Creating Tools for Deliberative Community Planning through Interdisciplinary Research and Community Engagement

In 2003 researchers and undergraduate students in the Worcester Community Project Center (WCPC) at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) formed a partnership with the city of Worcester, Massachusetts, to explore issues related to ongoing pressures on the city’s development patterns. Worcester needed assistance in creating a series of suitability maps that would provide develop- ment guidance to its neighborhood planners; the city also wanted to involve the public in this suitability analysis. This project pro- vided an opportunity for WPI’s faculty and students to explore ways in which new technology could be used more effectively to involve a community in decisionmaking. During the project an interdisciplinary team of faculty and students developed and piloted a GIS-based decision tool that enables interested groups to visualize, in real time, the implications of their planning deci- sions on a variety of community scales. This paper describes how WCPC teams developed the decisionmaking tool within WPI’s community partnerships, which are designed to bring together stu- dent learning and community needs. Particular attention is given to the students’ educational process and the ways in which student learning can be transformed as a result of participating in com- plex, multisemester research projects.