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This section contains plays about getting your planning process started. Start by getting to know your neighbors and building solidarity around your purpose, the experience you want in the planning process, and the needs and goals you share.

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We are clear on the size of our vision and expectations of those participating in our planning process.

Dr. S. Hero Harrell surrounded by family and friends at a Little Library ribbon cutting outside his homeschool.

“This was my first time working with neighbors in any organized manner. There was one meeting in particular where a lot of questions were answered as far as the origins of the project. It did a good job of establishing the roles of the organizations involved in the planning process and how everyone came together to get to the part where I came in, Fall of 2021.”

Getting Familiar

by Dr. Harrell | Find Common Ground

Audio in development. Check back soon!

What we Learned

Neighborhood planning can mean different things to different people. It could mean selecting flower pots and where to place them, or developing acres of unoccupied land, or both. Finding common ground requires you to establish collective knowledge and agreements about what is included in and excluded from your neighborhood planning work before you start. Is everyone on the same page about the time commitment, phases, priorities, tactics, or how to influence future decisions? Do you know what the city requires from your plan?

It is important to revisit this information frequently when establishing the culture and framework for your process. Scope and scale influence planning communication, and decision making. You can build consistency by starting each agenda or meeting with the scope and scale holding a monthly/quarterly orientation to review the scope and scale with new members or those who have missed meetings, or including the key points in each set of meeting notes.

A strong facilitator at all your meetings can heavily contribute to defining scope and scale. Read about the Facilitator role in Play #5 Staffing + Roles

They can make sure information is communicated consistently and clear things up if confusion arises. We share more about the role of a facilitator in another card.

weCollab Highlight

As in many new neighborhood planning processes, weCollab’s scope and scale was not fully concrete in the beginning. It was reinvented as the group received new information and had new experiences. The Steering Committee redefined the scope and scale as goals around racial equity and preventing displacement emerged. The challenge with an updated scope and scale was bringing clarity to the vision for existing and new members. The Executive Committee wanted to ensure common understanding among the group. We helped them create a binder of materials to give new participants a baseline understanding of the group’s general information, commitments, and agreements. It included an organization chart, summary of understanding, job descriptions, and more. The Steering Committee reviewed the binder to see if it met the needs they expressed and agreed to use it for onboarding new members. Printed copies were updated with future notes along with a digital folder where additional documents could be added.

We learned that having documents prepared to assist in onboarding and level setting is helpful, but it cannot replace person to person conversations. Be sure to follow up with new participants to make sure they understand the information and how it relates to their participation in the group.


  • Create a one-page fact sheet with key objectives of the plan, a timeline, and who all is involved and their role.
  • Start a binder of the priorities or mission of your neighborhood group. Revisit it before each meeting you attend.

As we engaged in this work, we used several techniques to help us ground ourselves and the committees in the work. One tool called the Two-Loop Theory helped us identify where the neighborhood and organizations were in relation to the change they desired. You can read more about the Two-Loop Theory online.


  • What does neighborhood planning mean to you? What actions does it include? Who does it include?
  • What investment is needed for a scope and scale that yield a meaningful neighborhood planning process? What are your investment’s limitations?
  • What understanding and assumptions about the neighborhood are informing your investment in the process? What do you still need to learn or clarify?
  • What does neighborhood planning mean to you? What actions and people would be needed in its scope and scale to make it meaningful to you?
  • How does your current capacity and reach within the neighborhood allow you to meaningfully engage in and support this process? What limits your capacity for this process?
  • What assets and issues do you observe or hear from residents that are most important in the neighborhood?
  • What does neighborhood planning mean to you? What actions and people would be needed in its scope and scale to make it meaningful to you?
  • How much of your neighborhood do you want to focus on–your block, your street, or the entire neighborhood?
  • What assets and issues in your neighborhood are most important to you and your neighbors?
  • For this neighborhood, what does a planning process need to include? Who needs to participate for it to be meaningful?
  • Is there a minimum geography that the process must cover for the neighborhood plan to be viable?
  • What understanding and assumptions about the neighborhood are informing your approach to the process? What do you still need to learn or clarify?
  • What must a neighborhood planning process include to be meaningful and viable? Who must participate in the process?

