The Survey About Surveys: Measuring engagement readiness since COVID-19

by Rebecca Vaughan, Sr. Communications & Engagement Specialist, City of Coquitlam, BC 

In March of this year, the appearance of COVID-19 and the resulting response happened so quickly that many projects – including public consultations – were abruptly put on hold. Now, months later, as people are adjusting to a modified way of life, P2 practitioners are turning their attention to re-starting engagement and how this work can carry forward. By measuring the public’s readiness to engage, and gathering information on how they would like to engage, we can continue public consultations in an informed way that meet the needs of the public and our stakeholders in the current pandemic context.

Is the time right to restart engagement?

At the City of Coquitlam, several projects had been paused as the City turned its attention to managing the emergency and response. As we settled into a modified way of doing business as usual, staff began looking at plans to re-start engagement processes that had been in the works. However, without a foundation of understanding the public’s readiness to participate in consultations, we risked conducting ineffective engagements that could result in incomplete, uninformed feedback, in turn affecting project outcomes. As well, the current context sets the risk of appearing insensitive to the needs of stakeholders who may be facing the loss of their jobs or businesses, family members whose health is at risk, or other concerns that supersede the decision-making we are seeking input on. 

A national survey conducted in late March 2020 by Hill & Knowlton asked Canadians if they felt the time was right to re-start public engagement. The survey showed that “a majority of Canadians (68%) believe that engagement with all levels of government is more important now than ever. And similarly, 58% indicate that it is still important for governments to consult citizens on issues not related to COVID-19.” (Hill & Knowlton Strategies, “To Consult or Not to Consult: Canadians Say They Still Want to Have Their Say”) 

Recognizing that the ongoing physical distancing requirements would require a modified approach to engagement activities, staff at the City of Coquitlam wanted to localize the findings of the Hill & Knowlton survey, and inform our approach going forward. 

We launched a survey between May 20 – 31, 2020, which was promoted to both the general public and to our Viewpoint survey panel. The Viewpoint survey panel consists of over 2,000 residents who have opted-in to receive and participate in City surveys, and we typically receive up to 500 responses within 48 hours of distributing a survey. The survey was also promoted with a media release and social media outreach. 

Coquitlam residents had their say – what we heard

The survey saw 847 responses (743 from the Viewpoint panel participants, 104 from the open community). Of those respondents, 94% agreed or somewhat agreed with the statement, “The COVID-19 outbreak continues to be a priority, but engaging with the community in modified ways on other City issues is important and should continue.” 

So Coquitlam residents are indicating they are ready to engage – what does that engagement look like? 

●     76% of those who indicated a readiness to engage said they had also used online meeting tools such as Microsoft Teams or Zoom. 98% of those said they were comfortable or getting comfortable with the tools.

●     When asked if they would participate online, 60% said they were interested and would participate or were somewhat likely to participate. 40% indicated they were not sure or not comfortable participating online.

●     When asked how they would like to engage, 2% of respondents said by phone; 30% said by virtual events; 65% indicated by email, and 3% chose other options. Suggestions included online surveys; online content they could provide phone or email feedback to; or live online Q&A sessions. 

When given the opportunity to provide further feedback, many respondents acknowledged the importance of, and their appreciation for, the opportunity to provide input. Some warned about virtual meeting burnout, as many have been using Zoom and other tools frequently during the pandemic already. Others reiterated the need to use multiple channels to communicate with residents. Some also indicated a desire to resume in-person events, with physical distancing measures in place to ensure safety. 

Where we go from here – planning modified engagement

With this localized knowledge about the community’s readiness and commitment to engage with the City, staff have been able to plan informed, alternate ways of public engagement. These adhere to public health and safety measures but also strive to offer all stakeholders the opportunity to engage with the City. 

Staff have been investigating new tools for engagement with the objective of identifying creative, outside the box ways to gather public feedback within our current constraints. Tactics are evaluated based on a variety of factors, including project context, cost, effectiveness, and whether they provide access to a wider group of residents and stakeholders. 

