Innovate and Collaborate

Katie Clark, PLA, FASLA, and Donny Ritsema, AICP discuss strategies for a successful multi-scaled planning effort at the OKI Planning Conference in Louisville, KY.

Planning is a process that brings individuals or groups together to think about a shared goal for their future. When communities plan, it provides an opportunity to think through specific and unique needs that directly relate to the residents, business owners, employees, and visitors of a specific area. By undertaking a planning process, a community can develop and achieve a character of its own. Planning is a community’s chance to tell its story and craft its individual dream for the future.


Great idea, but what happens when the individuals and groups participating in the process are either representing the broad needs of the entire County or the unique and detailed needs of a small town? Is it possible to create a process that balances multiple geographic scales? With money and time always in short supply, we as planners need to be able to craft a process that accommodates multiple geographical scales, varied voices, and flexible decision-making- All in one big happy package.


Kosciusko County is home to just under 80,000 individuals, including strong industries of agriculture, medical device manufacturing, and businesses serving the recreation sector. The County includes thirteen incorporated communities that range in size from 50 to 15,000 residents. Nearly all of the communities have the opportunity to grow their population due to their regional proximity, strong business, industries, and recreation assets. While many of the communities fall under the jurisdiction of the County Area Plan Commission, the majority of them have never undertaken a long-range planning process before.


FORWARD Kosciusko County is a one-of-a-kind update to the County’s current 1996 comprehensive plan. This three-year effort – led by Kosciusko County, the local incorporated communities, and their strategic community partners – encouraged residents, community leaders, and community organizations to come together to discuss local challenges, identify unique community features and determine how Kosciusko County and the local communities can grow, evolve and improve at both a county-wide and local scale. The process should be a model for regions, counties, and local communities because balanced the needs of the comprehensive planning process, with the realities of local communities, changing conditions, and constrained resources.

The session will explore how our planning superpowers of foresight, adaptability, empathy, and accountability were used to develop and implement a model process that provided a truly inclusive and comprehensive process that aligned the vision, goals, and actions of the county and municipal government.


Specifically, the session will cover the following:

Foresight: Knowing that the planning process needed to be representative of both the County and the thirteen incorporated areas, the Michiana Area Council of Governments convened and educated a steering committee of nearly 30 people ahead of the planning process. Through these pre-project activities, the group was able to discuss the overall process, and the intended outcomes, and developed a request for proposals to assist in the selection of a planning consultant.


Adaptability: While the initial community input and previous regional studies fueled the planning process, the end deliverables needed to accommodate a landscape of changing conditions including a global pandemic, a pending multi-million dollar INDOT infrastructure effort, and two new state-level funding programs (READI and HELP) that directly impacted the plan’s implementation.


Empathy: For the majority of the incorporated areas, this planning process was the first long-range effort the community had ever undertaken. The outreach and engagement process provided an opportunity for local community members to voice their ideas and concerns in a way that “leveled the playing field” across the County. Through collaborative meetings and exercises, individuals with varying interests and backgrounds were able to build consensus on topics and strategies for the future.


Accountability: To ensure that local planning and implementation efforts were not halted during the planning process, MACOG staff provided technical support services to the County and the local communities. Educational sessions, grant support, and strategic thinking allowed local community leaders to not only participate in the visioning done during the comprehensive planning effort but expanded their local capacity to kick-start implementation.


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