Public engagement can be risky business. There are lots of examples of what NOT to do. It isn’t often we get to call out an example of what TO DO and highlight the work of an organization for their rich and nuanced understanding of public engagement, and their understanding of what it takes to make it really work for an organization, elected officials and the community. The City of Edmonton is that organization.
Picture source: City of Edmonton Public Engagement Roadmap, 2017
Here is why we are highlighting Edmonton as an example to follow:
Engagement with Community
Edmonton has had a public engagement policy for 10 years, and recently undertook a 3-year engagement process with thousands of Edmontonians to create a new policy, framework, procedure and action plan. They recognized that getting better over time takes effort, thought and energy – and they invested in getting it right WITH the community.
The Desire to Improve and Evaluate
Edmonton’s recent community engagement process grew out of an audit of public engagement activities and a desire to improve the state of engagement. They took the tone that they didn’t have all the answers, and that they were eager to learn how to improve. Now they are placing considerable emphasis on the importance of evaluation and have created indicators for success related to public engagement.
Tailored Guiding Principles
Edmonton created tailored guiding principles for engagement that reflect the needs and culture of their organization and communities. The tailoring of those principles for engagement ensures that the standards for engagement align with and connect to organizational culture and values, community expectations and norms, and reflect unique attributes of the community. They didn’t reproduce IAP2’s Core Values (or another set of principles) and say “good enough” – they built something just right for the place and the people.
Build Leadership Commitment
Leadership commitment is critically important to meaningful public engagement. Edmonton recognizes the role organizational culture plays in creating meaningful engagement and demonstrates an active tone of openness, transparency and acknowledgement of mistakes and missteps. They have invested in recognizing and empowering community leadership as well, and see that shared role community members and leaders play in the city space.
Internal Tools for Capacity Building
The City of Edmonton has built a comprehensive public engagement toolkit and have invested considerable time, resources and effort in building staff capacity through training, leadership and commitment. They don’t assume staff are born knowing these skills, and they work hard to build everyone’s ability to have constructive and meaningful conversations.
Community Capacity Building
Edmonton has also invested considerable resources and efforts in building community capacity for meaningful engagement, and in supporting the accessibility, inclusion and ability of community to participate effectively through leadership development, community training and community based toolkits.
Build Community Trust
The City has placed emphasis on the importance of building trust and relationships with community, and the importance of ongoing engagement (versus solely project based engagement). This recognizes that engagement goes far beyond one decision at a time in silos, and sees the system as a whole, with meaningful engagement at its foundation.
One of The National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation (NCDD) Core Principles for Public Engagement is “Sustained Engagement and Participatory Culture” and we see this embedded in the deeply thoughtful and comprehensive spectrum the City of Edmonton has created. Rather than adopt or modify the IAP2 Spectrum as so many other organizations have done, they’ve created a spectrum that embodies the values and principles they hold – resting on a powerful foundation that holds it all together.
If you have other great examples of municipalities or organizations that are doing meaningful public engagement with a distinct depth and richness we’d love to hear about them!