What drives decision-makers to embrace P2? One of the hurdles P2 practitioners have to clear is to convince people in charge of the value of P2. The September webinar gives insight into how one can approach municipal politicians about public consultation.
Three municipal politicians joined us to talk about the value they’ve found in P2: City Councillor Blair Lancaster from Burlington, Ontario, told us how they came up with an Engagement Charter – the first of its kind in Canada – which calls for citizen involvement in all decision-making.
Austin, Texas, Council Member Leslie Pool described the complete overhaul of her city’s culture, during which a Task Force On Community Engagement was set up and an online tool was developed to make sure neighbourhood groups had the information they needed on plans in the area.
Mayor Dennis Coombs of Longmont, Colorado, explained that his city’s council (put in a link) realized as far back as 2001 how getting multiple inputs from citizens leads to better decisions. Watch the whole webinar and download some of the presenters’ collateral material here.
BLAIR LANCASTER – BURLINGTON, ONTARIO
In 2011, a fairly new council took office in Burlington: three new councillors and a new mayor. Coun. Lancaster described how the IAP2 model provided them with a framework to follow in decision-making, where people know what their place is and how they can contribute. About 60 staff members and several citizens were trained, and that led to the development of an Engagement Charter – which she calls a “powerful document’ that was one of the first in Canada to put the city’s commitment to engage with residents into writing. The charter calls for engagement with citizens in all decision-making.
The first community engagement was a big one: creating the 2015-2040 Strategic Plan. They trained about 60 staff members and several citizens in P2 practices and used the IAP2 model. They went through three phases, which brought over a hundred changes to the plan, including a number of changes that came out during a World Café that was held to look over what staff thought was the final draft.
An important point, Coun. Lancaster says, is that the public realize that community engagement is a two-way street. Council has a responsibility to engage; citizens have a responsibility to be aware. A case in point was a recent review of the city’s parking by-laws, which had undergone four changes in as many years. This had become a source of frustration and confusion for the residents.
Consultations were held, citizens came out to give their feedback, and many more vocal types showed up late in the process. Thanks to the IAP2 model, Coun. Lancaster was able to show that the consultations had been going on and that public opinion was being taken into account. The IAP2 model not only ensures people affected by a decision have a voice in that decision; it provides a “backstop” for people in government, to show that they have been doing due diligence when it comes to consulting with the citizens.
The bottom line for Burlington? An engaging city involves residents and leads to good governance.
LESLIE POOL – AUSTIN, TEXAS
When Leslie Pool was elected to Council in the capital of the Lone Star State, the council passed a resolution at its first meeting to gather best practices for communicating into and out of the city. They had heard that people were concerned they weren’t being heard, and wanted to explore areas of public engagement and find where they can make improvements.
A 13-member task force on community engagement was set up, including Council Members and appointees from the general public and a P2 professional from outside was hired to facilitate.
CM Pool notes that it’s vital to get clear, understandable information and then to show how their public feedback is being used. They ensured staff had training in P2 and recognized that it was important to re-design the website to make it accessible – not just ADA-compatible, but with things like a proper search function and language accessibility.
Austin’s system includes a tool to help neighbourhood groups stay on top of development plans in their area, an online commenting system for constituents and accessibility in meeting places around the city. With 60 boards and commissions, standardizing procedures is important, as is live-streaming of their meetings, rather than publishing the meeting minutes after the fact.
CM Pool is looking to the IAP2 model for some difficult conversations coming up in the next year: re-designing streets to accommodate bicycles. Changing parking regulations and giving over space for bike lanes can always be counted on to generate controversy, and she says following IAP2’s procedures will allow for greater explanations and understanding among the competing interests.
DENNIS COOMBS – LONGMONT, COLORADO
Community involvement in this city of 93,000, 37 miles (60 km) north of Denver, goes back to 2001. The council of the day realized that multiple inputs make for better decisions.
Mayor Coombs says Longmont’s strength is in its diversity. Diversity of perspectives, cultures and ages strengthen the process because as we engage the entire community, we create more a thorough, informed decision-making.
A great example of the community being involved was in the planning to become a “gigabit city” – offering fiber-to-the-home broadband access to its residents. State law requires that any plan to provide broadband be approved by voters. Broadband providers mounted an opposition campaign that Mayor Coombs says included misleading statements and misinformation, so it was important to give the citizens the facts and involve them in the planning. By sticking to the IAP2 model, he says, the proposal was approved and then a bond issue in order to pay for it passed with 66% in favor.
Without engagement, Mayor Coombs says, they could never have accomplished that. It was a matter of getting the correct facts and figures to the most people and involving them in the services they expect from their local government.
Another big P2 project is Envision Longmont; a year-long project to develop a comprehensive plan for the city’s future. So far, Mayor Coombs says, it’s been a huge success.