Meet a Member: Jacques Bénard

Senior Vice-President, Infrastructure & Urban Development, Hill + Knowlton Strategies

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

I don’t consider myself a P2 practitioner, but I’ve been involved with it for many years.

I started with construction in Montreal after doing engineering school at École Polytechnique. Then in the late 80s, I started working as a consultant, specializing in urban revitalisation and heritage preservation projects. It was when I was working on my Masters at Université de Montréal on heritage preservation and land use that I developed an interest in P2.  

The 1980s was not a good time for Montréal. The city was very depressed, particularly the poor parts of town, and the whole city needed an electro-shock. You had to create your own jobs, and that’s what I did.

After I got my Masters, one of my projects was an urban revitalization project in Plateau Mont-Royal – a neighbourhood in Montréal. Going from academic work to a real project I found I needed to get people involved. On top of that, I had discovered that the actual engineering work – calculations and that sort of thing – was not my passion. I learned I was more of a communicator than a “numbers person”.

So P2 became a tool – a way of getting people involved, invested and engaged, getting people to have a shared vision of their neighbourhood, their street. Some people see P2 as an end in itself – a way to make things more democratic: for me, it was a case of “how do you get this project done?”

Eventually – in the mid-90s — I started a non-profit in Montréal, supporting local economic development and urban revitalization initiatives. With a non-profit, participation is important: you have to have a collaborative environment among employees and the Board. We worked in different neighbourhoods. We experienced the different cultural environments and learned to adapt to the different cultures in places like Chinatown, Park Extension or Westmount. Working in those different realities, you learn how to adjust processes – and and yourself.

In the early 2000s, I had an interesting project that changed my way of seeing things. It was the transformation of a former veterans’ housing project in NDG (Notre-Dame-de-Grâce section of Montréal), which was extremely controversial for many years. There was lots of fighting among local residents and community groups. I was working on several projects in that area, and the federal agency that owned the piece of land asked me if I could help resolve the conflict and come up with a common vision for the site.

That changed my perspective and allowed me to bring different stakeholders – with different interests and needs – together. Seeing the skills required to reconcile those interests got me interested in facilitation.

I was focused early in my career on mobilizing communities, and I found that proponents of projects were having difficulty getting support for their projects locally. People don’t want projects imposed on them; they want to be part of it. There were developers who didn’t have the capacity to reach out to communities and get involved in dialogue and they had projects to work on. So I changed my practice and started a consulting firm – Acertys — to work with them, focusing on community relations, conflict resolution when needed and communications. I changed my perspective on the type of tools you need to use to make large-scale projects successful.

We started working on other projects, such as railways, hospitals and energy, and broadened our geographic scope beyond Montréal.

And then Hill + Knowlton took over your company.

P2 is in an interesting state. PR & communications companies are merging with P2 and taking up the idea bringing people together, rather than pushing themselves through. H+K wanted to strengthen its Quebec presence and was interested in Acertys’ urban development and infrastructure experience. Now, I’m the leading expert for that sector for H+K and support internal teams and clients in some of the most significant transportation, public transit, real-estate, energy and institutional projects across the country.

Have you noticed differences as you move outside Montréal?

There are different sensitivities, but humans are humans. I’m always trying to figure out the needs of people who are involved in a project, since they do differ from one neighbourhood to another and from one city to another. But as I work on different projects – also in agricultural areas, which are obviously different – what surprises me is how similar the job is. It’s similar in that you always have to adapt yourself – find out about the local culture and not try to make it adapt to you.

Look at Toronto: it’s a booming city, growing at an incredible pace. The issues are different from Montréal, but everything boils down to the same thing: quality of life. People want to make sure they protect that, and their property values. You’ll find that everywhere, and when you get down to basic needs on a human scale, beyond the social differences and context, there are always the same characteristics that need to be respected.

What learning experiences have you had?

Every project is a learning experience, because they’re all so different. The NDG project was an eye-opener, because I was lucky enough to be involved for three or four years and see the evolution of the project from vision to completion and see the stakeholders get involved in the process. It seemed like an impossible thing at the beginning; and this seems to be the case in many projects where you have people expressing positions in public meetings.

