Last week, PlaceSpeak staff members Kevin Lam and Lisa Dekleer took part in IAP2’s Foundations in Public Participation training course to develop their skills in planning for effective public participation. They joined planners, consultants and community engagement specialists from across Canada in learning how to design and implement successful public participation projects.
Here are 5 key takeaways from the week to consider when planning your next community engagement project:
1. Plan for public participation
Even before you start the public engagement process, it is important to spend ample time planning for your public participation process.
- What are your objectives?
- Who are the key stakeholders?
- What level of engagement does the public expect?
Understanding the scope of your public engagement project ahead of time will not only help you design your participation process, but also account for any potential challenges that may arise. The last thing you want on your hands is an angry crowd showing up at one of your public meetings, as in the case of the Glacier/Howser power project in Kaslo, BC. In fact, many of the issues related to the project’s consultation process could have been avoided if proper planning had been deployed.
2. Hone your messaging
It is important to keep in mind that your external communications shapes how the public perceives your project. If your messaging is too wordy or uses too much jargon, people will quickly lose interest. Carefully crafting your messaging to reflect your objectives is a crucial part of getting the public to the table. It should not only address the values and interests of all stakeholders, but also frame the public’s expectations for engagement. Successful communications is written in plain language and clearly outlines how your organization intends to engage the public.
For further reading, check out our blog post on tackling language barriers with online public engagement.
3. Choose the appropriate level of public participation for your project
Each public participation project is unique, and requires a different level of engagement. The IAP2 Spectrum is designed to assist with the selection of the most appropriate level for your project.
Each level of the Spectrum: Inform, Consult, Involve, Collaborate, and Empower has value; no one is “better” than the other. When selecting the level of public participation, it is important to assess your public participation goals, public and internal expectations, and the needs of the sponsoring organisation. By thoughtfully selecting the level of participation, expectations are managed across all stakeholders, reducing the risk of conflict.
4. Include the public right from the beginning
No matter which level of engagement you are looking for, it is important that the public is included in the process right from the beginning. This is a proactive measure that will prevent public outrage later on if it is felt they have been kept in the dark. This is particularly important if the project may be contentious in the community. Early communication can also provide warning signs for public concern and needs.
5. Adapt and be flexible
The same public participation approach will not work every time. Further, participation requirements may change throughout each individual project. As new information becomes available and circumstances change, so will the public’s interest in your project. It is important be prepared for this change in order to prevent conflict.
Kevin and Lisa would like to thank Amelia Shaw, Gay Robinson, and Gale Simpson for a fantastic week-long journey into the art and science of public participation.
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To get started with your online public consultation, visit placespeak.com.