There are several things that impress me when reading the proposed Community Engagement Framework report. See earlier post.
Here are some of them.
- It is presented as a policy not a guideline (very important in government).
- It applies to all departments, staff and community engagement activities.
- The development of the framework was championed internally by a cross-departmental team.
- There is a requirement for ongoing monitoring and evaluation to promote continuous improvement.
- There will be an annual report to Council with key performance indicators.
- It moves beyond consultation and involvement to include opportunities, where appropriate, for collaboration and partnership.
- It empowers a Community Engagement Team to play a stewardship role to advancing community engagement practices.
- Where legislated consultation is mandated, it serves to enhance the practice.
- It sets responsibilities for the Community Engagement Team, City Employees, Council and Community Participants.
- A corporate orientation training program will be developed for all employees.
- It was endorsed by the Direct Report Leadership Team (DRLT).
Why is the last point important? The managers that make up this team report directly to an Executive Director. There are five Executive Directors responsible for one of five Service Areas at City Hall. Executive Directors allocate half of their time to corporate-level matters and the remainder of their time providing leadership to the departments in their Service Area. However, it is the members of the DRLT who are wholly responsible for their department. So while Executive Directors are accountable for ensuring this policy is followed, the members of the DRLT are responsible for making it happen.
Will the new Community Engagement Framework make everyone happy? No – and certainly not initially.
If successful, the Community Engagement Framework will engage a broader range of voices in local decision making. Those individuals or stakeholders who have enjoyed singular or preferential access to local decision making may be challenged by the presence of even more perspectives in the room.
And there may always be some individuals or stakeholders who will only be satisfied if they get their own way in a community engagement process. Some might have a conflict of interest, a vested interest in the outcome. Some might refuse to consider alternative solutions – they are simply always right all of the time. When unsuccessful in bending the outcome of a community engagement to their point of view, they may be tempted to criticize the process or, most unfortunate, personally attack other participants. At the end of the day, it rests with Council to make the final call.
What will be nice though, I believe, is that these scenarios will become less frequent – or at least less defensible. I can give you one good example. Under the Planning Act, it is legislated that Council hold one Statutory Public Meeting to consider each planning application (e.g. a plan of subdivision). Historically, this meeting was held when staff were ready to present their final recommendation to Council regarding a planning application. A few years ago, we moved this Statutory Public Meeting to the beginning of the decision making process, well before planning staff had considered what their recommendation to Council would be. This simple change, which is consistent with the Community Engagement Framework Principle of Early Involvement, has been immensely successful in addressing neighbourhood concerns.