Back to Meet Our Members
How long have you been in P2, and where have you worked?
There have been two forms of P2 in my career. When I started out, I was doing internal P2, designing and facilitating engagement processes with staff internally to manage innovation. Then I spent the last ten years, designing and facilitating engagement processes between proponents and external stakeholders on industrial and infrastructure projects in Québec, Canada, Eastern Africa and Southeast Asia. It was right at the beginning of a time when private-sector companies and regulators started putting more importance on engaging people who would be affected by a proposed project. Now, my focus at Transfert Environment and Society is providing clients with strong ways to build and maintain good relations with communities and First Nations throughout a project cycle, especially in Ontario.
What turned you on to P2 in the first place?
I think that what triggers the need for P2 is when change affects people’s lives, whether a little or a lot. Change can’t be “parachuted” or imposed, or else you’ll be facing frustration and anger.
I first saw the power of P2 when I was a young engineer and I realized that my ideas were a lot less relevant than the ones of the guys who’d been working on the equipment all the time. I felt it was arrogant not to engage with the people who’ve been in the operation for years. If you assume that the people who are in operations have no ideas on how to improve it, you’re making a big mistake.
I was responsible for innovations to make our manufacturing process higher quality and lower cost. Our first attempt failed because of a lack of participation, so the second time, we were determined to work together with all the internal experts we could involve.
I realized then that I would be a lot more valuable as a facilitator of their ideas, to ensure the process was conducive to proper outcomes, no matter what they would be. So this was where I saw the need to engage.
That was how I started to read up on P2 and how I could play a role. I think every individual has input that will make a much stronger project, but the way to gather input and bring it to an outcome is just as important as the ideas themselves.
After a few years, I wanted to gain new knowledge in social and economic affairs, so I went back to University to get my Master’s in social sciences and went to work in international development. One of my friends thought my profile of engineering and social science would be relevant to engineering firms that work abroad and need stakeholder engagement processes. Many of the assignments I had during my time there were financed by the World Bank or other development banks, which have a poverty reduction agenda. They designed performance criteria and operational standards to make sure that the voice of the poor and marginalized are heard, so the projects they invest in have thorough and meaningful participatory processes. This compensates for the lack of national environmental regulations.
My role in these projects was to design and facilitate the participatory process on Resettlement Action Plans (RAP) and Environment and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) studies. With field teams who can manage in the local languages, our role was to make sure the top concerns were known and addressed; after that, the bank would decide whether to invest, given the social risks identified.
Some proponents tend to believe that if they don’t reveal details of a project, it will have a better chance of going forward. But we in P2 believe that if you do that, members of the public will stall it because they don’t know what the project is about and they become afraid. Literature and the development of P2 in the private sector proves that it’s a better idea to let the public see what your project is about earlier in the process.
Another challenge we can experience abroad is the social hierarchy and the lack of freedom of speech. When we speak in public, it appears everyone wants the project; but in private, people share their concerns. It is important to factor that into P2 strategies. Individual conversations or small focus groups can be very fruitful when important people are not around, who could threaten people to take a particular stand on a project. You can also witness such behaviour in North America, in regions plagued by unemployment, as portrayed in the movie “Promised Land”.
Have you had a “Golden Learning Moment”?
I was leading a stakeholder process for a hydro-electric dam located at the border of Rwanda, Burundi and Western Tanzania. There was to be a resettlement of the population, because the dam would create a reservoir and land would be flooded – not so much houses, but productive lowland would be lost.
We started a dialogue process with a proposed scenario, but there was some missing information: a lot more people would have been affected than previously believed. Our team was able to convince the proponent and the World Bank that instead of consulting on one scenario, we should give people a choice: show them that more electricity meant more land would be affected and that less electricity would mean less land affected. And that’s where I learned the power of P2: that in front of choices and trade-offs, stakeholders know they can influence and thus seek to participate.
Both land and electricity were super-important in Rwanda and Burundi and it was a difficult choice. Composition of the dialogue platforms was also key to have the right decision-makers at the table. One important investment rule for the World Bank is to restore or enhance quality of life, which meant finding a sustainable solution for the populations to be resettled. It was impossible to find such solutions in Burundi.
I also learned on that project how important it is that affected communities truly understand the project in order to have meaningful participation. It took a long time for farmers to understand how the reservoir would affect them, until we painted a line on the banana trees with red paint, showing how high the water would rise. Before that demonstration, farmers were publicly in favour, as it often is in more hierarchical societies. But once they understood the impact, they were able to voice their concerns within the political system. They ultimately decided that the land they would lose would be more painful than the lack of power during the next 20 years. And they would rely on more imports for electricity.
It was a great outcome, and now I’m a big advocate for P2 in scenarios and adding a social designer earlier in the process. Once you’re very advanced in the project design, and investment is high on a particular scenario, it’s difficult to go back and you might end up with a very bad project.
What “big wins” have you had?
As I say, I became an advocate of adding social designers to a project team earlier in the process. The project has as greater chance of happening if it’s well designed at all levels. You need someone at the table who can give you the communities’ “eyes” due to years of experience listening to concerns and tell you all the reasons why people wouldn’t want the project to go ahead. A social designer, along with the engineers and environmental scientists, can help develop scenarios that could be more socially acceptable before facing populations with a bad proposal.
I am particularly busy in Ontario right now and it is interesting to share respective know-how with some of our new clients there. One of them is particularly progressive and eager to learn about P2. I met him in a P2 conference actually. Although I did advocate the social designer position to all my clients, he is the first one to have created the position in all new projects! That is a big win for us, as my colleagues and I have been advocating for many years now to ensure social integration of industrial and infrastructure projects as early as possible…The design stage is the right moment!
