By: Deanna Desedas
IAP2 USA Board Member
In 2014, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) conducted an internal assessment of its public outreach and engagement practices with the goal of improving consistency across its 200+ projects. They also interviewed other transportation agencies nationwide, and researched best practices in the field of public participation. Based on this assessment, the agency created its Public Outreach and Engagement Team Strategy (POETS), pointing a new path forward and starting a close relationship with IAP2.
During three years of development and implementation, POETS has sought to embody the IAP2 core principles. Key concepts promoted by IAP2 (such as the spectrum of public participation) have contributed to a shared language and understanding among leadership and staff at SFMTA. And perhaps most importantly, IAP2 training has had a direct impact on the agency’s capacity to pursue excellence in public participation.
Staff training is central to SFMTA’s strategy to strengthen its relationship with the community. POETS establishes new requirements and higher expectations for public participation across all projects. It also provides a wide variety of resources to employees to empower them to meet the new requirements, including opportunities for education and professional development. Those who take advantage of these opportunities can receive formal recognition and rewards.
A specific benchmark for the agency is that every employee whose job involves community outreach and engagement should complete the IAP2 Foundations of Public Participation course. More than 70 have done so as of mid-2017. SFMTA has seen that those who complete the course feel more confident in the field, are inspired to consider new ways to engage the public in their projects, and are better prepared to consider opportunities for public participation beyond “informing.”
Staff training not only strengthens the skills of individual employees, but it also promotes an organizational culture that values public participation. Staff members know it is central to SFMTA’s mission, agency leadership reinforces this message by investing in staff and acknowledging their effort, and POETS demonstrates to the community that the agency’s commitment to public participation is real.