Inside Look: A Conversation with APA Student Leaders is a series of conversations with current SRC Executive Committee representatives. The purpose of the series is to spotlight each of the representatives by providing their background, their role(s) in APA, and advice to future committee members.
In the third post of this series, SRC Region V representative George Benson interviews SRC Region II representative Shelley Price on customer-oriented decision making in planning, her involvement with APA and the SRC, and why she loves APA conferences.
George Benson: Hi, Shelley! How are you doing today?
Shelley Price: Hi, George! Pretty great! You?
George: Not too bad, thanks! Weathering a bit of a snowstorm right now, but surviving. Where am I speaking to you from today?
Shelley: I'm working from my family home in Las Vegas today. It's about 70 degrees and sunny in February, so I'm pretty happy with my location today compared to your snowstorm up there!
George: Yeah ... we're in the high 20s right now, I believe. We've had over two feet in the past few days. My home town isn't very walkable, so snow and few sidewalks is not a recipe for much outside time.
Shelley: Ours is walkable in terms of sidewalk infrastructure, but not land use and connectivity. I could walk on a great sidewalk network for miles before coming across a grocery store/park/destination.
George: I'll have to envy you from afar. Thanks again for joining me to talk about yourself and your work with the SRC! To jump into the official stuff, can you state quickly your positions on the SRC, and where you went to school?
Shelley: Sure! Happy to chat! I'm the Region II Representative on the Student Representatives Council Executive Committee, so I represent student interests in a broad swath of states across the "upper southeastern" part of the U.S., from Kentucky up and over through Delaware. I started this role in January of 2016, and graduated with my Master of City & Regional Planning from Georgia Tech's fine program in May 2016.
George: Out of respect, I'll refrain from any mention of "sweet Georgia." That's excellent. Were you involved in the planning student organization at Georgia Tech?
Shelley: I was! For the 2015–2016 school year, I served as the American Planning Association/Georgia Planning Association Representative on Georgia Tech's Student Planning Association Board, essentially serving as the liaison to those national/state organizations and getting students involved in conferences, communications, that both put on. I also served on that host committee for the 2015 Southeastern Planning Student Conference that was held in Savannah, Georgia, in conjunction with the GPA fall conference that year.
George: Okay, cool! You're the second person who has mentioned some conference experience prior to joining the SRC. For my own part, too, I feel like involvement in those activities can be incredibly inspiring and drives people to get and stay involved.
Shelley: Agreed. Once you see the local level, it's interesting to see how it all rolls up into the national organization.
George: Absolutely! And related to that: Now that you have seen really all levels of the APA and how the planning profession organizes itself, how would you describe the value that you see in being involved in the APA? Either specifically as an SRC rep, or just as a general member?
Shelley: I think the most valuable part of being part of APA — especially as a student — is the opportunity to see the broad spectrum of what "planning" is as a career and all the different directions you can take it.
The career includes so many different skill sets, projects, programs, and actual job titles that I wouldn't have been aware of if it weren't for attending the National Planning Conference early on in my planning program — at least aware of with the in-depth knowledge about each area that you can learn from actual practitioners out there applying the things you're learning in school.
That exposure to planning's variety of approaches and solution that comes from being involved in such a diverse professional organization also allows for cross-pollination of ideas to advance projects with diverse solutions pulled from other planning subdisciplines.
George: That's an excellent answer. And so true, too. I've had exactly the same feeling many times. It can really be an exhilarating experience to see your work positioned within the whole universe of possible planning jobs, tasks, projects, and possibilities! Do you feel like you've been inspired to look at your own practice differently because of these interactions?
Shelley: Yes, definitely. Especially as a student and recent graduate, the interactions have helped me to decipher where my own practice fits within that vast planning universe.
George: What was it that made you decide to get involved with the SRC in the first place? Were you looking to broaden your horizons like this?
Shelley: Full disclosure, I didn’t know that the SRC existed until my department chair brought the position to my attention. I was interested in getting involved to look for opportunities to incorporate more student feedback into the process of planning APA programs for students.
My professional background prior to planning school was in Customer Experience & Engagement, and so my first thought when I heard about the position was: How might we measure how well APA is serving student needs, both qualitatively and quantitatively? How well is APA serving student needs? How might we improve that student experience with the organization?
