Meet a Member – January, 2017: Jorge Avilès

jorge-o-avilesPOSITION: Board member / Aboriginal Relations Liaison / Senior Aboriginal Relations Advisor, TransAlta

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

I have practiced P2 for more than 20 years – the first instances took place while working as Business Development Manager for a rehabilitation agency offering services to adults with mental and developmental handicaps. The inclusion of our clients’ voice was not common practice at the time. As Senior Aboriginal Relations Advisor at TransAlta, I’m not only in charge of relationship-building and negotiations with Treaty 6 and 7 First Nations in Alberta, but any other Aboriginal group that might be near our present assets in Ontario, New Brunswick, Quebec, BC, etc. Since the company went through re-structuring a year and a half ago, I’ve also been in charge of stakeholder relations, which is a more generalized position, but still connected with P2.
What turned you on to P2 in the first place?

In few words – the lack of participation opportunities given to Indigenous groups by companies running projects in their traditional territories. Around 20 years ago I was working in Mexico for a huge communications company, doing some green-field operations – basically, starting from “zero”.

The head office was in Quebec – the project itself was in central Mexico, and part of my job was to take different executives to Mexico to sign papers and approve things. The hotel we stayed in cost $600.00 a night. While that was going on, I found out through the project template that the aboriginal people working on the project – many of them with college educations — were making five to six dollars a day.  In other words, for these people to spend a night in the hotel where we were staying, these people would have to work 100 days and not spend a cent of that money! I realized there was something intrinsically wrong with what we were doing.

It was a fairly common practice among foreign companies, that instead of paying a person’s salary all in cash, they would give coupons to buy food. And they could only spend it on food because “if you don’t, they’d drink it”. So we managed to get that practice changed, and then we started developing housing projects and other initiatives to make the jobs they were doing more valuable.

It was through that, that I realized nobody was talking to the Aboriginal people about what they wanted and what they were hoping to get out of the project. Was it just a job, or was there something else?

As we moved forward in that direction, the profile of the company went up, and so did the importance of being an aboriginal person working for that company.

One day, I was chatting w/a friend about how badly I felt about the situation in Mexico, and his comment was, “let me take you to Africa”. So I went to some projects in West Africa and I got to see how much worse things were for aboriginal people in that part of the world. So for the next 6+ years I did sustainable development work with people in Africa, in Southeast Asia and in Latin America.

Then one day, I realized I was not 35 anymore and had a family with young kids who were wondering who this stranger was who was showing up once a month. That’s when I decided to settle down in Calgary and work with disadvantaged groups locally.

Have you had a “Golden Learning Moment”?

To understand the values of any given group, one must immerse oneself in their culture. This strategy assists in identifying those individuals that best represent the common voice of the communities they are a part of.

There is a nugget that always keeps on popping up … as one of my best friends in africa would say … education is the answer … can’t educate oneself unless you listen … so making sure the message is transferred in both directions … including the voice of the people you’re working among will always give you the best results in the end.

What “big wins” have you had?

Any approval to run an educational project in Vietnam is a big win. Including your apparent enemy in the early conversation, usually turns the discussion in the right direction.

Some of the bigger successes are being able to get through to governments — like the Communist govt in Vietnam, convincing them that it would be OK for a company from a Christian country, with Christian values, to build a school. I was working for Samaritan’s Purse, the organization headed by Franklin Graham, working with orphanages and programs that grabbed kids from the streets and trained them to get jobs in hotels or the tourism industry in general.

So in our conversation with the Vietnamese government, we had to spell out how the government would benefit from what we were doing. They knew it was important to have schools in the northern mountain areas; we were able to demonstrate how, when it came time for us to leave, all the programs would be in place to be run locally.

In Canada, one project that left an impression on me is one that didn’t get built according to the original idea. TransAlta planned to build a high-voltage power-line through a reserve. That idea is way more intricate than asking “how much do you want in compensation?”. You can’t just work with one person or group on a First Nation: you have to also work with elders and those with traditional knowledge, who will tell you things and raise issues you might not have been aware of. Some of the documents the government gives you may be out of date. Migration routes, for example, may have changed since the documents were written seven years ago. You have to adapt the plans to fit the environmental needs of those who live on that land.

In the case of this high-voltage line, the First Nation we were consulting with wanted us to run the power line right through their schoolyard. I couldn’t understand why they wanted that, but it turned out that if it was running through the school yard the government would have to pay them a higher grant. We had to convince them that if they wanted to fund the school there were other ways to do it than doing something to jeopardize their children. In the end, the govt didn’t build the line through there so it didn’t affect the First Nation.

Through that, the people in the community learned a lesson they could apply in future development plans.

In every community, there’s always people who do things without considering how their actions will affect others in the community, so I make sure I deal with others in the community and that I bring in people whose views aren’t necessarily the same as those of the leadership.

We tend to hear about First Nations that oppose development; but we hardly ever hear about the FNs that try to manipulate the system to make money for the community .

Here’s an off-the-wall question: you’re a trained opera singer. Has that ever factored into your P2 work?

When I worked with Samaritan’s Purse, I was supposed to be on-call, because you never know when there might be a natural disaster and you have to rush away/ So because I was traveling so much, I had to give up my operatic career for that time: I couldn’t book many concerts in advance. The positive side was that in many cases I was able to use my singing as a means to establish good relationships with other people and to fund-raise for the projects that needed money.

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

Public Participation is not a business – it’s a set of ethics essential to the true success of any project or activity. Listen, listen, listen…

Meet a Member: Lisa Moilanen

lisa-moilanenNAME Lisa Moilanen

POSITION Community engagement specialist, Stantec, Victoria

What turned you on to P2 in the first place?

I like the people part of anything … I love connecting with them, liaising with them, and helping them to understand what our client is doing. I learned about public engagement from Terry Koch, one of the founding members of the Wild Rose Chapter. He invited me to come along and learn about it and I joined Stantec to do just that. Stantec wanted to grow that part of the business and I did it for 5 years in Calgary and got established there, working in BC and the Yukon as well, before the opportunity came up to move to the Island.

