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Theory & Practice

The primary purpose of the program is to use law and negotiation theory to help local leaders understand that solutions to complex and persistent problems are more likely to be reached through authentic collaborative initiatives than the typical adversarial process.  To increase the effectiveness of each program, it is taught on a “train-the-trainer” model so that participants are empowered to share what they experienced with others.  As a result, it encourages the creation of leadership networks, initiates and supports grassroots regionalism, creates opportunities for civic engagement and fosters intentionally sustainable communities. 

The curriculum is designed to make the following “tipping points”

Land Use Law (Tools and Techniques)

  • Local boards have broad and flexible authority to craft strategies that address their land use issues.
  • Local governments can periodically revise their land use plans based on changing needs in the community.
  • Critical environmental areas can be protected by directing development to areas appropriate for growth.
  • Local governments are authorized to collaborate regionally on all land use matters.
  • Developers and land owners can be used to implement the goals of the comprehensive plan.

Decision-Making Process (Negotiation theory)

  • Local land use decision-making can be structured as an ongoing process of negotiation and collaboration.
  • Controversial land use decisions can be managed to build community rather than destroy it.
  • The required decision-making process can be supplemented to be more collaborative. 
  • Citizens can be involved productively in controversial land use decisions.
  • Local boards have broad legal protection for the land use decisions that they make.

Program Components

This four-day program, taught over eight weeks, has two substantive components: land use law and negotiation theory applied to community decision making.  Each day of training has three activities: lecture, discussion or role-play and social networking.  Leaders are contacted in between each day of training to evaluate the program and provide comments for the upcoming sessions.  The final day of the program ends with a graduation ceremony where leaders get a plaque commemorating their participation.  After each program, the Land Use Law Center provides post-graduate assistance through community workshops, research reports, e-newsletter, or conferences.

Leader Identification and Recruitment

For each program, a steering committee is formed to identify appropriate leaders for the program.  The committee uses the following criteria to decide if someone is appropriate: experience and knowledge regarding land use and community issues; will be active in the community for a meaningful period; reasonable in approach to community problems, and; respected among interest groups in the community.

When leaders are identified as candidates, they are contacted by phone informing them of the opportunity and sent an application.  All contacts with the candidates acknowledge their status as a leader in the community and seek input on the issues they face.  The goal is to identify opinion leaders in the community and demonstrate to them that these four days will help them be more effective leaders.

Theoretical Foundations – Diffusion of Innovation

zoning enforcement sign, agricultural community

New patterns of development, new building design, local environmental laws and new subdivision layouts that offer alternatives to sprawl are “innovations” that improve on the land use system. When innovations are adopted and a community improves on the pattern of land development, other communities only benefit if they learn about, and act, on the new approach. Helping communities learn about and implement local innovations is the foundation of the LULA training program.

The mechanism by which these innovations “diffuse” from one community to another was thoroughly addressed by the sociologist Everret M. Rodgers. Rodgers instructs us that diffusion is the process by which an innovation is communicated through certain channels over time among the members of a social system. “Most individuals evaluate an innovation, not on the basis of scientific research by experts, but through the subjective evaluations of near-peers who have adopted the innovation.  These near-peers thus serve as social models, whose innovation behavior tends to be imitated by others in their system.” 

Rodgers identifies three major components for the diffusion of innovation to take place:

  • Identify the innovations that can address the need. The need to create smarter patterns of land use has spawned a large volume of information on alternatives to sprawl. Much of this research is also state specific. These innovations come from “idea sources”.
  • Create a mechanism for change agents to explain the innovation to leaders.   Experts and professionals (“change agents”) who understand how to achieve balanced land use patterns and the process of adopting local land use innovations can describe and explain relevant innovations to leaders working in the field and help them as they work within communities. 
  • A process of diffusion within the community takes place, where a range of leaders hear, evaluate, test, adjust and implement an idea. Rodgers explains that there is a hierarchy of opinion leaders within communities, led by “early adopters” & “champions of change”, who are broadly respected, practical, and sufficiently innovative to try new ideas that withstand their evaluation.

These “early adopters” and “champions of change” are the types of leaders who should be targeted for participation in a LULA. 

Promoting Local Innovations

Starting in 2004, the Center created the Gaining Ground internet database and e-newsletter to improve leaders’ access to local innovations.  Through training and research, the Center learns of local innovations and adds them to the internet database (  When an innovation is unique and regionally relevant, it is featured in the e-newsletter and circulated to local leaders.  Leaders can sign up for the newsletter by visiting the Center’s home page at  The library and e-newsletter have created a positive feedback loop providing local leaders with several access points to information about other communities and the lessons of the LULA.

Next: Measures of Success

73% of survey graduates said they used the skills learned in the program to adopt land use innovations, over 1,000 graduates from 30 programs in three states... Read more

The Land Use Leadership Alliance training program ... brings clarity to the process and opens eyes to the widespread ramifications of local actions. My hope is to make this training a "must" in Rockland. I recommend it to all who care about the place they live and the world they bequeath to others.

Harriet Cornell Rockland County Legislature

Measures of Success

  • One hundred municipalities, agencies and associations have passed official resolutions cosponsoring the program.

  • 73% of survey graduates said they used the skills learned in the program to adopt land use innovations.

  • More successes

LULA Connecticut

For more information on LULA in Connecticut, visit the sister site.

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