Often, what they express is not their real need, but more of a positioning. That was an eye-opener, being able to get down to see their individual needs. Often as p2 practitioners, we expect there’s a big collective movement in one direction, but each person has an individual need, and when you’re dealing with a mass of people, one of the difficulties is to get down to that individual level. That realization led me to change my practices.

The other learning experience is that over the years, it seems that each P2 process leads to more conflict. We think that P2 leads to more consensus, but really, as more people get voices and want to be heard, that increases the diversity of interests and needs that have to be considered.

In fact, P2 and alternative dispute resolution are distant cousins but members of the same family – part of the same toolbox.

So you need to take a mediation approach to get representation of those interests around the table and it becomes a negotiation process to get solutions that are mutually acceptable. That’s how I approach new assignments now.

Is that realistic?

You can’t please everybody, that’s for sure, but I think when there’s an understanding from all parts that the needs of everyone involved have to be considered, there’s an acceptance of the need to address all these different needs and interests. You don’t often find reaching out and negotiating in P2, but that’s become an important aspect of my work. If people have a sense that they have some kind of control over the end result and that they have made a contribution, they’re more likely to accept it.

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

The value you bring is not only your knowledge of p2 mechanics, but the knowledge of one area of practice. More often now, I see P2 practitioners in a specific field: find an area where you have a particular knowledge and expertise, and that can help you understand complex situations.

To a young practitioner, I would say: first, have a very diverse practice and find out about different sectors and cultural contexts, whether it’s the health sector, development, social planning, public policy, transportation. Then, find one that is your niche — the place where you are an expert, not just a P2 practitioner.

I know a lot of P2 practitioners won’t agree with that, and say that you have to be distanced from the subject, but I believe knowing the industry you’re working with is becoming the norm – not the exception.

And don’t be afraid to question. P2 is not a religion: there’s a lot of transformation in society and we have to keep questioning ourselves.

(Listen to Jacques taking part in the IAP2 August 2017 Webinar: “Montréal Encore – ‘Understanding the Squishy Stuff’ + ‘Are We Smarter Together?’”here.)


Webinar Rewind – “Denver Encore: Beginning with the Brain in Mind” (December 2017)

A growing challenge for a P2 practitioner is the deepening ideological divide that has developed over the past few decades. As people become more and more entrenched in their view and less and less likely to consider those of others, engaging the broadest cross-section of the public becomes more and more difficult.

Dr Martin Carcasson with the Center for Public Deliberation at Colorado State University says finding a solution begins with understanding the root of the problem – the “brain science” behind polarization – and the December webinar was an encore of his presentation at the 2017 IAP2 North American Conference, “Beginning With The Brain In Mind”.

carcasson - books
Lots of books have been written on the subject

Our human nature makes things problematic, Carcasson says. We crave certainty and consistency, and if we’re making a decision in a controversial or even polarized environment, we tend to protect that decision as much as possible, even in the face of contrary facts.

What’s more, people are suckers for the good-versus-evil narrative – through all cultures and all times, we love the hero-and-villain scenario, and Carcasson says that we’re teaching our children wrong by teaching them that there is an evil force behind bad things, when really, it’s more complicated than that.

We are “groupish” or tribal, preferring to associate with like-minded people. Some of the worst things – and some of the best things – that humans have done in history have stemmed from that mind-set.

People tend to be selective in the facts they choose to believe, and will cherry-pick evidence that supports our beliefs. That, in turn, leads to motivated reasoning, which is not driven by accuracy or problem-solving, but by the desire to protect the decisions we’re already made and the groups we support.

carcasson - interpret new evidence

Carcasson says there are five elements of motivated reasoning:

  1. What we expose ourselves to — selective exposure/echo chambers/media bubbles or filters
  2. How we interpret the information – confirmation bias, cognitive dissonance, the “back-fire effect”,
  3. The back-fire effect is that knowledge, evidence and facts can’t save us. Research indicates that as the quality of evidence increases, one’s brain is often working even harder to overcome those facts. When quality evidence is injected into a polarized debate, it may polarize the debate even more. We need to figure out how to change the culture and the process so that facts matter.
  4. Cognitive dissonance: as new facts come in, people tend to receive them based on how they fit with their preferred narrative. In the words of former President George W. Bush, “Too often we judge other groups by their worst examples while judging ourselves by our best intentions.”
  5. Memory bias: we tend to forget – or not even notice — things that don’t fit with our way of thinking.