If you had anything to say to someone just getting into the P2 business …
I think it’s a state-of-the-art type of profession. Being a P2 specialist is not something you learn in school. You have to walk the road and to put yourself into challenging situations to learn, but you need a mentor or a coach, too. You’ll learn a lot more by being paired with someone who has experience and can advise you, than at school. It’s a profession that works by apprenticeship.
One of the things I did learn by myself but would have liked to have more coaching is how to develop a mechanism to adapt quickly to culturally different regions. We are from a place, we are what we are, but in order to build trust we need to be more culturally aligned with engaged stakeholders. Anyone who works with First Nations is fully aware of this fact. The first time I consulted First Nations and Inuit in some of the Plan Nord projects, I was amazed at how different we are though sharing the same territory. There is also micro-culture in some regional areas in Canada that you would not expect. This adaptive mechanism becomes natural after a while, but you have to constantly remind yourself of it before any undertaking, since we come back to our natural selves very quickly. It is important to be fully aware of cultural sensitivities and ways of life because whether you are a P2 consultant or a project proponent, it really is your job to adapt to host communities and not the opposite.
I completed the IAP2 Foundations training in October 2014 while working as an Environment, Safety and Regulatory Analyst at an oil & gas company in Calgary. In my role as an Analyst I had the opportunity to work with Synergy Alberta, an organization whose mandate is to bring industry, community organizations and community members together for dialogue about resource management. Having whetted my palate in the engagement world, I was thrilled to be presented with an opportunity to do Aboriginal engagement as a consultant for a major pipeline replacement project. Through this project I have I have been able to do work with many of the over 100 Aboriginal communities involved, as well as with the National Energy Board. In other projects, I also have the fortune of consulting in the world of strategic planning, stakeholder analysis, governance, and leadership development.
I have a background in philosophy with a particular interest in contemporary moral and social issues. When you’re talking about Canada and moral and social issues, Aboriginal history is undoubtedly going to come up in conversation. Stakeholder and Aboriginal engagement became an interest of mine in university as I studied Australian Aboriginal social issues while on exchange, and as I contemplated the underlying philosophy of duty to consult, rights of future generations, and other contemporary ethics throughout my undergraduate degree.
What turned you on to P2 in the first place?
While studying philosophy at St. Francis Xavier University, I became curious about how to challenge oneself to let go of preconceived ideas about how things should or shouldn’t be. I believe that’s the key to good engagement: listening carefully and considering another perspective and the merits of that perspective and not just sitting there thinking about how you’re going to prove your point.
I learned about IAP2 through a colleague and was encouraged to take the training. I didn’t know much about the organization, but was intrigued by the core values and ethics outlined by the organization, and I wanted to explore what the practical application of these values and ethics looked like.
I have them all the time. Every time I’m brought face to face with my own preconceived notions about what a decision should be or how a process should unfold I have a learning moment. I’m only one person in a room full of varying perspectives. Thinking I’m right all the time doesn’t make for a good facilitator or life-long learner.
I’d say my biggest win has been developing a community of P2 professionals, and IAP2 has been invaluable in helping me to do that. I have been really fortunate to have met professionals who inspire, challenge and mentor me. IAP2’s Mentorship Program has really been the catalyst for the development of my P2 community. My mentor is Anne Harding, and it has been through Anne, through my attendance at the IAP2 North American Conference, and through many, many conversations over coffee, that my network has grown.
I have to say, being involved in engagement full-time is a big win and I’m thrilled that I get to do what I do every day.
Become a sponge. Seek out people you can learn from, and ask questions unabashedly. Become aware of the P2 that surrounds you as a community member (an athlete, a musician, a neighbour…) you will find all sorts of opportunities to participate, and all sorts of opportunities to discover what successful (and unsuccessful) engagement looks and feels like from the perspective of the person who is being engaged.
I have been in the P2 field for five years. In 2011, I joined Acertys, a Montreal-based consulting firm that specialises in community relations and public consultation processes. Very recently, our team joined the engagement strategies practice at Hill + Knowlton Strategies (H+K), a strategic communications consulting firm. This milestone is not only a new step in my career as a P2 practitioner but also an indicator of some of the current trends within the practice.
My academic background is not directly related to P2, as I have degrees in psychology and commerce. My first contact with P2 was more a matter of chance when, in 2008, I started working for Borealis, a company specializing in the management of social and environmental data for large infrastructure projects. Borealis’ work is closely related to the P2 processes aiming to obtain and keep these projects’ social licence to operate.
Practically every week, as I work with a highly competent team, but I am mostly amazed by the range of tools, processes and possibilities offered by technology in the P2 field. However, after a few setbacks, I have also learned the importance of being able to keep things simple for participants, as we are all overwhelmed daily by the vast amounts of information and choices that technology offers us.
I would say that the P2 practice is more about “small” wins over time, but I would cite some of my experiences as a co-facilitator in conflict resolution processes as success stories. In these processes, you can really see the power of dialogue and the results that can come from it over a short period of time. As an example, I was involved in a mediation project in which two organizations with two different missions had failed for more than a decade to come to an agreement for sharing their existing and future facilities. We worked with the two parties by taking a step back and exploring new options in a very practical and “thinking outside the box” way. After only a few sessions, we reached a successful agreement.
P2 is a very broad field with many possibilities. Do not hesitate to try and experiment with various type of roles, responsibilities and/or projects, in order to find what best suits your strengths and values.
I don’t consider myself a P2 practitioner, but I’ve been involved with it for many years.
I started with construction in Montreal after doing engineering school at École Polytechnique. Then in the late 80s, I started working as a consultant, specializing in urban revitalisation and heritage preservation projects. It was when I was working on my Masters at Université de Montréal on heritage preservation and land use that I developed an interest in P2.
