As we continue to mark 25 years since the first conference of what is now IAP2, we meet Jacquie Dale, who has been with IAP2 since 1997.
What has been your involvement with P2?
My early days of public engagement grew out of work in foreign policy and how to engage Canadians in meaningful conversation about it. It began in the early 80s, through development education (dev-ed). As part of their international cooperation work in Canada, NGOs (non-governmental organizations) always tended to have programs to help the Canadian public understand development and think about global citizenship. I started doing dev-ed in 1983 when I worked with the YM/YWCA in Victoria.
I worked on a lot of projects, running seminars and programming for youth and children, as well as cross-Canada exchange programs with youth. Then I moved to Montréal to lead the international development program at the YMCA there, and covered projects and exchanges in Central America, Tanzania and Ecuador.
Over time, I got interested in the issue of foreign policy and when I went to work for the Canadian Council for International Cooperation (CCIC) – the umbrella organization for Canadian NGOs working in international cooperation – we asked, how do we engage the Canadian public in meaningful conversations about shaping Canada’s foreign policy?
In 1995, the Federal Government made significant cuts to international development funding, and we were surprised given the years of dev ed in Canada, that there was no public outcry about the cuts. Why was so little importance placed on international development? So, we set up a task force that went across the country, talking to NGOs, volunteers, experts and involved communities; and we realized that our approach had been a bit too proselytizing. We had talked about human rights and social justice, but in a way, that was more preaching (“if you have the right information, you’ll think the ‘right’ way, i.e. our way, about this”), than engagement.
So around 1997, we started to play around with the idea of deliberative dialogue (DD) (also called deliberation). I took part in a Kettering Institute training program. We started with a small pilot – a series of dialogues focused on poverty eradication.
From that, we went across the country, training people in facilitating deliberative dialogue on foreign policy and development issues and bringing the results to various policy tables. Many people were excited about it and became good facilitators, but others found becoming an objective facilitator on issues they were very passionate about just didn’t work for them. I also worked closely with the Canadian Policy Research Network at that time. They were also piloting DD, but on domestic issues, e.g. “The society we want”. This shared learning approach for how to use deliberative dialog proved to be fruitful – and exciting.
During that period, our work at CCIC gained recognition and won two national awards. People started to ask us to do this deliberative dialogue work for them, so we set up One World, Inc. It was originally owned by CCIC, with myself as the CEO and we ran dialogues for NGOs, governments, not-for-profits. It was “deep engagement”. When the CCIC had its funding from CIDA (Canadian International Development Agency) cut, I and three associates of the firm purchased it. Since then our work at One World Inc has expanded to include all types of public and stakeholder engagement.
What turned you on to P2 in the first place?
I joined IAP3 – now IAP2 – because I was interested in finding out what others were doing in public engagement and how to engage the public in a more meaningful and better way. It was a good opportunity to learn from others and make connections. IAP2 was also a good way to connect with others in the US and elsewhere in the world for mutual learning.
Something that I was very interested in from the early days was evaluation. We as a P2 community have to get better and be more consistent at evaluating engagement processes and as a consulting firm, we do a lot of work to assess the impact and results of public engagement (PE).
What “big wins” have you had?
I think pioneering deliberative dialogue in Canada was one of them. Back when I started, the word dialogue was not nearly so common as it is today (even though it is often mis-used, the notion has gained currency). The idea of good, meaningful conversations that can impact program and policy choices has grown substantially and I like to think I played a small part in that.
Another win has been in the area of pushing forward good citizen engagement – the idea that citizens need to be engaged on important questions their communities and societies are dealing with. For example, we’ve worked with the city of Edmonton on two citizen panels. The first was around the budgetary process, which was a demonstration project that helped to consolidate the foundation of the Centre for Public Involvement. The second was on energy and climate challenges facing the city, and new policies emerged from those discussions that were accepted by the City Council. I did that project with Alberta Climate Dialogue, which worked with government and civil society partners to convene citizen deliberations on climate change in Alberta -possibly the last province where one would expect that to happen. A new book on that experiment is coming out this fall.
I facilitate the Citizens’ Council of the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-term Care, which began in 2009, again contributing to policy particularly in the area of the public drug program. We do a lot of work in the health field, where patient engagement has been on the rise. We’ve just finished working on a patient engagement guide for the Canadian Patient Safety Institute. It was a real co-design project with groups across the country, including patients themselves.
How has P2 in Canada changed since you first started?
Hugely. When I started, we didn’t have any online platforms – there was no technology at the time. In the late 90s, I started working with a group to develop an online platform, because there was nothing that moved beyond the traditional survey. That aspect has been evolving continually, complementing face-to-face participation.