Martin believes the notion of polarization is exaggerated – the division in society is nowhere near as bad as it’s made out to be. But what there is, Carcasson describes as a vicious cycle, which begins with one developing one’s point of view based on subconscious biases, continues through interaction with others who might not agree, and includes “The Russell Effect”.

carcasson - vicious cycleThe Russell Effect is based on an observation by the British philosopher Bertrand Russell: “The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts.” Carcasson translates that to the P2 reality, that the loudest, most confident and most active voices are often the ones most affected by problematic cognitive biases.

That, in turn, leads to “the usual suspects” dominating P2 processes, and people with other points of view being scared off or believing that their voices won’t count. They won’t stand up at public meetings, or even go to them at all. One of the challenges is to undo the Russell Effect and let people know their opinions and questions are both valid and will be considered, even if they’re not the loudest voices in the room.

The entire political system (certainly in the USA, where Carcasson does most of his work, but also in other countries) plays on this negative side of human nature, rewarding “bad” arguments and punishing “good” ones. The zero-sum process creates an incentive for “bad” communication and strategic research and chases away people whose voices should be heard.

What Carcasson considers are “typical” public processes tend to engage people too late, are framed as yes-or-no questions – which don’t allow for consideration of all facts – and offer little or no opportunity for interaction or refinement of opinion.

On top of this, the news media prefers to focus on the conflict rather than content, and the upshot is, legitimate concerns and problems don’t get proper consideration.

But it’s not all bad stuff. Carcasson notes there are good sides to the traits he laid out. For example, the very “groupishness” he discusses that leads to tribalism also means that people are inherently social and seek purpose and community. He points to the response to a disaster and how people flock to help out in any way they can. The desire for autonomy, purpose and mastery are good traits that a P2 practitioner can tap into in the local community. Encouraging people who are co-creators and collaborative problem-solvers can make them “super-citizens”.

Carcasson also notes that people are inherently empathetic; and the defining feature of the human species, he says, is that we are inherently pragmatic and creative. That, he says, is a trait that is rarely tapped-into. Many approaches today don’t encourage people to come up with creative solutions, because they’re focused on the good-versus-evil narrative.

Lastly, Carcasson says people are able to overcome bad habits and re-train our brains to think differently.

The key to changing people’s minds, overcoming biases and tackling “wicked” problems is a genuine conversation with people who think differently but whom they respect.

What is a “wicked problem”? Wicked problems inherently involve competing underlying values, paradoxes, and tradeoffs that cannot be resolved by science. They call for ongoing high-quality communication, creativity, and broad collaborative action to manage well.

Start the discussion “upstream”, i.e. before proponents, opponents and the undecided have a chance to get polarized. Make sure there is adequate background information that people can react to, which is framed for deliberation, not polarization. Have small, diverse, representative groups with deliberative facilitators, and (very important!) …

TAKE TIME! Time both to talk, and for the results to matter.

IAP2 members can watch the entire video of the webinar in the “Members Only” section of the website. You can take a look at Martin Carcasson’s Wicked Problems Mindset page on Facebook and visit the Center for Public Deliberation’s website here.

IAP2 Canada Chapter News – November/December 2017

British Columbia Chapter

IAP2 BC held its annual general meeting in Vancouver on November 23. The Chapter was happy to report on 6 successful events prior to November in 2017, four in Vancouver and two on Vancouver Island which have helped the chapter continue to grow and bring value to existing members. With two more events to go, the AGM and another on the Island in November, IAP2 BC has met one of its primary goals within the three-year strategic plan: to develop, promote, and deliver consistent quality educational and networking programming to members and potential members.

l-r: new Chapter President Lisa Moilanen, Catherine Rockandel, Sarah McKinney, Drew Ferrari, Daniella Fergusson

The Chapter also had to say farewell to four dedicated board members who stepped down at the end of the term. Reaching the end of their maximum six years (or three terms) were: Catherine Rockandel, President, Drew Ferrari, Secretary and Sarah McKinney, Treasurer; also leaving is Daniella Fergusson, whose work as member services coordinator helped the Chapter grow. They are all true ambassadors for IAP2 and have made our huge impact in helping keep our Chapter strong.