The 1980s was not a good time for Montréal. The city was very depressed, particularly the poor parts of town, and the whole city needed an electro-shock. You had to create your own jobs, and that’s what I did.
After I got my Masters, one of my projects was an urban revitalization project in Plateau Mont-Royal – a neighbourhood in Montréal. Going from academic work to a real project I found I needed to get people involved. On top of that, I had discovered that the actual engineering work – calculations and that sort of thing – was not my passion. I learned I was more of a communicator than a “numbers person”.
So P2 became a tool – a way of getting people involved, invested and engaged, getting people to have a shared vision of their neighbourhood, their street. Some people see P2 as an end in itself – a way to make things more democratic: for me, it was a case of “how do you get this project done?”
Eventually – in the mid-90s -- I started a non-profit in Montréal, supporting local economic development and urban revitalization initiatives. With a non-profit, participation is important: you have to have a collaborative environment among employees and the Board. We worked in different neighbourhoods. We experienced the different cultural environments and learned to adapt to the different cultures in places like Chinatown, Park Extension or Westmount. Working in those different realities, you learn how to adjust processes – and and yourself.
In the early 2000s, I had an interesting project that changed my way of seeing things. It was the transformation of a former veterans’ housing project in NDG (Notre-Dame-de-Grâce section of Montréal), which was extremely controversial for many years. There was lots of fighting among local residents and community groups. I was working on several projects in that area, and the federal agency that owned the piece of land asked me if I could help resolve the conflict and come up with a common vision for the site.
That changed my perspective and allowed me to bring different stakeholders – with different interests and needs – together. Seeing the skills required to reconcile those interests got me interested in facilitation.
I was focused early in my career on mobilizing communities, and I found that proponents of projects were having difficulty getting support for their projects locally. People don’t want projects imposed on them; they want to be part of it. There were developers who didn’t have the capacity to reach out to communities and get involved in dialogue and they had projects to work on. So I changed my practice and started a consulting firm – Acertys -- to work with them, focusing on community relations, conflict resolution when needed and communications. I changed my perspective on the type of tools you need to use to make large-scale projects successful.
We started working on other projects, such as railways, hospitals and energy, and broadened our geographic scope beyond Montréal.
And then Hill + Knowlton took over your company.
P2 is in an interesting state. PR & communications companies are merging with P2 and taking up the idea bringing people together, rather than pushing themselves through. H+K wanted to strengthen its Quebec presence and was interested in Acertys’ urban development and infrastructure experience. Now, I’m the leading expert for that sector for H+K and support internal teams and clients in some of the most significant transportation, public transit, real-estate, energy and institutional projects across the country.
Have you noticed differences as you move outside Montréal?
There are different sensitivities, but humans are humans. I’m always trying to figure out the needs of people who are involved in a project, since they do differ from one neighbourhood to another and from one city to another. But as I work on different projects – also in agricultural areas, which are obviously different – what surprises me is how similar the job is. It’s similar in that you always have to adapt yourself – find out about the local culture and not try to make it adapt to you.
Look at Toronto: it’s a booming city, growing at an incredible pace. The issues are different from Montréal, but everything boils down to the same thing: quality of life. People want to make sure they protect that, and their property values. You’ll find that everywhere, and when you get down to basic needs on a human scale, beyond the social differences and context, there are always the same characteristics that need to be respected.
What learning experiences have you had?
Every project is a learning experience, because they’re all so different. The NDG project was an eye-opener, because I was lucky enough to be involved for three or four years and see the evolution of the project from vision to completion and see the stakeholders get involved in the process. It seemed like an impossible thing at the beginning; and this seems to be the case in many projects where you have people expressing positions in public meetings.
Often, what they express is not their real need, but more of a positioning. That was an eye-opener, being able to get down to see their individual needs. Often as p2 practitioners, we expect there’s a big collective movement in one direction, but each person has an individual need, and when you’re dealing with a mass of people, one of the difficulties is to get down to that individual level. That realization led me to change my practices.
The other learning experience is that over the years, it seems that each P2 process leads to more conflict. We think that P2 leads to more consensus, but really, as more people get voices and want to be heard, that increases the diversity of interests and needs that have to be considered.
In fact, P2 and alternative dispute resolution are distant cousins but members of the same family – part of the same toolbox.
So you need to take a mediation approach to get representation of those interests around the table and it becomes a negotiation process to get solutions that are mutually acceptable. That’s how I approach new assignments now.
Is that realistic?
You can’t please everybody, that’s for sure, but I think when there’s an understanding from all parts that the needs of everyone involved have to be considered, there’s an acceptance of the need to address all these different needs and interests. You don’t often find reaching out and negotiating in P2, but that’s become an important aspect of my work. If people have a sense that they have some kind of control over the end result and that they have made a contribution, they’re more likely to accept it.
The value you bring is not only your knowledge of p2 mechanics, but the knowledge of one area of practice. More often now, I see P2 practitioners in a specific field: find an area where you have a particular knowledge and expertise, and that can help you understand complex situations.
To a young practitioner, I would say: first, have a very diverse practice and find out about different sectors and cultural contexts, whether it’s the health sector, development, social planning, public policy, transportation. Then, find one that is your niche -- the place where you are an expert, not just a P2 practitioner.
I know a lot of P2 practitioners won’t agree with that, and say that you have to be distanced from the subject, but I believe knowing the industry you’re working with is becoming the norm – not the exception.
And don’t be afraid to question. P2 is not a religion: there’s a lot of transformation in society and we have to keep questioning ourselves.
(Listen to Jacques taking part in the IAP2 August 2017 Webinar: “Montréal Encore – ‘Understanding the Squishy Stuff’ + ‘Are We Smarter Together?’”here.)
