Webinar Rewind: “Building P2 Into Your Organization”

It’s a fact that people are demanding a voice in matters that concern them in increasing numbers. It’s also a fact that organizations are playing catch-up in that department. Our October webinar featured two organizations that are setting a standard in entrenching public participation in their makeup: the City of Edmonton and the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA).

In both cases, the organizations were “pushed” into it. SFMTA’s “P2 epiphany” followed what Deanna Desedas, the Agency’s Public Outreach and Engagement Manager, calls “The Year of Pain”. Transportation plans and projects affect pretty much everybody, but in 2013, dozens of projects in various stages, and stakeholders, internally and externally, were getting frustrated at the slow progress. City staff studied the situation and were able to identify four key reasons for the frustration, the chart indicates. Staff were frustrated because they did not have sufficient resources to do their job; the public was frustrated at the lack of a consistent method of keeping them informed about the projects and the stages they were in.

So SFMTA devised “POETS” — the Public Outreach and Engagement Team Strategy, which includes IAP2 Foundations and other training training for staff, a peer group of managers across all divisions of the agency, tools and resources, and an ongoing evaluation process. It was also necessary to have a budget: proper P2 doesn’t come cheap. By 2015, it was starting to fall into place, and in 2017, SFMTA won the IAP2 USA Core Values Award for Organization of the Year.

There are many ways of describing POETS’ success. One is that some managers are now asking of a project, “Has this been POETized?” The other is summed up in an observation by one SFMTA upper manager: “My phone stopped ringing”: he no longer gets angry calls from members of the public, because they now know what’s going on and what the status of a project is.

SFMTA took part in a pre-conference workshop at the 2018 IAP2 North American Conference in Victoria, “Traffic Jam!”. Read the session description here or view all the materials in the Conference Schedule-at-a-Glance.

Read SFMTA’s 2017 Core Values Award application here.

The City of Edmonton won the 2018 IAP2 Canada Core Values Award for Organization of the Year, as well as the IAP2 Federation Organization of the Year award. IAP2 Monthly Learning webinars are available exclusively to IAP2 Canada members. Click here to watch the webinar and see others.

In both cases, the organizations were “pushed” into it. Edmonton had developed a P2 policy in 2003, but it “stagnated”, according to Tannis Topolnisky, Edmonton’s Manager, Public Engagement Services. That started to change during the 2013 civic election campaign, when candidates heard, loud and clear, from residents that they felt left out of important decisions. The newly-elected council ordered an audit of public engagement, which confirmed what the public had been saying.  A two-year engagement process was conducted resulting in a 27-item action plan. The action plan included constant reviews of the way the rest of the plan was implemented. The City’s new approach to its practice is one of Evaluate – Refine – Evolve.

From a staff of five, the City of Edmonton now has a public engagement staff of nearly 30 (full- and part-time) and have supported over 150 projects.

Tannis notes that the solution is not in a “template”. Instead, it starts with getting the right people in the room to begin with the question, “Why do we need to engage?”, and if not, why not.

Read the City of Edmonton’s Core Values Award submission here.

Watch the City of Edmonton’s Core Values Award video here.

The City of Edmonton took part in a pre-conference workshop at the 2018 IAP2 North American Conference. Read the session description here.

Member Profile: Ben Ettelman

Assistant Research Scientist, Texas A&M Transportation Institute

How long have you been in P2, and where have you worked?

I started with Morris Communications in Portland, Maine. I was an English major, with a knack for writing, so after I graduated I took this job as my primary role was producing meeting minutes. I was immediately interested in the field and planning and public engagement and my role with MC grew from taking meeting minutes, to being involved in all aspects of the P2 process, as well as the planning activities for the projects we worked on.

I went to graduate school at the University of Texas, Austin, to earn my masters in Urban Planning and when I went to TTI, I found a mix of planning and applied P2. At TTI, we conduct research that improves the state of the practice for P2 by allowing us to test innovative methods in the field. This includes developing and testing performance measures for P2 and incorporating more technology into public involvement processes.

One example was a virtual open house we designed for the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), where we used a live chat feature to replicate the experience of an in person public meeting in a virtual setting.

What was the state of P2 when you first arrived in Texas?

When I moved there five years ago, I was curious to see whether the culture of public involvement would be different from the Northeast. The transportation agencies in Central Texas were doing a lot of work, as the region is growing rapidly. The challenge in Central Texas, which I found was not unique to this area, was bringing together the many different interests throughout the region.