They will be missed as Board members but we hope to see them often at our local events and will help when they can. The IAP2 BC Chapter was also thrilled to welcome five new Board members, three of whom live and work on Vancouver Island. Natasha Horsman, Michael Meyer, Mary Chudley, Belinda Boyd and Marci Hotsenpiller.


The annual Donald Golob Award was created two years ago by IAP2 BC and IAP2 Canada to honour one of the founders of our IAP2 BC Chapter, Donald Golob. This year the recipient, one of BC’s original members, truly demonstrates outstanding leadership in advancing both the IAP2 core values as well as advancing the organization as a whole. Catherine Rockandel (right, with Lisa Moilanen) has long been a positive force for IAP2 in its growth and advancement, both in her daily work as an consultant for over 20 years as well as her contributions as chapter President for 6 years.

IMG_4048 (1)

Our first P2 drinks was held in Nanaimo on November 20, 2017 and co-hosted with the PIBC (Planning Institute of BC) North Island Chapter. Almost 30 members and non joined the event, networking and learning more about each organization. Some great synergies and ideas were shared.

Great Lakes Chapter Hosts P2 Drinks in Toronto

Members in the Great Lakes Chapter have let us know that they value getting together and socializing with other members, and so the IAP2 Great Lakes Chapter has launched P2 Drinks, holding the first event on Monday November 21st in Toronto.

Chapter President Karla Kolli (Left) and Secretary Jodi Ball (2nd Left) discuss fake news in P2.

The Theme of the night was “P2 and Fake News” and allowed members to share their work experiences during a relaxing evening with fellow practitioners.

Around 15 Members enjoyed the night, sharing tips on dealing with fake news including the importance of using social media correctly as well as the beneficial role that Community Advisory Committees can play in delivering vital information.

IMG_1809Members were also treated to a hands on demonstration of the new “Feedback Frames”, developed by fellow member Jason Diceman (centre in photo).

The Great Lakes Chapter plans to host P2 Drinks throughout the coming year in different locations so please follow our LinkedIn page or subscribe to our email updates to see when the next fun night of P2 Drinks is in town!

Wild Rose

We’ve been thinking about it for a while and we finally pulled the trigger and are excited to announce our new website:

President’s Message – November/December 2017

Bruce Gilbert, IAP2 Canada President

With the close of 2017 and the corresponding completion of the IAP2 Canada 2018-2020 Strategic Plan, a feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction – and to some degree relief – permeates the IAP2 Canada Board. Indeed the 2016-2017 Board worked extremely hard to develop this thoughtful and essential ‘road map’ for our organization.

I am extremely grateful to my Board colleagues for the dedication and commitment they exhibited during our collaborative strategic planning process. More importantly, it was you, our member colleagues in IAP2 Canada, who provided vital input through the Membership Survey earlier this year. We listened, considered everything you had to say, and with this, our ongoing evaluations of activities and deep discussions with the board, we developed this plan.

Hopefully, as you read through this Strategic Plan, you too will have your own sense of IAP2 Canada purpose and ownership rekindled as most of us involved with this process have seen. Please take some time to review this document. Any feedback you may have for the Board will of course be appreciated.

IAP2 Canada is an association of people who are interested in the field of public participation (P2). We all have our own reasons for getting and remaining involved with IAP2. Some want to promote and improve the practice of P2 generally across the country and around the world. Some want to stimulate practical P2 activity within their community, region, or workplace, and often do so through their involvement with IAP2 Canada Chapters. Others want to advance scholarly knowledge about the practice of P2 and gravitate to IAP2 research activities and other related opportunities. Still others come to IAP2 as socially-conscious citizens primarily concerned about how P2 can strengthen our democracy.