I’ve been in P2 for about 5 years now, and only became a member of IAP2 Canada in early 2015 through my role with the City of Toronto. My background is in landscape architecture – I earned my Bachelor’s in landscape architecture and my Master’s in design writing and I found a job that combined the two disciplines.
My career in public participation started with The Planning Partnership in Toronto, where I worked under the direction of Donna Hinde. Donna is a landscape architect by training and has been working in P2 for decades. I really couldn't have asked for a better introduction to the field. She is a leader in P2 for planning and design projects, and is constantly finding new ways to engage stakeholders. Landscape architecture is a very public-facing profession. You’re creating places that people enjoy, like plazas or streetscapes, so inherent in that is involving the public in those designs. You’re not only designing something the public will enjoy but involving them in that process.
When you’re creating any kind of infrastructure, you’re always going to run into controversy about what’s cost-effective and even about what’s beautiful. People have opinions and this breeds a great discussion and a great forum. I’ve always been an inclusionary type: you have to be in this trade, because you’re working with all sorts of different people with different ideas and points of view. We’ve never gone to the public with a fully-formed design: I believe the P2 part should always come in the earliest phases of a project, and in my experience, it usually does.
From the Planning Partnership, I went to the City of Brampton as coordinator of community engagement there. I had a chance to work with Olga Lukich and learn more from her, then I came to Toronto in 2015, under the direction of Tracy Manolakakis. I’m fortunate to be able to work on a variety of projects including transportation, planning, engineering, and construction projects
The Public Consultation Unit at the City of Toronto has been around for a long time and the city of TO works to engage the public in its projects. Tracy is a real champion of P2 and has worked incredibly hard to ensure that public consultation has been involved in every project that we’ve worked on and that’s resulted in a better process overall.
Do any projects in particular stand out?
The second one is more recent: in 2015, with the City of Toronto, I worked with Transportation Services on a project called “Peak Hours”. The idea was to improve streetcar flow along Queen Street (pictured below), College Street and Dundas Street by changing some of the morning and afternoon rush hour driving restrictions – when there’s no on-street parking. The rush hours would be extended and reduced in some places.
So we had to look at where the restrictions are, but the routes go through six wards, so we had a number of different communities and BIAs involved. Transportation Services had gathered an incredible amount of data and brought forward the proposals.
My colleague, Maogosha Pyjor – also a senior public consultation coordinator – and I took them to the public and the BIAs at a number of public events and meetings. These locals know the area -- for example, where seniors’ homes and medical clinics are, where people would need to be dropped off from cars at the curb. Some of the Transportation Services’ proposals did change as a result of the input we got. So the changes were implemented this past December, and Transportation Services is monitoring their impact.
I had the opportunity to work on a lot of smaller neighbourhood-scale projects, and I’ve learned a lot about community relations and that no project is ‘too small’ to have consultation. What seems like “minor” changes turn out to have a big impact on the people living there; so that’s something I try to keep in mind with these projects.
The Planning Partnership went on to work on rebuilding the downtown including the central square, replacing the trees they had lost.
I took the formal P2 training in 2014, but I’ve been involved with P2 for about 10 years without really knowing it. While I was a journalism instructor at MacEwan University, I taught students about citizen participation in the news, tracing its emergence and development in the news profession over a period of 10 years. The challenges faced by news organizations to involve citizens in news decision-making are similar to the challenges faced by all organizations – governments, businesses are all facing increased demands in decision-making and policy development.
Why is it important for citizens to be involved in the decisions a newsroom makes? Changing technologies facilitate much more immediate collaboration and cooperation with citizens, and the news industry has been struggling with how to deal with that like all organizations. News professionals have been experimenting with “citizen journalism” over the years, allowing citizens to do everything from attempting to help write editorials to sharing video footage and photos of live news events, but really, there’s still a hierarchy of newsroom decision-making that’s resulted in keeping some doors closed: ordinary citizens are allowed on the front end – sharing their ideas -- or on the back end – commenting – but the doors to the inside, where news decisions are made, are still shut to citizens for the most part.
We see that now with public engagement: the actual decision-making is still done by the “man behind the curtain”; the challenge for governments and news agencies is to be more transparent and to permit more decision-making power to citizens. The issue of what decision doors should be opened and which doors should be closed still needs to be addressed.
The basic problem is that you have evidence that comes from experts and evidence that comes from non-experts, and the problem is to blend the different types of knowledge so they work together. How can newsrooms incorporate the citizen perspective to make the news? And how do governments make decisions and involve citizen voices? How do you gather all the information and make sense of it and then report what you get from citizens to help the experts make the final decision?
It’s about a clash of different knowledge and for years, we’ve “privileged” expert knowledge, but now we’re seeing a rise in the non-expert knowledge, and the challenge is to blend the two.
What turned you on to P2 in the first place?
In 1999-2000, I sought training at the Canadian Film Centre in Toronto in “New Media Design”. I was one of first cohorts in this innovative program, which is still offered today.
I’m what you call an early adopter of innovation, and that’s how I see P2: it is an innovation and a way of giving up control and engaging audiences. That was what led me into online journalism … looking at new ways of doing things, harnessing different voices and making sense of lots of different information and knowledge. It’s about innovation and adapting, and not everyone does it well. I use the lens of innovation to help work with clients to help them find an approach. Innovation is a journey fuelled by change through a social process and it takes time.
Part of the approach is to create realistic expectations for P2. If you simply have one-off events – if you or your organization think you can do something in one shot and that that alone is going to get you the information you need, I challenge that. There has to be an approach, rather than symptomatic treatment of things, which is what I came to realize, putting together this White Paper.
