Getting to the Heart of the Matter When Facing Emotion, Outrage and Opposition

by Lauren Wirtis, IAP2 USA Intern

Nelson Mandela once said, “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” He was so right. When you make the effort to speak someone else’s language, even if it’s just basic phrases here and there, you are saying to them, ‘I understand that you have a culture and identity that exists beyond me. I see you as a human being.”

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

Language is how we communicate with one another. And, since it is how we communicate, it is often the fodder for our emotions. Our hearts swell when someone says they love us for the first time, we weep when we confront terrible news, we laugh when we are told a joke, and we are enraged when we are presented with injustice.

When IAP2 originally created the Foundations course, John Godec was the principal writer of the section that discussed risk communication and dealing with upset people. Frequently, the trainers would receive feedback that they wanted to spend more time on this section. In response to this demand Stephani Roy McCallum, John Godec, and Mary Hamel created a class called Emotion and Outrage in Public Participation (recently retitled Strategies for Dealing with Opposition and Outrage in P2).

The course is about human behavior. It’s about social psychology. About the psychology of people and people’s perception. How people perceive and interpret information differently depending on their emotional state.

– John Godec

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Much of the content in the class on risk communication comes from Dr. Peter Sandman, an expert in the area whose model of risk is Risk = Hazard + Outrage. Dr. Sandman discusses three types of  risk communication that can be understood by mapping where they fall on a chart of outrage and hazard, see the image below.

Dr. Sandman graphic

See Dr. Peter Sandman’s full video on this topic here.

This is a helpful tool that provides a practical approach to managing people’s outrage. KKK RallyHowever, when I think about the kind of outrage that troubles the United States today, I can’t help but think that there is a third dimension to this chart. A z-axis that acknowledges that hazards are not experienced evenly across populations. And while we have made a lot of progress on a range of issues, I would also say that this progress was made without acknowledging the z-axis and, to Trevor Noah’s point, only in one language and that is the language of a group that is predominantly upper class, white, and male. As a result, we have left certain important pieces of issues unresolved and unacknowledged and all we know is that the solutions have supposedly “created jobs” or lead_large“grew the GDP.” These aren’t words that go to my heart.

I had the privilege of speaking with John Godec and Stephani Roy McCallum to understand how they believed the patterns of opposition and outrage have changed and what they think we can do about it. Do they see patterns in the opposition and outrage they encounter in their work? Yes. And more of it.

godec (2017_09_07 15_07_13 UTC)John said that he believed a lot of this growth comes from the widening gap between the government and the governed. That gap has fostered a large amount of distrust fueled by rhetoric citing government as the issue rather than the problem and the fact that government doesn’t work well for many people. However, the closer people are to government services, the more likely they are to trust their government, which means somewhere there’s a fundamental breakdown in communication.

STEPHANI ROY MCCALLUM (2)Stephani pointed out that these highly charged spaces are also more visible than ever with the support of social media, with more people engaging in the demonization of people who they view as “on the other side.” She went on to say that this is not an experience unique to the United States, but is occurring across the globe. “[The political situation in the United States] is just a bellwether of that shift.”

White Supremacists March with Torches in CharlottesvilleTaken all at once, these issues are incredibly daunting. What can we, as P2 practitioners, do to manage outrage and opposition in our own communities?

  1. Go beyond the project level

Dealing with emotion and outrage successfully is “about the whole system changing not just about completing a project,” says Stephani. She noted that this is a big challenge in P2, that so much of the focus is on the project level, which is not a way to change people’s hearts and minds. Emotion and outrage are often closely tied to a lack of trust. It’s important to do good P2 even when the public isn’t going to be upset and when you aren’t asking anything of them. Put goodwill in the bank over time, rather than starting from a position of asking for newfound trust at the beginning of each project.

