Our first “Charlotte Encore” – a presentation from the previous IAP2 North American Conference that attendees told us should be shared via webinar – brought back the Thursday lunch keynote speakers. Liz Styron and Kaleia Martin of YES! Youth Empowered Solutions challenged us to consider the intersection of racial bias and marginalizing young people. (Read more) Liz and Kaleia show that, even if everything else is equal or a non-white person has an advantage, race puts that person at a demonstrable disadvantage. Race, they’ve learned, is the number-one deciding factor in health and life outcomes.
Two projects, which focused on equalizing conditions for everyone, were featured in the October learning webinar. The Portland (OR) Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) and the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer were named IAP2 Projects of the Year for the USA and Canada, respectively, at the 2019 IAP2 Core Values Awards.
The last webinar of the “season” brought together four longtime P2 practitioners to reprise their presentation from the 2018 IAP2 North American Conference. John Godec, Debra Duerr, Wendy Green Lowe and Doug Sarno have seen a lot in their careers, including an alarming decline in trust in public institutions. This has coincided with the increase in cultural divisions, and has reached a point where, according to a Pew Research survey, only 18% of American trust their government. A similar survey in Canada pegs that number at 36%, and in Australia, it’s 21%.
What does that mean for a P2 practitioner?
“What is our role in protecting Truth?” was the presenting question in our November webinar, in which Sam Imperati and Devin Howington reprised a successful presentation from the IAP2 North American Conference in Victoria. “Truth Decay” was coined by a Rand Corporation report in early 2018, identifying the situation where opinions supplant facts as a driver in people’s attitudes and decision-making. The result is alienation and disengagement, erosion of civil discourse, and a decline in trust of individuals and institutions.
What is the role of the P2 practitioner in this? If IAP2 principles include ensuring that people have the facts they need to make an informed decision, how far is a practitioner expected to go – and whose “truth” is regarded as paramount? One is dealing, after all, with the sponsor, the participating public, the general population, and a variety of other interests.
Sam and Devin offer some ways of establishing truth and helping groups maintain civility and stay grounded in the facts, while still allowing for individuals to have “their truths.” One tool they offer is the “umbrella question”, framing the issue at hand in such a way that covers all the interests that are demanding attention.
The webinar spurred some lively interaction, and IAP2 members can view it and access the slide deck and other collateral materials here.
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.
Addressing many of today’s most pressing problems requires both engaging broad public audiences and working within complex systems of institutions, actors and drivers. In our July webinar, Prof. Martin Carcasson of the Center for Public Deliberation at Colorado State University, Prof. David Kahane of University of Alberta, and Robin Prest of the Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue at Simon Fraser University describe how the emerging field of “Participatory Systems Change” can create better outcomes for complex or “wicked” problems. These methods are better able to account for the values of citizens, identify leverage points for intervention, and build collaboration among multiple actors.
This approach requires rethinking key aspects of engagement, including: sponsorship; issue framing; sequencing; the nature of democratic exchange; the method of analysis; and strategies for mass communications.
USA: Tennessee Department of Transportation – General Project Award for “Long Range Transportation Plan”
Every five years, the Tennessee Department of Transportation has to produce a 25-year long-range transportation plan, and with 6.5 million people — a third of whom live in rural areas — to serve, the challenge is to make sure public money is spent in the best way possible. Complicating matters is the sudden in-migration of people: ever since Nashville was designated an “It” city by the New York Times, 100 people move there per day.
By 2013, transportation infrastructure projects had fallen behind to the tune of $6 billion, so the problem was clear: how to come up with a plan that Tennesseans could stand behind. Tanisha Hall — TDOT’s Director of Long-Range Planning — and her staff had to reach urban and rural areas with the same message, be consistent with the outreach efforts, build input that would directly influence the decisions, and define and target traditionally underserved sectors of the population.
The tools and techniques included regional summits, focus groups and “Book-a-Planner” Outreach, where staff would take the message to local groups. They took the message to places where people traditionally met, such as Rotary and Chamber of Commerce meetings, giving people the straight goods on the challenges TDOT was facing; they questioned the people interactively on what their transportation priorities were.
Tanisha explains that they learned quite a few valuable lessons about engagement: make sure that an engagement plan is an integral part of the plan; be flexible; think through the entire process ahead of time and identify potential obstacles; and make it enjoyable.
So successful was the outreach, that towards the end of the process, Governor Bill Haslam (centre, above; looking toward Tanisha) used Tanisha’s engagement process at some of the events, which led to the legislature passing a gas tax increase to fund transportation infrastructure and TDOT won the IAP2 USA Core Values Award — General Project.
CANADA: LAWS (Liard Aboriginal Women’s Society) and Beringia Community Planning, Indigenous Engagement Award for “Youth4Safety”
Tackling the problem of violence against Indigenous women and girls in a small northern community, and making sure as many voices as possible were heard in developing a long-range, multi-modal transportation plan, were the last two Core Values Award winners featured in our monthly webinars.
In addressing a problem of sexualized violence against Aboriginal women and girls, an initiative named Youth4Safety spearheaded by the Liard Aboriginal Women’s Society (LAWS) and supported by Beringia Community Planning won the IAP2 Canada Award for Indigenous Engagement. The groups determined to make the plan local to the community, so it was relevant at all points, and to empower youth, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal.
There are numerous barriers when it comes to engaging young people. Lack of interest is one, as is an inability of decision-makers to see the value in engaging young people; perhaps an even bigger barrier is the lack of meaningful roles for youth. The Youth4Safety project set out to overcome all of those.