It needs time – a 2-year window, in one study I looked at – to trace the impacts and evaluate the outcomes of public participation. The City of Edmonton, where I live, is going through major innovation through a Council initiative on Public Engagement, and I was invited to be part of it by participating on the working group on evaluation, reporting and awards. An audit report found the citizens of Edmonton said “we’re done with open houses,” and on-high, there’s a realization that the City has to change. It requires massive innovation and corporate cultural change.
We need more evaluation in order to build the body of evidence as to the benefits of P2. Research shows that a multiple-method approach reaches more people. I think there’s a recognition that there needs to be a different approach. We need to be more collaborative and move away from the low end of the Engagement Spectrum.
It’s starting to happen: organizations are starting to review the ways that they engage their citizens, and not because people say they want to do something online. They also want better face-to-face engagement, where their ideas can feed off one another.
It’s an interesting, exciting time, and we need to do evaluation to learn. We don’t know what’s effective, and that’s what hit me when I was writing the White Paper on public participation.
For me, I’ve been steeped in this for years, and the massive realization that I’m part of this growing trend of citizens, eager to be part of the process, has been a revelation in itself.
I’ve been studying Diffusion of Innovations by Everett Rogers over the last couple of years, and it has been one of the best reads of my life, helping me understand myself, all the things I’ve done and witnessed, and the organizations where I have worked. It influences the work I do now, in fact. And Rogers’ insights helped me develop an understanding that P2 is fundamentally about innovation in organizations and about organizations struggling to adopt the innovation. I realized I’d been doing that for years – tracing it innovation for years in the news industry.
P2 is about changing organizational behaviours and citizens’ behaviours – they need to trust in the system and that changes they hear about are actually happening. It will take time and strategy, but all parties need to adopt the innovation of engagement in order to make our democracy more meaningful and relevant. Newcomers to Canada especially need to be encouraged to participate and not be marginalized.
It’s an exciting time: we have a world that needs solutions to complex problems and we need citizens to be part of the solution.
Part of the task is to educate the news media. Traditional media still have the power to frame the issues. News media professionals can raise some good questions concerning transparency about the way governments do P2: how authentic is the process – how much money -- how transparent is it?
The media are used to public open houses, but open houses have been the tool of the day for years for institutions, and they actually may have discouraged people from coming out. You hear about the fisticuffs and loud voices – free-for-alls, but that was the only place where people could say their piece, and the media witnessed the divisiveness and reported on it, which is their responsibility. But there needs to be different techniques to engage people who have divisive views so they can disagree agreeably.
There aren’t enough public spaces to vent, which is why social media is so popular … lots of people are talking but are people listening? The answer, I believe, is no based on evidence about people’s social media usage behaviours.
I’m concerned that, with things like climate change and the point where we’re at in society with the growing gap between the rich and those who are not, we need to have better dialogue on how to solve problems.
Some newspapers are starting to focus on solutions, rather than problems and controversy. Reporters ought to be asking what governments and organizations are doing with the information gathered from citizen engagement efforts, what I call “citizen evidence”, and not just covering the emotion and outrage. Government reports are written, but fully accounting for what’s been done with that citizen evidence in terms of how it has been considered in decision-making isn’t happening. News media could do a better job pressing for governments’ accountability.
When it comes to evaluation – which is the topic of my White Paper – we need to know how much weight is given to public comments in decision-making. The leading tool I recommended – PPEET (the Public and Patient Engagement Evaluation Tool, winner of the 2014 IAP2 Canada Core Values Award for Research Project of the Year) – addresses organizational context and organizational accountability for how citizen feedback was used in decision-making. There are many variables that influence the effectiveness of P2 and that needs to be considered, like organizational culture and what’s going on socially, politically, economically, environmentally.
It’s a dance – we all dance together – we live in the same space, we share the same resources, and we need to have safe places where we can express ourselves. The media play a role, so do citizens, stakeholders, groups with vested interests in the goings-on in the community. That includes P2 practitioners.
P2 is a tool for hearing voices and listening to people, finding out what people think about issues, feeding their messages to the decision-makers and letting citizens be part of the decision-making process.
My recent big win was with engagement workshops I designed and facilitated for the Edmonton Federation of Community Leagues (EFCL). There’s been a push to change city regulations for mature neighborhoods with what’s called the MNO review – Mature Neighbourhood Overlay—which is ultimately about dealing with infill development in mature neighbourhoods as the city grows. A lot of people say it’s really open season for developers. My house was built in 1952 and the yard is so big, people could play soccer in it. Now according to expert opinion, the solution is to increase density in cities rather than continue to permit urban sprawl, and this means changes to mature neighbourhoods like mine. It was a challenging topic, but it turned out to be a success. We’ve been able to narrow down the scope and turn the workshops into something concrete and specific, facilitating a collaborative and dialogue-driven workshop for league members to learn more about mature neighbourhood regulations. The regulations are up for review and the EFCL wants to get its members ready to take part in the City of Edmonton’s P2 process.
But it’s a dry topic and complex -- so what do you do? I worked with the EFCL to design workshops with a learning component, which was easy for me to create given my instructional design background in teaching. And I felt confident about this approach because the evaluation evidence I researched for the White Paper shows that people want to come out of an engagement process feeling like they’ve learned something, and that they evaluate the success of a P2 process through this lens. We had people prioritize the mature neighbourhood regulations based on their values related to mature neighbourhood characteristics. They were so engaged that they stayed a half an hour longer than originally planned in order to complete the last activity, and they asked for more workshops. The evaluation tool that I recommend in the white paper for P2 practitioners to use was intended for the health care field, but I successfully adapted it for the EFCL, and it worked well. The tool is meant to be adapted.
