How to Engage Your Community: TIERS Public Engagement Framework

How to Engage your Community in Housing Plans or Proposals

TIERS Public Engagement Framework


The Institute for Local Government developed a comprehensive public engagement framework to support and assist local governments with designing and executing land use and housing planning. The framework consists of five pillars for successful community engagement: Think, Initiate, Engage, Review and Shift.  Local leaders can use this framework for the entire planning process. This framework streamlines public engagement efforts. Each pillar contains the necessary steps a local government needs to consider. Ultimately, there is not one right way or wrong way to engage your community around housing. However, there are better techniques to use given the unique set of staff resources, financial constraints and political realities of your agency. The public engagement outcomes will depend on the desired level of public input. The full framework, templates and additional resources can be accessed here.

Gaining a firm understanding of the vision residents have for your community is a strong starting point for understanding the basis of the specific concerns that may raise. Proposals that resonate with this vision may gain support. Proposals that appear to clash with the community’s dreams may be met with skepticism, hostility, or opposition. 

Sometimes the vision is explicit. There may be a vision statement already established in a general plan, community plan or other local planning document that reflects the community’s hopes for the future. This can provide a useful benchmark for determining whether a particular proposal is appropriate and what specific issues it may raise. 

In other cases there may be no formal vision statement, yet community members may be working in many ways to create a better future. They may volunteer in the school or cultivate a community garden. Some may work to slow down local traffic or form a neighborhood watch group to reduce crime. Others may raise funds to save an historic building or organize a neighborhood street fair. All of these activities provide insights into the vision that people have for their community and the issues they consider important.

Using a robust public engagement approach like TIERS to engage your community early and authentically around projects like a General Plan update, development of a Specific Plan, updates to zoning ordinances, and large-scale project proposals will not only help you understand the community’s vision, but will go a long way to building trust and strengthen relationships with residents. These relationships may help ease implementation, reducing the amount of opposition when specific housing projects are proposed, saving you time and money. 

And while all planning efforts do not require this comprehensive of a process, elements of this approach may help inform an overall strategy about how to inform and implement a variety of housing and other related projects.

Role of the Elected Official in Public Engagement

While most public engagement efforts are implemented by local government staff, elected officials play an important role in the process. Elected officials can:

  • Identify decisions that will benefit from public engagement
  • Respect and support governance models that include members of the public in decision-making
  • Promote and encourage public participation in engagement opportunities
  • When appropriate, attend and observe public engagement activities
  • Review and consider public input as part of the decision-making process
  • Support staff efforts to increase the capacity of employees to advance public engagement competencies

Choosing the Right Approach

While the framework below can be adapted to most processes and subject topics, it may not always be feasible to conduct this level of engagement. If your timeline, budget and/or staff capacity is limited there are still strategies you can use to boost the effectiveness of engagement activities. For example: 

  • Use a mix of online and in-person engagement methods – even if it is just posting information on your website and/or including it in a newsletter.
  • Seek out community events and workshop to attend/share information.
  • Identify key members of your community/trusted stakeholders that you have strong relationships with who can help deliver your message.
  • Hold “coffee” meetings with key stakeholders/community leaders to gather input.

If you are holding a public meeting/workshop consider the following options to increase engagement:

  • Have people sit at round tables rather than rows
  • Use “softball” question to start the meeting (what do you like about living in x?)
  • Bring the microphone to people instead of having them queue at a stationary mic
  • Set up informational stations instead of a standard lecture/presentations
  • Keep presentations short, and vary your speakers
  • Ask for comments or opinions instead of asking questions
  • Provide 3×5 cards on the table for participants who may not be comfortable speaking aloud

The key to more successful engagement is to be clear about your public engagement goal and who you are trying to reach, be clear about your timeline, budget and staffing capacity and then plan your public engagement efforts accordingly.


Pillar 1: Think

When you are ready to develop a housing plan or seek community input on a housing project, take time to do some initial planning to ensure that you will be successful.


Pillar 2: Initiate

Once you have thought through the steps in Pillar 1, it’s time to start developing your public engagement approach and outreach plan.


Pillar 3: Engage

Now that you have thought through the steps in Pillar 1 and designed your public engagement and outreach approaches in Pillar 2, it is time to implement your plan.


Pillar 4: Review

In our busy workplaces, it can be challenging to set aside time to evaluate our efforts. However, public engagement is rarely a single event, but rather, an ongoing relationship built on trust and communication between local officials and the community.


Pillar 5: Shift

After reviewing what worked and what could have gone better your agency has the opportunity to make practice or policy adjustments.