  • Is there a minimum scale or area the process must cover for it to be viable?

  • What understanding and assumptions about the neighborhood do you hold? What tools or insights can you provide to clarify or advance insights?

#2 Build Solidarity & Awareness

We start with building a foundation of awareness and solidarity in our resident-led neighborhood planning.

What we Learned

An ideal planning process would generally start like this:

  1. Strengthening the relationships between the residents who will lead the planning work.
  2. Building understanding about the work to be done, resources available, and partnerships to form.
  3. Raising awareness and recruiting supporters and volunteers.

Making the work interactive and allowing space for everyone to participate helps stakeholders begin to trust each other and get familiar with the work to be done. Residents who believe it is time for their neighborhood to have a plan can start by getting to know each other, their neighborhood, and what’s important to them. Any supporters and other stakeholders should begin to understand if their current way of doing things centers and prioritizes resident voice and needs. Building solidarity and awareness can take more time and energy than you may initially estimate and might change widely in response to new information or events. We recommend that groups over-estimate the time and resources they need, allowing plenty of flexibility to respond to resident concerns and ideas. Refer to the Pre-Planning Phase of the Tactics checklist for things to help build solidarity and awareness in your neighborhood.

weCollab Highlight

As you might have seen in the Playbook Manual on the History of the WE/VP and its planning process, the timeline did not follow a straight path and had some interruptions. This work officially started off with funding and a planning partner. Recruiting the Steering Committee members and establishing relationships happened later. Because of this, it took nearly 18 months to truly define and establish the resident-led process. We learned that building trust within leadership, between leadership and the neighborhood, and making people aware of what you are trying to accomplish takes time. We also had to reckon with our expectation that everyone would participate and contribute in a specific way. Building Solidarity & Awareness was the longest phase of the weCollab planning process and required extensive resources and care to build a solid foundation for the planning process.

Watch a conversation between the four women who ultimately got the weCollab process going!


Start each meeting with an ice breaker where attendees say their name, their block, and something personal that connects them to the neighborhood, like what made them proud this week, one thing they love, or their best memory about their neighborhood.


One of our consultants offered the Steering committee the framework of Principled Struggle which is when a group has “honest dialogue around a given community issue under a set of agreements to not undermine the other person.” This fortified the group with the tools necessary to get aligned in the face of conflict without breaking down their connections to each other.


  • If you funded efforts in the neighborhood before, how are those investments viewed and engaged by residents now?

  • What coalitions of alignment and discord do you observe within neighborhood stakeholders that may be harnessed and invested in for a collaborative process?

  • Beyond planners, what other supports can you invest in to yield greater alignment and coalition building in the neighborhood?

  • How do long-term residents view your organization’s history and work in their neighborhood? How might that influence your participation?

  • How are your relationships with residents and other organizations in the neighborhood? Where may repair be needed for you to be effective in this process?

  • In what ways are you confident, unsure, or limited in supporting a resident-led process?

  • What’s the current state of relationships between neighbors– rich and deep, fresh and budding, a little cold?

  • What is bringing you together now to create a neighborhood plan?

  • What are your hopes, hesitations, and fears about being in a planning process together?

  • Who invited you into this process and how may that influence how neighborhood stakeholders view your participation?

  • Do you have a history of work or relationships within the neighborhood? How may that history or lack thereof affect your participation?

  • What coalitions of alignment and discord do you observe within neighborhood stakeholders that may be harnessed for a collaborative process?

  • How do residents view local government’s history of interactions and investments in their neighborhood? How might that influence your participation?

  • What departments have the most connection with the neighborhood? What’s the state of those relationships? How may they need repair or repositioning to be effective in this process?

  • What ways are you confident, unsure, or limited in supporting a resident-led process?

#3 Define Resident-Led

We define how much we advise or decide on what happens in our neighborhood.

