Our January webinar was truly a “tale of two cities” — cities that made a commitment to up their game when it came to public engagement. Kingston, Ontario, was named IAP2 Canada Organization of the Year, while Boulder, Colorado, took the honors in both the USA and the International Core Values Awards.
The City of Boulder, Colorado, had considered itself an example of good public participation, but an incident a few years ago showed that more work was needed. A traffic lane was closed off to create a bicycle lane, and Sarah Huntley, the City’s Engagement Manager, says it did not go well. The angry response showed that they did not consult with all the groups that should have been involved, so in 2016 the City decided to engage with the public on engaging with the public.
A Public Participation Working Group to assess the City’s practices and come up with recommendations. The group consisted of 14 residents, one council member and two staffers, and its report came out just over a year later.
The changes recommended were not simply “change at the top” demands. The key recommendation was that the culture of P2 had to change, so that the City recognized that Public Participation leads to better decision-making and the city had to “lean in” to the notion of giving up some control.
But the change in culture, the working group decided, also had to happen at the community level: that community members had to be more realistic about the complexities of decision-making and how much community input could be expected to influence those decisions.
Another recommendation was that there had to be more clarity and consistency about the process. This “process wheel” was enlarged and laminated and sent to all the P2 projects, along with dry-erase markers, so staff could indicate where the project was on the wheel.
One critical recommendation was that P2 had to have resources to back it up. Someone had to steward the process across the organization. Council responded by changing its budget to make sure there was a centralized P2 division and liaisons were named in each department.
Kingston was already delivering public engagement, and “Foster Open Government” was part of the City’s 2015-2018 Strategic Plan. But the system was seen as inconsistent from one department or project to the next. So the City developed a Public Engagement Framework, to eliminate any doubt about process and responsibilities. The Framework — which served as the policy document — helped ensure transparency.
The Framework recognized that there were three ways that ideas and policies could be brought forward: they could be resident-driven, council- or councillor-driven, or City-employee-driven. They then used a variety of tools and techniques, including open houses, face-to-face meetings, workshops and focus groups to develop the framework. The City also heard from residents that an implementation plan was also needed, in order to take the “concept” of the framework and turn it into action.
The resulting document defined roles and responsibilities and laid out a five-step process, from defining the project, through the P2 phases, right to evaluation.
As part of the implementation plan, the City of Kingston has now trained over 100 employees in the IAP2 Foundations course, Council and senior leaders participated in the IAP2 “P2 for Decision Makers” session. To assist residents in raising awareness for P2, the City worked with residents to determine what communication was needed. The Communications department expanded to include public engagement and increased the staff in the department.
Kingston also put an online tool to work: Get Involved Kingston provides an opportunity for residents to give input on current projects, policies and initiatives and to review an archive of previous projects.
IAP2 members can watch this webinar and learn more from the “best of the best” in P2 here.