A new report from the Kettering Foundation, With the People: Making Democracy Work as It Should, offers a strategy for bridging some of the divide separating the people of the United States from their government and from the country’s major institutions. It envisions a form of collaboration that would have institutions working with citizens, not just for them.
POSITION: Community Relations Analyst, City of Raleigh, North Carolina; member, 2019 IAP2 North American Conference Planning Committee
How long have you been in P2, and where have you worked? Overall, I have worked in the P2 field for 10 years. I currently work in the City of Raleigh’s Community Engagement Division as a Community Relations Analyst. Previously, I worked for a local non-profit as a Policy & Outreach Program Coordinator.
What turned you on to P2 in the first place? I have always been a ‘people person’ and ‘problem solver’ so, naturally working in public service was the right fit. I genuinely enjoy empowering residents and allowing the opportunities for their voice to be heard. I believe there is power in being open to different perspectives and lived experiences.
I first learned about IAP2 from a past Administrator who came across the information online. In hopes of learning more, I attended the 2017 IAP2 conference in Denver, Colorado and it was a whirlwind of information! I met other like-minded professionals from across the world who were excited about taking public participation to the next level.
Tell us a bit about your public engagement experience before joining the City
I worked for a non-profit that did a lot of juvenile justice outreach and education. One of the main focus areas was how create a continuum of care for youth who found themselves in the juvenile court system. They might get into a fight at school, or involved with drugs: maybe there’d be mental health issues involved. They would be assigned to a court counsellor, but there was a lot of time between identifying the problem and anything being done about it.
So, I was part of a group working on the situation. See, this was happening in rural North Carolina, and we were coming in from Raleigh, which is a major city. So, the first thing we had to do was establish a rapport with the people to find out who they were and what they needed. We held different events, like focus groups and one-on-one conversations. There’s a large population of Native Americans, so we had to find out who the leadership was and reach out to them. We also had to identify who impacted these children’s lives, family advocates, the school system, elected officials, social services, representatives of the court system, mental health professionals and so on. We had to ask, “Who needs to be at the table who isn’t here?”
After the first couple of large group meetings, we realized everyone was working in silos. For example: the child would get into trouble with the police and the police wouldn’t contact the school; so, the child goes back to school and gets in trouble again. So, the lowest-hanging fruit – the easiest solution — was to break down the silos and create a continuum of communication.
The system was changed so that, as soon as an incident occurred, the juvenile court counsellor would be called, and within three or four days, the youth would receive mental health assessments, and before the youth went before a judge, teachers, court counsellors, police, parents, would have met to discuss the situation.
We began to partner with other nonprofits in the area that provided services the child and their family could utilize. It was amazing, and I was excited to be part of it for three-and-a-half years.
How would you describe the City of Raleigh’s move towards embracing P2? Was it a “culture shift”? How long did it take? Was there a particular incident that spurred the city to engage the public more? Was there a particular decision-maker who was responsible?
No one specific event spurred our move to more engagement. In 2015, our City Council members adopted a five-year strategic plan. The Strategic Plan has six key focus areas which reflect the current and future identity and character of the city. The plan contains citywide objectives and strategic initiatives needed to support the key focus areas. One focus area is “safe, vibrant and healthy community”, with an initiative focused on “Strengthening neighborhoods’ social fabric through community outreach, engagement and communication.” Community Engagement is a hot topic these days.
The City of Raleigh has just over 450,000 people. It’s very diverse and growing every day. We can’t grow out anymore, so we’re growing up, with lots of high rises and people from up north moving down to Raleigh because of the cost of living up there. We’re a “city inside of a park”, with lots of greenspace, diverse cultural events, universities and higher-education institutions.
All of our departments touch residents in different ways, and they all have different ways of engaging. As part of City Council’s desire to strengthen community engagement and communication, staff began researching different community engagement models to implement citywide. Part of our discussion over the long term is to have a toolkit – a framework for engagement – to streamline that process. We’re fairly new to the IAP2 model in Raleigh – it’s a work in progress.
Going to the conferences was very helpful to me, realizing that the process of implementing P2 is different for every city. It takes time and you must make sure every voice is at the table.
The City of Edmonton inspired me. I saw their presentation at the 2017 conference in Denver and I realized this was where we were trying to go – in some ways, we just hadn’t put a name on it yet.