I’ve learned that engagement and consultation issues are woven into many projects at Stantec. I’m constantly amazed at every project and the way that P2 plays an important part in projects and organizations, whether they’re our own clients or within the company itself. For instance, we currently have over 30 Stantec people who meet by phone once a month to talk about engagement. Some are architects, some are planners, some are pure engagement specialists like myself. Many people work on P2 within Stantec and don’t know it. So specialists like me, we sell ourselves as ‘pure’ engagement specialists so that we can handle that part of it and let the architects and planners do their thing and ‘wear’ only one hat.

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

I’ve been working in P2 for just over 9 years, primarily with Stantec: I spent the first five of those years in Calgary, and then they transferred me out to Vancouver Island. That was a homecoming for me: I was born and raised in Duncan. Before going to Stantec, I was with the Urban Development Institute – Calgary doing a form of engagement through communications and coordination roles.

Have you had a “Golden Learning Moment”?

It continues to interest me how emotion and outrage will come along in our projects, and when we openly and transparently listen to someone, that goes a long way to defuse it. When we explain what our projects are about, just being able to close that communication loop with them brings so much more value to what we do. We can’t always make everybody happy, but it goes a long way when we listen and can provide them with the “why” of our projects or our methods. When you’ve done it well, you get a lot of supporters and champions of the project – even if they weren’t, to begin with.

What “big wins” have you had?

We had an instance in southern Alberta when we were doing a long series of engagements for the Government of Alberta. We had a stakeholder session earlier in the day and the public meeting was coming up. But we learned that one of the local user groups had put out a full-page ad in the newspaper that looked like one of our ads but was designed to get people out to oppose the project. It used a slogan that we would never have used, but got people’s attention with a message that with this project, we were going to shut down the back-country, which we weren’t.

So we made sure we had enough facilitators for the roundtables so we could have the conversations and iron things out. A lot of people came out, and at the end, many were quite upset that they were brought out under false pretenses.

The biggest tool, I find, is the ability to listen and communicate with one another. You want to make sure you have a diverse group of people – a cross-mix of stakeholders and others from different backgrounds … it helps to get people out of their particular box and looking at the situation in a different light.

For me, I would love to encourage people to become as involved as their lives allow them to be with the IAP2 organizations in your back yard. We all have so much to learn from each other, whether you’ve just started or been in the business for 20 years.

For me, I love being on the IAP2 BC board, taking an interest and generating interest on Vancouver Island. When we have an event, whether it’s a small crowd or not; the networking and learning from each other is very valuable.

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

Ensure that you really do stick to the IAP2 Core Values and Spectrum. They’re the tried-tested tools to use and if you ensure that your projects have that built in, you’ll have great success.

You have to bring that to the forefront … often, the economics of the project or other considerations, the engagement part is pushed to the side … but if you don’t engage right, you spend a lot more time and money trying to fix it.

I’m a big advocate of taking the training. Some of it may be pretty basic, but the Foundations training brings it all together in one spot and helps one understand the context.

My other passion is to be out in the community … and engagement goes further than in just your job. When you’re able to go out and support and do things in the community, you start to see people in different areas and take the things that you believe in in engagement and see how much further it goes than in just your job.

I manage a team as well, as part of the hat I wear at Stantec, and those principles resonate in all aspects of life. If we use our P2 principles, if we ask people how they want to be engaged and are truly transparent we get a much happier office and work life.

Member Profile: Anthea Brown

Anthea-72dpi-IMG_6114 (1)
Anthea Brown, engagement manager for North America, Bang the Table Canada

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

I was born and grew up in South Africa and earned my degree at Witwatersrand Polytechnic. It was a co-op degree and I worked as an intern at a PR agency where I got my first experience with P2. The experience was more covert than overt: it was the era of the spin, where you controlled all the messaging and it was more prescriptive. PR agencies had lots of money and could reach out to organizations. Social media didn’t exist then, so the PR firms could control the messaging.

I went on a different tangent for a while, in journalism, marketing and PR. I moved to Vancouver 20 years ago and worked in various publishing and marketing related environments and then started my own business.  Five years ago, I joined SustaiNet Software Solutions to manage their online engagement product – EngagementHQ. Howard Adam, the CEO of SustaiNet had just become the Canadian distributor for this community and stakeholder engagement platform built to do consultation online. So this brought me full circle to what I found I was really passionate about: communication practice and public engagement.

EngagementHQ gave me an opportunity to see more of the public engaged in the issues that affected their lives. In fact, I couldn’t believe how true to my original communications principles this process is – my belief that people should have a voice no matter who they are. EngagementHQ is built strategically to address online consultation and to be an enhancement to all the tools in the toolbox of community engagement. It helps reach citizen who really are too busy to attend meetings and ensures these busy people also have a voice. It creates an honest and transparent process and ensures quality of information. That’s crucial in the P2 process on all sides.


Have you had a “Golden Learning Moment”?

I am constantly energized at what fine personalities you’ll find in each community or organization. I love the openness of people working in P2. PR was all about spin and this is no longer true – no controlling of the message. Certainly, online engagement was perceived to be harder and riskier. It sometimes takes a mind shift to dispel that perception.

I think another big “AHA” moment for me was seeing how these organizations were using online tools successfully. Organizations were now able to provide an additional way for people to have a voice. You (companies and governments) have to embrace that: if you don’t, you’re dead in the water.

The online world has moved at Mach speed. I‘ve seen a shift in as little as 4 years from where people said “we don’t have a website” and “our organization won’t allow social media,” to where they’re now embracing online engagement tools. Online engagement is about making people comfortable, making it easy and feeling safe about getting involved. In Mississauga for example, there was a budget process which included online participatory budgeting and they had 2,000 submissions. That level of participation was not achieved through face-to-face meetings. Online helped people feel they could contribute and make a difference at time and place that worked for them and the city could reach even more citizens.


What “big wins” in P2 have you witnessed?

