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  • Writer's pictureBarb Bickford

How do you evaluate hundreds of ideas at once?

Updated: Nov 7, 2022

Graphic describing how proposals could be evaluated and sorted.

In a previous blog post, I promised to share how we gathered and evaluated ideas proposed during a public visioning process.

To recap that post: In mid-2021, we asked people to suggest ways to care for and enjoy a small lake and a park at one end of the lake. We listened carefully and translated their suggestions and concerns into what we called “Guiding Principles” which summarized what people wanted and were worded in a way that we hoped everyone could support. From all the suggestions received, we distilled nearly 40 Guiding Principles.

The public visioning process was based on Convergent Facilitation (CF), an efficient and collaborative decision-making process developed by Miki Kashtan. The CF process is designed to build trust among participants by bringing concerns into group awareness where they can be addressed.

During November 2021, we met with groups of residents, both in person and online. The participants adjusted the wording of some Guiding Principles and added a few more. We checked to ensure that everyone supported all the revised (yet still draft) Guiding Principles.

Creating the Guiding Principles -- the list of criteria that everyone supported -- thus completed Phase 1 of the CF process. However, the list isn't static; we remain open to refining the Guiding Principles as new needs arise and people share their concerns about the lake and park. The most recent version is on page 4-1 of the report submitted to the city.

We invited the participants to create specific proposals that would either satisfy one or more of the Guiding Principles and not contradict any of them. Creating proposals is Phase 2 of the CF process.

Unfortunately, public interest in creating proposals waned in December 2021, as the COVID pandemic resurged, winter began and the holidays arrived. Ultimately, the Friends received several partial proposals but no comprehensive proposals. To help us envision what might be possible, we grouped the ideas into topics.

The Friends realized that without comprehensive proposals and active participants, it would be difficult to evaluate proposals the way the CF process is normally run. We decided to proceed with an evaluation phase, but instead of evaluating groups of ideas (comprehensive proposals), we reviewed all the individual ideas that had ever been submitted through surveys and during meetings

Using tables and spreadsheets, we compared each individual idea with each Guiding Principle, rigorously holding the interests of all participants in mind. Then we listed them under the Topics where they best fit. (See full list in Appendix A2 of the report.)

Table listing Guiding Principles on the side and proposals across the top
Example of a spreadsheet we used to evaluate proposed ideas.

The vast majority of proposed ideas met the Guiding Principles. Some ideas had to be adjusted (i.e., generalized) to reduce conflicts with the Principles or with other proposed ideas. Only a few ideas had to be set aside because they directly contradicted certain Principles.

After evaluating the many individual ideas, we grouped them into projects, such as ideas for improving the playground or providing walking opportunities in the park. We associated each idea with a primary guiding principles and related guiding principles, and identified potential timelines and collaborators.

Table showing ideas proposed by the public, related Guiding Principles, timelines and potential collaborators

Next, we combined the projects into one overall proposal that outlined how the projects could be completed over the short, medium and long term.

  • Short term projects were low-cost actions primarily to improve safety, such as adjusting traffic flow directions in the park and painting pedestrian and bike lanes.

  • Medium term projects were primarily structures such as signs, walking paths, benches, and a wildlife observation deck that could be completed either by the City or by the Friends of Lily Lake or other organizations.

  • Long term projects were those that would cost more or would require more public input to implement. These included larger structures such as an outdoor education area, a central hub, a large multi-use open-sided shelter and possible pedestrian access routes to nearby neighborhoods.

Phased implementation affirms that the City will choose whether and when to do individual projects, depending on its resources and priorities. To see the phased proposals, see page 1-2 of this report.

In May 2022, the Friends of Lily Lake presented its final proposal to City officials (as described in this blog post).

In June, the City Council formally accepted the Friends’ report, noting that acceptance of the report does not imply approval of the projects, which is fair. The City began implementing some of the safety-related ideas immediately (see photo below). answer the question “how do you evaluate hundreds of ideas at once?” – well, we didn’t. We simply became very clear on what kind of outcome was desired, and we evaluated whether each idea met the criteria, one idea at a time.

This blog is the third of three about our CF process. Read the first post "From Community to City" here and the second post "How do you gather shared public input during a pandemic?" here. Learn more about Convergent Facilitation here.

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Photo credit: Barb Bickford

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