A number of students received scholarships to attend the 2015 IAP2 North American Conference. Among them was Patrick Lo, a Master’s student at the University of BC, majoring in Planning, who monitored the session, “Municipal Engagement, Eh?”
At the 2015 IAP2 North American Conference in Portland, a panel of practitioners consisting of Amanda Mitchell from the City of Vancouver, Lara Tierney from the City of Calgary, Tiffany Skomro from the City of Winnipeg, Michelle Dwyer from the City of Burlington, Ontario, and Daniel Fusca from the City of Toronto hosted a session on P2 initiatives and challenges happening in their respective Canadian municipalities.
More and more municipalities are starting up dedicated units for public participation, like the City of Winnipeg, which just launched their Office of Public Engagement. These are opportunities to build up a culture of public participation from what’s essentially a blank slate.
City planners and other municipal staff are increasingly reaching out to the public where the public already are, so they can engage more voices. For example, the City of Vancouver hosts “Pop-Up City Halls” at community events to let people directly ask questions to city staff and interact with them on topics that matter. The City of Toronto’s planning department has initiatives such as “Planners in Public Spaces”, and “office hours” for planners in public libraries, to reach out to the public in fun and easily-accessible ways.
It’s not always easy to get different departments onto the same page and level of readiness in terms of public participation. The City of Calgary has developed an “Engage! Assessment Tool” to assist city staff in determining what’s needed and what’s suitable with respect to engaging the public on any given city project. Some municipalities, like the City of Calgary and the City of Burlington, have started providing IAP2 training for those involved in public engagement initiatives – for example, the City of Burlington has already provided IAP2 training for 63 staff members, as well as for 7 highly-involved citizens.
There’s of course the age-old problem of finding enough and appropriate resources to do public participation well. But many municipalities also struggle with combatting cynicism. This applies to municipal staff and politicians who don’t see value in public participation – the lack of good metrics for measuring this value only makes this more problematic. The cynicism also comes from the public who feel their input isn’t truly heard or valued – the City of Toronto identified that almost 1 in 3 people who participate feel this way. Certainly lots of work still to do for everyone involved with public participation!