The workshops helped league members build capacity and prepare to engage effectively at the City’s public engagement activities on mature neighbourhoods. The City of Edmonton has put so much money into its public engagement strategy and is re-grouping and changing its corporate culture … and it will come back in their face if they don’t follow through with the MNO and listen to citizens’ ideas.
New practitioners need to develop skills in evaluation, or at least develop an understanding of evaluation of P2, and they need to get accustomed to being more rigorously evaluated. As I explain in the white paper, we live in a world of evidence-based decision-making and practitioners are facing increasing pressure to provide evidence that P2 is effective. That’s why we need more rigorous evaluation of p2 that we design and facilitate – and newcomers to the profession may need to have that in their skill set.
P2 has been part of my professional responsibilities for just over 5 years. However, I’ve been reading, learning and intrigued about P2 since early 2006, and actually doing P2, unknowingly for about 13 years. I completed the P2 Certificate in 2013 and got accepted for the IAP2 Mentorship Program in 2013. I then joined the IAP2 Board as a Deputy Director in 2014 and attended the NA Conference in Winnipeg in the Fall of 2014. I’m currently on the IAP2 Atlantic Chapter Board.
My career path is somewhat unorthodox. I have an education degree, specifically physical education, and began my working career in the public school system. After 3 years, I chose to follow my passion for hockey and joined Hockey Canada. I spent 6 plus years in the development side of the game educating, coaching and promoting best practices with volunteers, parents and local minor hockey associations.
In 2003, I decided to return closer to home and began a new challenge as Deputy Director of the City of Dieppe Community Recreational Department. This role had me work very closely with our citizens and not for profit sector. After 3 years in that position, the Chief Administrator Officer of the time offered that I join his office to work on Corporate Initiatives related to continuous improvements. This lead to also working closer with elected officials.
Questions around protocol and governance got my attention when I realized how much politics played a role in the city’s decisions. As I was under the impression that some key decisions at both management and city council levels were made in the absence of valuable data, I began Googling for best practices in governance and decision making. This is where I found IAP2 and a whole new world out there!!!
As a public servant, I had a goal of serving for the greater good. As an engaged and active Dieppe citizen, I had an interest in knowing our tax dollars were well spent and was hoping to contribute positively to the development of my community beyond my professional responsibilities.
When I first saw the IAP2 Spectrum, it clarified a lot of questions and confusing thoughts I had from all the reading I had done. It was at that time I could finally bring the theoretical and practical aspects of P2 together. It brought up the fact that we were doing some good things at the city level but that we were missing out on clarifying the Why we do P2 in the first place.
The adoption of a municipal P2 Policy in 2014 was certainly a positive step towards institutionalizing public participation. However, our Participatory Budgeting Project (PBP) in 2015 was also a huge step in getting city council to actually agree to put some concrete action behind our P2 Policy. I was the “internal champion” with the city, and council agreed to move the process forward. We hired consultants from the Participatory Budgeting Project out of New York City to help build the process. Close to twenty people signed up to be on the steering committee and we made sure they represented the rich, poor, young, old, educated, non-educated.
The committee developed the guidelines for the projects that could go on the ballot and the consultants from PBP shared best practices from other jurisdictions; the committee then decided what would work for Dieppe.
One decision council had to make was who was eligible to vote: with PB, you don’t have to be a Canadian citizen to vote: if you live in the community, you have a right to say where your taxes go; council also agreed to let kids as young as Grade 6 vote – so you had 11 or 12-year-olds whose vote had the same weight as a 96-year-old.
Council put $300-thousand on the table – Dieppe’s total budget is about $45 million – and then stepped back to let staff and consultants put the committee’s decisions into action. I should note that they decided on $300-thousand after the PBP consultants told them St-Basile-le-Grand, Québec, had put $200K on the table and has a much lower population – there might have been a bit of “ego” there.
The Steering Committee collected ideas from the community, pared it down to the top-20 to go on the ballot, and four won the voting. Three of those ideas were things council probably would have been reluctant to accept, if it had been up to them: outdoor fitness equipment next to the aquatic centre; a climbing wall at the Dieppe boys’ and girls’ club; special flooring for the ball-hockey rink at the Youth House and renovating one of the playgrounds at an elementary school.
Other projects that didn’t make the cut – like a dog park, arts and culture ideas and some projects for seniors and the environment – are now being incorporated into the city’s future plans, anyway.
One of the disappointments for me, though, was that there was only five percent turnout. The PBP consultants said that was one of the higher turnouts they’d seen, but I think some people were skeptical about the process and some may have confused it with a budget simulation exercise we did a few years ago. That exercise was closer to “consult” on the Spectrum; Participatory Budgeting is more like “empower”.
Another thing the PB exercise did was let people express their views. Because Dieppe is one of the faster-growing cities in Canada, it’s had to invest in infrastructure and there’s a perception that the city is in debt. Some people said the city should take that $300-thousand and put it on the debt. This gave them a chance to be heard and showed that the debt is a concern for many.
We’re now going through a third-party evaluation: a professor from Université de Moncton has been meeting with focus groups, and now we’ll be taking her findings and our own report to council in September to decide whether there should be a second cycle. The Mayor wants to do it again, and at least one Councillor is in favour of making this an integral part of the budgeting process.
If you had anything to say to someone just getting into the P2 business …
For someone working in an environment where there isn’t much knowledge or understanding around what P2 really means, it is extremely important to find and network with colleagues that work in the similar area of business. In my case, I found resources and people with experiences in the Municipal sector with much insight and knowledge to share. Hence, I didn’t have to reinvent the wheel. This allowed me to pursue my questioning and understanding of P2 with people that understood the framework and lingo.
It is also paramount that you help your colleagues within your own organization to get better acquainted with P2 values, principles and tools. You may still end up being the internal P2 champion but at the very least, you may or will, hopefully, have others who support your interventions and share your vision for what authentic P2 actually looks like!!!