I’ve seen more and more cities enthusiastically include online engagement in their community engagement process and reach a greater proportion of their citizens.  The Regional Municipality of Halifax has very much embraced online engagement as part of their overall community input. Their engagement strategy defines how they consistently engage their citizens based on IAP2 Core Values and principles.

I see places like St John’s NL and the Alberta Energy Regulator; I see it in the city of Richmond (BC) and Port Metro Vancouver: all building processes successfully around citizen engagement that not only embraces online engagement but also embraces how to use social media successfully and reach out to an even greater proportion of their citizens.

The City of Mississauga was very successful with their project for Port Credit. They won an award for their online engagement micro-site and process which was used strategically alongside their in person events. They took all the right steps to make sure everyone had a voice.


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

I think it’s an exciting field: it offers so many opportunities to work in different divisions of organizations and to be very connected with the voice of society. It has a long way to go in many ways, but organizations like IAP2 have “awakened the beast”. For a young person interested in communications and connecting with people it is a very real way to participate in issues that affect citizens lives and make it possible for them to have a voice.

Meet a Member – July, 2016: TREVOR JOYAL

EnvironmenTREVOR JOYAL HEADSHOT-ENHANCEDtal Specialist with Manitoba Hydro and President, IAP2 Prairies Chapter

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

I have been in P2 for just over 6 years. I graduated from the University of Manitoba in 2009 with full intentions of working in a lab and studying environmental toxicology – public participation was nowhere on my radar! Instead, I began working with MMM Group Ltd as an environmental planner focusing on socio-economic impact analysis. I began working on a large scale transmission line project where I was asked to assist the engagement team and was introduced to IAP2. From there, I realized I wanted to direct my career into the P2 field.

I now work with Manitoba Hydro as an Environmental Specialist and develop and execute engagement processes for major transmission, natural gas and electrical stations across the Province. This position has allowed me to learn from our past projects and other utilities to improve Manitoba Hydro’s engagement processes.

There are lots of areas for contention in this industry. We often work with private landowners – and as you can imagine, being told that a transmission line could go across your property can be upsetting. So we talk about how to minimize impacts and discuss mitigation measures. You’ll see changes and modifications to a project that are reflective of their feedback and how their feedback has changed the outcome. They may not always like the outcome, but we try to make sure that they understand the process and that their feedback is considered in Manitoba Hydro’s decision-making.

Have you had a “Golden Learning Moment”?

I was at a Landowner Information Center in a small town in rural Manitoba. I saw a very vocal landowner who I had numerous discussions with prior come into the venue with a younger man who I had never met looking quite angry. I took them over to a corner and began talking with them. The young man, with his arms crossed, looked at me and said “This process is a waste of time. You don’t care about what I have to say. You don’t care what anybody has to say.”

At first, I was taken aback but my response was almost out of instinct. “Then why are you here? You drove an hour and a half to tell me that talking to me is a waste of time? I have others that really want to sit and talk about this project. I do not believe that you believe what you just told me”.

He sat there quietly and I was expecting a backlash. He looked at me and then smiled. “Straight to the point. I like that, let’s talk.” We now talk regularly and have developed a good relationship. Throughout our many subsequent discussions, concerns from him and his growing family were considered and the project modified. He recently gave me travel advice when he called just to check in. 

That interaction taught me that everyone is different. Although my reaction was not the most apt, if I hadn’t said it, I may not have developed that relationship. Some people don’t want pleasantries or empathy; some just want a frank conversation or even just the facts. It’s about developing that relationship to understand them and to gain trust in your process and trust in you. Each member of the public is different and that is why I like to develop processes that cater to different people, their comfort level, and their interest in our projects.

What “big wins” have you had?

I would have to say that the relationships I have built with different stakeholders and members of the public have been my big wins. Without these relationships my processes could easily fall apart. I am constantly learning from them as to where improvements can be made and what was successful to incorporate into future planning and techniques to continue to improve our processes.

If you had anything to say to someone just getting into the P2 business … Get involved! When I first started in P2 I realized that I had never really participated in any project or even attended an open house. Learn and network. Follow up with university contacts, your professors, guest speakers, attend networking events, and even just join a mailing list for a project! Getting to know others, their work and seeing the impact P2 can have in projects will really drive you to further your career in the field. 

IAP2 Member Profile: Luc Richard

luc richardDirector, Organizational Performance Department with the City of Dieppe NB

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

P2 has been part of my professional responsibilities for just over 5 years.  However, I’ve been reading, learning and intrigued about P2 since early 2006, and actually doing P2, unknowingly for about 13 years. I completed the P2 Certificate in 2013 and got accepted for the IAP2 Mentorship Program in 2013. I then joined the IAP2 Board as a Deputy Director in 2014 and attended the NA Conference in Winnipeg in the Fall of 2014. I’m currently on the IAP2 Atlantic Chapter Board.

My career path is somewhat unorthodox.  I have an education degree, specifically physical education, and began my working career in the public school system.  After 3 years, I chose to follow my passion for hockey and joined Hockey Canada. I spent 6 plus years in the development side of the game educating, coaching and promoting best practices with volunteers, parents and local minor hockey associations.

DIEPPE 1In 2003, I decided to return closer to home and began a new challenge as Deputy Director of the City of Dieppe Community Recreational Department.  This role had me work very closely with our citizens and not for profit sector.  After 3 years in that position, the Chief Administrator Officer of the time offered that I join his office to work on Corporate Initiatives related to continuous improvements.  This lead to also working closer with elected officials.

What turned you on to P2 in the first place?

Questions around protocol and governance got my attention when I realized how much politics played a role in the city’s decisions.  As I was under the impression that some key decisions at both management and city council levels were made in the absence of valuable data, I began Googling for best practices in governance and decision making.  This is where I found IAP2 and a whole new world out there!!!

As a public servant, I had a goal of serving for the greater good.  As an engaged and active Dieppe citizen, I had an interest in knowing our tax dollars were well spent and was hoping to contribute positively to the development of my community beyond my professional responsibilities.

Have you had a “Golden Learning Moment”?

