POSITION Community Engagement Lead, Edmonton Office, ISL Engineering
How long have you been in P2, and where have you worked?
I’ve been in P2 about 8 years solid, and then before that, I was a planner, where most of what I did was P2 – so I’ve been involved with public participation for a total of just over 17 years. I worked for the City of Twin Falls, Idaho, then went to Stantec, and then a couple of years ago, I went to ISL.
What turned you on to P2 in the first place?
I just gravitated towards it through the planning stream. I’m most interested in long-range projects, and those are the ones tend to have support for more meaningful P2– so I get to “play with the public”. Just working with people, collaboratively coming up with solutions and facing challenges. Usually at the start of a project, there’s a lot of negative emotion but by the time the project is finished, people are generally happy and it’s fun to be a part of that.
At ISL, I get to work on a lot of municipal policies such as development plans, transportation master plans, parks and recreation planning, and active modes planning – where I get to work with the public. I also have been privileged to work with the Alberta Government on Regional and sub regional plans such as the recent Caribou Range plan.
Have you had any “big wins”?
Yes. Those come when you’re working with clients over the years that were reluctant at first to do engagement. They felt confined by the idea of having the public actually participate in their projects; but I was able to bring them to see the benefits of public participation projects that were more collaborative with communities.
When you were working as a planner, did P2 seem to be a novel concept?
Not that long ago, public participation was a novel concept for many, but to me, that was the only way to do it. I’ve always been passionate about P2 and the role it can play. In fact, the Province of Alberta has recently updated the Municipal Government Act, including a requirement for every municipality to have a public participation policy. In Alberta, there’s certainly a lot of growth in the awareness of the need. That’s a big change from ten or fifteen years ago: back then, only the really progressive municipalities were doing meaningful engagement.
Have you had any “golden learning moment”?
I found myself in the middle of a discussion that was increasing in intensity and I realized that it wasn’t going where it needed to. But I was able to shift gears in the conversation to validate their experience and watch the emotions subside. People need to be heard and validated, not run through a process and patronized.
What are your interests?
I have a large family that I’m very proud of and I do a lot of volunteer work with youth groups. As well anything to do with cycling excites me. I was involved in 2007 when Edmonton did its cycling plan update, and in 2012, I was project manager for cycling infrastructure engagement for several different neighbourhoods. I worked on the Lethbridge cycling master plan, the Medicine Leisure Trail Master Plan, and led the engagement for the first phase of Calgary’s city centre cycle track, to name a few.
Why do you suppose there’s so much animosity towards increasing cycling infrastructure?
Change, for one thing; and it’s also perceived to serve a very small percentage of the public. Now, if you just count cyclists, you could say that. But good cycling infrastructure not only supports cyclists, it reduces motor vehicle traffic, improves transit, and increases pedestrian activity. There are a lot of spinoff benefits to the greater community. Studies have proven again and again that the best communities … the ones with the highest quality of life, have advanced cycling infrastructure.
You are one of only eight P2 practitioners to have the CP3 designation – Certified Public Participation Professional. What does that mean for you?
I find it’s invaluable. It’s the opportunity to have credentials that match the experience and knowledge and to showcase that to clients. As well, it’s exciting to be on the leading edge of CP3 for the IAP2 community across the country. I believe in the value of having the CP3 certification and to be on the front end of it. It’s also a huge benefit for the team I work with, because it enhances our ability, as an engineering firm, to win contracts and show that we’re on the leading edge of P2. My employer – Connstance Gourley – knows those benefits. She started engagement back in 2004, adding staff and training. She’s made the atmosphere and the culture here at ISL conducive to P2 – and made it well worth my making the move when I did, including corporate support for my CP3 efforts.
If you had anything to say to someone just getting into the P2 business …
Come in with your eyes wide-open and your mind set to “learn”. Both from the professionals and from the public and stakeholders.