Note: The interview for this profile was conducted when Trevor was still working for Manitoba Hydro.
I have been in P2 for just over 6 years. I graduated from the University of Manitoba in 2009 with full intentions of working in a lab and studying environmental toxicology – public participation was nowhere on my radar! Instead, I began working with MMM Group Ltd as an environmental planner focusing on socio-economic impact analysis. I began working on a large scale transmission line project where I was asked to assist the engagement team and was introduced to IAP2. From there, I realized I wanted to direct my career into the P2 field.
I now work with Manitoba Hydro as an Environmental Specialist and develop and execute engagement processes for major transmission, natural gas and electrical stations across the Province. This position has allowed me to learn from our past projects and other utilities to improve Manitoba Hydro’s engagement processes.
There are lots of areas for contention in this industry. We often work with private landowners – and as you can imagine, being told that a transmission line could go across your property can be upsetting. So we talk about how to minimize impacts and discuss mitigation measures. You’ll see changes and modifications to a project that are reflective of their feedback and how their feedback has changed the outcome. They may not always like the outcome, but we try to make sure that they understand the process and that their feedback is considered in Manitoba Hydro’s decision-making.
I was at a Landowner Information Center in a small town in rural Manitoba. I saw a very vocal landowner who I had numerous discussions with prior come into the venue with a younger man who I had never met looking quite angry. I took them over to a corner and began talking with them. The young man, with his arms crossed, looked at me and said “This process is a waste of time. You don’t care about what I have to say. You don’t care what anybody has to say.”
At first, I was taken aback but my response was almost out of instinct. "Then why are you here? You drove an hour and a half to tell me that talking to me is a waste of time? I have others that really want to sit and talk about this project. I do not believe that you believe what you just told me”.
He sat there quietly and I was expecting a backlash. He looked at me and then smiled. “Straight to the point. I like that, let’s talk.” We now talk regularly and have developed a good relationship. Throughout our many subsequent discussions, concerns from him and his growing family were considered and the project modified. He recently gave me travel advice when he called just to check in.
That interaction taught me that everyone is different. Although my reaction was not the most apt, if I hadn’t said it, I may not have developed that relationship. Some people don’t want pleasantries or empathy; some just want a frank conversation or even just the facts. It’s about developing that relationship to understand them and to gain trust in your process and trust in you. Each member of the public is different and that is why I like to develop processes that cater to different people, their comfort level, and their interest in our projects.
I would have to say that the relationships I have built with different stakeholders and members of the public have been my big wins. Without these relationships my processes could easily fall apart. I am constantly learning from them as to where improvements can be made and what was successful to incorporate into future planning and techniques to continue to improve our processes.
If you had anything to say to someone just getting into the P2 business … Get involved! When I first started in P2 I realized that I had never really participated in any project or even attended an open house. Learn and network. Follow up with university contacts, your professors, guest speakers, attend networking events, and even just join a mailing list for a project! Getting to know others, their work and seeing the impact P2 can have in projects will really drive you to further your career in the field.
I was born and grew up in South Africa and earned my degree at Witwatersrand Polytechnic. It was a co-op degree and I worked as an intern at a PR agency where I got my first experience with P2. The experience was more covert than overt: it was the era of the spin, where you controlled all the messaging and it was more prescriptive. PR agencies had lots of money and could reach out to organizations. Social media didn’t exist then, so the PR firms could control the messaging.
I went on a different tangent for a while, in journalism, marketing and PR. I moved to Vancouver 20 years ago and worked in various publishing and marketing related environments and then started my own business. Five years ago, I joined SustaiNet Software Solutions to manage their online engagement product - EngagementHQ. Howard Adam, the CEO of SustaiNet had just become the Canadian distributor for this community and stakeholder engagement platform built to do consultation online. So this brought me full circle to what I found I was really passionate about: communication practice and public engagement.
EngagementHQ gave me an opportunity to see more of the public engaged in the issues that affected their lives. In fact, I couldn’t believe how true to my original communications principles this process is – my belief that people should have a voice no matter who they are. EngagementHQ is built strategically to address online consultation and to be an enhancement to all the tools in the toolbox of community engagement. It helps reach citizen who really are too busy to attend meetings and ensures these busy people also have a voice. It creates an honest and transparent process and ensures quality of information. That’s crucial in the P2 process on all sides.
I am constantly energized at what fine personalities you’ll find in each community or organization. I love the openness of people working in P2. PR was all about spin and this is no longer true – no controlling of the message. Certainly, online engagement was perceived to be harder and riskier. It sometimes takes a mind shift to dispel that perception.
I think another big “AHA” moment for me was seeing how these organizations were using online tools successfully. Organizations were now able to provide an additional way for people to have a voice. You (companies and governments) have to embrace that: if you don’t, you’re dead in the water.
The online world has moved at Mach speed. I‘ve seen a shift in as little as 4 years from where people said “we don’t have a website” and “our organization won’t allow social media,” to where they’re now embracing online engagement tools. Online engagement is about making people comfortable, making it easy and feeling safe about getting involved. In Mississauga for example, there was a budget process which included online participatory budgeting and they had 2,000 submissions. That level of participation was not achieved through face-to-face meetings. Online helped people feel they could contribute and make a difference at time and place that worked for them and the city could reach even more citizens.
What “big wins” in P2 have you witnessed?
I’ve seen more and more cities enthusiastically include online engagement in their community engagement process and reach a greater proportion of their citizens. The Regional Municipality of Halifax has very much embraced online engagement as part of their overall community input. Their engagement strategy defines how they consistently engage their citizens based on IAP2 Core Values and principles.
