Motivating Issues

Rapid population growth.

Little or no effective land use planning to manage growth.

Loss of rural character.

Contentious public hearings.

Environmental degradation.

Community divisions.

Lack of productive community problem solving.

Across North Carolina and beyond, communities struggle with land use and resource management challenges.  As population growth brings new residents to previously rural areas, development brings new goods and services.  But, that same growth often diminishes the rural landscape and sense of community.

In many changing communities, pitched disagreements about planning and growth management are never resolved.  Traditional methods of public participation, such as public hearings, routinely fail to effectively address local planning and resource management issues. On the contrary, they may exacerbate conflicts among stakeholders and erode public confidence in policymaking processes even as valued community assets—such as water quality, farmland, scenic views—are degraded.

If community members do not come together in a concerted effort to protect their natural and cultural heritage, then the cumulative effect of uncoordinated resource users’ actions will result in long-term outcomes that almost no one supports—a phenomenon that has been described as the “tyranny of small decisions.”

The Community Voice Method was designed to test the premise that a different kind of public participation process could yield better results.  We identified a need to step back from narrow, polarized policy debates and foster a conversation around the shared values that connect people to a place.  Through grounding in local values and discourses, CVM seeks to foster more inclusive, informed, and ongoing civic dialog in communities without a history of successful planning initiatives—especially rural communities where many residents may not feel comfortable participating in traditional public meetings.

The Community Voice Method has been implemented in in six locations involving more than 1100 people in dialog.  Through this depth of experience, we have demonstrated that  by preceding public meetings with participatory research, the Community Voice Method was able to establish effective spaces for inclusive civic dialog, provide meeting participants with accessible, trustworthy information, and help build ongoing community capacity to address resource management issues.  Though originally designed to address issues of land use change, more recent projects have successfully applied CVM to other resource management issues, including fisheries management and local food system development.