Webinar Rewind: Visual Engagement

One of the challenges a public entity faces when designing a public engagement process is engaging the public enough to get them to take part. This is especially true when the project or policy in question affects practically everybody, but the subject matter is quite mundane. Making the publicity visually appealing is one way to do it, and in 2018, IAP2 Canada joined with the Dazzling Notice Awards to offer the Core Values Award for Visual Engagement.

In March, we met the co-winners of the award, the District of Squamish, BC, and the Region of Waterloo, Ontario. Squamish’s Official Community Plan was due for review, and the District, working with MODUS Planning, Design and Engagement, decided the way to do it was to combine strong branding and graphics with creative outreach efforts to reach Squamish’s active and young-at-heart demographic. One aspect to this was a video that was produced using District planners who were not only writing the plan, but also very much the face of the public engagement. The videos included out-takes — scenes where the speaker fluffed their lines or cracked up when the camera was rolling. It was felt this made the videos — and the process itself — more accessible to residents.

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There were pop-up engagement displays in unlikely places like popular biking trails or on the Sea-to-Sky gondola; “selfie sticks” — not the kind for holding a cell phone camera, but comic-strip-type “talk balloons” that showed what a person cared about so they could take and share selfies; “OCPizza Parties”, where people would gather in homes to discuss what was important to them in the Official Community Plan.

Waterloo’s challenge involved toilet talk — in particular, what happens to the stuff we flush. The initial attempt to set up a biosolids facility was an epic fail, as people came out in droves to protest what had been an “announce-and-defend” strategy. Engineer Kaoru Yajima says he feared for his safety at one townhall meeting due to the public outrage.

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So the Region re-grouped and, working with Dillon Consulting, came up with an outreach plan that mixed humour with plain-language technical information. Bob McDonald, noted science journalist, made a personal appearance and a video to discuss the Story of Poop and underscore the need for the community to participate in the process. Other public communications focused on making the biosolids strategy — particularly attracting public interest on concepts such as the physical treatment of it and where it ultimately goes — as un-daunting as possible.

IAP2 members can watch the entire webinar and access the PowerPoint decks and other information here.

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