The engagement readiness survey also provided Coquitlam staff with the knowledge needed to plan for respondents’ comfort and familiarity with virtual meeting tools. Knowing that 24% of respondents were not familiar with using these tools, we developed a facilitator’s guide for online meetings, intended to help remove barriers to participation and ensure everyone on a call knows how to use the features and tools of the meeting software, such as raising their hand, participating in the chat feature, answering polls, and more.

Building a framework

Creating a Community Engagement Framework is one of the City of Coquitlam’s business plan priorities for 2020, and although this work was delayed during the COVID-19 breakout, the engagement readiness survey offers data that will help inform the framework and our engagement plans and processes.

Gaining insight into how people would like to engage with the City, as well as comfort levels with online tools, will help inform engagement plans for the coming year. The City will be able to adapt engagement plans quickly in line with the current public health context, as well as for the long term future. 

The pandemic and the impacts on in-person ways of conducting business are anticipated to continue for some time. By using the knowledge gained from Coquitlam’s Engagement Readiness survey, and by employing a variety of virtual and online communication tools as well as offline communication options, the City can continue to provide the community with ways to provide meaningful input and feedback on City plans, programs and projects.

Webinar Rewind: October 2020

IAP2 Projects of the Year: The Cities of Guelph ON (Canada) and Flagstaff AZ (USA)

Here’s one for you: what is a “town-gown” relationship? A new one for some of us watching the October IAP2 Webinar, featuring the IAP2 Canada and USA Projects of the Year. Read on, and find out …

The City of Guelph, Ontario, needed to develop a new Community Plan.Guelph is a city of 140,000 and growing fast. The City’s strategic planning and engagement team set out to determine what residents wanted their city to look like 20 to 30 years into the future. They wanted the plan to be “Guelph-y”, making sure that the city remains a place where people want to live. The plan, they felt, had to reflect the fact the diversity of the population, with a language breakdown that differs from census data in the rest of the province.

So City Staff launched a “Year of Listening”, based on principles that included “every voice matters”. That way, whether someone is a newcomer, a tourist, “not that interested in politics” or a longtime resident, their opinion is welcome and will be counted. As well, every concern mattered to the engagement team, so that even if something was officially outside the city’s jurisdiction — like hospitals — it was still an issue that would be taken into account.

Another principle was “use work, don’t make work”. City staff sought out organizations that were already working in the community and worked with them. This created an atmosphere of trust, where there might have been tension if it was felt that work in a particular area was being duplicated. Bringing community groups and city staff together lent a sense of interconnectedness; that they were working together as a community.

The result, in both cases, has been something beyond developing a community plan, but greater collaboration between the cities and community organizations, and greater involvement by those organizations in policy and planning.

While Guelph went on a “Year of Listening”, the City of Flagstaff, Arizona, declared a “Summer of Southside” for its award-winning “Southside Community-Specific Area Plan.

Southside is one of the oldest continuously-occupied neighbourhoods in Flagstaff, and historically, it’s been segregated — predominantly African-American, Hispanic and Basque. There has also been a tendency to discount or even ignore the people there, especially after the Rio de Flag was shifted, and the neighbourhood became a floodplain.

On top of that, there has been increasing encroachment by student housing for nearby Northern Arizona University, a history of broken promises of infrastructure improvement and the fact that an area plan had been developed in 2003 – 2005 but never adopted by the city, led to overall mistrust in the local community. 

Against this backdrop of mistrust and misinformation, the City launched a new area plan effort, and this time, it was decided not to do “business as usual”. City staff took on new approaches and worked closely with the community. The process involved a lot of stops and starts, as staff and community leaders would occasionally find that they might have taken the “right” steps, but had reached the “wrong” outcome.

Learn more about the award-winning Flagstaff project here, and the Guelph project here.  IAP2 members may view the webinar here.

And what is a “town-gown relationship”? If there’s a university or college in the area, it’s the way the institution and the city get along. It was something Flagstaff and Southside faced, with the growth of Northern Arizona University.  

Take part in the latest State of the Practice Survey!

How has COVID-19 impacted your P2 work?