Perhaps the most important reason people get involved with IAP2 relates to professional and personal development. Simply put, people join and stay involved with IAP2 because of the learning opportunities available: conferences, workshops, webinars, skill-building sessions, mentoring, and various forms of sharing and networking events. The volunteer-based Board of IAP2 Canada does its very best to develop meaningful opportunities for both members and potential-members.

In order to ensure our learning and skills-building offerings are successful, we as a Board need to know what our members want and need. We also need to plan meaningful and affordable activities. But of course, we also need you. Without member participation, all our internal planning efforts are for naught. With this in mind, I encourage you to seriously consider the possibility of attending one or both of the following important IAP2 Canada signature events:

  • IAP2 Canada’s first ever Skills Symposium to be held March 19-23, 2018 at the Four Points Sheraton Hotel in Ottawa-Gatineau (Are you looking for a winter getaway where you can ski, skate on the canal, carouse, meet friends, and also build your skills? This is your big chance!)
  • The 2018 IAP2 North American Conference to be held September 5-7, 2018 at the Victoria Conference Centre in beautiful Victoria, BC! (Have you always wanted to visit the beautiful West Coast to explore its renowned wild and urban-wild spaces, while building your professional network? Have we got a deal for you!)

Thank you for being part of the IAP2 family. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to one and all!

President – IAP2 Canada

WANTED: volunteers for the IAP2 Canada Research Committee

Dr Sherry Campbell, interim chair, IAP2 Canada Research Committee

Integrating research into the IAP2 Canada objectives has been a goal of the organization since it was founded, and the Research Committee has been active since 2013.

The committee is responsible for research such as sharing information on trends, best practices, and innovations; access to national and international P2 research through peer-reviewed journals, special publications and events, and partnering with other organizations and academic institutions to sponsor and conduct research.

The IAP2 Canada Research Committee is currently chaired by Sherry Campbell and includes Sherif Kinawy from the Great Lakes Chapter and other new members, representing different regions of Canada, as well as past members who have moved to other countries.

Some of the work of the Research Committee includes state-of-the-practice surveys of IAP2 Canada members, an environmental scan of other P2 organizations in Canada and abroad, identifying potential collaborators, setting up an online library and commissioning white papers and other articles.

The Committee also contributes to webinars, newsletter features and best practice identification.

What are we looking for in our new members?

  • Commitment to our work together, to contribute, attend monthly meetings, and work with other committee members on our initiatives
  • A curious and engaged mind – we would like you to explore the area of P2 research with us, putting P2 into practice and making the knowledge and information accessible for our members
  • A willingness to contribute your effort to making our initiatives a success through sharing your expertise with us and having an interest in learning from each other

Find out more about the IAP2 Canada Research Initiative here. To apply to be on the committee, contact Anita Wasiuta, Volunteer Coordinator, at

Meet a Member – November/December 2017: Ken Hardie, MP

KH 5Ken Hardie joined IAP2 in 2001, about 10 years before IAP2 Canada was formed. He has a unique distinction: a life member who’s a non-practitioner. After a career in radio, he went into communications and media relations, with lengthy stops at the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia (ICBC) and the South Coast British Columbia Transportation Authority (TransLink).

Then, having “retired”, he was elected to Parliament in 2015 as the Liberal Member for Fleetwood-Port Kells in Surrey BC.

Ken Hardie has a unique distinction in IAP2 Canada: a life member who’s a non-practitioner. After a career in radio, he went into communications and media relations, with lengthy stops at the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia (ICBC) and the South Coast British Columbia Transportation Authority (TransLink). Then, having “retired”, he was elected to Parliament in the 2015 General Election.

What attracted you to IAP2 in the first place?

I was looking for new tools for the toolbox. When I was at ICBC, we had a policy decision coming up that affected a lot of people, but a survey had just been released that showed we had a very poor public image. So I set about rebuilding the public trust, going to all the communities and meeting with people.

When I looked into IAP2, what I saw was interesting and I saw that there would be practitioners available to do this job, so I made the strategic decision to get someone in from IAP2 who knew what they were doing.

At TransLink, there were two projects that come to mind. One was the early work on the Evergreen Line (a mass transit system linking the Northeast Sector of Metro Vancouver with the rest of the transit network). This used more of the “officially sanctioned” P2 tools, like charrettes and open houses to consult with the community on the technology.

