Doug Marteinson, a non-practitioner member of IAP2 Canada
I had never intended to be a public participation practitioner, and I am still not there. Maybe it was the adoption of the term “engagement” in the advertising of stakeholder or community information events that raised my angst about the public participation field.
I am old school. My first understanding of engagement had to do with the beginning of a life-long commitment to partnership with my sweetheart. My work with corporate leaders in the territory of teamwork and strategy execution began over 20 years ago, before the days of “employee engagement”. My 40 years in business have shown me how competitive advantage and enhanced profitability results from employees having a voice, being part of the solution, making things happen, and being charged up by their contribution!
Here is the initial trigger for me to do something about public participation…
In 2010, I volunteered to be one of 20 facilitators for Waterlution’s Canadian Water Innovation Lab – bringing to Exshaw, AB over 200 young leaders (20 to 30 years old) from across the country who cared about the future of water. The volunteer facilitators were required to attend some Banff School training in advance of the Innovation Lab. The session I remember most was “Creative Writing”.
I thought, “What does Creative Writing have to do with this?” At the beginning of the class, the instructor read a poem. For me, the poem’s message was: “if you want to lead, you need to write”. Suddenly I tuned in. The kickoff assignment was to write for 10 minutes on the topic of your choice without lifting your pen off the paper. Even if you had to write “blah, blah, blah.” For choice of topic, one clue was to pick a pet peeve. The 10-minute timer was placed so everyone could see it.
I knew right away what my pet peeve was – so-called “stakeholder engagement” meetings. As a citizen, I show up for public input events on topics I care about. I had just been to one the previous week. The usual setup was employed – 4 mics for the “experts” at the elevated head table and 1 mic for the audience of 250 people who care. I frantically wrote about how pitiful this experience was. I looked at the clock – only 2 minutes had gone by!
So I wrote frantically about another “community engagement” session with the same sort of pitiful setup. Now my arm is getting tired from writing. I look up at the clock – OMG, still 5 minutes to go. I did not want to write “blah, blah, blah.”
For the next 5 minutes, I wrote about what I was going to do about it. That led to my discovery of IAP2. I signed up.