Every few  years, IAP2 Canada’s Research Committee launches a State of the Practice survey. This important census of public participation (P2) practitioners like you helps us understand how the P2 field is evolving and the challenges that our members face.  Armed with this insight, IAP2 can develop courses and offerings to support you in navigating those challenges and your professional growth as a practitioner.

This year, the State of the Practice survey includes questions about COVID-19 and how the pandemic has impacted your P2 work.

Please click here to take this important 8-10 minute survey and be part of this ground-breaking study into COVID-19 and public participation!

… And don’t wait too long!  The survey will close on November 18, 2020.

The State of the Practice survey is a member research initiative conducted by the International Association for Public Participation (IAP2) Canada. Participant responses are collected anonymously, and the data set contains non personally identifiable information. Data becomes the property of IAP2 Canada but may be shared with researchers, upon request, for academic study purposes.

A report on key survey findings will be developed and distributed to IAP2 members in early 2021.

For inquiries on the State of the Practice survey, email us at info@iap2canada.ca

FRENCH SURVEY – to be updated

BUSY – AND EXCITING – TIMES FOR THE PDTC

The IAP2 Canada Board is not the only thing that has changed in the past few weeks. As Mike Waters left the board, he also stepped aside as chair of the Professional Development and Training Committee (PDTC), being replaced by Sherrill Johnson.

Mike had been with the Professional Development Task Force when it was initially struck in 2015 and Sherrill was hired as a consultant to work on a needs assessment for the PDTF the following year.

“The Training Committee was formed out of [the needs assessment], with Mike as the chair,” says Sherrill, who stayed on as staff support when the Committee was formed. “Over time, it became the Professional Development and Training Committee, because its mandate was broadened to go beyond simply training.”

In less than five years, the PDTC has made some big strides in providing professional development support and training services to IAP2 Canada members, and Sherrill says much of the credit for that progress belongs to Mike Waters and his leadership during his 4 years with the Committee.

“There are exciting things going forward, and Mike set such a nice tone for having the conversations we need and keeping things moving” Sherrill says. “We were able to go from the idea of training to getting that training in place in just a couple of years.”

The PDTC’s broader mandate includes the annual Skills Symposium, which was a huge success in its first two years at Gatineau, and later shifted to online delivery in May, when the COVID-19 restrictions prevented the in-person Symposium that had been scheduled for Regina.

“The Taster series was launched in 2018 as another way of offering ‘bite-sized’ P2 training for IAP2 members,” Sherrill adds, “and as of this year, IAP2 Canada has also been working to expand the P2 training opportunities available across Canada.” The transition of licensed training to the regions from the International Federation began in January and the Global Practice Development Committee’s work on the training harmonization process is currently underway. That brings in an international component, and Sherrill says some of the PDTC’s future work will be looking at alignment with what’s going on in the global P2 context.

In addition to training, the PDTC supports a number of professional development activities, including the North American Conference, the Professional Certification program, the Mentorship program, and the monthly webinars.

All of this makes for busy monthly meetings! “The Committee members are fabulous,” Sherrill says. “We laugh a lot and get things done. We are very fortunate that the PDTC receives stellar staff support from IAP2 Canada, and it’s been amazing to see how much can be accomplished with even a relatively small amount of staff time.

“The landscape has changed a lot since 2016 and now is the time to take a look at where we’re going. We’ll continue to use three lenses to evaluate future professional development and training initiatives: how do we support IAP2 members, how do we support the profession of P2 and how do we support IAP2 Canada as an organization?”

Webinar Rewind: August 2020

“Evaluating P2 to Address Historic Disenfranchisement and Empower Communities” – August 11

Local governments around the world increasingly portray their work as “participatory,” but scholars have identified persistent challenges, particularly for historically disenfranchised communities. Successful participatory processes can promote collaborative problem-solving and correct structural inequities, but they can also reinforce existing power inequities and undermine benefits.

There is also the matter of perception: how residents see participatory processes may be different from the way practitioners perceive them.

