Ehl Harrison Consulting, Oakville, ON
Immediate past-president, IAP2 Great Lakes Chapter
How long have you been in P2, and where have you worked?
I’ve been in P2 since 1992, and have worked for public and not-for-profit sector before starting a small consultancy practice. I work with municipalities and not-for-profits, in environmental and infrastructure-related projects like transit, storm water management, waste management and some in the energy field. I work with clients to plan, facilitate and document broad stakeholder engagement processes, and build collaboration, which is important because some of these issues can be fairly contentious. I also work with a number of clients to facilitate strategic planning.
I and my team have just wrapped up a multi-year project with the Toronto Transit Commission, working on the stakeholder engagement around the procurement and purchasing process around Toronto’s new streetcars. Before the TTC put out the RFP to design and build the streetcars, we held consultations across the city – online and in person – and engaged 20-thousand people on what the goals and dreams and needs would be for the next generation streetcar.
We took our “road show” to the people: downtown in the heart of the city, talking to people in subway stations and at streetcar stops; we also had a large online engagement process called “Let’s Talk LRVs” (light rail vehicles). The information was used to supplement the information in the RFP, so vendors could know what the people were interested in.
People are very passionate about their transit system! There were public experts on the system from the largest over-arching perspective to the minutest detail; there were people who had super-positive experiences and people who wanted to talk about the negative experiences that they’d had; It was a great challenge to bring all these perspectives together.
How did you get involved with P2?
I sort of “fell into” it initially. I learned that it is a field that builds on my passion for talking to and learning from people and finding out how they arrive at their perspectives. I enjoy designing processes that bring in people who are normally on the fringes and don’t get involved to develop solutions that weren’t imagined initially. Maybe they don’t trust governments, or they’ve seen in the past that they haven’t been heard. There are also people who lead extremely busy lives and there are many barriers – like caring for children or aging parents. So we go beyond the town hall into grocery stores, schools and community centres or subway stations. We don’t have huge, in-depth conversations at those times, but I do have hopes of always bringing the broader community into a conversation.
Have you had a “Golden Learning Moment”?
Just because people don’t show up at events doesn’t mean they don’t care: it just means they haven’t been able to take partin a personally, meaningful way. People are turned off if they’ve gone to a previous event and haven’t felt comfortable or empowered to say what is important. I believe as a P2 practitioner it is critical to create an experiential environment where people can hear one another’s experiences. Then, our clients can look at it and ask themselves what it really means for people who have to live with a potential solution every day?
What “big wins” have you had?
It’s hard to say – I’m very sensitive and critical of project outcomes. In many cases, we get solutions that haven’t been anticipated and they were true to the consultation process and the proponents heard some of – if not all of – what the affected stakeholders said.
One big success, though, was a storm water management project in Peterborough. People came in somewhat mistrusting of motivations and the expectations, but the outcome really reflected what people cared about the most. Storm water management is a big one in our area: we get the combination of rainfall and snow-melt, and that affects waterways with pollution in the runoff, transportation, flooding and so forth.
On that project, First Nations Elders and scholars were involved and sat down with project team members and city officials to have a conversation about what protecting water means – the sacredness of water for the First Nations. They introduced concepts around medicinal and sustainable plantings, which was cool. That was reflected in the project’s outcome, as well, and one of the recommendations going forward was to hold increased and ongoing collaborations with a broader spectrum of stakeholders.
If you had anything to say to someone just getting into the P2 business …
I would say, “don’t be afraid to try new things, new ways of engaging people.” Get to know your stakeholders very well and the methods that speak to them as well as their needs. Build yourself a very strong and good network of colleagues – our local chapter has been great for that.
Above all, have fun, and if things get rough, don’t take it personally: try to enjoy yourself. People will play and feed off that.
Oh, yes: get involved in IAP2!