George: Given your work on the SRC thus far, I can absolutely see this experience playing out in the initiatives you've helped start. Certainly, as we have all worked to firm up the relationship between the SRC and other students, I think this kind of perspective is really apparent and important. You and I have talked about this in person before, but for those reading this, can you say more (as much or as little as you like!) about your experience in customer experience and engagement and how that relates to your thesis work? I think that's a really fascinating example of cutting-edge planning thinking.
Shelley: Sure! Customer experience is the perception that customers have of all their interactions with an organization. The idea of customer experience is one that is often used within the private sector to design and sell products and services but is underutilized among public organizations.
For my master’s capstone project, I used the National Park Service (NPS) as a model for why and how a public organization could make its decision-making more efficient by making it more customer-oriented. Specifically, I investigated how customer experience measurement might be implemented to plan for more meaningful access to nature for national park visitors with disabilities.
“Meaningful” access is key. Just because the picnic area and restroom meet federal requirements for accessibility does not mean that a visitor with a disability can fully experience the true reason one might go to a national park!
My proposed customer experience program would help park managers prioritize limited funding toward the specific access improvements that would have the greatest impact on park experiences of the target visitor segment.
George: Amazing! What a fascinating approach to decision-making. I'm sure the idea of meaningfulness really resonates with a lot of planners. Whether we're talking about public engagement, or a specific policy response, the idea of fitting what we do to our intended outcomes is pretty seminal in planning. I do love this example because it combines so many novel aspects of the profession, so, thank you for sharing.
Related to this question, I suppose, if you can look ahead a little bit: what do you see as some of the major challenges facing planning in the future? You can think about that as an individual looking to practice planning in the future, or refer to the whole profession.
Shelley: The biggest challenge will be to make the profession — and public decision-making, in general — more nimble. With the pace at which technology and communities' needs/demands are changing, we can no longer plan from documents that are based on one snapshot in time. Not only does this mean scenario planning, but we need to figure out ways to incorporate real-time, community-based insights into living plans and implementation.
I see huge opportunities for public-private partnerships to help achieve those goals, especially in the mobility space!
George: Yes, yes. Uber and Lyft come to mind, obviously, but even Ford was in the news a little while ago for their purchasing of both a bike share and a mobility sharing service around buses, I believe. Definitely an exciting time to be in that space.
So, you're clearly going in interesting directions and doing interesting things, but any thoughts on if and how you might stay involved with the APA once you're done with the SRC?
Shelley: Yes! I definitely plan to stay involved, hopefully taking a more active role in the CONTENT of conference sessions, by presenting, etc.
George: Ohhh, okay. Excellent. Any ambitions you can share with us there? Content, wise?☺
Shelley: Yes! Within a few years’ time, I want to be able to be presenting successes at having implemented customer experience measurement and design practices on planning-related work, not only demonstrating the process but showing the measurable value of them.
I think these human-centered design practices would be especially fitting at thinking through transportation demand management, looking for opportunities to shape travel behaviors by intervening into travelers' decision-making process with different information, infrastructure, and services at key interaction points.
George: Ahhhh. I see, I see. Planning can be more the physical infrastructure, right?
Shelley: Yes! So much of that human experience and decision making is in information and services ... and if I may, in the "brand" of that transportation option.
George: Well, you'll have a jam-packed panel discussion with all of that in mind. I look forward to hearing more as time goes on! To wrap this up, are there any concluding thoughts you'd like to offer people thinking of running for the SRC or getting involved in the future?
Shelley: Just that the group of people around me on the SRC have been so incredibly creative, and I have really valued the opportunity to meet you all/work with you, an opportunity I wouldn't have had if it weren't for joining the SRC!
George: That's very kind of you, and I think sets a great tone for future representatives: This body tends to attract interesting, passionate people, and when you work together, amazing stuff can happen! Thanks for speaking with me today, Shelley, I really appreciate it. Looking forward to seeing you at the NPC!
Shelley: Of course! Thanks for your time, George! Excited to see you in NYC! HOW GREAT ARE CONFERENCES?!
George: THE BEST!
Top image: Thinkstock photo.