The technology came down to a choice between at-grade LRT or grade-separated LRT – SkyTrain. Through the public engagement process, which included “origin-destination” research, it was determined that at-grade would do a good job of meeting the community’s needs. The streetscape design and station locations all emerged from that process.

Was the community surprised at being consulted?

People warmed up to the process: if someone had walked in halfway through the process, they would have been intimidated at the length and breadth of the activities underway. We took everyone through iterative steps and people organically came to understand what was going on. The results and the output started to flow as things progressed.

My role was mainly in media relations, keeping tabs on what was going on and I left it to the public consultation team – the people who knew what they were doing.

What have you learned about P2?

The real key is to make the public engagement genuine. We see examples where it’s not done very well, where organizations think that it’s only about putting up art boards and telling people what they’re going to do. But more and more, people are asking to be engaged. IAP2 folks have known for a long time that communities have been looking for a genuine seat at the table.

The most notable right now is the First Nations. They’ve been treated as colonials for 150 years, and now they’re seeing a process where they can see what the issues are, co-own the solutions and co-enjoy the results; but it’s taken the Canadian government a long time to see that they’re not a colonial power and the First Nations are not colonials.

Have you had any “golden learning moments”?

There was a similar situation (to the one involving First Nations and P2) a few weeks ago when we held a townhall on autism. A young woman who had autism stood up and was highly critical of the process. The source of her displeasure was the same: there were very well-meaning people coming up with a process to help autistic people, but the autistic people weren’t being included in the discussions. This isn’t to say that the people trying to come up with solutions weren’t earnest and didn’t have their best interests at heart … but the autistic people wanted to be part of the conversation.

There was an episode in my early days at ICBC and then at TransLink where the power of genuine communication and genuine engagement paid off. I mentioned that ICBC’s approval ratings were poor, right when we had a major policy decision to make. I went around the province, meeting with people in their communities, then playing back “what we heard”. I focused on Chambers of Commerce, too, which helped build the reputation among their members.

At the end, public confidence had moved to an “acceptable/high” level and we had a very good chance of getting approval for those policy decisions.

The decision was photo radar, as a means of keeping auto insurance rates under control.

At TransLink, there was a long and bitter bus drivers’ strike in 2001, and afterwards, we were voted as having the worst reputation of any public agency in BC. So we launched a public involvement campaign that included “Front Room Forums”. We’d have citizens host a “forum” in their home. We’d buy the pizza and people would hash out the transit issues.

It was a very overt way of signalling that we were prepared to employ methods that were effective in getting people engaged in the discussion. We found that the same kind of stresses and forces that we as an organization had to deal with were at play in the neighbourhoods. The people were not all on the same page, so having forums like those helped people understand the challenges involved in coming to public policy decisions. A year later, TransLink got the tax increase it needed, enabling it to expand services.

Having been around Ottawa for a few years now and making some valuable mistakes along the way, I know that we have to ensure that the communication we’re involved with is indeed genuine. You know that, as a politician on the government side, you have to make decisions; some will like it and some won’t.

You have to mind your tone with the ones who don’t like it and not make anybody “wrong”. If you can start with something that gets both sides nodding in agreement, you have something to work with and build on. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll win them over, but you build a connection that allows for further dialogue. And that’s the key: a two-way flow that can be candid, so that at the end of the day, although the person may not vote for you, they can say, “I can talk to this guy”.

I’ve been involved with radio and much of that job is to put yourself in the shoes of the person on the other side of the microphone and add something that’s useful or stimulating. Back in the old days, we found a way to do that without being nasty or contrary: we wanted to be ‘that nice guy on the radio”, and if you look at the world through their eyes you build that critical element in a relationship, which is affinity. Once you have built affinity with somebody, you have trust and you can have difficult conversations and come out the other end with something maybe that’s brand new, synthesized from your combined thoughts and ideas.

As it was then on the air, so it is today on social media and your constituents’ doorsteps.

Webinar Rewind – November 2017: IAP2 Projects of the Year

You have a project. It can benefit a lot of people, but for whatever reason, you run into a major roadblock: hostility from the very people it’s supposed to benefit. How do you approach these roadblocks and overcome that hostility?

