It must be something in the water, but Washington state keeps coming up as a pioneer in governmental leadership and creative use of the Web for local planning. This time it’s the city of Oak Harbor showing the way. As reported in the nearby Whidbey News-Times, local planners are letting citizens in on their thinking and inviting comment:

Oak Harbor City Planners Rob Voigt and Cac Kamak have voluntarily expanded their job duties to create an inviting cyber-environment where residents can engage in open and candid discourse on local issues.

Using the Internet as a conduit for information, the two city employees developed options for augmenting public outreach and education. Through blogging, they have created an outlet with multifarious benefits for citizens. Residents can sound off on a variety of proposed amendments or city projects while being inadvertently educated through in-depth and sometimes tangential exposition.

“This way you address more issues,” Voigt said. “The overriding common themes are facilitating public engagement, communication through multimedia and ‘action research’ where participants guide the process.”

Blogging is essentially a chronological, electronic journal that allows users to post opinions, suggestions or simple thoughts at their leisure.

“It’s like a virtual, on-demand city hall,” Kamak said. “People can chime in at anytime and have their issues addressed.”

The sites eventually take on a life of their own as postings grow like branches on a tree, each contribution guiding the discussion in different directions.

Here’s the blog on subdivision planning (set up on Blogger’s blogspot platform). The Oak Harbor city Web site also includes a survey for citizen feedback on making the site more useful and participative.

This is the direction I hope to see more local governments taking as the issues of local adaptation are recognized. Though Presilience assumes that most local governments will continue to be overloaded with pressing obligations and stretched budgets, and that grassroots efforts will bear more of the responsibility for leading adaptive action, wise use of the Web can help government get in synch with citizen priorities and make better use of citizen feedback in the planning process.