  1. Do your due diligence

If there is one thing that John and Stephani taught me, it’s that there is no excuse for not knowing about opposition. None. You should never be surprised by the fact that there is opposition. To make sure this carnal offense never happens, do your due diligence. Talk to the community and ask them who else you should talk to. John said “the ability to predict how people are going to feel about a project is critical to the process.” Get out there and get to know your community!

  1. Don’t underestimate your community

Believe it or not, people want to help. Stephani said that she enjoys working in spaces with high emotion, because they “are spaces of opportunity and possibility; when people have passion, they give you something to work with.” An example of this is a story John told me about a transportation project in Arizona. A major intersection was going to be redesigned and would shut down access to downtown for 18 months. An environmental study predicted this work would lead to the closure of 15 local businesses. Originally the approach was an informational campaign, but then John brought the stakeholders into a room together with local residents and business owners to talk about any possible ways to mitigate the impacts. They adjusted, tweaked, and pushed the schedule around in a way that was able to “minimize anger and optimize the situation.” This was supplemented with a targeted promotional effort for the businesses that were going to be impacted the most. After much relationship- and trust-building, the community was determined to support these businesses. In the end six businesses opened, zero failed. Never underestimate a community’s ability to be creative and pull together.

  1. Put down the templates

IAP2 courses on emotion, outrage, and opposition will provide new ways of thinking about these issues and will provide tools and approaches to try. They will also help you think about how you show up to a meeting and what issues you and your organization are dealing with. Stephani said, “the course is a powerful first step in thinking differently and learning how to approach opposition and polarization in a different way. But it is not a magic wand.” Sometimes people think that if they fill out enough forms or the poster boards are good enough that it will overcome the outrage, but that will never be the case because then you are speaking a language they understand rather than their language. Stephani worked on a project in Canada dealing with conflict about language, a highly polarized issue rooted in identity, and she said “it is not about results or facts. It’s about the culture of communities. For this, we need a model for having brave and honest conversations.” In her work to unpack this issue and transform the nature of the conflict, Stephani worked with participants to create a story-based process where they could share their experiences- good, bad, and ugly. There is no template for doing this, but effective and successful P2 will help participants see the whole person and not just the issue.

  1. Relax, nothing is under control

Over-reliance on tools, process steps, and check boxes will gain you the illusion of control, but lose, as Stephani pointed out, “the heart, soul, and complexity of the issue.” It also, as John pointed out, makes you “lose sight of the fact that there are real human beings affected by what [you] do.” There is no magic formula for avoiding outrage. If opposition (that, hopefully, you were anticipating) arises, stop. Talk to people. Give them individual or small group attention and consideration. John noted that “the worst thing you could do is hold a public meeting.” This is an opportunity to build trust for both you and your community, and it is important to be able to trust them enough to give the control away. As Stephani said, “The messier it is, the more there is to work with.”

There is a lot of despair here in the United States and around the world. Despair created by nature, by humankind, and a combination of the two. I spent the last week surrounded by P2 practitioners at the North American Conference hosted by IAP2 USA and Canada, but attended by people from Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia, South Africa, Europe – and those are just the people I personally encountered. Each one of these people attended the conference to become better at showing their communities not what makes them different, but what they have in common with one another. It certainly gave me hope to know we’d all land back home re-energized and ready to expand our community vocabulary.

Thank you to John Godec and Stephani Roy McCallum for taking time to speak with me about their experience designing the EOP2 course and their personal experiences dealing with emotion and outrage in communities.

 

WEBINAR REWIND: “Understanding the Squishy Stuff” + “Are We Smarter Together?” – August 15, 2018

Two presentations that challenged some of the key principles of P2 were featured in our last “encore” from the 2016 IAP2 North American Conference in Montréal.

MARK SZABODr Mark Szabo looked at the way the “squishy stuff” – emotional responses that are hard to quantify but no less important to consider – can be addressed. Jacques Bénard discussed the collective mindset, questioning whether decisions reached collaboratively are really the best ones.

