Tips for Engaging Partners in National Community Planning Month

Partnering with allied professional groups, community organizations, civic associations, and universities to co-host activities can greatly enhance National Community Planning Month’s impact and influence. Joint sessions boost awareness, increase attendance, and help to directly engage citizens, stakeholders, and decision makers.

Some guests may even be learning about planning for the first time, making collaborative events invaluable opportunities to share information and connect with community members.

Partnered events also provide benefits for chapter or section members. External speakers bring fresh perspectives, and meeting members of allied organizations help to enhance planners’ professional networks. Co-organizing an event can also serve as an opportunity to leverage the resources of multiple groups and distribute event planning tasks between additional volunteers.

The APA Florida Chapter’s Sun Coast Section is co-hosting three partnered events in the Tampa Bay area during 2018’s National Community Planning Month. Event details and information on these partnerships can be found at the registration links below:

Sun Coast Section’s Chair Melissa Dickens, AICP, shares five strategies for engaging, collaborating and partnering during #Planning Month:

Build Relationships

Fostering great working relationships ahead of time helps to ensure collaborative events are dynamic and beneficial to attendees from all the co-host groups. Reaching out to other organizations and meeting their leadership informally for coffee or lunch can be a great way to start talking about joint opportunities. Understanding overlapping areas of interest helps with brainstorming event speakers, activities, format, or even an important date.

For example, the Section’s LGBTQ and Planning event was timed for October 11 to jointly celebrate National Community Planning Month and National Coming Out Day, a celebration for both APA and our LGBTQ community partners.

Engage Decision Makers and Senior Leadership

A partnered event can help to directly engage local leadership. The Section previously hosted a planner-targeted missing middle housing event where the audience was primarily local APA members. Planning month provided us an opportunity to build on this work and host an updated, “phase two” event engaging elected officials, senior local government leadership, community stakeholders, and the public regarding this important housing topic.

Section leadership partnered with Forward Pinellas and the Florida City and County Management Association to ensure the event was targeted and provided relevant, informative content for local government leadership.

Be Social

Communications professionals are a great resource. With relevant content, a “cold call” to a social media professional in a community association or local government (who typically have large numbers of followers) can mean a big boost in event engagement.

A #NCPM post by the City of Tampa’s Facebook page increased activity on the Section’s Facebook event link by approximately 30 percent. APA's website toolkit makes celebrating Planning Month easy and effective. We also received helpful insight by contacting, and APA staff provided hashtags, resources, and connections to similar topics

Leverage Town/Gown Synergies

The Sun Coast Section’s relationships with the University of South Florida’s Master of Urban and Regional Planning program and the Student Planning Organization played an invaluable role in Planning Month. USF professors were able to connect us with an academic expert just a few hours away, and students had contacts and friends at community groups that were interested in partnering and attending. Students also provided graphic design assistance and volunteered to run event sign-in.

Give Back

National Community Planning Month is a wonderful opportunity for planners to leave a lasting impact via a community service project. Chapter/section leadership can either organize a specific volunteer event or add an optional service component to a planned Planning Month event.

For our joint event with USGBC Tampa Bay, we found it helpful to inquire directly with the community about the best opportunity to give back. Our group originally planned a park clean up, but a quick phone call revealed the area’s CDC most needed assistance preparing for an upcoming neighborhood enhancement fundraiser. With this information, we structured the service event in a way that provided the strongest benefit to the community.

Top photo: Planners, students, and community members learn about the history of Tampa's Ybor City neighborhood during a collaborative National Community Planning Month event. Photo by Elizabeth Strom, University of South Florida Master of Urban and Regional Planning program.

About the Author
Melissa Dickens, AICP, is the APA Florida Sun Coast Section chair and a senior planner with the Hillsborough County City-County Planning Commission. Dickens has over 11 years of public and private sector planning experience in the Tampa Bay area, with a background in land use and environmental planning. She has been active in Sun Coast Section leadership since 2013 and also serves on APA's Water and Planning Network Steering Committee.

October 16, 2018

By Melissa Dickens, AICP