Are you a member of the public? The City could really use your help.
I’m a member of the Mayor’s Public Engagement Taskforce. We are one of the groups tasked by the Mayor to report on strategies to further the key initiatives of this Council Term. Assuring our City is communicating effectively with the public is a keen interest of the Mayor, and an interest of mine.
Part of what got me into this entire being-a-politician thing was an interest in public engagement. As I became more involved in the community I love, I tried to become more aware of what is going at City Hall. This was sometimes enlightening, and sometimes frustrating. I found the people at City hall easy to engage with, open and, for the most part, friendly. The hard information, however, was rarely easy to access.
I attended Council Meetings on topics that were important to me, went to a lot of community events, and got to meet a few City Councillors and senior staff. I even ended up serving on a few advisory committees. I felt very engaged.
However, I also recognized I was in relatively small company. I saw the same members of the public at community events. Like me, they were engaged, interested, and vocal, but they clearly represented a small fraction of the City’s population. Democracy has been described as “decisions by those who show up”, and very few people were showing up.
I started blogging, and started telling other people about what was going on 9through the lens of my opinions, of course). I worked with the NWEP to push sustainability further up the agenda, and to empower more people to get actively engaged. Then I went and got elected.
Now I am still blogging, in the hope that people will read about what is happening at City Hall, and care a little more about the decisions that shape their City *before* those decisions are made, not just complain about them after.
The Public Engagement Task Force is trying to figure out better ways to make that happen. We have been meeting for more than a year, and have spent a lot of time talking about just what “engagement” is. We have explored ideas as far reaching as a City-run 311 system, Pop-Up City Halls, better web tools, creating a City Hall Ambassador, and using our media assets in more innovative ways.
I have also learned that there are people who study this kind of stuff for a living, and learned about the IAP2 Spectrum of Public Engagement:
Inform: make sure people know what’s happening;
Consult: asking people what they think about things happening;
Involve: seek input, and use that input to inform decisions;
Collaborate: Partner with the people in developing options and choosing from them;
Empower: Give the public the decision-making power.
I think (and this is just my opinion, from my experience on both sides of the fence) that New Westminster does an OK job informing, a good job consulting, a good job involving, a no-so-good job collaborating, and is generally resistant to empowering. That varies somewhat between departments and initiatives. I think the current OCP process is demonstrating a new level of collaboration and the results have been great (so far). However, something as technical and far-reaching as an OCP perhaps also demonstrated that empowerment is not appropriate for all decisions – at some point political leadership is required to move such a complex plan forward.
Maybe you disagree with me. Maybe you think the City needs to do a better job connecting, and you have a great example of how another City has done a great job? Wouldn’t it be great if you could be consulted on public consultation?
The City is actually getting meta next weekend and holding Public Engagement on Public Engagement. There are two workshops on Saturday, and you can test our engagement skills, and help improve them. They are free, and anyone can go, but it really helps us pout if you register first so we can properly gauge the number of people we need to prepare for.
So go to the website, register, and come out Saturday. Be one of those people who show up and make democracy work, and let us know how we can hear you better!