Of course, there was no social media, either, and that’s changed the landscape. Considering the ways people use it, this change has been both positive and negative.
And as I said, the rise in patient engagement has been remarkable. We see now how seriously it’s being taken and how it’s being integrated into the operation of the health care system – not just a tick-off-the-box engagement, but something meaningful that is improving health care I’ve also worked with organizations involved in health research, like the Canadian Institutes for Health Research, which is stimulating a process across the country in patient-oriented research.
The big thing is, governments at all levels are more serious about P2, and there are some real leaders at a municipal level. Federally, P2 has tended to come and go, with the current phase being an increased interest. Health Canada had an Office of Consumer and Public Involvement, which got cut the same day it won an award for its high-quality work. The Consultation Secretariat at the headquarters level of Health Canada changed from a capacity-building focus to stakeholder relations but is now trying once more to improve engagement practice. Other areas of government have taken it on, too, but it’s still a struggle to build and maintain the internal capacity (and infrastructure) for good P2.
Internationally, some of the global bodies are also increasing their involvement. But there’s something else to note for those in the consulting world. In the past five years or so, the big consulting firms have been getting interested in that area and have been taking on more and more P2 work. In some cases, the way they’ve done that is by buying up PE companies, like Hill + Knowlton did with Ascentum. It’s an indication that P2 is getting integrated into their work and is gaining important recognition that it is a field of expertise. It also means it can be tougher for independent consultants and smaller “boutique” firms, because the big companies already have their connections with governments and private sector.
Have you had a “Golden Learning Moment” – when something went sideways, but you learned from it?
I’ve always thought of P2 as a social change ingredient for participatory democracy. As citizens, we need to have spaces to dig into and work through together the tough choices facing our communities and society in today’s world. DD and PE can help to provide those opportunities to engage across perspectives and potentially develop common ground to move forward. I’ve been fortunate to have worked with others who share this dream – for example, the Canadian Community of Dialogue and Deliberation and the National Coalition for Deliberative Dialogue (NCDD).
But sometimes organized citizen action and advocacy groups work against the idea of P2, even though they value democratic values such as freedom of expression. One example I lived through occurred in a community engagement process around a proposed addition to an existing plant in the town. A strong environmental group was opposed to it.
We set up a process to allow people to talk in small groups and meet with experts to ask questions. The first part of the day went well. But when we broke for lunch, the environmental group decided they didn’t want the process to work and didn’t want the public to really discuss the issues for themselves. So, they came back in the afternoon with the goal of shutting the process down. Other citizens had good questions to ask, and this group shut them up with name-calling. It was a source of disappointment that an environmental group that should be interested in citizen engagement created such an ugly situation. For me it highlights the “shadow” side of citizen action and advocacy. Perhaps another approach, where the group had been invited to co-design the process might have worked, but at the core I think their only interest was in stopping the development project, no matter the cost in social capital.
This level of animosity was new to me as I have found working primarily in Canada that people are for the most part willing to listen and consider alternative viewpoints and perspectives if given a well-structured and facilitated process. The polarization has been so much stronger in the US and NCDD (National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation) has had to work out how to deal with antagonistic stakeholders and create that safe space for dialogue.
Where do you see the P2 profession going, in the future?
I would flag three things as I think about the future of our collective P2 work:
- Over the next few years, we need to build more sustainable P2 capacity and infrastructure within institutions like government. Otherwise PE will not be integrated into the program and policy development and instead will remain primarily in the hands of consultants. Edmonton is a promising example of a city where this is beginning to happen. See for example, the Council Initiative on PE.
- A key tension in all of our work, and which we have to keep on the forefront, is depth/breadth for engagement. (Another term is thick/thin.) Because we have social media and online tools, we have a tendency to gravitate towards “thin” engagement – for example, getting lots of people to answer a survey. Governments like it because you get manageable quantitative data fairly quickly, but does little to help policy-makers understand where citizens arrive if they have a chance for informed discussion to work through together the possible choices and the trade-offs incumbent in these. We need to figure out how to better balance those two, to develop policy that really resonates with citizens and that encourages us all to step up to our responsibility to be active in that process.
- Finally, I think as a P2 community we need to think more deeply about the issue of power in the work that we do, and I include in that our “hidden” power as process designers, issue framers and facilitators. Our role can influence discussion and outcomes and we need to be aware of that and work to try to provide objective processes as much as possible. For more on that, see a recent paper I had to chance to write with an academic colleague.
If you had anything to say to someone just getting into the P2 business …
It’s a very interesting and exciting area to work in: you become a bit of a renaissance person, because you learn a lot about many different topics. There’s more opportunity than there ever was, with patient engagement and municipal and provincial governments integrating engagement into their work: it makes for more scope for more people.