When I first saw the IAP2 Spectrum, it clarified a lot of questions and confusing thoughts I had from all the reading I had done.  It was at that time I could finally bring the theoretical and practical aspects of P2 together.  It brought up the fact that we were doing some good things at the city level but that we were missing out on clarifying the Why we do P2 in the first place.

What “big wins” have you had?

The adoption of a municipal P2 Policy in 2014 was certainly a positive step towards institutionalizing public participation.  However, our Participatory Budgeting Project (PBP) in 2015 was also a huge step in getting city council to actually agree to put some concrete action behind our P2 Policy.  I was the “internal champion” with the city, and council agreed to move the process forward. We hired consultants from the Participatory Budgeting Project out of New York City to help build the process. Close to twenty people signed up to be on the steering committee and we made sure they represented the rich, poor, young, old, educated, non-educated.

The committee developed the guidelines for the projects that could go on the ballot and the consultants from PBP shared best practices from other jurisdictions; the committee then decided what would work for Dieppe.

One decision council had to make was who was eligible to vote: with PB, you don’t have to be a Canadian citizen to vote: if you live in the community, you have a right to say where your taxes go; council also agreed to let kids as young as Grade 6 vote – so you had 11 or 12-year-olds whose vote had the same weight as a 96-year-old.

dieppe aquatic
Dieppe Aquatic Centre

Council put $300-thousand on the table – Dieppe’s total budget is about $45 million – and then stepped back to let staff and consultants put the committee’s decisions into action. I should note that they decided on $300-thousand after the PBP consultants told them St-Basile-le-Grand, Québec, had put $200K on the table and has a much lower population – there might have been a bit of “ego” there.

The Steering Committee collected ideas from the community, pared it down to the top-20 to go on the ballot, and four won the voting. Three of those ideas were things council probably would have been reluctant to accept, if it had been up to them: outdoor fitness equipment next to the aquatic centre; a climbing wall at the Dieppe boys’ and girls’ club; special flooring for the ball-hockey rink at the Youth House and renovating one of the playgrounds at an elementary school.

DIEPPE 2Other projects that didn’t make the cut – like a dog park, arts and culture ideas and some projects for seniors and the environment – are now being incorporated into the city’s future plans, anyway.

One of the disappointments for me, though, was that there was only five percent turnout. The PBP consultants said that was one of the higher turnouts they’d seen, but I think some people were skeptical about the process and some may have confused it with a budget simulation exercise we did a few years ago. That exercise was closer to “consult” on the Spectrum; Participatory Budgeting is more like “empower”.

Another thing the PB exercise did was let people express their views. Because Dieppe is one of the faster-growing cities in Canada, it’s had to invest in infrastructure and there’s a perception that the city is in debt. Some people said the city should take that $300-thousand and put it on the debt. This gave them a chance to be heard and showed that the debt is a concern for many.

We’re now going through a third-party evaluation: a professor from Université de Moncton has been meeting with focus groups, and now we’ll be taking her findings and our own report to council in September to decide whether there should be a second cycle. The Mayor wants to do it again, and at least one Councillor is in favour of making this an integral part of the budgeting process.

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

For someone working in an environment where there isn’t much knowledge or understanding around what P2 really means, it is extremely important to find and network with colleagues that work in the similar area of business.  In my case, I found resources and people with experiences in the Municipal sector with much insight and knowledge to share.  Hence, I didn’t have to reinvent the wheel. This allowed me to pursue my questioning and understanding of P2 with people that understood the framework and lingo.

It is also paramount that you help your colleagues within your own organization to get better acquainted with P2 values, principles and tools.  You may still end up being the internal P2 champion but at the very least, you may or will, hopefully, have others who support your interventions and share your vision for what authentic P2 actually looks like!!!

IAP2 Member Profile (April 2016)


POSITION – Stakeholder engagement and communications consultant

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

I took the formal P2 training in 2014, but I’ve been involved with P2 for about 10 years without really knowing it. While I was a journalism instructor at MacEwan University, I taught students about citizen participation in the news, tracing its emergence and development in the news profession over a period of 10 years. The challenges faced by news organizations to involve citizens in news decision-making are similar to the challenges faced by all organizations – governments, businesses are all facing increased demands in decision-making and policy development.

Why is it important for citizens to be involved in the decisions a newsroom makes? Changing technologies facilitate much more immediate collaboration and cooperation with citizens, and the news industry has been struggling with how to deal with that like all organizations. News professionals have been experimenting with “citizen journalism” over the years, allowing citizens to do everything from attempting to help write editorials to sharing video footage and photos of live news events, but really, there’s still a hierarchy of newsroom decision-making that’s resulted in keeping some doors closed: ordinary citizens are allowed on the front end – sharing their ideas — or on the back end – commenting – but the doors to the inside, where news decisions are made, are still shut to citizens for the most part.

We see that now with public engagement: the actual decision-making is still done by the “man behind the curtain”; the challenge for governments and news agencies is to be more transparent and to permit more decision-making power to citizens. The issue of what decision doors should be opened and which doors should be closed still needs to be addressed.

The basic problem is that you have evidence that comes from experts and evidence that comes from non-experts, and the problem is to blend the different types of knowledge so they work together. How can newsrooms incorporate the citizen perspective to make the news? And how do governments make decisions and involve citizen voices? How do you gather all the information and make sense of it and then report what you get from citizens to help the experts make the final decision?

It’s about a clash of different knowledge and for years, we’ve “privileged” expert knowledge, but now we’re seeing a rise in the non-expert knowledge, and the challenge is to blend the two.
What turned you on to P2 in the first place?

In 1999-2000, I sought training at the Canadian Film Centre in Toronto in “New Media Design”. I was one of first cohorts in this innovative program, which is still offered today.

I’m what you call an early adopter of innovation, and that’s how I see P2: it is an innovation and a way of giving up control and engaging audiences. That was what led me into online journalism … looking at new ways of doing things, harnessing different voices and making sense of lots of different information and knowledge. It’s about innovation and adapting, and not everyone does it well. I use the lens of innovation to help work with clients to help them find an approach. Innovation is a journey fuelled by change through a social process and it takes time.

