iPlan Simulation Workshops

“iPlan Greater Madison” elevates the regional planning conversation

As you’ve heard from the Regional Planning Commission over the past year and a half, A Greater Madison Vision is a unique public-private effort to craft a new regional vision and plan for growth. A big part of this process is educating the public about the issues involved in regional planning, as well as hearing from the public about how to manage the trade-offs and competing interests that have a stake in how we grow and develop. Since June, AGMV staff have held ten workshops with the “iPlan Greater Madison” simulation tool, which spurred many insightful conversations about growth and development and provided AGMV with a wealth of information. Thank you to the more than 120 people who participated!

This page will help you learn about what “iPlan Greater Madison” is, what it did, and what we learned from it (we are still learning!).

What happened at the iPlan workshops?

The game puts players in the role of urban planners at the Regional Planning Commission. Players are tasked with creating a development plan for the region. Players work—first independently and then in groups—to develop a future land use map that:

  • Accommodates a projected population increase for the region;
  • Addresses a list of “Regional Challenges,” like providing a supply of diverse housing options, ensuring enough land for future development, and protecting environmental resources, AND;
  • Balances the desires of different groups who offer feedback on players’ maps.

Draft maps submitted by individuals and groups will show changes in indicators of economic and environmental health and quality of life, as well as whether or not they meet the needs of anticipated population growth. Maps will also receive feedback from fictional “stakeholders” interested in these issues, which can be used to inform revised map drafts. We will close each workshop with a group discussion about why people’s maps look like they do, what choices they made in their plans, how they were affected by feedback, and their approach to accommodating multiple competing interests and perspectives.

What was the game’s objective?

The game illustrates how value trade-offs are present in decisions about land use. The game emphasizes that the planning process requires compromises and balance.

It also teaches that developing a long range plan must be an iterative process in order to build strong consensus and to effectively meet the needs of everyone involved.

We hope that participants leave each workshop with increased knowledge of the issues involved in regional planning, an appreciation for various perspectives and interests, and and improved understanding of how the choices we make about growth and development affect people and communities throughout the region.

How did the results of iPlan help plan the region’s future?

Attitudes, preferences, and strategies used by participants in the iPlan workshops will help us produce more detailed maps of the region (like these, from a scenario planning exercise in North Carolina) that can help the general public choose from among compelling alternative futures.

The workshop was designed to promote conversations among participants about the future of our region, development strategies that can be used, how to balance the needs of different interests, etc. The dialogue and data collected from game play provide our staff with input we will use to create draft development scenarios. Those regional scenarios will then be the subject of broader community input and will ultimately be the basis of a new regional plan. Participation in the workshops will give Regional Planning Commission staff valuable data about:

  • Who workshop participants were and how they approached the “Regional Challenges” presented by the game,
  • How participants altered their maps and why, AND
  • When assuming the role of a planner, how players sought to balance the needs of the different stakeholders and the “Regional Challenges” the stakeholders championed.

Here is a representative sample of maps from one workshop:

As you can see, the maps look very different from each other. Participants show their general approach and priorities clearly in what they chose to develop, change, and preserve. What’s more, every participant submitted a “map justification” for each time that they made a map, where they entered a short description of their approach and why they did what they did. This set of feedback tells us about the thought processes at work and helps inform the regional plan.

Who played the game?

AGMV held ten iPlan workshops, where 124 participants learned about the issues, made their maps, and engaged in discussions about the challenges and tradeoffs involved in planning. Of the 124 participants, 81 filled out a short demographic survey. Forty percent of respondents were between the ages of 18 and 24, with another 22 percent aged 25 to 34 and 20 percent aged 55 to 64. Respondents roughly reflected the region in terms of racial and ethnic diversity, with 81 percent identifying as white and 19 percent as non-white. Twelve of the 81 respondents reported owning or managing a small or medium-sized business.

The survey also asked about the issues discussed in the simulation: a multi-modal transportation system, housing availability and affordability, agricultural land, environmental resources, and economic growth. When it came to the issues, respondents rated all five major stakeholder issues at about the same level of average importance, although housing and the environment slightly edged out the other issues in average importance. Respondents were, overall, supportive of government setting and enforcing rules and regulations to protect shared resources.

(“iPlan Greater Madison” was developed by the Epistemic Games Group at the UW-Madison’s Wisconsin Center for Education Research, in partnership with Regional Planning Commission staff.)