Stakeholder Engagement for Sustainable Communities in Rhode Island

CBI helps KeepSpace with their unique, holistic approach to community planning and development in three Rhode Island communities by providing facilitated, collaborative stakeholder engagement with residents, local businesses, non-profit organizations, and municipal and state agencies.

Background and Challenges

Initiated by Rhode Island Housing, KeepSpace allows public agencies and private organizations to work together to ensure that state programs and investments promote sustainable growth and empowered communities. KeepSpace’s unique and inclusive approach welcomes the public — community members, businesses, government officials, and anyone dedicated to improving economy, infrastructure, environment, and homes — into the planning process.

Rhode Island Housing selected CBI to lead a public engagement strategy for KeepSpace’s pilot communities in Olyneville, Pawtucket/Central Falls, and Westerly. Working with project partners, CBI designed and implemented an innovative public engagement approach to support information exchange and collaboration on community development issues.

The CBI Approach

CBI arranges diverse community stakeholders into Working Groups; designs Working Group meetings that generate community improvement ideas; refines, tests, and prioritizes the Working Group ideas; and creates Working Group subcommittees to implement these ideas. 

CBI began by designing a process to engage stakeholders from the state to the community level, in order to build a common understanding of the challenges, opportunities, priorities, and resources at play in each community to achieve shared community development goals.

CBI worked with local project partners in each community to convene participants who represented diverse community interests into Working Groups -- each responsible for generating community development strategies and project ideas. Working Group participants in each town met six to eight times over a six month period to brainstorm ideas for improving quality of life, leveraging resources, and breaking barriers across agencies in order to facilitate positive change in their communities. Meetings were organized around one of the six core elements of a KeepSpace community:

  • A good home
  • Healthy environment
  • Strong commerce
  • Sensible infrastructure
  • Positive community impact
  • Integrated arts, recreation, culture, and religion

The meetings also included presentations of existing community conditions and complementary or ongoing efforts, as well as small-group brainstorming sessions facilitated by the project team. Ideas generated at these meetings ranged from specific community improvement strategies, such as creating an information exchange network for youth services organizations, to longer-term planning initiatives, such as building agreement around a strategy for reactivating foreclosed properties if/when funding is available.

After the meetings, the CBI team worked with local project partners to further refine, test, and prioritize the long list of potential ideas. This whittling process included reaching out to residents, community leaders, and other consultants to get input on the feasibility and priority of particular ideas. Once a smaller, refined list of project ideas was compiled, Working Group participants were divided into subcommittees and tasked with implementing these ideas.

Results

The innovative process of stakeholder information exchange and collaboration that CBI helped facilitate, enabled a range of concerns, interests, and ideas to be successfully incorporated into a resulting Comprehensive Community Design plan.

Photo credit: Flickr Creative Commons/dougtone