That’s what I love about IAP2 – people are “open source” – open to sharing best practices and “this is what worked for us”. People truly care about improving public engagement.
Have you had any “big wins”?
- The City of Raleigh has taken advantage of the IAP2 USA Government Membership program.
- My supervisor and I completed the Foundations & Techniques trainings.
- A newly formed relationship with the City of Charlotte blossomed out of attending the 2017 Conference. There are discussions regarding the formation of a IAP2 chapter on the east coast.
- Some City of Raleigh staff are on the 2019 IAP2 North American Conference planning committee.
Have you had any “golden learning moments”? I have had several “learning moments” over the past year.
- The Foundations Course taught me the fundamentals of planning for good engagement & provided detailed materials to use as a reference. Good public participation takes time & must include a well thought- out process.
- Implementing IAP2 into the way you do business is going to be a culture shift. “Change the language, change the culture”. It will not be a quick process and looks different for each organization.
- The Core Values are useful to public engagement professionals when developing and implementing public participation processes. These Values help inform better decisions that reflect the interests and concerns of potentially affected people and entities.
- During the 2018 conference, the importance of organizations building relationships and rapport with citizens prior to projects was emphasized. Engagement should be ongoing with citizens no matter if there is a special project or not.
What does it mean to have the North American Conference come to North Carolina next year? It’s the first time the conference has been held on the East Coast, and it’s coming to Charlotte, with involvement from Raleigh.
It’s exciting because there’s a lot of great work being done on the east coast. I’ve been to smaller conferences on the theme of community engagement, so having IAP2 come to North Carolina will bring necessary information to take their engagement to the next level. It will definitely pique other municipalities and government organizations. Charlotte is well-known, and people will come to see the place.
There have been lots of discussions on an East Coast IAP2 chapter, and this will spur the growth. We’re sending invitations to everyone, so they can hear about the great work being done and hear the stories at the conferences. People on my side of the country need to hear about it – especially those in public service who are “Working for the Greater Good.” We want to provide the resources and information. I see how IAP2 has blossomed and grown on the West Coast and in Canada, and it’s a great opportunity for others to see the great things we’re doing here.
If you had anything to say to someone just getting into the P2 business …
The IAP2 Core Values and Code Ethics really help inform my work & role when I am part of interdepartmental teams tasked with engaging the public. I have internalized the IAP2 principles and reflected on how they will impact my work. It has changed the way I communicate with my teams, I bring the spectrum & other IAP2 materials to the meetings as a reference.
Call to Action: The Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) is asking for public comment as it is considering an update to its procedural provisions of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). This could have a significant impact on the process and quality of P2. We want to make a stand for good P2, why it is important and why we need to fight for it. We are asking you to be a part of “Pursuing the Greater Good” and to advocate for “Good Decisions Made Together” by providing your public comment.
Background: President Nixon signed the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) into law on January 1, 1970. Its passage established a new policy of environmental protection and transparency in government. For any federal action that will have significant environmental impacts, NEPA requires federal agencies to define a range of reasonable courses of action, including a “no action” or baseline alternative, evaluate the likely impacts of each of those alternatives, and share the results of that analysis with the public. While it has never been interpreted as obligating the government to pursue the most environmentally benign action, NEPA made the government’s decisions open to public scrutiny. The law also provided for the formation of the Council on Environmental Quality. Sec. 2 [42 U.S. Code § 4321].
Timing: Given the length of time since its NEPA implementing regulations were issued, CEQ is required to solicit public comment on potential revisions and you have an important voice. No other organization with its members and friends is better poised to contribute and advise on the update of these regulations.
Your voice is important and should be heard. But you only have until August 20th to make a difference!
- Review the announcement
- Draft your reply. Need inspirations? Consider the following:
- IAP2 Foundations – Core Values, Code of Ethics, Spectrum
- Think about how the Foundations have helped you in designing and implementing your projects and helped you in talking about good P2. Share your lessons learned, the benefits of good P2 and what happens without it.
- Take a look at what we heard at our 2017 National Dialogue – Are we facing a P2 Crisis or Opportunity
- Learn from others – Core Values Award winners
- Become an Ambassador – Ambassador Program
- Contribute to the conversation by submitting your comments online
Here is your opportunity to be part of
Pursuing the Greater Good: Good Decisions Made Together.