Allison Smith, community engagement strategist with Louisville (Kentucky) Metro and Daniel DeCaro an assistant professor of Urban and Public Affairs and Psychology at the University of Louisville, were part of the Collaborative Consortium for Transdisciplinary Social Justice Research (“the Consortium”).

This team also included academics in anthropology, public health and sociology, and looked at the ways that institutional and systemic racism shapes residents’ perception of a city’s governance practices and how the public participation process can be improved.

Louisville has a history of racial segregation, and tactics such as redlining, urban renewal and disinvestment have led to general mistrust of government – including when it comes to public engagement. In recent years, Louisville has improved its public engagement. However, barriers like lack of childcare, time, and even interest in getting involved in a process in which one’s point of view may be ignored anyway, have led to less than complete engagement, specifically among racially, economically, and politically marginalized communities. There are some examples of community partnership and engagement approaches, which have been more successful. A combination of experience and psychological assessment may held identify these methods when planning public engagement. 

Since Daniel and Allison delivered their session at the 2019 IAP2 North American Conference, other factors have emerged. COVID-19 is a major consideration. While many P2 practitioners have adapted neatly to virtual processes, the “digital divide” is pushing many already-disenfranchised people even further onto the sidelines. In one predominantly non-white neighborhood of Louisville, for example, some 50% of households do not have internet access. On top of that, many are questioning whether public engagement is even appropriate, when other concerns are taking priority.

With these decades of negative experiences, plus new and longstanding barriers to public engagement, how do you ensure the people directly affected by a decision are properly considered? Allison and Daniel share what The Consortium learned, the roots of the problem and some suggested solutions.

IAP2 members may watch the video of the webinar and access some additional documents here. 

Webinar Rewind – July 2020

A HOW TO … EXPERT FACILITATION USING ZOOM

July 14

The restrictions placed on our profession by the COVID-19 pandemic are likely to stick around for some time, so for the July Learning Webinar, nearly 400 IAP2 members and non-members joined Dr Rebecca Sutherns, trainer, facilitator and author of Nimble: Off Script But Still on Track and Sightline: Strategic Plans That Gather Momentum, Not Dust (coming in September), for a deep dive into ways of getting the most out of the Zoom platform.

One of the advantages Zoom has over some other platforms is that a presenter and facilitator can interact with the audience “on the fly”, gathering information and feedback during the actual event. But there are definitely some areas that require adaptation and sharpened facilitator’s skills.

Rebecca notes that there are seven keys to the role of a facilitator, and these apply in any setting — in-person or online. They are: purpose, place, participation and person; variety, visuals and value. And while it is, as she puts it, an illusion to think that the facilitator can create a “safe space” for people, it is possible to manage “airtime” to prevent a handful of people from dominating the conversation, ensuring people are respectful of one another, and watching for nuances. 

In an online setting, however, you have to rely on listening for tone and paying attention to facial expressions, since body language is hard to distinguish in a setting like Zoom.

Something else to keep in mind is sensory overload. When one looks at a Zoom screen, especially in “Gallery Mode”, one is seeing a lot of people all at once, including themselves — not a good thing for self-conscious types. At the same time, they’re trying to concentrate on the speaker and the presentation. If people are taking part through the “chat” function, that can be both enriching to the conversation and distracting. Therefore, it’s important for the presenter/facilitator to keep things simple. 

Another area that requires adaptation is one’s own energy level. As a presenter, you’re speaking to a camera with no audience to “play” off. That can cause your energy to sag, and that can affect the attentiveness of the audience and the quality of your presentation.

The webinar itself offered some insights into the Zoom technology. (It’s important to note that IAP2 does not endorse any particular platform over others, but more and more practitioners and facilitators are using Zoom.) IAP2 has created a webpage with detailed tips for using virtual technologies.

Dr Rebecca Sutherns will be offering online training sessions for IAP2. You can find more information here, or on her website.

IAP2 Members can watch the entire webinar here. IAP2 Learning Webinars are another benefit for members: members get exclusive access to the Webinar Archive

Chapter News – July 2020

BC/YUKON

The COVID-19 pandemic showed how P2 practitioners have been able to adapt their work to online processes. For many, it begged the question of how much the public really cared about being engaged during these circumstances. The City of Coquitlam set out to find out how its residents felt. Read about The Survey About Surveys here.