What we Learned

In traditional planning processes, hired consultants and development agencies mostly take the lead on setting the process’s approach, priorities, and designating the decision makers. Resident-led planning aims to put that leadership and approval power back into the hands of people who live in the neighborhood. Residents lead and decide rather than simply advise or inform.

Define what it means to lead and be accountable for your process. Does it mean being the final decision-maker? Perhaps leading means you and your coalition initiate all the work in the process. Maybe it means something else to you and your coalition of resident leaders. We learned with the weCollab process that in the beginning, resident-led meant different things for different people. It was critical for the group to develop a shared understanding of what it meant to lead collectively, how they wanted to be supported by others, and how and to whom they would be accountable. There is a spectrum of how involved residents may want to be in planning for their neighborhood, but it’s important to establish the level early before starting a planning process. Let these examples and prompts reveal a driving force behind how you will inform your neighborhood plan.

weCollab Highlight

The residents wanted a true resident-led process including final decision making, due to not being heard or included in past developments. Less than a year into the process, the Steering Committee sat down and looked at the flow of information, directing, and decision making in a typical planning process. They reviewed a list of typical actions that take place in neighborhood planning and decided where they wanted to lead, approve, advise, or support certain actions. They chose to lead on key actions that had the highest level of accountability and responsibility to their neighbors. On the remaining 4 out of 10 key actions, they chose the roles of advising or approving. Other collaborators led in these areas but consulted with the Steering Committee on opportunities, challenges, and to receive final approval. Over time and with practice, it became easier for the collaborators to naturally align their own support and actions to the expectations and direction of the resident leaders’ decisions.


Talk with neighbors about what level of collective decision-making and involvement your group wants to have in the process. Develop your own chart of roles and accountability for key actions to firmly define what resident-led means in your community and process. Download an editable Key Actions chart and complete it with your group.


  • What would it look like for the funding you steward to meaningfully support a process for which you have little to no role in deciding direction or priorities? Are there past investments you have made in this way that you can draw lessons from to support a resident-led planning process?

  • Understanding that a resident-led neighborhood planning process will often not be swift or linear, what adjustments can you make to your funding terms and expectations for progress so that your investment is supportive rather than burdensome or detracting from the process?

  • In addition to direct funding, what else can you provide or leverage to support residents in confidently leading a neighborhood planning process?

  • Think back to a time when your agency was involved in a place-based process before. What was the working relationship between your organization and the residents and other stakeholders of that place? How was power shared or allocated in that experience? From that experience, what practices could be replicated or adjusted so that residents are the drivers and decision-makers?
  • Today, what would it look like for your agency to support residents in leading a planning process that your organization will ultimately play a role in implementing?
  • What concerns do you have about a resident-led neighborhood planning process? Are those concerns based on previous experiences or assumptions? What can your organization or others put in place to alleviate concerns that are most likely to arise?
  • What does it mean for you and your neighbors to drive change in your neighborhood? How does it look, sound, and feel?

  • Think back to a time in your neighborhood when a decision was being made or a process was underway for your neighborhood’s future. What role did resident’s play in the decision-making process? How does that experience shape how you and your neighbors want to position yourselves in the decision-making process today?

  • What support do you and your neighbors feel you need to lead your own process confidently and with accountability to your neighborhood? Who do you want to assist in providing those supports?

  • How, if at all, is resident-led planning different from your own practice of facilitating neighborhood visioning and change?

  • In previous experiences, how have you balanced your technical expertise with the on-the-ground expertise of residents and other neighborhood stakeholders? How have you allowed yourself to be led and directed by residents– or not?

  • What limitations or hesitations do you have about a resident-led planning process? What enhancements can you make to your own practice to assist residents in confidently leading their neighbors in a process and making informed decisions on their neighborhood’s behalf?

  • How, if at all, is resident-led planning different from your own practice of facilitating neighborhood visioning and change?

  • In previous experiences, how have you balanced your technical expertise with the on-the-ground expertise of residents and other neighborhood stakeholders?

  • What, if any, action or decisions in the process are required to be led by government rather than residents?

people | power | place | systems

Initiating a 20 Year Journey

Every St. Louis neighborhood is a chosen place to live, raise children, and grow old.





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