Part of the approach is to create realistic expectations for P2. If you simply have one-off events – if you or your organization think you can do something in one shot and that that alone is going to get you the information you need, I challenge that. There has to be an approach, rather than symptomatic treatment of things, which is what I came to realize, putting together this White Paper.

It needs time – a 2-year window, in one study I looked at – to trace the impacts and evaluate the outcomes of public participation. The City of Edmonton, where I live, is going through major innovation through a Council initiative on Public Engagement, and I was invited to be part of it by participating on the working group on evaluation, reporting and awards.  An audit report found the citizens of Edmonton said “we’re done with open houses,” and on-high, there’s a realization that the City has to change. It requires massive innovation and corporate cultural change.

We need more evaluation in order to build the body of evidence as to the benefits of P2. Research shows that a multiple-method approach reaches more people. I think there’s a recognition that there needs to be a different approach. We need to be more collaborative and move away from the low end of the Engagement Spectrum.

It’s starting to happen: organizations are starting to review the ways that they engage their citizens, and not because people say they want to do something online. They also want better face-to-face engagement, where their ideas can feed off one another.

It’s an interesting, exciting time, and we need to do evaluation to learn. We don’t know what’s effective, and that’s what hit me when I was writing the White Paper on public participation.

Have you had a “Golden Learning Moment”?

For me, I’ve been steeped in this for years, and the massive realization that I’m part of this growing trend of citizens, eager to be part of the process, has been a revelation in itself.

I’ve been studying Diffusion of Innovations by Everett Rogers over the last couple of years, and it has been one of the best reads of my life, helping me understand myself, all the things I’ve done and witnessed, and the organizations where I have worked. It influences the work I do now, in fact. And Rogers’ insights helped me develop an understanding that P2 is fundamentally about innovation in organizations and about organizations struggling to adopt the innovation. I realized I’d been doing that for years – tracing it innovation for years in the news industry.

P2 is about changing organizational behaviours and citizens’ behaviours – they need to trust in the system and that changes they hear about are actually happening. It will take time and strategy, but all parties need to adopt the innovation of engagement in order to make our democracy more meaningful and relevant. Newcomers to Canada especially need to be encouraged to participate and not be marginalized.

It’s an exciting time: we have a world that needs solutions to complex problems and we need citizens to be part of the solution.

Part of the task is to educate the news media. Traditional media still have the power to frame the issues. News media professionals can raise some good questions concerning transparency about the way governments do P2: how authentic is the process – how much money — how transparent is it?

The media are used to public open houses, but open houses have been the tool of the day for years for institutions, and they actually may have discouraged people from coming out. You hear about the fisticuffs and loud voices – free-for-alls, but that was the only place where people could say their piece, and the media witnessed the divisiveness and reported on it, which is their responsibility. But there needs to be different techniques to engage people who have divisive views so they can disagree agreeably.

There aren’t enough public spaces to vent, which is why social media is so popular … lots of people are talking but are people listening? The answer, I believe, is no based on evidence about people’s social media usage behaviours.

I’m concerned that, with things like climate change and the point where we’re at in society with the growing gap between the rich and those who are not, we need to have better dialogue on how to solve problems.

Some newspapers are starting to focus on solutions, rather than problems and controversy. Reporters ought to be asking what governments and organizations are doing with the information gathered from citizen engagement efforts, what I call “citizen evidence”, and not just covering the emotion and outrage. Government reports are written, but fully accounting for what’s been done with that citizen evidence in terms of how it has been considered in decision-making isn’t happening. News media could do a better job pressing for governments’ accountability.

When it comes to evaluation – which is the topic of my White Paper – we need to know how much weight is given to public comments in decision-making. The leading tool I recommended – PPEET (the Public and Patient Engagement Evaluation Tool, winner of the 2014 IAP2 Canada Core Values Award for Research Project of the Year) – addresses organizational context and organizational accountability for how citizen feedback was used in decision-making. There are many variables that influence the effectiveness of P2 and that needs to be considered, like organizational culture and what’s going on socially, politically, economically, environmentally.

It’s a dance – we all dance together – we live in the same space, we share the same resources, and we need to have safe places where we can express ourselves. The media play a role, so do citizens, stakeholders, groups with vested interests in the goings-on in the community. That includes P2 practitioners.

P2 is a tool for hearing voices and listening to people, finding out what people think about issues, feeding their messages to the decision-makers and letting citizens be part of the decision-making process.

What “big wins” have you had?

My recent big win was with engagement workshops I designed and facilitated for the Edmonton Federation of Community Leagues (EFCL). There’s been a push to change city regulations for mature neighborhoods with what’s called the MNO review – Mature Neighbourhood Overlay—which is ultimately about dealing with infill development in mature neighbourhoods as the city grows. A lot of people say it’s really open season for developers. My house was built in 1952 and the yard is so big, people could play soccer in it. Now according to expert opinion, the solution is to increase density in cities rather than continue  to permit urban sprawl, and this means changes to mature neighbourhoods like mine. It was a challenging topic, but it turned out to be a success. We’ve been able to narrow down the scope and turn the workshops into something concrete and specific, facilitating a collaborative and dialogue-driven workshop for league members to learn more about mature neighbourhood regulations. The regulations are up for review and the EFCL wants to get its members ready to take part in the City of Edmonton’s P2 process.

But it’s a dry topic and complex — so what do you do? I worked with the EFCL to design workshops with a learning component, which was easy for me to create given my instructional design background in teaching. And I felt confident about this approach because the evaluation evidence I researched for the White Paper shows that people want to come out of an engagement process feeling like they’ve learned something, and that they evaluate the success of a P2 process through this lens. We had people prioritize the mature neighbourhood regulations based on their values related to mature neighbourhood characteristics. They were so engaged that they stayed a half an hour longer than originally planned in order to complete the last activity, and they asked for more workshops. The evaluation tool that I recommend in the white paper for P2 practitioners to use was intended for the health care field, but I successfully adapted it for the EFCL, and it worked well. The tool is meant to be adapted.