I see places like St John’s NL and the Alberta Energy Regulator; I see it in the city of Richmond (BC) and Port Metro Vancouver: all building processes successfully around citizen engagement that not only embraces online engagement but also embraces how to use social media successfully and reach out to an even greater proportion of their citizens.
The City of Mississauga was very successful with their project for Port Credit. They won an award for their online engagement micro-site and process which was used strategically alongside their in person events. They took all the right steps to make sure everyone had a voice.
I think it’s an exciting field: it offers so many opportunities to work in different divisions of organizations and to be very connected with the voice of society. It has a long way to go in many ways, but organizations like IAP2 have “awakened the beast”. For a young person interested in communications and connecting with people it is a very real way to participate in issues that affect citizens lives and make it possible for them to have a voice.
It came through my work in PR. I was at a Public Relations conference in Calgary and during a community relations session, one of the presenters showed the IAP2 Spectrum. That was the first time I realized that there were all sorts of ways to engage with people and that there was a specific formula and path. I was working in Brampton at the time, and when I got back, I shared the Spectrum with everybody I knew. In 2007, I made the move to Burlington and encouraged everyone here to get involved with IAP2.
There was also an external group in Burlington that was promoting engagement, and in 2010 they came forward to ask for more engagement in the community. With them, we worked out the Community Engagement Charter. We at the City had already begun training people in P2 – staff and residents – and members of council and senior management took P2 for Leaders. So in 2012, we finalized the Community Engagement Charter.
What kind of staff do you use for P2 in Burlington?
Most of the Communications team that I lead has been trained in P2, and that includes the designers. Traditionally, the creative staff are not asked to consider it, but we encourage them to think about how to engage people when they’re designing something. When we launched our new website, it was the two web designers leading the team who came up with the best ideas for how to engage people via the website. All in all, we’ve developed a culture of engagement here. I recommend including P2 as part of communications and also that staff share success stories internally, so people are inspired to stay engaged.
Have you had any “Golden Learning Moments” – or big wins?
There’s one that was both. Part of my job has been to rescue projects in trouble. There have been a few projects that were on a bad path and we’ve managed to bring them back using engagement.
One in particular was a decision to build a fence between a pathway and Bronte Creek provincial park (east end of Burlington). There’s a residential area nearby and people love to walk along the path and look into this beautiful park, see the deer and so forth.
It was a safety issue. The path was right beside a steep embankment, and there was a danger of people falling – in fact, some people had: they weren’t hurt badly, but the Fire Department – which has to rescue the people who fall – raised concerns.
But some people were concerned that the fence would block the view of the park, and then an influential person in the community shot a video showing what he felt was being lost and asking how the City could do this without consulting.
This fellow called himself “Mr Burlington”, because he wanted to experience as many Burlington events as possible in one year. The video got a lot of hits and we realized we had to hold a greater level of discussion than we thought.
So we met as a team with the ward Councillor, the staff involved in the fence project and the department involved. The question was, People don’t feel engaged: where can we share power here?
I like asking that question, because then we can determine where we land on the Spectrum. We can say specifically what parts of a proposal are “fixed” and what parts are flexible.
People need to know that, if they’re going to trust the engagement process: we can’t say we’ll involve them in a decision and then not. People want you to be genuine they want you to say “Here’s what we can do – and here’s what we can let you be a part of.”
So we needed a fence for safety reasons – but how do we get that across to the people? I suggested that we take residents for a walk-and-talk along the trail in the spring, when the weather was mild enough. We announced it through the media, then met neighbours and park users in the park and walked them along the trail to show why staff felt it was dangerous.
We also came up with four different types of fences, and set them up along the trail so people could see and select what kind of fence they preferred. We also put the designs on the website so people could vote online. We made sure it was only Burlington residents who could vote.
And in the end, it was the community that picked the fence. The impact of having a plan and engaging people as much as we could and maintain safety was amazing: the next story in the media was about how we were engaging people.
How hard was it to sell Council and staff on engaging people?
Council was already supportive of the engagement charter. Many members of the Council that was elected in 2010 were already engaging in their wards, and they were hungry for staff to do more.
So after Council approved the engagement charter, we brought it to staff and developed the Charter Action Plan. We used internal P2 to engage the staff on engagement, using surveys, dot-mocracy and so forth to find out what staff would support and what they would not support.
We put together a toolkit for staff, which we’re still fine-tuning, and provided P2 training for new staff in roles where they would need to understand engagement.
Recently, we took the engagement charter and had the ChAT – Charter Action Team – pare it down to its essence, defining the role of the City and the role of the residents, and put it on a plaque. We set up seven plaques – one in each ward and one at City Hall – and eventually, we’ll have forty plaques around the city.
The idea was to have Council members show their commitment to engagement by unveiling those plaques. To give you an idea of how the media view public engagement, the plaque unveiling – which generally doesn’t get much media coverage – was a story in both the Hamilton Spectator and the Burlington Post.
We’re always asking who do we need to involve ... who do we need to inform ... who do we need to engage?
What do you see for the future of engagement?
I see two trends. For a time, I taught writing for public relations at McMaster University, and if you look at PR today, I’d say it’s not the same practice that it was when I first started. Today, it’s all about engagement. Social media has enabled better two-way conversations: you can listen and respond to an issue and are able to reach perhaps hundreds of thousands of people with a single Tweet – and that’s exciting.
The other trend is that an area that’s going to get a lot of traction from engagement is planning and development. The ones who are successful are the ones who engage with communities.
Those who have previous experience doing something else bring so much more to the table when they go into the P2 field. If you go to college or university, take one of those subjects and then go straight into it, you’ll have a long learning curve. Those who have done something else, have knowledge of something practical, something operational, world knowledge, will have the advantage. They’ll know something about people and how they think.
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