Meet a member: Victoria Etchegary

VICTORIA ETCHEGARYPOSITION – Manager of Organizational Performance and Strategy, City of St John’s NL

I was initially hired as Manager of Strategic Development in October 2013, working on a variety of things, including economic development initiatives and the budget review process. Before that, I was with the federal government, dealing with employee engagement, among other things.

Before I went to work at the City, P2 was done as part of the regulations process – on an ad-hoc basis, project by project. The City decided to move towards a more formalized process, so part of my role was to build a public engagement framework. You might say that P2 came with the job.

We did a jurisdictional scan and created a public engagement task force chaired by a member of Council. We looked at other cities and best practices and did a two-month intensive exercise in spring of 2014. I drafted a report to Council that included an engagement policy and recommendations on tools and training, as well as more opportunities for people to take part outside of specific projects. The position I now have was created in December 2016.

We’ve used the guiding principles of P2 and modified them a little bit in our framework. I created my own capacity and brought in trainers to give the Foundations course to about 21 employees. I’ve taken my own skills in needs assessment, strategic planning and communications planning and applied those to P2.

One project we’re currently working on is around the implementation of an automated garbage collection program for the city. There are lots of considerations around that, including the need to reduce the amount of material going to the landfill, as well as occupational health and wellness issues.

The P2 portion is to capture the residents’ key concerns. It’s probably the first time since I’ve been here that we’ve used a focus group process before going out more broadly to the community. This has helped us to determine their concerns and our communications staff has used that to develop FAQs and communications plans.

ENGAGE ST JOHN'SAutomated garbage collection is probably the biggest P2 project in terms of people wanting to talk about it, so we set up a robust process with a variety of tools. Aside from focus groups, we set up a project page on our online engagement community — engagestjohns.ca. There’s a mapping tool, and we’re rolling out a survey that will be open to everyone to take part. We know there are fears and misconceptions about anything new, so we have ten pop-up locations where have people a chance to look at and touch the new bins and ask questions of staff – how much do they cost? how big are they? Right now, we’re looking at accessibility issues, so we have a seniors’ committee and an environmental committee; we connect with landlords. We look at the whole stakeholder spectrum.

We’re using as many different tools to reach as many different people as we can. We might get a hundred people out to an open house, but when we rolled out our web page, we had 350 people sign up in the first week and we’ve now had about 2,500 visits, with people reading the page and engaging.

When we did the budget consultations in 2016, we had forums to increase people’s awareness of the budgeting process. We sent out fact sheets and held an online forum to find out their priorities; we held ward-based sessions to talk about decisions and update people on where the process was.

When you think about the effectiveness of an organization, getting public input is one of those data sets or elements of that informed decision-making process. What’s been surprising for me has been that some of the good practice in P2 is such good common sense, prior to having a policy and framework public engagement was not really saying what was done with the input. So one of the things we’ve instituted has been a “what we heard” document that we put out after every P2 project, where we spell out the input we received. That document goes to Council or project lead for consideration. Ultimately, they are the decision makers.

Another part that’s been rewarding for me has been the chance to help build capacity in people so the organization see the value in P2 – how it can help them implement a program or meet the needs of the residents more effectively.

This is all very new in St John’s and we’re doing an evaluation this year of our P2 work. So far, there’s been a lot of validation for P2: anecdotally, people say they see a difference in the way the City engages with the public. There’s a greater understanding now of what it is that’s new, different or changing. People also recognize that it takes time and that we need to do it well and do it right.

There’s also more support within the organization as they see the importance of P2, connecting with the people and involving them in some way. There’s outside help for the growth of P2 in our city, too. A grassroots group called “Happy City” builds awareness and interest in civic engagement.

When people are involved in the discussion, they tend to take on more ownership of the initiative or project.

At The Conference — May 19

2017conferenceHow to keep difficult conversations civil, ways of getting people engaged in projects that aren’t very engaging, and how to tell folks that their ideas didn’t make the cut: these are just three more of the sessions that can help you put P2 to work for the greater good at the 2017 IAP2 North American Conference.

EB PRR TransformingInfraThere are those who think infrastructure projects are boring. (Imagine that!) But projects like sewer upgrades are necessary and affect a lot of people, so in Transforming Infrastructure Projects into Human-Powered Places, Lynsey Burgess and Laura LaBissonniere Miller will use case studies from their own company – PRR – to show how P2 was used to create Human-Powered Places – places that are designed around people. You’ll learn how to identify opportunities for creating Human-Powered Places in projects you’re working on and come away with some compelling arguments to convince project developers to work P2 into their plans.

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One of the cornerstones of P2 is that stakeholders have a right to know how their input was used, but another side of the coin is the question, “How do we tell them why the input wasn’t used?” In “The Power of ‘If Not, Why Not’”, Lara Tierney and Kirsty Neill will offer some strategies for breaking the news to the public that their idea didn’t fly – and why – and ways to convince people that you really did hear them.