The workshops helped league members build capacity and prepare to engage effectively at the City’s public engagement activities on mature neighbourhoods. The City of Edmonton has put so much money into its public engagement strategy and is re-grouping and changing its corporate culture … and it will come back in their face if they don’t follow through with the MNO and listen to citizens’ ideas.

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

New practitioners need to develop skills in evaluation, or at least develop an understanding of evaluation of P2, and they need to get accustomed to being more rigorously evaluated. As I explain in the white paper, we live in a world of evidence-based decision-making and practitioners are facing increasing pressure to provide evidence that P2 is effective. That’s why we need more rigorous evaluation of p2 that we design and facilitate – and newcomers to the profession may need to have that in their skill set.

MEMBER PROFILE: Kate Nelischer

Senior Public Consultation Coordinator, City of Toronto

Nelishcher_HeadshotI’ve been in P2 for about 5 years now, and only became a member of IAP2 Canada in early 2015 through my role with the City of Toronto. My background is in landscape architecture – I earned my Bachelor’s in landscape architecture and my Master’s in design writing and I found a job that combined the two disciplines.

Early days (photo courtesy The Planning Partnership)

My career in public participation started with The Planning Partnership in Toronto, where I worked under the direction of Donna Hinde. Donna is a landscape architect by training and has been working in P2 for decades. I really couldn’t have asked for a better introduction to the field. She is a leader in P2 for planning and design projects, and is constantly finding new ways to engage stakeholders. Landscape architecture is a very public-facing profession. You’re creating places that people enjoy, like plazas or streetscapes, so inherent in that is involving the public in those designs. You’re not only designing something the public will enjoy but involving them in that process.

When you’re creating any kind of infrastructure, you’re always going to run into controversy about what’s cost-effective and even about what’s beautiful. People have opinions and this breeds a great discussion and a great forum. I’ve always been an inclusionary type: you have to be in this trade, because you’re working with all sorts of different people with different ideas and points of view. We’ve never gone to the public with a fully-formed design: I believe the P2 part should always come in the earliest phases of a project, and in my experience, it usually does.

From the Planning Partnership, I went to the City of Brampton as coordinator of community engagement there. I had a chance to work with Olga Lukich and learn more from her, then I came to Toronto in 2015, under the direction of Tracy Manolakakis. I’m fortunate to be able to work on a variety of projects including transportation, planning, engineering, and construction projects

The Public Consultation Unit at the City of Toronto has been around for a long time and the city of TO works to engage the public in its projects. Tracy is a real champion of P2 and has worked incredibly hard to ensure that public consultation has been involved in every project that we’ve worked on and that’s resulted in a better process overall.
Do any projects in particular stand out?

Ideas, ideas, ideas! Literally anyone affected by York U’s Master Plan had a chance to give input. (Photo courtesy The Planning Partnership.)

There are two. One is the York University Master Plan, which I worked on at the Planning Partnership. They’ve had a long history with York University, and this was a very interesting project because it was a large scale and involved so many different communities. We had to engage students, faculty, staff, seniors, administrators, and the community in the area of the campus. Finding the right ways to engage them was challenging, as was balancing each group’s needs in the master plan. We had wonderful opportunities to engage with the campus community with that. Through that process, Donna Hinde won the Gold Facilitation Impact from the International Association of Facilitators for the project.

The second one is more recent: in 2015, with the City of Toronto, I worked with Transportation Services on a project called “Peak Hours”. The idea was to improve streetcar flow along Queen Street, College Street and Dundas Street by changing some of the morning and afternoon rush hour driving restrictions – when there’s no on-street parking. The rush hours would be extended and reduced in some places.

Congestion on Queen Street.

So we had to look at where the restrictions are, but the routes go through six wards, so we had a number of different communities and BIAs involved. Transportation Services had gathered an incredible amount of data and brought forward the proposals. My colleague, Maogosha Pyjor – also a senior public consultation coordinator – and I took them to the public and the BIAs at a number of public events and meetings. These locals know the area — for example, where seniors’ homes and medical clinics are, where people would need to be dropped off from cars at the curb. Some of the Transportation Services’ proposals did change as a result of the input we got. So the changes were implemented this past December, and Transportation Services is monitoring their impact.


Have you had a “Golden Learning Moment”?

I had the opportunity to work on a lot of smaller neighbourhood-scale projects, and I’ve learned a lot about community relations and that no project is ‘too small’ to have consultation. What seems like “minor” changes turn out to have a big impact on the people living there; so that’s something I try to keep in mind with these projects.


What “big wins” have you had?

“The Prettiest Town in Canada” was hammered in the 2011 tornado …

The one that comes to mind that was a “big win”, when I was at The Planning Partnership and I was able to work with the team on the Goderich Re-Build master plan. This was after the tornado in 2011 that devastated the town. I was so impressed by the willingness of the community to get involved in the rebuilding: the meetings were packed and it resulted in a plan that was truly supported by the community.

The Planning Partnership went on to work on rebuilding the downtown including the central square, replacing the trees they had lost.

… and the townspeople rallied to put it back together again. (Photo courtesy The Planning Partnership)







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

If you’re wanting to do this, at your core you really have to be a team player – someone who values the contributions of the group. You need to value not just the opinions and insights of the public but also of the people you’re working with. I find my job is often as much about engaging internal stakeholders as external and finding ways for everyone to collaborate effectively.

MEET A MEMBER:Caroline Chaumont, Senior Consultant, Engagement Strategies, Hill + Knowlton Canada

Caroline Chaumont-24 (N-B)

(Caroline is also the author of “Why Millennials are MIA in P2“.)

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

I have been in the P2 field for five years. In 2011, I joined Acertys, a Montreal-based consulting firm that specialises in community relations and public consultation processes. Very recently, our team joined the engagement strategies practice at Hill + Knowlton Strategies (H+K), a strategic communications consulting firm. This milestone is not only a new step in my career as a P2 practitioner but also an indicator of some of the current trends within the practice.

