Community planning is successful when there is extensive citizen involvement and participation throughout the process. However, many community planning tools and resources are either inaccessible or too technical for many stakeholders.
Texas A&M University AgriLife Extension developed Community Health and Resource Management (CHARM), a user-friendly interactive mapping tool, to:
- Support meaningful scenario planning informed by local knowledge.
- Make planning more accessible and effective by reducing barriers for non-technical audiences.
- Allow local decision makers to focus on dialogue and collaboration instead of data management and technology.
Leveraging a library of mapping data, including FEMA’s Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs) and non-regulatory flood risk products, CHARM facilitates long-term planning discussions with community decision makers. During workshops, facilitators and Geographic Information System (GIS) experts work with community decision makers to help identify and solve problems in their communities using weTable, a do-it-yourself interactive mapping platform. Pulling together data from local, state and federal sources, the CHARM mapping platform transforms an ordinary tabletop into an interactive computer interface that allows stakeholders to explore and overlap different datasets.
Hypothetical land development styles can be applied to the tabletop display to explore the outcomes of various planning decisions in real time. To compare the outcomes of different hypothetical scenarios, CHARM tracks over 250 indicators that signal changes and related impacts on a community, including effects on natural habitats, resources, and critical facilities. Easy-to-read charts and graphs are generated to illustrate these potential changes.
Using CHARM, over 1,400 stakeholders have participated in facilitated planning conversations in 24 counties and 60 communities. Participants have increased their understanding of:
- Connections between resiliency, land use, and hazard risk.
- The role of urban planning in hazard mitigation.
- Non-local resources that can help them advance mitigation and catalyze action in their community.
CHARM has promoted stakeholder dialogue about values, practical knowledge and community vision. CHARM has also made the best data available and accessible from a wide variety of sources to inform good decision making.
In one community, CHARM was used to intersect local roadways with FEMA’s flood maps. While exploring these datasets on CHARM’s tabletop display, the community determined which roadways were likely to be flooded and identified alternative, potentially unflooded routes to pre- position response resources in these areas prior to a flood event.
CHARM makes data accessible and easy for technical and non-technical stakeholders to use to inform community planning decisions. Stakeholders can get a better understanding of their community’s risks, discover the link between different development strategies and risk reduction opportunities, and explore trade-offs between different scenarios.
Though scenario planning is generally considered a data- and time-intensive activity, the CHARM platform allows decision makers to weigh the possible impacts of different scenarios in real time. Using the tool, the impacts of hypothetical land use changes can be visualized, and the trade-offs discussed without the need for GIS or data management expertise, or advanced technology. CHARM is particularly beneficial for smaller communities with few or no technical staff.
CHARM workshops have the added benefit of providing state agencies and partners a chance to network and problem solve in real time. Because the CHARM platform is live and interactive, the data display is flexible and can be manipulated as conversations evolve or unexpected issues arise.
The facilitation of CHARM workshops is critical to the success of the CHARM platform. Having experts in the room to answer questions and increase understanding is key. Describing different datasets to stakeholders so that they understand the data and how it is created is an important factor to foster robust conversation.
Some CHARM participants, including local officials, were seeing the hazard risk data in an accessible way for the first time. Although overwhelming, this data provided an opportunity to inspire local action. After identifying opportunities for improvement, stakeholders left the workshop with tangible action items for their communities.
Risk MAP Phases
This project involved the following Risk MAP phases:
- Data Development and Sharing
- Risk Awareness and Mitigation Outreach
- NFIP Map Changes
- Preliminary Map Release and Mitigation
National Mitigation Investment Strategy Connections
GOAL 1: Show how mitigation investments reduce risk
- Recommendation 1.1 – make mitigation investment relevant
GOAL 2: Coordinate mitigation investments to reduce risk
- Recommendation 2.1 - Make risk information more available and easier to use
GOAL 3: Make mitigation investment standard practice
- Recommendation 3.1 - Encourage communities to adopt and enforce up-to-date building codes