The Transportationist tells me that MnDOT is embarking on a 20-year State Highway Investment planning process (oddly called MNSHIP) and they have one of the better online engagement/feedback collection websites I’ve seen.

The tool lets you choose priorities and then view scenarios or approaches and tells you how each impacts your priorities.  Want better Twin Cities mobility? Pavement and bridge condition decline.  Want better pavement?  Traveler safety might have to lag.  It’s dynamic and displays trade-offs clearly.

Of course, all the approaches and impacts are based on the assumption that we don’t really invest more than we are now on transportation in the future, an assumption we should probably discuss if we’re looking 20 years out.

Thrive MSP 2040 is live

The Metropolitan Council has officially kicked off their public engagement campaign for the 2040 regional plan – called Thrive MSP 2040.  I know you don’t like the name, but pay attention because this plan will eventually shape all the regional policy plans (growth, transportation, housing, natural resources) and set the requirements for individual community comprehensive plans.

No modern planning process is complete without some an interactive “ideas” website, and Met Council has theirs. I submitted some ideas, which I think you should vote for.

Loss aversion, self-knowledge and planning

The New Yorker has a review of “Thinking, Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman.  Kahneman explores the concept of “loss aversion“, the idea that losses hurt more than gains feel good.  The review highlights the example of a group of physicians, presented with two scenarios with equal outcomes, with the only difference that the outcomes were stated in terms of “deaths” in one scenario and “survivors” in another.

The two different hypotheticals, of course, examine identical dilemmas: saving one-third of the population is the same as losing two-thirds. And yet, doctors reacted very differently depending on how the question was framed. When the possible outcomes were stated in terms of deaths (and not survivors), physicians were suddenly eager to take chances: seventy-eight per cent chose option D.

Why are doctors so inconsistent? Kahneman and his longtime collaborator, Amos Tversky, explained these contradictory responses in terms of loss aversion, or the fact that losses hurt more than gains feel good. In fact, people hate losses so much that merely framing a choice in terms of a potential loss can shift their preferences. Like those physicians, people are suddenly willing to risk losing everything if there’s a chance they might lose nothing.

What’s more, even knowing that the brain works this way doesn’t seem to allow us to change our ways.

This same theme applies to practically all of our thinking errors: self-knowledge is surprisingly useless. Teaching people about the hazards of multitasking doesn’t lead to less texting in the car; learning about the weakness of the will doesn’t increase the success of diets; knowing that most people are overconfident about the future doesn’t make us more realistic. The problem isn’t that we’re stupid—it’s that we’re so damn stubborn.

Every planner should be aware of this deep human aversion to loss.  Probably most have encountered it when presenting a new development, vision or plan, even if it wasn’t apparent.  The thought of losing something, whether it’s property value, space on the road, homogeneity of community or safety, elicits a much stronger response than what could be gained through changes brought about by the plan or development.

What can planners learn from this? Well, first just be aware of it, know that the prospect of change will likely trigger stronger feelings about potential downsides than it will about potential benefits.

Second, perhaps we should change our processes.  Many planning processes include long and intensive visioning exercises that include numerous stakeholders.  One intent of such exercises, even if it’s not explicitly stated, is to overcome these loss aversion fears and help participants value the “gains” a plan or project might bring.  But perhaps this should change to capitalize on human nature instead of fight it.  Should we stress the potential “losses” that might occur under the status quo versus a new scenario?  Should we present alternative scenarios in terms of which might have the least unfavorable impact instead of which has the best impact?  I’m not sure.  The whole idea seems to go against the traditional visionary spirit of “community planning” which tends to focuses on the positive.  Designing participation processes with a thorough understanding of (or even ability to take advantage of) natural human biases deserves much more attention.  If we want to be effective, we should start by being well versed in the limits of the human mind and trying to adapt as best we can.

Poll Everywhere brings expensive audience participation systems to the masses for cheap (sort of)

You still use your mobile phone just to talk?  With your voice?.  Even with an old-school brick phone, if you’ve got a text messaging plan, you have access to all kinds of google results, the twitter hive-mind and even frequent requests for money from the president.  No fancy web browsers or multi-touch required.

Poll Everywhere, as well as PlaceMatters, are taking advantage of the near-ubiquity of mobile phones to lower the cost and barriers to a tool that has value for planners: audience participation systems, otherwise known as  audience response systems or keypad voting. Think mobile phone = keypad and cheap web app = expensive voting software and you’ll get the gist.  I’ll gush a little bit about Poll Everywhere below the fold.

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