I like the people part of anything … I love connecting with them, liaising with them, and helping them to understand what our client is doing. I learned about public engagement from Terry Koch, one of the founding members of the Wild Rose Chapter. He invited me to come along and learn about it and I joined Stantec to do just that. Stantec wanted to grow that part of the business and I did it for 5 years in Calgary and got established there, working in BC and the Yukon as well, before the opportunity came up to move to the Island.
I’ve learned that engagement and consultation issues are woven into many projects at Stantec. I’m constantly amazed at every project and the way that P2 plays an important part in projects and organizations, whether they’re our own clients or within the company itself. For instance, we currently have over 30 Stantec people who meet by phone once a month to talk about engagement. Some are architects, some are planners, some are pure engagement specialists like myself. Many people work on P2 within Stantec and don’t know it. So specialists like me, we sell ourselves as ‘pure’ engagement specialists so that we can handle that part of it and let the architects and planners do their thing and ‘wear’ only one hat.
How long have you been in P2, and where have you worked?
I’ve been working in P2 for just over 9 years, primarily with Stantec: I spent the first five of those years in Calgary, and then they transferred me out to Vancouver Island. That was a homecoming for me: I was born and raised in Duncan. Before going to Stantec, I was with the Urban Development Institute – Calgary doing a form of engagement through communications and coordination roles.
Have you had a “Golden Learning Moment”?
It continues to interest me how emotion and outrage will come along in our projects, and when we openly and transparently listen to someone, that goes a long way to defuse it. When we explain what our projects are about, just being able to close that communication loop with them brings so much more value to what we do. We can’t always make everybody happy, but it goes a long way when we listen and can provide them with the “why” of our projects or our methods. When you’ve done it well, you get a lot of supporters and champions of the project – even if they weren’t, to begin with.
What “big wins” have you had?
We had an instance in southern Alberta when we were doing a long series of engagements for the Government of Alberta. We had a stakeholder session earlier in the day and the public meeting was coming up. But we learned that one of the local user groups had put out a full-page ad in the newspaper that looked like one of our ads but was designed to get people out to oppose the project. It used a slogan that we would never have used, but got people’s attention with a message that with this project, we were going to shut down the back-country, which we weren’t.
So we made sure we had enough facilitators for the roundtables so we could have the conversations and iron things out. A lot of people came out, and at the end, many were quite upset that they were brought out under false pretenses.
The biggest tool, I find, is the ability to listen and communicate with one another. You want to make sure you have a diverse group of people – a cross-mix of stakeholders and others from different backgrounds … it helps to get people out of their particular box and looking at the situation in a different light.
For me, I would love to encourage people to become as involved as their lives allow them to be with the IAP2 organizations in your back yard. We all have so much to learn from each other, whether you’ve just started or been in the business for 20 years.
For me, I love being on the IAP2 BC board, taking an interest and generating interest on Vancouver Island. When we have an event, whether it’s a small crowd or not; the networking and learning from each other is very valuable.
If you had anything to say to someone just getting into the P2 business …
Ensure that you really do stick to the IAP2 Core Values and Spectrum. They’re the tried-tested tools to use and if you ensure that your projects have that built in, you’ll have great success.
You have to bring that to the forefront … often, the economics of the project or other considerations, the engagement part is pushed to the side … but if you don’t engage right, you spend a lot more time and money trying to fix it.
I’m a big advocate of taking the training. Some of it may be pretty basic, but the Foundations training brings it all together in one spot and helps one understand the context.
My other passion is to be out in the community … and engagement goes further than in just your job. When you’re able to go out and support and do things in the community, you start to see people in different areas and take the things that you believe in in engagement and see how much further it goes than in just your job.
I manage a team as well, as part of the hat I wear at Stantec, and those principles resonate in all aspects of life. If we use our P2 principles, if we ask people how they want to be engaged and are truly transparent we get a much happier office and work life.
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