GREAT LAKES

On Tuesday, May 26, 2020 from 4:30 p.m. – 5:30 p.m. the Great Lakes Chapter hosted their first ever Virtual P2 Drinks!  Discussion was focused on ‘Navigating Engagement Through COVID-19’. We had 12 participants join from across the network share in some of their learnings and virtual engagement successes over the past three months.

Feedback received was that it was timely, an opportunity for those at a distance (furthest participant from Windsor), and great to share with one another.

With the success of the virtual event, the Chapter looks forward to planning more sessions including a “P2 Eats” this summer.

PRAIRIES

On June 25, IAP2 Canada Prairies Chapter conducted their Annual General Meeting by Zoom, shared highlights from the past year and welcoming new and returning board members.    

We gave gratitude and said farewell to departing board members: Lawrence Baschak (Regina), Brad Muller (Winnipeg), Lindsay Thompson (Winnipeg), Lara Ludwig (Regina), Leah Goodwin (Regina), Paul Spasoff (Regina), and Janna Sampson (Saskatoon).  Thank you for serving on the board! 

We also wished our friend and colleague Lawrence Baschak our best wishes on his retirement.

The 2020 IAP2 Canada Prairies Board of Directors includes:

  • Samantha Mark (Saskatoon)
  • Leanne Jarocki (Regina)
  • Sarah Collins (Regina
  • Colleen McMahon (Regina)
  • Katie Suek (Saskatoon)
  • Crista Gladstone (Winnipeg)
  • Maggie Bratland (Winnipeg)
  • Christine Markel (Regina)
  • Shawn Silzer (Regina)
  • Robin Vandal (Winnipeg)
  • Jennifer Lester (Saskatoon)

Immediately following the AGM smaller breakout groups explored how P2 has impacted engagement approaches during COVID-19. Participants discussed how COVID provides opportunities to re-examine our techniques for P2,  however digital engagement tools present challenges. Is it ok to engage now?  How can we keep audiences engaged online and ensure inclusion of remote communities and  underrepresented groups?  

As we move into COVID recovery we need to ensure we have multiple engagement options available and resume engagement activities at the right pace.  It was a great discussion and will help IAP2 Canada Prairies ensure we provide value to members as we navigate a new normal.

Meet a Member – July 2020

Name: Sarah Phillips

Position: Marketing Manager, BC Transit

How long have you been in P2, and where have you worked?

I’ve worked closely with my colleagues in planning to engage with the public on building short term and long-range transit future plans across BC. Through that process, I learned from the public about their ideal vision of transit. Over the last few years, we’ve held a second round of events, going back to the same communities, and as we’ve put the plans into action, double-checking that we heard the public correctly.

BC Transit runs the transit systems all over British Columbia, except for the Metro Vancouver region. That must mean a lot of different challenges for you and the planners.

We do need to consider many different areas and various cultures. With 80 transit systems ranging from large, such as Victoria with 300 buses, all the way down to one-bus systems in Bella Coola and parts of Northern BC, people’s needs are diverse, so we have to look at types of buses to make sure we’re serving the community appropriately. We learn about our customers and who they are through our survey work on an ongoing basis.

It’s exciting when we start implementing what was planned. On the Sunshine Coast, for example, we put in place most of what was planned and within the time-frame we had planned. It took a tremendous amount of groundwork and it doesn’t always work out exactly as planned: but it’s satisfying to see a plan come through to fruition.

How did you view public consultation before you were “introduced” to IAP2 concepts?

I thought it consisted of open houses in funny little meeting rooms in hotels. I don’t think I had a positive view of it, but as I learned more about how to properly engage, I understood it was much more complex. 

In 2010, BC Transit was engaging with the public via a travelling road show. We took an old bus and turned it into a moving open house – the Transit Future Bus. Working with a museum designer, the layout addressed all types of visitors and allowed people, young and old, to engage at whatever level they chose. It was very innovative and I think a number of other transit systems picked up on the idea since then. 

