Meet a Member – February 2017: Kevin Thorvaldson

kevin-thorvaldson-2

Team Lead, Engage Resource Unit – The City of Calgary

How long have you been in P2, and where have you worked?

I spent the better part of twenty years in newspaper media as well as travel media relations before landing at Altalink, a transmission utility that provides power to 85% of the province in Alberta.  Six months ago, I was hired to lead the Engage Resources team at the City of Calgary.

What turned you on to P2 in the first place?

I was attracted to the field of public participation first and foremost, as it is a field where one can effect meaningful and sustainable change and direction to the region where I live and work and raise my family. Bringing stakeholders along on the journey from early stages — visioning, planning and finally execution and reporting back — provides an unequaled opportunity for dialogue and deliberation that is transparent and inclusive.  Forming a partnership with stakeholders lets them know that their input is appreciated and valuable in providing direction for the programs, infrastructure and services we might provide.

Have you had a “Golden Learning Moment”?

Prior to connecting with them on a planned project on their traditional lands, we focussed on developing a relationship and rapport with one of Alberta’s First Nation communities. This took some time and financial resources, but the Nation was extremely appreciative of this approach. They said it was the first time anyone from industry had engaged them without having a project or agenda in mind.  It let the Nation share their history, their hopes and aspirations for the community. This in turn helped inform our approach to engagement on the project. Another learning from that relationship, especially when dealing with infrastructure {rail, road, pipeline, transmission, etc.} is that the project’s schedules and timelines are NOT representative of what First Nations communities feel is appropriate, so prepare to build a significant buffer into your engagement schedules.

What “big wins” have you had?

Surprisingly, some of the successes I’ve been most proud of have been within my own company’s four walls. Getting regulatory lawyers, project managers and senior engineers on-side to recognize the value of early and frequent engagement and participation was and is to this day a challenge, but once they have that ah-hah moment, the P2 field of supporters grows exponentially.  In some cases, we were able to achieve these wins through organic conversations, in other situations, having some of these folks go through IAP2 Foundations, EOP2 or Decision Makers workshops did the trick.

In terms of public wins, there were a few occasions where very vocal opponents of some contentious projects that had gone on for years eventually came around, even to the point of receiving some hugs for being patient with stakeholders, while they took the time to sort through key factors and considerations in their own minds.

In the regulated world, big wins can be reflected in the number of interveners who speak in opposition at a hearing.  One memorable project saw over three hundred stakeholders register with the regulator as an intervener, but when the hearing came around, only three chose to speak in opposition.  This showed significant progress had been made through the life of the project leading up to the hearing with these stakeholders, none of which could have been possible without inviting them to the table to participate in the process with us.

If you had anything to say to someone just getting into the P2 business …

It is an industry that will likely see significant growth over the coming years, as citizen expectations for meaningful participation and engagement increase. Stakeholders and stakeholder groups are better prepared, educated and have strategies in mind to achieve outcomes that are most favorable to their interests.  P2 professionals will be front and centre in helping build a bridge between the two sides.

I would say to take every opportunity to learn, and to connect with long-term Public Participation professionals, to seek out their counsel and advice.

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