Mark’s presentation aims at finding a better way to make sense of complex conflicts and help practitioners face these conflicts with confidence. The “squishy stuff” takes a project beyond simply following regulatory requirements and legal procedures. That understanding can help address things like “scale deficit” (where a narrow view misses a broader implication), a sense that people feel left out (even if they have been given a chance to be included), abuse of the system (such as protesters disrupting P2 sessions) and the wide range of public policies inherent in a democracy.

Not understanding the emotional aspect leads to what Mark suggests is an incorrect approach, in which values take a back seat to interests, and people’s emotions are discounted. Over-controlling something that is uncontrollable leads to what Mark calls the “Coherence trap”.

AUGUST WEBINAR-1Mark likens these emotion-related conflicts to the movements of a flock of starlings: there’s little real leadership and each bird’s actions feed off those of the ones close to it. You can’t predict where it’s going, and it’s impossible to control it.

Because these conflicts are dynamic, you can focus on specific patterns of interaction within the conflict and design new patterns of interaction. You can do that with five key questions:

  1. Who is actually in conflict?
  2. Who are merely influencers?
  3. What are the possible influencer coalitions?
  4. What are the common elements?
  5. Who needs to be persuaded right now?

As an example, Mark looks at the controversy over the Northern Gateway Pipeline. The broad issue breaks down into two parts: concerns over greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions related to the production and shipping of oil, and concerns over tanker traffic going through the Douglas Channel on the British Columbia coast.

The groups involved in the GHG concerns – the pipeline builder, the oil companies, environmental groups and the Government of Alberta – got together to discuss how to deal with that issue. Those concerned about impact on the Douglas Channel – the oil companies, the pipeline builder, the Aboriginal communities (there are nearly two dozen of them along the pipeline route from northern Alberta to the Coast) and the government of BC – got together.

Determining these “coalitions” is not easy, but Mark contends it leads to a much better outcome. It requires

  • Going against our natural urge to “make sense” of things
  • a comfort level with uncertainty
  • collaboration
  • humility
  • persuasion

And when you come up with a design for interaction, be prepared for the fact that not everyone will like it.

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Jacques Bénard photo headshotJacques Bénard’s question asks whether we make better decisions individually or as a group. Social scientists have been looking intensely at the way groups operate since the mid-19th Century, during times of political and social unrest in Europe. The French scientist, Gustave Le Bon, observed that people in crowds lose their sense of self and personal responsibility and tend to follow the prevailing view, with collective intelligence falling to the lowest common denominator.

galton and friend
Francis Galton (l) with ox. Possibly, not the same ox.

From there, you could easily question whether crowd-formed decisions are the best ones, but then came the English mathematician, Francis Galton. In 1906, he took an ox to a country fair and offered a prize for anyone who could correctly guess the weight of the ox. The average of all the guesses was spot-on. This led Galton to conclude that, when unbiased by passion and motivated to do their best, a group could be trusted to make better decisions than their individual members.

The American psychologist, KZ Lewin, who coined the term “group dynamics”, noted that individuals behave differently in a group than they do on their own.

Other researchers find that the tendency to conform is so strong that people can be induced to go against not just their own values, but their own senses; the combination of psychological pressures, similar values and a crisis situation can kill any advantage that collective decision-making might offer.

Other factors that can diminish the benefits of collective decision-making include:

  • Polarization
  • the Spiral of Silence – people holding minority viewpoints are muzzled and even agree to things that go against their beliefs and values
  • the false consensus that results from the spiral of silence
  • social loafing – members of a group don’t contribute and leave others to carry the load

Since the notion that “good P2 means better decisions” is a cornerstone of the P2 profession, what does this mean for a practitioner? Jacques points out that the P2 practitioner’s job involves minimizing the negative influences around a group setting. He says we need to take a hard look at how to inform the public of the inherent biases in a process, and what responsibility do practitioners bear when group dynamics lead to an irrational decision.

IAP2 members can listen to the webinar – and the comments and questions that came in – here.