The Transit Future bus had iPads for adults and games for children to learn more about their transit system

We drove that bus all over the province and it made an impact. People understood what we were doing, as we were going to where people were, not asking them to come to us. We made it easy for people who were rushing through to grab some information, but also included more statistical, detailed information for those who wanted to know more. It was a very visual experience, so it was memorable. That, in concert with online engagement, helped us strike a balance between reaching those who are out and about on the street with reaching those who might not be able to get out as easily. It’s important to have a presence in both areas — online and face-to-face. Online gives the freedom to do a quick temperature check and face-to-face offers a physical presence in the community so your brand is top of mind. 

The Transit Future Bus – along with Transit Future Bus 2.0 – haven’t been used for a while now – they’ve reached the end of their lives – so we’re now looking into options for setting up an online platform that’s a little more accessible and is more robust than a survey tool.

I’ve found that public engagement has a positive impact on the public over the long term — it’s always better to be transparent. All of our decisions need to be based on public needs, so feedback is critical. There’s no sense in providing a route that no one’s going to use, or maintaining a route that no one’s using. 

Have you had any “epic fails”, and how have you handled them?

One learning experience was when we went into a small community that already had a local bus system run by volunteers. We looked at what they had and realized we couldn’t meet the service levels that the volunteer organization was providing. It was an interesting dynamic: some people were happy to see us exploring the possibility; others saw us as “outsiders”, trying to take over their community project.  In the end, we acknowledged that they were doing a great job and they should keep it as-is, and they have.

Have you had any big wins?

The day we launched the Transit Future Bus was one back in 2010. We took it to a farmer’s market in Sidney (north of Victoria) and 1300 people came through it. That was a huge win because a revamped and recycled bus had a positive presence in the community, and we were able to have so many interactions with people. 

We took the Transit Future Bus to the first Car-Free Day in Victoria in 2015. We were positioned in such a spot that we were in a high-traffic area. Having that kind of presence at an event encouraging multi-modal transportation was really positive.

We also did a major engagement project along Highway 16 between Prince Rupert and Prince George in 2016. 

This 700km stretch of Highway 16 became known as the “Highway of Tears”, because of the disappearances and killings of people along the route, which covers vast areas of remote wilderness.

The goal was to fulfill one of the key proposals identified in the 2012 Missing Women Commission report by former BC Attorney General Wally Oppal; providing an affordable, reliable and safe mobility alternative for people with limited travel options to enable those living in remote areas to connect with other communities and basic services.  

Public engagement for the proposed Highway 16 Inter-Community Transit Service was anchored by a series of 20 public engagement events which included interactive information boards, print survey and opportunities for one-on-one conversations between project staff and residents of various northern communities. The series was supported and supplemented by a project website and online survey, as well as by-request meetings for other groups along the corridor. Engagement was critical in providing transit staff with insights into community travel patterns and routing as well as schedule opportunities and needs to enable the further shaping of service.  

New Highway 16 Inter-community transit routes were implemented at various stages throughout 2017 and are performing well. We have also measured the success based on customer stories and transformation. Customers continually tell us that they no longer have to hitchhike to connect with family members, access medical services or employment. 

There is an increased need across Canada to provide inter-community transit connections from smaller communities to regional centers due to rising housing costs in urban centers and policies to regionalize public services. This project acts as a blueprint for future projects by raising awareness of the benefits and challenges in providing affordable, reliable and safe transportation for communities outside of regional centers.

An important component of the project’s success was fostering new and improved relationships between local and First Nations governments. The relationships built have created a legacy for ongoing collaboration in the delivery of services for all residents across these northern communities.

Have there been times when you and the planners have gone into consultations assuming one thing about the public and finding out something totally different?

In Victoria a few years ago, we were consulting on bus lanes down Douglas Street (one of the main north-south arteries into the city).