The November Learning Webinar featured the winners of the IAP2 Core Values Awards for Project of the Year, and both of these had to address a very skeptical public. In fact, the City of Calgary had to shut down its plan to upgrade the Crowchild Trail – a major transportation corridor from the north end of the city to the south – because of hostility from the public. And the Mental Health Center of Denver learned to change one often-used term and leave out another altogether, in order to create a branch in an impoverished area of the Mile-High City.

When the City of Calgary first set out, in 2012, to improve and upgrade Crowchild Trail, the engagement format was to develop concept options and solicit community feedback on them. This approach was not well received. Indeed, City Council directed Administration to stop the study and develop a new process for these types of transportation studies where those affected by the changes were involved in the development of the plan (Core Value #1).

In 2014, the City set out again to improve and upgrade Crowchild Trail. This time – rather than using concepts to drive the discussion – the City used the discussion with stakeholders to drive the development of the concepts.

18 citizens were recruited to an Engagement Design Team and worked with the City to develop a public engagement process for the corridor study. A corridor study is a type of transportation plan that allows improvements to be prioritized and funded through the City’s infrastructure program, Investing in Mobility.

Despite the involvement of citizens in designing the engagement process (Core Value #5), the 2012 iteration of the study had left a legacy of distrust. Stakeholder response to re-starting the project was less than enthusiastic.

calgary - nope

Stakeholders were concerned they might be excluded from the engagement process (e.g.: if an advisory group model for engagement were used), that local communities might be compromised for widening the road, or alternatively, that much-needed improvements might not be made due to community opposition.

There was no doubt something needed to be done. Engineering lead Feisal Lakha explained that Crowchild runs north-south through the west side of Calgary and is one of only two crossings of the Bow River on that side; more than 100,000 vehicles use it daily. During the morning and afternoon commutes, traffic lineups could run as long as 12 kilometres (8 miles), delaying transit service and creating concerns for emergency vehicles, as three major medical facilities are located along the corridor, and increasing cut-through traffic in bordering communities

Crowchild Trail runs through several neighbourhoods, some established as many as 70 years ago. Upgrading would mean disruptions for neighbourhoods and businesses along the corridor. Any changes to Crowchild Trail would also have to take future growth into account.

The City had to overcome the sense that decisions had already been made, and to rebuild trust and credibility with stakeholders. As a starting point, the City chose a three-part strategy to acknowledge, that the 2012 study had not gone well and that a different approach was needed; to apologize, for the missteps of the 2012 study and the uncertainty left behind by its abrupt end; and adapt, to evolving stakeholder needs.

As an example of this approach, Communications lead Peggy Chan says one of the early messages they heard was that people did not receive information about the project in the mail. So the City adapted its approach, changing its communications materials from the handout on the left to the invitation-style notice in the middle and the ad on the right.


It was important the project team consider the needs of all participants, including decision-makers (Core Value #3). While planning for communications and engagement the project team explored how, at the surface, the City and stakeholders appeared to hold different positions, but that underlying those were values from both sides that intersected.


Informed by this analysis, the citizen Engagement Design Team and the understanding that decision-making is not a one-time, at the end of a project phenomenon – the City began the 2014 study by working with stakeholders to develop goals for the study that embodied the shared values of stakeholders and decision-makers. These goals were used as evaluation criteria by stakeholders and the project team as the study progressed – ensuring that recommendations for the future of the corridor were grounded in value-based conversation.

Kirsty Neill, the City’s internal engagement lead, described how the approach of engaging early on and throughout the study worked. Each phase of engagement related directly to a phase of technical work. And, the stakeholder input and technical input from each phase informed the phase that followed it.

To be accessible to as many interested Calgarians as possible the City ran online, City-hosted and pop-up sessions concurrently in each phase. The City held face-to-face sessions with the general public – and also invitation-only sessions with targeted stakeholder groups, such as residents immediately adjacent to Crowchild and businesses and institutions along the corridor.

A key to building trust was to ensure that just as people would be told which suggestions would be pursued; they would also be told why a given suggestion could not be pursued (Core Value #7).