The Core Values IV: Bonds Built Through Trust

Core Values_Article 4_Twitter_Canada-01

“Having spent many years in government, I see a common deficit of trust with our public agencies, and I think Core Value 7 contributes to rebuilding that trust.” – Penny Mabie

For this final article about the Core Values, I spoke with Julia Balabanowicz, Jan Bloomfield, Penny Mabie, Joel Mills, and Gay Robinson about the importance of Core Value 7 and how they use Core Values in their daily P2 work.a

Core Value 7: Public participation communicates to participants how their input affected the decision.

What I heard most from the people I interviewed was that this Core Value was an imperative opportunity to build trust that often gets missed. Julia Balabanowicz said “it allows [decision makers] to demonstrate to [the community] the value and purpose of their participation. It shows that you respect the time and energy they took to show up and participate.” While immersed in the middle of designing a new park, extending a sewer system, altering bus system, or developing a new comprehensive plan it’s easy to forget that the public is not thinking about this project every moment of every day.

Julia B
Julia Balabanowicz

Julia discussed the importance of creating a link between the public’s input and the outcome, especially when the process is long. She’s currently working with a developer on a proposal for a large wind farm project. By deciding early on that the public would get to see the preliminary turbine layouts, they are able to work closely with the community to try to arrive at a socially acceptable layout of the wind turbines that also balances environmental and technical limitations.

Her team is now on version four of the layout, each version responding specifically to based on local input. Following each community meeting, the team tracks how the input received from the public influenced the proceeding turbine layout and that document is made available to anyone in the community, but, most importantly, at each meeting the public gets to see the different versions of the layout so that they can see the impact their participation has had. More than anything, Julia said, “it’s a trust-building exercise with the people you’re working with. And the business case for developers is clear when they understand how this process supports the latter regulatory approval process.”

gay-robinson
Gay Robinson

And, as you build that trust, people come to believe in the process. Belief in and ownership of the process is often more important than the outcome. I talked to Gay Robinson and Jan Bloomfield who said that you know the community has bought into the process when they say, “It’s not my solution but I see how you got there.”

Jan_Bloomfield
Jan Bloomfield

When Gay and Jan were working together on a park master plan, they tied each of the park’s design elements back to comments from the public. “Just as important as showing how you incorporated each of the public’s comments is showing why you didn’t use other comments.” Doing so demonstrates that even ideas that didn’t end up being incorporated were carefully considered.

Penny Mabie
Penny Mabie

As Penny Mabie said, “In the absence of information, people will make up their own stories.” Following through on Core Value 7 creates future credibility. That credibility is the impetus to follow up with the community and show them how their input was used. However, this can be overlooked, because something like building credibility and relationships is hard to quantify, especially in the short-term. “You hear people say the project was a success because it was unopposed. It was a success because a park was build.” But, Penny said, these projects aren’t a one-shot deal. “Those people are always going to be your constituents, your voters, your neighbors, your community. Every time you build credibility, you’re helping develop that more solid relationship.”

Once you build that trust, that credibility, that relationship surprising things can happen. Joel Mills discussed how, after a meaningful process, “people can see their influence and their opportunity to plan a role in the implementation.” The trust and the credibility can lead to a plan where “the future success of the plan doesn’t rest fully on the planners who created it.” The community starts to take charge and the process becomes a catalyst for civic engagement.

JUDGE - USA - JOEL MILLS
Joel Mills

Joel saw this happen during a planning process at Port Angeles. It was the height of the Great Recession, the town had lost a few mills (its traditional employment centers), and a landmark department store had just decided to leave the downtown. One of the big issues was that people would take the ferry from Canada, drive through Port Angeles, and travel on to hike in the Olympics, but they would rarely stop. During this planning process the community became excited about possibilities to create attractions. The plan sparked a new level of civic engagement- within 3 months the community had pulled together, organized dozens of volunteers and donated supplies, and repainted 43 downtown buildings. “The Community Development Director said the biggest benefit of the plan was the pride the process created.”

