Some constituencies in community planning efforts are easy to reach. If you invite them to participate and they see themselves as stakeholders, they will show up. If the city council proposes height restrictions, the developers are likely to participate in the public process. It’s important to include them, but you probably don’t have to work very hard to get them to the table.
The real challenge is in engaging the constituencies who don’t realize they have something at stake or for whom conventional approaches won’t feel very inviting. Politically marginalized communities, low-income communities, and ethnic communities are examples of constituencies that may be more difficult to engage through the traditional public meetings, open houses, and advisory boards. If you really want their input and their investment, you have to figure out how to reach out in ways that make sense to them. The “go to them instead of making them come to you” paradigm is an important part of figuring this out.
And the even bigger – and often more important – challenge is in figuring out how engage that full range of constituencies with one other. The shared understanding and the shared problem-solving that can come from a genuinely cross-cutting community engagement process gives you better and more durable solutions.