of the list where they are then brought to the attention of NYPD management staff. One of the keys to success will, of course, be the degree of follow-through from the department. Consistent follow-through can lead to even more participation. If we are going to get serious about citizen engagement, then we need to begin deploying these and other similar types of interactive communication platforms that have had some demonstrated success in other communities.

Obliterating Worst Practices

Bob Behn’s recent Performance Leadership Report, Obliterating Worst Practices serves as a good reminder that we all have “worst practices” in our organizations that are worth the effort to identify and eliminate. Many organizational practices have a tendency over time to accumulate duplicative, outdated, inefficient, or just plain useless steps that nevertheless continue to exist, often just through inertia. Eliminating worst practices can offer benefits that are every bit as valuable, and probably even more valuable, than the benefits that might accrue from implementing many so-called “best practice” solutions.

The concept of identifying and eliminating worst practices is essentially the same as the “lean process improvement” exercises that have assisted many organizations. These efforts involve the systematic mapping and evaluation of particular organizational processes, or portions thereof, to see how well they are functioning and where they might be modified and improved, and possibly eliminated if they are no longer serving a useful purpose. Mr. Behn goes a step further to suggest that many outdated practices, to the extent they may have become embedded in an organization’s culture (“but that’s the way we’ve always done it!”), must actually be “obliterated” in order to completely remove their damaging effects.

Do you know where your organization’s worst practices are?

What emerging issues or hot topics have been on your radar recently? Post them in the comments below or send me an email at

MRSC is a private nonprofit organization serving local governments in Washington State. Eligible government agencies in Washington State may use our free, one-on-one Ask MRSC service to get answers to legal, policy, or financial questions.

About Byron Katsuyama

Byron began work at the Center as a Research Assistant in July 1978. He holds a B.A. degree in Political Science from the University of Washington and an M.P.A. from the University of Washington's Evan’s School of Public Policy and Governance. After completing his M.P.A., Byron joined MRSC's consulting staff as a Public Policy and Management Consultant concentrating on municipal administration and policy analysis. Byron is responsible for research in such areas as emerging local government issues, best practices, strategic planning, performance measurement, and local government management. In addition to his consulting duties, Byron also maintains the "Focus" section of MRSC's website and is editor of our "In Focus" and "Ask MRSC" e-newsletters. He also coordinates our HR, Planning, Finance, Government Performance, and Council/Commission Advisors. In his own community of Kirkland, Byron also served for eight years as a member of the city's planning commission. Byron is a member of the Washington City/County Management Association (WCMA) and the International City/County Management Association (ICMA).

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