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When I decided to join IAP2, the Core Values were one of the first things I read and they really resonated with me. But, as I’ve done these interviews and written this series of articles, I’ve come to see that they are one of the most important resources I can pull out of my toolbox on a daily basis. They are simple and pragmatic in a way that an organization’s core values rarely are. Julia, Gay, Jan, Penny, and Joel all said that the Core Values are something they use and return to regularly.

Here are a couple ways these practitioners use the Core Values in their daily P2 work:

  • As a tool to share with clients
  • As a checklist when creating a public participation plan
  • To evaluate a P2 process
  • As language for discussing what good P2 looks like

I hope this series has increased your enthusiasm for the Core Values and helped you think about how they apply to the work you do every day.

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This article is the fourth and final article in a series about the Core Values. If you missed the earlier ones you can check them out at the links below:

Article 1: IAP2 Core Values – The Origin Story

Article 2: How to Hit the P2 Sweet Spot

Article 3: Being a Stranger in a Strange Land

Do you have a Core Values story to share? Please tell us about it here! 

 

Chapter News – Summer 2017

St Lawrence/Saint-Laurent

The first “Third Tuesday” of the fall season will take place in Ottawa, Tuesday, Sept. 19. Tim Bouma of the Government of Canada’s Chief Information Officer Branch will lead a discussion on “A Made-in-Canada Approach to Digital Identity”.

Digital services need to know who we are – that is, our digital identity. What was once viewed as a simple username and password has now evolved into our ongoing digital presence that promises to provide us with efficiency and convenience.

How we approach digital identity as a country can be fraught with privacy issues, security implications, and how we interact as a society at large. This presentation will provide an insight on the Canadian perspective on digital identity – from the public and private sector perspective.

This Third Tuesday runs from 6 – 8:30 pm (registration is at 5) at the Red Lion on Clarence Street in Ottawa. Tickets are $10 for the general public, and IAP2 Members and members of the Government of Canada Community of Practice get in free.

Get tickets here.

BC

Nominations are being taken for this year’s Donald Golob Award. The award is named for Don Golob, who was one of the founders of IAP2 BC and a past-president; he passed away in 2015 at the age of 60.

The award is presented to a person who makes a great contribution to IAP2 BC. Find more information here. Nominations close October 1.

The BC Chapter 2017 Annual General Meeting will take place Wednesday, Nov. 22, 6 – 8 pm, in the Royal Bank Room at the YWCA, 733 Beatty Street.

P2 Support from Decision-Makers – the latest IAP2 White Paper!

The third White Paper commissioned by the IAP2 Research Committee is now available. In this, Colleen Gareau reviews Decision-Maker Support for P2. In particular, she looks at the work done by the City of Edmonton to ensure the public is involved in decisions that affect them – and the buy-in required from elected officials and staff.

Read the White Paper here.

Read other IAP2 Canada White Papers:

Challenges and Advancements in Evaluating P2 (by Karen Zypchyn)

Conflict Management in P2 (by Kate Nelischer)

 

 

 

 

From the Board – Summer 2017

sarah-rivest (1)Sarah Rivest, Secretary

Bienvenue and welcome!

Many thanks to the members who were able to join our AGM online on June 14. The meeting was a chance to review all of the good that IAP2 Canada was a part of in 2016, including the treasurer’s report, membership highlights and also a look ahead to 2017. It was great to have representatives from Coast to Coast participate and I found it nice to reflect on the current projects and plans to support professionals in public participation.