What turned you on to P2 in the first place?

My academic background is not directly related to P2, as I have degrees in psychology and commerce. My first contact with P2 was more a matter of chance when, in 2008, I started working for Borealis, a company specializing in the management of social and environmental data for large infrastructure projects. Borealis’ work is closely related to the P2 processes aiming to obtain and keep these projects’ social licence to operate.

Have you had a “Golden Learning Moment”?

Practically every week, as I work with a highly competent team, but I am mostly amazed by the range of tools, processes and possibilities offered by technology in the P2 field. However, after a few setbacks, I have also learned the importance of being able to keep things simple for participants, as we are all overwhelmed daily by the vast amounts of information and choices that technology offers us.

What “big wins” have you had?

I would say that the P2 practice is more about “small” wins over time, but I would cite some of my experiences as a co-facilitator in conflict resolution processes as success stories. In these processes, you can really see the power of dialogue and the results that can come from it over a short period of time. As an example, I was involved in a mediation project in which two organizations with two different missions had failed for more than a decade to come to an agreement for sharing their existing and future facilities. We worked with the two parties by taking a step back and exploring new options in a very practical and “thinking outside the box” way. After only a few sessions, we reached a successful agreement.

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

P2 is a very broad field with many possibilities. Do not hesitate to try and experiment with various type of roles, responsibilities and/or projects, in order to find what best suits your strengths and values.

Meet a Member: Emily Buck, independent P2 consultant, deputy IAP2 Board Member

emily buck-2Emily is a relative newcomer to the P2 profession and joined IAP2 Canada about a year ago. What inspired this young woman to get into public engagement – especially Aboriginal engagement?

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

I completed the IAP2 Foundations training in October 2014 while working as an Environment, Safety and Regulatory Analyst at an oil & gas company in Calgary. In my role as an Analyst I had the opportunity to work with Synergy Alberta, an organization whose mandate is to bring industry, community organizations and community members together for dialogue about resource management. Having whetted my palate in the engagement world, I was thrilled to be presented with an opportunity to do Aboriginal engagement as a consultant for a major pipeline replacement project. Through this project I have I have been able to do work with many of the over 100 Aboriginal communities involved, as well as with the National Energy Board. In other projects, I also have the fortune of consulting in the world of strategic planning, stakeholder analysis, governance, and leadership development.

I have a background in philosophy with a particular interest in contemporary moral and social issues. When you’re talking about Canada and moral and social issues, Aboriginal history is undoubtedly going to come up in conversation. Stakeholder and Aboriginal engagement became an interest of mine in university as I studied Australian Aboriginal social issues while on exchange, and as I contemplated the underlying philosophy of duty to consult, rights of future generations, and other contemporary ethics throughout my undergraduate degree.
What turned you on to P2 in the first place?

While studying philosophy at St. Francis Xavier University, I became curious about how to challenge oneself to let go of preconceived ideas about how things should or shouldn’t be. I believe that’s the key to good engagement: listening carefully and considering another perspective and the merits of that perspective and not just sitting there thinking about how you’re going to prove your point.

I learned about IAP2 through a colleague and was encouraged to take the training. I didn’t know much about the organization, but was intrigued by the core values and ethics outlined by the organization, and I wanted to explore what the practical application of these values and ethics looked like.

Have you had a “Golden Learning Moment”?

I have them all the time. Every time I’m brought face to face with my own preconceived notions about what a decision should be or how a process should unfold I have a learning moment. I’m only one person in a room full of varying perspectives. Thinking I’m right all the time doesn’t make for a good facilitator or life-long learner.

What “big wins” have you had?

I’d say my biggest win has been developing a community of P2 professionals, and IAP2 has been invaluable in helping me to do that. I have been really fortunate to have met professionals who inspire, challenge and mentor me. IAP2’s Mentorship Program has really been the catalyst for the development of my P2 community. My mentor is Anne Harding, and it has been through Anne, through my attendance at the IAP2 North American Conference, and through many, many conversations over coffee, that my network has grown.

I have to say, being involved in engagement full-time is a big win and I’m thrilled that I get to do what I do every day.

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

Become a sponge. Seek out people you can learn from, and ask questions unabashedly. Become aware of the P2 that surrounds you as a community member (an athlete, a musician, a neighbour…) you will find all sorts of opportunities to participate, and all sorts of opportunities to discover what successful (and unsuccessful) engagement looks and feels like from the perspective of the person who is being engaged.

MEET A MEMBER: Jeff Cook, Principal & President, Beringia Community Planning


Jeff Cook of Beringia Community Planning and the Pikangikum (First Nation) Health Authority were co-recipients of the IAP2 Canada Core Values Award for Indigenous Engagement at the 2015 North American Conference in Portland. Their project, “Working It Out Together”, was a three-year effort to set up a planning framework to address complex mental and physical health issues in the community in Northwestern Ontario. They used a community-driven, “home-made” approach based on local Anishinaabe values. The Comprehensive Community Health Plan was also named Project of the Year.

What got you into P2 in the first place? I finished an undergraduate degree in human geography and political studies at Queen’s with a focus on Latin American studies. I was interested in working in Guatemala on land rights. But close to graduation, I was reluctant about pursuing work in Central America and I started thinking about where I could go in my home country to pursue land-rights issues. The closest context I could think of was the Yukon’s Comprehensive Land Claim process. So I had this notion that I would go up north and find a job with land claims – just find a way of supporting Yukon First Nations and indigenous issues.

The choice of Arctic adventurers
The choice of Arctic adventurers

A good friend of mine and I were looking for adventure, and we decided to travel to Canada’s frontier. Another friend gave us his 1976 Toyota Corolla as a joke and wished us luck in making the journey. He said, “it should get you there.” We had no money (a couple of credit cards) so we just hit the highway and took 7 days to get up there. We worked a couple of seasons in Whitehorse to make money for university and as I was finishing my degree I applied for a job while living in Dawson City, Yukon.  A job opportunity came open with the Tr’ondek Hewchin (pron. TRON-dek hWITCHin) – Han people of the River – as Community Economic Development Officer. I spent 3 years with that First Nation, running their Economic Development Office.

