The Southern Alleghenies region in Pennsylvania has a rich history in coal mining and steel milling. However, the decline of these industries in the 1980s prompted a need for economic diversification that would start the region down a path toward long-term financial stability. The Southern Alleghenies Planning and Development Coalition (SAPDC) recently created a Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS) that is designed to bring together public, private, nonprofit, and educational sectors in collaborating with the community to create a roadmap for strengthening and stabilizing the regional economy.
In 2012, the SAPDC completed a CEDS that included an action plan with five key goal areas, outlined and described in a lengthy PDF that was cumbersome for both professionals and the community to navigate. With the current update, the SAPDC made a commitment to public participation and innovation that ensures the revised Strategy remains a living document that can be continually reviewed, evaluated and modified.
UIS supported the transformation of the CEDS into a visually compelling online experience using the Interactive Plan app from the EngagingPlans App Suite. The web app makes it easier for citizens to review and offer meaningful feedback on elements of the Strategy, giving the community a sense of ownership over the plan. On the landing page, infographics depict the results of a SWOT analysis and various population projections, simplifying the complexity of background information. Users can also review each goal area of the plan through short summaries, bite-sized text snippets, and graphics and charts, and each goal has a detail page that can be explored either sequentially or via the landing page overviews.
On each detail page, rich media and graphs outline the plan elements and drop-down menus allow users to easily view the associated objectives and strategies. Every detail page also has a feedback opportunity, encouraging users to offer their thoughts and ideas as they navigate the plan. Sections of the complete CEDS PDF are bookmarked on each goal detail page, and users can read content in a window optimized for browser viewing or download the full PDF. All of these features combine to offer a unique, interactive participation opportunity that promotes continued input throughout implementation.
As the SAPDC team continues to use intuitive digital engagement to inform its strategies, the Southern Alleghenies region is setting a precedent for how rural areas elicit feedback and community insights on economic development initiatives.