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EB Gelinas Talk MattersThe theme of this year’s Conference is “Pursuing the Greater Good”, but can you imagine P2 as not promoting the greater good? Mary Gelinas does, and her presentation, “We Need to Talk but We’re Stuck!, will help you how to understand how a P2 process can trigger fears in people when they’re faced with people they disagree with. She notes that conversations can get hung up on vilifying, rather than actually listening to, people with differing views. To pursue the greater good, people need to be able to see and bring out that greater good in themselves and in their neighbors, colleagues and leaders. In this 90-minute session, you’ll learn about three ways people can get stuck or trapped in conversations – and five ways to break through fears, avoid traps and help people bring out the best in themselves.

At The Conference: Bridging Chasms of Opinion

2017conferenceHaving groups polarized on key issues comes with the territory for P2 practitioners, and veteran communicator Eric Bergman will offer a new way of addressing that issue in his session, “Managing Polarization in Public Consultation.

EB Bergman_ManagePolarEblastYou’ll learn about The Polarization Model, which helps track, understand and manage polarization, using a spectrum ranging from “Openly Hostile” to “Openly Supportive” with “No Opinion” in the middle. You’ll learn techniques for turning “Openly Hostile” views into something positive.

You’ll also look at bridging truth and transparency, and Eric will offer what he calls a novel definition of transparency: “Ask me anything.”

At The Conference: Drumming up a fresh, old idea to engage

2017conferenceOne of the challenges of trust-building is that not everyone marches to the same beat. “An Ancient Solution Reimagined for Modern Times”, offers an alternative way of getting people together using hand-drumming.

EB Drumbeat_AncientSoln2EblastAlan Beattie will show how DRUMBEAT® mixes music, psychology and neurobiology to help people connect with others – and themselves. Get an idea of how it works in this video. And yes, you’ll have a chance in the 90-minute session to “pound the skins” yourself – literally, a hands-on experience! – and see how DRUMBEAT®’s techniques might apply in your own practice.

At The Conference: does your organization reflect your demographics?

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Ideas! Insights! Tools! What you need to apply P2 for the greater good in our changing world! You’ll find them at the 2017 IAP2 North American Conference, Sept. 6 – 8 in Denver.

EB Metro_Beyond_Inclusionv4 EblastDo some organizations – perhaps your own – tend to run “behind the curve” when it comes to reflecting demographic reality? Metro – which administers the three-county metropolitan area around Portland, Oregon – recognized that there was a widening gap between policy-makers and some of the communities.

Metro developed a racial equity strategy  that demanded a change not just within the agency but within the people who work there. In “Beyond Inclusion: Community partnerships that transform public service culture”, Metro staff members and a member of Momentum Alliance will present their own experience as a case study, showing you how they laid the foundation for change. You’ll get to take part in small groups that will give you ideas and tools you can use in your own organizations.

From the Board — May 2017

KRISTEN FARRELL

Kristen Farrell – Deputy Board member

As a young professional and a new deputy member of the Board, I have been reflecting on the role of IAP2 and my experience on the Board not only for my personal career development but also in the larger community. P2 is a fairly new concept to me, though I understood it long before I realized it had a proper name and associated best practices.

When I entered the professional world, I was initially baffled that organizations and government would not want to get the public to participate in the decisions that would affect them. If you had asked me 5 years ago what I thought of a small number of people making decisions affecting communities without consulting their residents, I would have thought it was a silly question. I soon learned that it is often a struggle to convince those organizations to engage the public at all, let alone in a meaningful way.

During the short time I’ve been on the board, I have met and worked with a number of people who are incredibly passionate about P2 and about ensuring that best practices are followed. The P2 profession and its practitioners are a remarkable group; P2 professionals focus on creating an open and deliberative process that allows participants to really be heard and their voiced concerns genuinely considered. The Canadian Board of Directors embodies this. The passion and enthusiasm I have felt from working with a group of committed P2 professionals gives me hope that we will continue to work towards our common goal of increasing visibility of P2 and encouraging it as more than just a “check-the-box” exercise.

My understanding of P2 has increased ten-fold since becoming a Deputy Board member. Members of IAP2 truly want the profession to flourish, and there are numerous resources and a supportive group of people who are rooting for you as you plan and implement your P2 projects. Public participation means so much more than just checking a box and moving on. People want to be engaged and involved. The ideas, collaboration, and passion that can come from asking people for their input and concerns can be tremendously eye-opening. Public participation is certainly more than just talking to people about their thoughts; it’s about finding ways to engage them so they feel they are really being heard and their input will be considered.

So, where do we go from here? In a time when P2 practitioners typically slow down through the summer, let’s keep the conversation going! Get out there and talk to your colleagues about P2 and how to do it effectively. Tell them the benefits and promote all the amazing resources (and people!) of IAP2. Live your belief that meaningful public engagement can truly make a difference in the world, our lives, and our communities.

I hope as the natural world around us reawakens it gives you motivation to keep the discussion going, listening as much as you share information.

Webinar Rewind, April 2017: Core Values Award Winners – “Creativity and Innovation” and “P2 for the Greater Good”

It’s a conversation that is difficult at the best of times: what one’s health-care wishes are, around the end of life. How do you know what someone’s wishes are, if they can’t speak for themselves any longer?