In addition to embedding this “if yes, why yes” and “if not, why not” information directly into engagement materials, the City built an online project library. In the library all project information, engagement materials and results as well as technical studies and relevant policies were collected in one place for easy, public access.

The Crowchild Trail Study successfully brought recommendations to Council for approval in May of 2017. The engagement process received input from 89 communities in the City of Calgary, plus participation from four outlying communities, underscoring the importance of this roadway to the City’s transportation network.

The raw numbers for participation are impressive: over 66,000 visits to the project website, story map and YouTube videos; 21,000 interactions on social media; nearly 19,000 URL click-throughs to the online tools.

The commitment of the project team and stakeholders to a process informed by IAP2 Core Values and best practices resulted in a transformation of the atmosphere of stakeholder skepticism at the beginning of the study to a much more trustful one by the end of the study.










Watch the City of Calgary’s Core Values Award video here.

“You can come and talk to my group, so long as you don’t use the words, ‘mental health’.” Those words were from one block captain in North East Park Hill, when Dr Lydia Prado, MHCD’s Vice-President, Strategic Community Partnerships, first came to the community of North East Park Hill.

The area, where about 25,000 people live, is generally typified by poverty, failing schools and, as MHCD’s Dr Lydia Prado put it, very negative judgment on people who live there. At the beginning, people were not thrilled with the idea of an outsider coming in, telling them what they needed. So creating the Dahlia Campus for Health and Well-Being involved two parts: creating a focal point to meet the needs identified by the community members themselves, and bringing the local attitude from a position of outright skepticism to enthusiastic support.

Winning that support, Dr Prado says, involved deep listening. There were deep discussions about racism, prejudice, inequity and discrimination. “It was about sitting in the fire long enough,” she says, “so that both people could be in there together – and then cool off together.” She had some of her most informative conversations with gang leaders, finding out that no one understands the impacts of early trauma and early deprivation like members of gangs.

One of the lessons for a P2 practitioner facing a similar situation is to go in with an attitude of “learning from” rather than “learning about”. It’s a nuance many outside researchers – particularly with non-profits — have failed to appreciate in the past, and had led to the foul taste in the community’s mouth. Dr Prado also decided to change a term often thrown-around without much thought: “at-risk”. Instead, she turned to the phrase, “at-promise” – another example of strengths-based thinking.

The resulting project met needs in ways people couldn’t have imagined at the outset. The Dahlia Campus offers a variety of programs, but more than that, conversations with community members found they wanted to be more self-sufficient, so there is food production like vegetable gardens and aquaculture, and, significantly, the Dahlia Campus has never been “tagged” – defaced with graffiti.

But there’s more to the Project of the Year winner than the project: how was it successful and how can that success be amplified? Enter Amanda Trosten-Bloom of the Rocky Mountain Center for Positive Change, which worked with MHCD on engagement. As a specialist in appreciative inquiry, she understands that the way to amplify success is to study it. So they launched a second round of engagement to find out how the attitude of community members shifted so dramatically. It was also necessary to build and enhance the relationship between the community members and the staff – who, up till that point, had not been connected with the project and its planning. Part of this process was intended to keep building on the success to that point; the other part was to provide tools and insights for other practitioners working on similar initiatives.

They set up one-on-one, voluntary interviews between staffers and members of the community; the interviews were transcribed and then a qualitative analysis was done to find out what the short- and long-term implications were and where to go from there.

Six themes emerged from the interviews – themes that defined what was important to people in North East Park Hill, and could be applied to other projects (“not rocket science,” says Amanda):

  1. Assuaging people’s fears
  2. Transparency and truthfulness
  3. Listening, hearing and responding
  4. Honoring the elders
  5. Following through
  6. Honoring local interest and expertise

Point #4 was vital: Dr Prado identified, early on, people who had over eighty years’ experience in the community. She found out from them who needs to be involved and what local expertise and interest needed to be kept in mind. As a result, the many of the programs at Dahlia, such as the community kitchen and activities, are run by people with local interests.

Dahlia is an example, in the words of one local philanthropist, of “a neighborhood taking itself back”. Rather than another program coming in from “outside”, the Dahlia campus is “our thing”.