Harnessing the Knowledge Mobilization Power of the IAP2 Network

(a discussion thread from Bruce Gilbert, President, IAP2 Canada)

Bruce Gilbert, IAP2 President

Recently a colleague approached me with an intriguing P2 ‘from-the-field’ question that I had trouble answering. As I fumbled around trying to give her a sensible response it occurred to me that someone out there in ‘P2-land’ likely had more experience than me with such situations. So rather than use my semi-monthly Message from the President opportunity to talk about “who knows what”, for this month at least, I would like to use it an opportunity to generate some dialogue on a real P2 challenge, and also demonstrate the knowledge mobilization power of our IAP2 network.


The Scenario:

Several weeks ago at a government-convened open public dialogue session, citizens were asked to deliberate at round-tables of 7-8 people per (Note: there were 5 tables in the room; each had a facilitator and a note-taker; there was a lead facilitator at the front of the room who notified participants that no names would be associated with any notes taken and that no direct quotes would be used in any reports or session-summaries). As the tables were beginning to discuss the first of 4 open-ended questions, a reporter unknown to the organizers sat at a table with his audio-tape machine running and pointed the mic in the direction of the participant who was talking at that moment. The predictable result was that participants became uncomfortable and the table ultimately went silent. The table facilitator gently attempted to get the journalist to turn off the recording device but he basically ignored her. In an effort to help table members feel less inhibited about talking, the table facilitator also reminded the reporter of the earlier promise to not record or use direct quotes and names. After a few minutes the journalist moved on to a different table which resulted in more uncomfortableness. Eventually, likely because he had enough tape for his purposes, the reporter ceased using the recording device although he continued to sit at tables.

The Question and Sub-Questions:

What are the rights and obligations of reporters/journalists in open P2 settings where organizers are trying to engender frank and open dialogue on important topics?

  • Are there any accepted standards or guidelines out there that can be shared?
  • Notwithstanding that organizers can respectfully request that journalists not be disruptive, and can remind them of pre-established session process-rules, who actually gets to (or should) decide when an activity or action in a public event is disruptive?
  • How can the rights of a journalist to cover a public event be respected while at the same time ensuring that these rights do not negate the very purpose of the event itself?
  • How does one practically resolve (or prevent) a stalemate or conflict in a ‘live’ public setting without creating hostile media?

The Ask:

In the spirit of knowledge mobilization and in keeping with the very reason I joined IAP2 in the first place (i.e., to learn, network and share), can my fellow IAP2 members help? Perhaps there are some ex-journalists in our P2 fold with a perspective on this? Perhaps some of you have found yourselves in this very situation? Let the games begin!

8 thoughts on “Harnessing the Knowledge Mobilization Power of the IAP2 Network

  1. Hi Bruce

    I applaud the open call for comment.

    At the City of Toronto, we post a sign stating “Media Present” or “You may be recorded” with language provided by our legal department. As I understand it, all public events are open to media to record as they please. That said, we sometimes will invite participants opt-out by wearing a ‘please do not record me’ sticker, which may just be a dot, but media are instructed not to record those with the dot. Or we may assign some tables that are not to be recorded that media-shy participants can choose to sit at.

    If the topic is sensitive, I might do the opposite and ask participants to opt-in in to being recorded by sitting at clearly labeled media-friendly tables.

    That’s my 2 cents. I’m sure there are other good approaches that I’d like to learn from.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Easy answer, “it depends”:

    Was a media package prepared in advance that could have helped the reporter do their job, without needing to intimidate participants?

    Did anyone meet with the media at the start, to explain the P2 session (topic, how it works, desire for open dialogue, etc.) and find out what they needed to complete their assignment?

    Was it the type of topic and P2 where the group could decide how media involvement could be handled?

    Was media coverage desirable, or not?

    Was there a designated media spokesperson to help the media with information (i.e. to “represent” the P2 process) or one from the client?

    Did the reporter respect the process and participant’s needs?

    Liked by 2 people

  3. As a former journalist and journalism instructor for 10 years who is now a P2 practitioner, I have ethical problems with the reporter’s behaviours. I see public participation events through the lens of research, having been an academic for 10 years and having trained in research ethics. No harm should be done to participants in research, nor in P2 events. It seems reasonable to conclude that the P2 event was organized to permit anonymity of the participants in order to encourage healthy dialogue, and that should have been communicated to all reporters clearly, and it should have been respected by the reporter in question.

    The reality is that people are never as free to say what they would like to say, even without the presence of news media to record people’s comments. The reporter’s intrusive behaviour silenced dialogue, which is arguably detrimental to the P2 process and ultimately detrimental to the public good. The reporter knew full well that he or she could not use anonymous quotes and that he or she would have needed to provide the participant’s full name to be transparent.

    More education about P2 is needed in newsrooms. We need more dialogue between journalists and P2 practitioners to discuss the role of P2 in our democracy and to discuss how the two professions can work side by side to achieve democratic goals. Discussion about what is on the record in “public” participation is also in dire need. Would be a great debate! Hmmmmm….Maybe I should propose to do this with my journalism colleagues across the country! Could be a good idea.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. An important discussion and conundrum.

    I see this as a question of rights and / versus responsibilities. The media has a right to report accurately on public events and the responsibility to be present in a way that does not impact the “natural” course of events.

    At the same time participants, and the organizations they represent have a responsibility to be accountable the views put forward during public discourse.

    So what’s the balance?

    I believe it come to facilitation, as Jason has mentioned, and creating a respectful space where people are comfortable to express themselves openly and honestly. Address this predicament beforehand is the only answer. At public meetings we always ask if there are media present and if so how to manage that relationship, then get the buy-in from the parties. This can’t be done after the fact. Once the contract is struck group norms will oversee enforcement. This is IAP2 value # 5. We say “engage on process before content”. Transparency is the key.


  5. Great conversation thread here! Interesting topic.

    I think one of the growing concerns I see is the prevalence of mobile devices and the ability to record and broadcast (think Mayor Nenshi, Periscope and Uber!).

    I agree with J. Diceman’s comments above about posting/informing that media will be present. I’m curious to know if that will be a moot point in the coming years as the public’s ability to make, produce and distribute ‘news’ grows with social media – the rise of the ‘citizen journalist.’ (:



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