CEAN – the Community Engagement Advisory Network at the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority – tackled the problem with a unique, peer-led approach, bringing the patients themselves into the conversation. For that, CEAN won the 2016 IAP2 Canada Core Values Award for P2 for the Greater Good.

VCHCEAN is a group of community volunteers that advises VCH on planning and delivering health-care services, coming from the perspective of the patient or family member. The idea of Advance Care Planning started over a decade ago, and in 2010, members of the VCH Senior Leadership Team, Board and CEAN held a public forum on ACP. Two major themes emerged: the importance of the public talking to the public, and the importance of conversation.

According to Pat Porterfield of CEAN, the number of legal forms that have to be filled out can cause one to get bogged down in that aspect and miss the importance of talking to one’s family and friends about those wishes. It was equally important to have people talking to people, because some of the members of the forum noted that there could be skepticism of the role or motives of the Health Authority leading the discussion.

Some were concerned that the Authority could be seen as having an ulterior motive – like controlling health-care costs. Forum participants also noted that it would be important for members of the public to hear “testimonies”, as it were, from others who had had those conversations with their families and friends. It was necessary, then, for VCH to be seen to be supporting the initiative, but that it be driven by members of the public: it’s the conversation that’s important.

The main requirement for volunteers taking part in this project is passion for helping people have this conversation and often, the facilitators have personal experiences: they may have had an advance-care conversation in their own lives, or there hadn’t been such a conversation and they wished that there had.

Each facilitator develops their own workshop, but the team works together very collaboratively; supporting one another emotionally, and when developing and reviewing materials for the public.

Each workshop ends with an evaluation, and feedback has been very positive: whether workshop attendees are looking for help in making their own plans or to have the conversation with a loved one, they feel they understand the process better and are more capable of making decisions as a result.

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VAN NESS

Van Ness Avenue is the “spine” of San Francisco – a part of Highway 101 – but it’s fallen into disrepair in recent decades. It runs past City Hall and cultural organizations like the ballet and the opera. It’s one of the densest transportation corridors in the city. As a piece of the city’s history, it was used as a fire-break in the Great Fire of 1906 – most of the east side of Van Ness burned up, and what was on the west side was more or less protected.

When it came time to upgrade the thoroughfare – sidewalk-to-sidewalk, from fifteen feet below the surface to 30 feet above — the city brought together various agencies – including the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) – to put the Van Ness Improvement Project together. Lulu Feliciano, SFMTA’s Outreach Manager, says that may be the more efficient way of doing things, but it also meant major inconvenience for the people living and working along that stretch.

SFMTA

SFMTA had already recognized the key principle of IAP2: that people affected by a decision have a right to a voice in that decision, and with such a wide range of interests to cover, the agency had to go beyond more traditional methods to reach them.

SFMTA took pre-construction surveys, using hard copies, online surveys and door-to-door visits, asking people about their conceptions of the noise, parking issues and other inconveniences regarding construction in their area. This direct consultation helped cultivate relationships with the neighbours.

These data – collected from 85 percent of businesses and residential properties – were shared with the contractors in developing a construction strategy and sequence that addressed residents’ concerns such as traffic circulation and parking. SFMTA also learned about specific business needs that had not been considered before, and a Business Advisory Committee was set up to deal with those specific needs. That committee has had direct access to project staff and has helped develop strategies to help businesses through the impactful construction of the project. Some of the tools developed with the committee include a Construction Survival Guide packed with information for businesses, as well as a campaign to discourage double parking on the corridor.

A series of walking tours helped show the public what the existing conditions were and what would be improved through the project.

A key challenge SFMTA faced was one many practitioners face: getting past “the usual suspects”. They found they had been hearing from the same people they heard in other projects, and they knew they needed to find other ways of reaching out. They learned, for example, from the City of Chicago’s experience, that setting up a text messaging system to create a two-way conversation was vital. This tool was especially helpful in engaging younger audiences. Among other things, these updates involved keeping people informed on when they could give input on specific aspects of the project.

The text surveys were not just in English, but also in Spanish, Chinese and Filipino. So far almost a thousand have responded; SFMTA is reaching the goal of including new voices as 60 percent indicated they were unfamiliar with the Van Ness Improvement Project and 79 percent opted into the text messaging conversation.

SFMTA made extensive use of texting through the GovDelivery platform. They also learned a lot about the limitations of the system – such as, the fact that it did not allow for people who indicated they did not know about the Van Ness Improvement Project to automatically receive updates on the project. SFMTA Public Relations Assistant Sean Cronin says that makes it important to continue pushing information out to people who responded and cultivate relationships that way.

Here are some of the resources SFMTA used:

Textizen Knowledge Base

Three tips for writing a great survey hook

Gallery of outreach materials

Five tips for Creating an Effective Outreach Poster

Construction of the Van Ness Improvement Project began late last year and is expected to continue through 2019. As construction progresses, the team will expand on its pre-construction efforts to foster relationships with the public and continue to be good stewards of the neighborhood.

IAP2 members can hear the entire webinar here.