POSITION: Sr. Strategic Communications Coordinator, HDR; formerly Sr. Strategic Communications & Community Engagement Specialist, City of Charlotte.
How long have you been in P2, and where have you worked?
My career has always included elements of public participation but I formally started learning and applying P2 principles in 2016 in my role with the City of Charlotte’s long-range capital investment program. My career has been centralized in Charlotte, NC in non-profit, government and consulting work.
I currently work as a Sr. Strategic Communications Corridor with HDR. As we deliver complex transportation and water infrastructure projects, my role encompasses working with all levels of the community to make sure they understand the project, how they can provide meaningful feedback and see how their collective feedback was used.
What turned you on to P2 in the first place?
The City of Charlotte implemented P2 on an organization-wide level to consistently apply principles across multiple departments conducting community engagement activities. When I accepted a new role to provide the strategic framework for how departments communicate and engage the public through the City’s capital investment program, I sought more training, began attending conference and using the skills I learned to develop toolkits localized to our communities.
What “big wins” have you had?
I consider it a win when I can see change on both the front end and the back end of engagement. On the front end, when project managers choose to bring me to the table at the beginning of a project because they see the value of what public participation can bring to their projects as opposed to just checking a box somewhere along the way. Luckily, I currently work somewhere where that not only valued but seen as an integral part of the overarching project process.
I also consider the wins when I have individual conversations with residents that express that they feel involved, respected and listened-to. Even when they may not be 100 percent pleased with the final decision, if they can say “I understand how we got here as a community,” I consider it a move in the right direction.
When I worked at the City of Charlotte, I conceptualized and executed a program called Gov University designed to teach residents about how local government works so they can be more civically engaged. Through a series of videos, fun quizzes and in-person tabling opportunities we aimed to teach residents Gov 101 information and point them in the direction of additional resources.
As part of this program we partnered with a local university’s digital literacy program to teach seniors citizens digital literacy. On the last day of the course, I taught a session on accessing city services. I walked residents through how to contact 311 online, how to look up their elected representatives, find city job opportunities, public transportation, and walked them through several city programs that were available to them such as help with emergency repairs to their homes or assistance with paying back taxes.
At the end of the class a gentleman came up to me in the parking lot to say thank you. He talked about how intimidating a lot of government programs are and how he wanted to take advantage but was confused. He said, “even though people say those programs are out there for everyone, a lot of us don’t know how to find it so it’s not really for us. You made this for us.”
That was a win/learning moment. We often think because we make things available to everyone that means everyone can take advantage, forgetting other barriers that keep people from accessing services meant for everyone.
This wasn’t a huge moment but it stands out to me.
If you had anything to say to someone just getting into the P2 business …
Build into your process milestones to assess what you’re doing and don’t be afraid to change course if your original public involvement plan is not reaching the audiences you hoped. There is nothing worse than working a plan you know isn’t solving the issue just because it’s what’s on paper. Sometimes that can be hard to do but you can’t have an authentic public involvement process if you are not willing to change direction with the community.
Also, always ask yourself “who is not at the table.” Our goal is to always be inclusive in our engagement but often we are missing key voices without even realizing.