Paula Hall, independent consultant;
President IAP2 Wild Rose Chapter
How long have you been in P2, and where have you worked? I’ve been working in P2 for about 17 years, now. I have a communications background and I was looking for communications-related jobs and didn’t know which area of communication to go into, and I wound up at a utility company in the siting department. It was there that I realized I wanted to deal with the people who were affected by decisions like siting of utilities and through that, I got introduced to IAP2 in 1998. We were not told about IAP2 in university!
But I was only at the utility temporarily and I ended up going to Devon Canada, which is an upstream oil and gas company, where I got the opportunity to start a community-relations program.
Around the same time, synergy groups had been cropping up around Alberta as the oil and gas industry grew. These bring together industry, local landowners and residents and the provincial regulator (now Alberta Energy Regulator) – the three pillars you need for an inclusive conversation in that industry – and they encompass P2 beautifully when they work.
When I was at Devon, I got involved with what is now Synergy Alberta and that further sparked my love for public consultation.
Eventually decided I didn’t want to work for the industry per se: I wanted to be part of the process as a third party, bringing all the stakeholders together.
Have you had a “Golden Learning Moment”? The biggest “AHA” moment that I’ve had was about halfway through my career. I found that, when things didn’t go as planned or as well as I hoped or I had difficulty finding common ground or a particular stakeholder was particularly fearful or suspicious of the process, I’ve taken it personally. So that “AHA” came when I was dealing with a stakeholder who was suspicious of everyone’s intentions, and reluctant to participate. At our third meeting, we sat down and talked one on one, and she said, “I really like you … don’t take this personally, but I’ve been through processes like this before and I’ve never seen anything change. I like what you’re doing and it seems to make sense, but I don’t think anything’s going to change.” At the end of the process, she was still the most vocal stakeholder and the one with the most opposition but she was able to find some common ground.
It really drove home that everyone comes to the table with different past experiences, and sometimes it takes more time, or requires re-thinking the process. But it’s not personal.
What “big wins” have you had? I think really any time that we take a difficult, high-emotion situation and find some common ground, I feel like that’s a win. In the case of that stakeholder who was so suspicious, she did stay with the process, so that’s a huge win.
The project where I remember saying, “YES! This is P2 in its almost-perfect form”, was when a client gave me a lot of lead time – so much that I was able to go to the stakeholders and say, “we’re ahead of the game: how do you want this process to look?”
Very rarely do we have a client give us enough lead-time that stakeholders can be part of designing the process itself. When they [the stakeholders are] part of the process from the outset, they own the process, and it’s much more fulfilling and engaging.
Is there much high emotion with energy issues in Alberta? I think so, but perhaps it is not as dramatic as it once was. That may be because of our long history with oil and gas, and a higher level of energy literacy, as well as better public involvement. That is not to say that there is not high-emotion with the energy industry, but good public participation can go a long way. For example, I facilitate a synergy group that was born from high-emotion coalbed methane concerns: it was originally called an Action Group because they were landowners who were concerned and many in opposition of CBM. Now, here we are, 12 years later, and they’ve decided to change their name to an Advisory Group, because their concerns have been addressed and now they work alongside industry. As a group, they’ve developed best practices in exploration and new operations – not just for CBM specific issues.
If you had anything to say to someone just getting into the P2 business … I’ve been involved in IAP2 since 1998 and on the Wild Rose board for 8 years, so this is my last year on the Board. There a lot of awesome people: the first time I went to an IAP2 event was the Wild Rose AGM, I was fresh out of university and I was standing in the corner by myself wondering what to do, and a guy came over and said “Hi” and took me over to a table and sat me down with some of the long-time members of IAP2 at the time. They gave me networking contacts and we were able to develop some important relationships. So I would say, take advantage of every opportunity that you can within iAP2: local or non-local, it’s worth it. There’s a ton of people with great expertise, and they love to share it! The Mentorship program is a great way for someone new to learn about it.