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An unwavering change maker seeking a just, democratic and sustainable world.

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2 Comments on “Sea change”

  1. Dave Sills Says:

    This is a good post with a lot of thought provoking questions.

    I do have to question some of the assumptions:

    “…how should Council weigh the input of a member of the public who has not engaged in the process but appears at a “Council Meeting” seeking a specific change to a staff recommendation?”

    Who I see most often appearing before Council as delegations are people that *have* participated in the ‘process’, but haven’t seen their input reflected, or their concerns addressed, in the outcome up to that point. Or perhaps the delegation knows someone who has been engaged in the process, and has become better aware of the issue.

    “How does Council even weigh the input of a colleague around the horseshoe who wants to make an amendment to a recommendation that has been hashed out between many actively-engaged stakeholders? How should we demonstrate respect for the process as leaders?”

    A big part of ‘the process’ is the delegations, discussion and final vote by Council. It may not be the most lengthy part of the process, but it is arguably the important since it is typically only a week before such a vote that all of the details of the issue at hand are made available. Respect for ‘the process’ must include respect for this last critical element. It is not good enough for Councillors to rubber stamp a staff or committee recommendation because of the work put into ‘the process’ up to that time. A major role of a Councillor is to carefully scrutinize recommendations and listen to the concerns of the community regarding recommendations. Often, this comes to a head on the night of the ‘big vote’.

    “Today, our administration consults and engages the community long before their report reaches the Council Chamber”

    Often, the highest level of community engagement attained regarding a particular issue is the ‘public information centre’. In my opinion, this is not a very useful exercise (aside from administration being able to say they have consulted and engaged). In my experience PICs are not well attended. The materials presented are often superficial. Expert staff are on hand but typically do not say much unless asked. And there is little opportunity to hear the issues that others are discussing. I would not call this ‘authentic’ engagement.

    A community forum, on the other hand, is an opportunity for a discussion to be undertaken where everyone can hear what is being said – by the expert staff and by concerned citizens – and become part of a larger conversation.

    There are also higher levels of community engagement that should become a bigger part of ‘the process’ for most issues, especially critical issues like official plan amendments.

    I definitely agree with the last paragraph. There is much to learn, better ways to engage, and a need to rebuild trust.

  2. kfarbridge Says:

    Thanks Dave – some further reflection on your comments and some additional information.

    • While not always the case, there are definitely people who attend Council who have participated in the process but don’t feel that their views have been well reflected in the staff recommendation. Consideration of their concerns remains an important final role of Council. Clearly, not all input will be reflected in the final recommendation. That is why our staff include a summary of all input received and their response to it – that is to say whether they have included changes or not and why.

    • I am not suggesting we should not respect our democratic process and the role of Council. However, I am still struggling with your assertion that the Council meeting, in all cases, is the most important part of the process. If our local government is to be viewed as just a vending machine perhaps that might be the case. However, I think that sells short our collective responsibility to be part of the solution and relegates the community to the back seat. That feels counter to authentic public engagement and giving voice to our citizens.

    • There is a wide range of public consultation and engagement tools that can be employed for any decision. Not every decision warrants a full-fledged public engagement process. So the discussion really should be about what is the most appropriate methodology for the particular decision being made. Sometimes a Public Information Centre is precisely the right choice and sometimes not.

    As the Guelph Wellbeing Initiative roles out in the community, the City of Guelph is preparing itself to enhance its capacity to engage and partner with the community.

    There are two key streams that we will be using to engage the community as an active partner in the development of the new corporate civic engagement model.

    Rapid Prototyping through Community Engagement Pilots‪‪‪ – Staff will be “test running” different civic engagement practices and innovative tools through a series of pilots with the community. The public will experience the processes and tools first-hand and provide feedback and formal evaluation on the different elements in real time (e.g. likes vs. dislikes). Rapid prototyping allows for ongoing public input and constant refinement of the model and tools. This methodology also helps the internal staff teams to skill up faster on the deployment of new processes and tools.‪

    Consultations with the Advisory Committees of Council‪‪ – Staff will also be meeting with select Advisory Committees of Council to solicit ideas and feedback on new practices and tools.‪‪‪

    This approach is a huge change from our normal practices. We are engaging the public as an active participant in an interactive and iterative process to develop a new civic engagement model.‪

    Stay tuned.

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