We took the time to thank the significant contributions from the following departing board members:

Jan Bloomfield

Noreen Rude

Tracy Vaughan

Jorge Aviles

During the meeting, the nominating committee announced the acclamation for Board Members and on behalf of the board would like to warmly welcome:

New Board Members (2017-2020)

Hugo Mimee (Québec) – second term

Dhurata Ikonomi (Ontario)

Kevin Thorvaldson (Alberta)

Mark Weir (Ontario)

New Deputy Board Members

Sheri Florizone (Prairies)

Samantha Thompson (Ontario)

Returning to the board for 2017 will be:

Continuing Board Members

Bruce Gilbert (Newfoundland)

Amanda Mitchell (British Columbia)

Brenda Pichette (Ontario)

Ashleigh Weeden (Ontario)

Sarah Rivest (Québec)

Michael Waters (British Columbia)

Continuing Deputy Board Members

Kristen Farrell (Ontario)

Morgan Boyco (Ontario)

It is truly wonderful to see a mix of provinces represented on the board, and also to have a mix of new and continuing Board Members. Many projects take years to come to fruition and it’s great for the strategy of these important projects to include different experiences. I’m excited to meet our new board at the next face to face meeting after the North American conference in Denver in September, at which time all executive positions will be nominated and elected.

If you would like more information about the AGM including links to read the 2016 Annual Report, to watch the AGM webinar, or to view the PowerPoint presentation from the AGM, please click here.

Best wishes for a great summer!

 

Webinar Rewind: Montreal Encore – “Is Your Organization P2-Centric?” (July 2017)

It’s true that many organizations – private corporations and public agencies alike – are incorporating Public Participation into their practices, but there is another step they can take: becoming P2-Centric.

Our July Webinar brought another of the popular sessions from the 2016 IAP2 North American Conference in Montreal: Anne Pattillo’s “Is Your Organization P2-Centric?” To Anne, a P2-Centric organization (P2CO) is one that “puts citizens as the main stakeholder of their decision-making, thinking, planning and action.” Does that describe your organization? And if not, how do you get it there?

Anne contends that organizations see the importance of P2 as a reputation-enhancer, but it’s important to move from that negative-inference mindset to one where the organization is always on top of citizen attitudes and aspirations and makes that the centrepiece of its work.  In Anne’s research, the typical organizational P2 journey is the way it looks below and often organizations get stuck with pockets of good practice.

WEBINAR - 2017-07-11 - P2CENTRIC

Doing that involves from good practice to a portfolio of public participation, in which resources are constantly available to sustain that practice. When that happens, P2 has its greatest impact. What’s more, it’s been found that if good P2 is delivered only occasionally, its impact is limited. Getting maximum impact requires consistently delivering quality P2 across the organization. For the practitioner, that means:

  • Disciplined evaluation and reporting P2 processes and impactWEBINAR - 2017-07-11 - P2CENTRIC-stitched
  • Focusing leaders on it so they can see what if any communities are being “missed” in the process
  • Building capability, systems, policies into the organization so P2 is integrated into the organization’s work – “Stitched into the lining,” as Anne puts it
  • Getting commitment from the organization to continue with that P2 framework
  • Pro-actively reaching out to citizens about their experience and expectation with the organization.

The onus is on the practitioners to make it happen in the organization: to discuss with the leaders the goals they have and impress on them the importance of incorporating P2 as a cornerstone of the process, rather than an after-thought. It requires bringing P2 into alignment with the organization’s strategy and priorities and also working with the organizational and key community leaders to help find the place the organization is expected to play in that community.

Measuring that impact can take any of a number of forms: looking at the organization’s “brand presence” in the community, or looking at the level of trust and confidence and the level of participation in the community, impact on the decisions and actions or the organization, relationship development. How much is the community’s voice heard in the organization?

P2CENTRIC - DEVELOPMENT PATH

A good example is New Zealand’s Department of Conservation. For years, it had been engaging with the public, but it was sporadic – Anne describes it as a case of “good people doing good things but only occasionally.” The organization had to examine its internal processes and that led to the question of what was really important to the Department and setting an overall goal. The leaders of the organization realized that achieving that goal meant increasing the P2 capability and making sure it had the proper resources. The Department became, in short, P2-centric.

IAP2 members can hear the entire webinar and download some resources Anne has provided here.