Now, a bus lane can move thousands of people quickly and efficiently and take many cars off the road. We had poster boards set up, showing different configurations and we were asking the public which they preferred. But the boards also showed that a number of trees would be removed. People were upset about the trees and missed the point of the consultation: it became all about the trees and not about the buses.

It didn’t help that the renderings weren’t accurate: they made it look like ten trees were coming out in a short section rather than 3. It took a lot of time and conversations with the individuals who were concerned. We involved them in more stakeholder engagement, which gave them a higher level of involvement in the project. The last of the bus lanes – the southbound lane on Douglas – opened in February 2020! At peak times, the bus lanes would drop commute times in half.

If you had anything to say to someone just getting into the P2 business …

Take the training and create that network of support around you, so you can talk about these ideas. It’s a really interesting field, but you need to be able to learn from those who’ve worked in it.

President’s Message – October 2020

Bonjour et hello friends and colleagues!

I hope you are staying well and safe. 

When we moved into our home nearly a year ago, I noticed a big dirt patch in our yard where a deck or patio may have been before. I thought perhaps I would seed it in the spring once things had warmed up a bit. I spent some time once spring arrived, using a thatched rake to get rid of weeds and old roots, tossed a generous amount of clover seed, and set out to water twice a day. 

COVID-19 has changed so many routines, habits, and careers. Our members have asked for resources, and our chapters are looking for new ways to connect. I would like to thank our members and volunteers for joining us at our National AGM in mid-June. Thanks to our staff for helping us facilitate using Zoom. 

After the formal AGM, we used Zoom breakout rooms to have a networking session and I think that is one habit that I miss, the opportunity to share and listen to others. I was thankful that we were meeting online as we could welcome our members from Coast to Coast, and a new member from Israel (Hi Tomer!!). Connecting our members with training, networking and conferences are one of the strengths of IAP2 Canada that I am most proud of.

My highlight of the AGM is the opportunity to welcome new board members. I’m really looking forward to Jacques Bénard, Precious Ile, Terry Koch, and Rajvir Rao officially joining the board. It’s also a time to thank departing board members for their support and commitment to IAP2 Canada. I would like to send a special thanks to Hugo Mimee who is completing his second term with IAP2 Canada and was a mentor when I considered stepping into a leadership role at IAP2 Canada. 

Hugo, j’apprécie vraiment le temps et l’effort mis en IAP2!! 

When I planted that clover seed, I had no idea how long it would take or if it would grow at all. I had to trust that it would work. I was really pleased that within a week there was a good amount of little green buds rising from the dirt, and in two weeks it nearly looks like a full lawn!  

 I feel confident that the seeds of leadership that have been planted will bloom, and am very excited that Catherine Rockandel was acclaimed as incoming president at our first board meeting with our new board. Thank you to all of our members, volunteers, friends of IAP2 Canada, trainers and staff for your commitment to good public participation. It has been a pleasure being President for the past 2 years and I’m looking forward to continuing my work as a board member for the remainder of my term. 

My best for a safe and happy autumn!

Sarah Rivest

The Survey About Surveys:

Measuring engagement readiness since COVID-19

by Rebecca Vaughan, Sr. Communications & Engagement Specialist, City of Coquitlam, BC 

In March of this year, the appearance of COVID-19 and the resulting response happened so quickly that many projects – including public consultations – were abruptly put on hold. Now, months later, as people are adjusting to a modified way of life, P2 practitioners are turning their attention to re-starting engagement and how this work can carry forward. By measuring the public’s readiness to engage, and gathering information on how they would like to engage, we can continue public consultations in an informed way that meet the needs of the public and our stakeholders in the current pandemic context.

Is the time right to restart engagement?

At the City of Coquitlam, several projects had been paused as the City turned its attention to managing the emergency and response. As we settled into a modified way of doing business as usual, staff began looking at plans to re-start engagement processes that had been in the works. However, without a foundation of understanding the public’s readiness to participate in consultations, we risked conducting ineffective engagements that could result in incomplete, uninformed feedback, in turn affecting project outcomes. As well, the current context sets the risk of appearing insensitive to the needs of stakeholders who may be facing the loss of their jobs or businesses, family members whose health is at risk, or other concerns that supersede the decision-making we are seeking input on. 