Beringia’s Sarah Gillett says decision-makers often underestimate the ability of young people to contribute to a process; but in this case, they were given the key role. The project presented educational tools to help youth deal with sexualized violence, but the project also drew on the local culture and the experiences of the young people, themselves, all while ensuring the safety needed for youth to participate. They were empowered to apply what they learned in designing an awareness campaign and then share their work with the broader community.
No fewer than 16 agencies collaborated on the project, including LAWS, the RCMP, local tribal justice departments, the local high school and drug and alcohol counselling services. A unique feature of the process was that it was based in local Kaska culture, focusing on peer support, a system designed by youth for youth, and dene à nezen, which is a Kaska term to describe “dignity and respect”.
While the long term impact of their work is still to be understood, an evaluation of Youth4Safety has identified the following results to date:
For the participating youth:
- An ability to describe the issues relating to sexualized violence (such as gender, social responses, racism, mental health)
- An increased willingness and comfort talking about sexualized violence
- An ability to identify concrete actions they can take to respond to violence against women and girls
- An increase in concrete skills they can use to get involved in taking action on issues of sexualized violence (such as campaigning, communication, using the media)
- Increased sense of connection among Youth – provided a network Youth trust to approach with sexualized violence issues, potential to provide support for Youth victims of sexualized violence
- Increased confidence and self-efficacy – being a part of this team gave Youth an opportunity to build their confidence and recognize their ability to build a safer community
- Building a stronger support network – more aware of resources, community organizations, and a network of people who care about sexualized violence against women and can help
For the broader community:
- Increased knowledge about violence against women and girls, the extent of the issue and the impact on Youth
- Increased appreciation for the knowledge Youth have on the topic of sexualized violence and the role they can play in raising awareness on this issue
Although climate change is on the minds of pretty much everybody, one group has been routinely left out of the policy conversation: rural residents. Farmers, ranchers and others who live outside our big cities have found that policy designed by urban and suburban interests often fails to address the distinctive realities and challenges they experience.
The Saint Paul, Minnesota-based Jefferson Center joined with the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy to create the “Rural Climate Dialogues”, in which people in three rural Minnesota communities hosted Citizen Juries to deliberate on the topic of climate and extreme weather, and create solutions that worked for them.
Camille Morse Nicholson, Program Coordinator at the Jefferson Center, outlined some of the different techniques required to build community support in advance of the dialogue, facilitate the jury’s work, and support the communities in their follow-up. Although a divisive debate is a possibility with such a politically-loaded topic, one participant remarked, “there was no political/ideological divisiveness: everything was done with respect and in good order.”
The dialogues continue with a focus on the future of energy in rural Minnesota, and the project has already won the Core Values Award for “Creativity and Innovation.”
Dealing with the prospect of closing schools is a touchy subject in the best of conditions, but throw in language and other cultural differences, and things get even trickier.
That was the challenge faced by the Richmond BC School District when faced with the need to do seismic upgrading on their buildings, in a zone identified as prone to liquefaction in case of an earthquake. The potential hit to the budget meant a real potential for closing some schools. This meant taking it to the people, which led to a Core Values Award for the District and Catherine Rockandel of Rockandel and Associates.
The Award — for “Respect for Diversity, Inclusion and Culture” — recognized the work done to reach out to families in a place where sixty percent of households do not have English as a first language. Languages in Richmond include Mandarin, Cantonese, Taiwanese, Tagalog, Punjabi and some Japanese. Moreover, many of the immigrants come from cultures which mistrust governments and officialdom in general.
What tools and techniques did they use to encourage people to take part and trust that their voices are being heard and taken seriously? How did they reach a conclusion in which no schools were closed?
IAP2 USA Members can view this webinar online at: https://iap2usa.org/2018webinars
Note: Members must be logged in to view this content.
We always like to kick off the New Year with a look at the latest in digital engagement, and in January, we brought back together the members of the pre-conference DE workshop at the 2017 IAP2 North American Conference in Denver. Dave Biggs (MetroQuest), Charles Connell (Social Pinpoint), Matt Crozier (Bang the Table) and Joseph Thornley (76engage) held a panel discussion, with over 100 people — a sellout crowd! — joining in.
The discussion ranges through a variety of topics. Here’s a sample of the panel’s observations:
Matt: “We can no longer separate digital engagement from in-person engagement — we need to think about how the methods work together. Digital is the only way you can take engagement from reaching tens or hundreds and into thousands or tens of thousands.
“You get more thoughtful responses through online and you can engage when a community is ready. If they’re not already engaged and a project comes up, people will go elsewhere to make their comments — usually on social media, outside the project.”
A growing challenge for a P2 practitioner is the deepening ideological divide that has developed over the past few decades. As people become more and more entrenched in their view and less and less likely to consider those of others, engaging the broadest cross-section of the public becomes more and more difficult.
Dr Martin Carcasson with the Center for Public Deliberation at Colorado State University says finding a solution begins with understanding the root of the problem – the “brain science” behind polarization – and the December webinar was an encore of his presentation at the 2017 IAP2 North American Conference, “Beginning With The Brain In Mind”.
Our human nature makes things problematic, Carcasson says. We crave certainty and consistency, and if we’re making a decision in a controversial or even polarized environment, we tend to protect that decision as much as possible, even in the face of contrary facts.
What’s more, people are suckers for the good-versus-evil narrative – through all cultures and all times, we love the hero-and-villain scenario, and Carcasson says that we’re teaching our children wrong by teaching them that there is an evil force behind bad things, when really, it’s more complicated than that.
We are “groupish” or tribal, preferring to associate with like-minded people. Some of the worst things – and some of the best things – that humans have done in history have stemmed from that mind-set.