As an Economic Development Officer I got to watch the Land Claims process advance. I didn’t actually do any negotiating, but through that position, I fell in love with participatory community planning, and that became my context for P2. It was when the Nation hired a consultant to complete their economic development strategy, that I was struck by the lack of process: an outsider was coming in and creating a plan for the Nation; I felt the planner should be creating a plan with the Nation.

This was the whole colonial model (of planning and development) that Nations were trying to break away from, and this experience energized me to say, No – community planning has to be done way differently if Nations are to restore community self-governance under the land claim.

I ended up moving to Whitehorse after three years, getting invitations from First Nations individuals and communities to assist with their various planning needs. I built this network of relationships and in 1994, decided in launch Cook and Associates, later incorporating as Beringia Community Planning in 1998 to focus in Indigenous Community Planning. In 2002, I completed my Master’s Degree in Community and Regional Planning at UBC to increase my own understanding and capacity as a community planner to support Aboriginal communities in respectful ways.

What are some challenges you’ve faced, working with First Nations? One of the biggest challenges is understanding the cultural complexity, and working in a different world view and how to relate to Indigenous societies. I quickly learned how western planning and development systems, in my mind, were dysfunctional in their own ways – in the way they imposed authority, structure and processes on Nations. I really related to the Indigenous paradigm and ways of being and knowing and connections to the land and the interconnectivity of all things.

The other challenge is working within the Indian Act system and all government levels. You’re working with oppressed societies that have been marginalized, and see community planning and public engagement as a means to support Nations to re-write their own history. It is an opportunity for First Nations to revitalize and rediscover their cultural systems and identity – an internal reconciliation, if you will — as part of the Nation’s rebuilding process. It’s very exciting to be part, in a very small way, of this grassroots community-based movement.

And I probably have just as much fun and pleasure teaching the non-Indigenous world – mayors and councils, politicians and bureaucrats – what they don’t know about implications of Indigenous history. A lot of people are just naïve and unaware of how Indigenous values, knowledge and decision-making systems.

Community planning is just one mechanism for supporting First Nations’ needs in mobilizing themselves to rise up against the western systems and authority structures.


But you’re an outsider, yourself: how were you received by the Nations? I felt that I was being tested, observed carefully for my tone, language, process – given the historical mistrust, as an outsider and because I was non-Indigenous. That’s only about ten percent of the people I’ve worked with…in general, you have to earn the trust and respect.

I think, by going in with humility and soft leadership – a quiet approach, active listening – I quickly found that once members felt there was some kind of alignment in terms of historical understanding, they were so wanting to open up and tell their story in a safe way. That’s part of the history of the trauma and victimization under the Indian Act, Residential schooling and Reserve system, but once trust was established, members quickly wanted to share and decide a better future together. Some oppressed communities felt community-based planning was a way to let out a lot of emotion, feeling and needs – as a way to lead them to a positive future. It inspired great conversation – hard conversations, but good ones that process decisions based on their values and ways of being and knowing.

Your award for the Pikangikum project was certainly a high point: what other “big wins” have you had? Definitely another health project, in the Liard region in the Yukon: The Liard Aboriginal Women’s Society, or LAWS, took the lead on a 3-year health and wellness strategy, tackling addiction on behalf of the Liard First Nation. It was a big process, like Pikangikum, and not a dissimilar situation.

I completed a comprehensive community planning (CCP) process for the Kwikwasut’inuxw Haxwa’mis Nation on Gilford Island. That was a turning point for getting in on the CCP movement: this young Chief came in and said, “No more with the government response. We need to resolve our water, energy and housing issues.” The community had no drinking water, unreliable electricity, and heavy black mould in their houses: people were getting sick. So the Chief said, “Enough’s enough” They wanted to take control back from the government to make life better for the people through community-based planning and public engagement.

Indigenous planning in Canada has a history going back to the 1980s being led by external consultants – taking over from the “Indian Agent”. It’s been a case “we know what you need: give us the money and we’ll do the plan for you.” However, I’ve seen in the past ten years that this is slowly changing, especially in western Canada: we’re changing the way planning is taught, and we hope the next generation of planners doesn’t repeat that history.

A lot of planning companies still follow the colonial paradigm. I feel there’s an ethical, moral and legal obligation to help Nations that need support: help those that ask for support, and let the ones that want to go it alone, do so. We need to figure out what the supporting roles are in a Nation’s rebuilding process and to make sure that community planners are being invited under a Nations own terms.

Are you seeing results from the work you’ve done? There are small, but definite signs of progress. I’m going back to LAWS in November. They’re doing a violence-against-women project, developing a curriculum where young girls will develop skills, tools and language to respond to domestic violence. That vision was one of the hundreds of seeds that grew out of that health plan. Other projects are getting traction and attention as people realize the importance of helping First Nations increase their health and well-being.

On Pikangikum, it’s too early to tell, but you can see the healing that’s resulted from 3 years of coming together in a community-based process. The PFN was able to purchase a cabin infrastructure on Stormer Lake, which had been owned by the Mennonite community. They turned it over to the Nation and it’s being converted to a healing centre based on local values and customs.

If you had anything to say to someone just getting into the P2 business, what would it be? Learn how to practice humility and respect. Having the privilege of being invited into these First Nations communities and places is quite an honour. It’s really inspiring to be with and witness people who are rising up and regaining their identity and strength. The stories of hope are phenomenal and I find it super-inspiring. We have to let go of our own western biases and the way we might do things – just let go of your assumptions and just be open to understanding the world from a different perspective and understanding.

I’d like to thank the Pikangikum First Nation and community members, and the hundreds of people I’ve had the opportunity to work with and learn from over the years – Chiefs, Elders, Adults, Youth and Women – who are inspiring their own communities and families to rise up and strengthen community self-governance. I witness great strength and courage working with Nations across Canada.