A national survey conducted in late March 2020 by Hill & Knowlton asked Canadians if they felt the time was right to re-start public engagement. The survey showed that “a majority of Canadians (68%) believe that engagement with all levels of government is more important now than ever. And similarly, 58% indicate that it is still important for governments to consult citizens on issues not related to COVID-19.” (Hill & Knowlton Strategies, “To Consult or Not to Consult: Canadians Say They Still Want to Have Their Say”) 

Recognizing that the ongoing physical distancing requirements would require a modified approach to engagement activities, staff at the City of Coquitlam wanted to localize the findings of the Hill & Knowlton survey, and inform our approach going forward. 

We launched a survey between May 20 – 31, 2020, which was promoted to both the general public and to our Viewpoint survey panel. The Viewpoint survey panel consists of over 2,000 residents who have opted-in to receive and participate in City surveys, and we typically receive up to 500 responses within 48 hours of distributing a survey. The survey was also promoted with a media release and social media outreach. 

Coquitlam residents had their say – what we heard

The survey saw 847 responses (743 from the Viewpoint panel participants, 104 from the open community). Of those respondents, 94% agreed or somewhat agreed with the statement, “The COVID-19 outbreak continues to be a priority, but engaging with the community in modified ways on other City issues is important and should continue.” 

So Coquitlam residents are indicating they are ready to engage – what does that engagement look like? 

●     76% of those who indicated a readiness to engage said they had also used online meeting tools such as Microsoft Teams or Zoom. 98% of those said they were comfortable or getting comfortable with the tools.

●     When asked if they would participate online, 60% said they were interested and would participate or were somewhat likely to participate. 40% indicated they were not sure or not comfortable participating online.

●     When asked how they would like to engage, 2% of respondents said by phone; 30% said by virtual events; 65% indicated by email, and 3% chose other options. Suggestions included online surveys; online content they could provide phone or email feedback to; or live online Q&A sessions. 

When given the opportunity to provide further feedback, many respondents acknowledged the importance of, and their appreciation for, the opportunity to provide input. Some warned about virtual meeting burnout, as many have been using Zoom and other tools frequently during the pandemic already. Others reiterated the need to use multiple channels to communicate with residents. Some also indicated a desire to resume in-person events, with physical distancing measures in place to ensure safety. 

Where we go from here – planning modified engagement

With this localized knowledge about the community’s readiness and commitment to engage with the City, staff have been able to plan informed, alternate ways of public engagement. These adhere to public health and safety measures but also strive to offer all stakeholders the opportunity to engage with the City. 

Staff have been investigating new tools for engagement with the objective of identifying creative, outside the box ways to gather public feedback within our current constraints. Tactics are evaluated based on a variety of factors, including project context, cost, effectiveness, and whether they provide access to a wider group of residents and stakeholders. 

The engagement readiness survey also provided Coquitlam staff with the knowledge needed to plan for respondents’ comfort and familiarity with virtual meeting tools. Knowing that 24% of respondents were not familiar with using these tools, we developed a facilitator’s guide for online meetings, intended to help remove barriers to participation and ensure everyone on a call knows how to use the features and tools of the meeting software, such as raising their hand, participating in the chat feature, answering polls, and more.

Building a framework

Creating a Community Engagement Framework is one of the City of Coquitlam’s business plan priorities for 2020, and although this work was delayed during the COVID-19 breakout, the engagement readiness survey offers data that will help inform the framework and our engagement plans and processes.

Gaining insight into how people would like to engage with the City, as well as comfort levels with online tools, will help inform engagement plans for the coming year. The City will be able to adapt engagement plans quickly in line with the current public health context, as well as for the long term future. 

The pandemic and the impacts on in-person ways of conducting business are anticipated to continue for some time. By using the knowledge gained from Coquitlam’s Engagement Readiness survey, and by employing a variety of virtual and online communication tools as well as offline communication options, the City can continue to provide the community with ways to provide meaningful input and feedback on City plans, programs and projects.