September 1, 2022
Meaningful public engagement can improve success.
“A lack of meaningful public consultation set the industry back 10 years in this region.” I heard this statement recently during a newscast. The news anchor was interviewing a consultant about a proposed wind project on the Port au Port peninsula in Western Newfoundland and Labrador. She was referencing the industry in the Boston area where this technology has existed for quite some time.
Consultation on the spectrum of public engagement
Consultation is one way of engaging members of the public. On the spectrum of public engagement, it is more involved that informing the public which is simply a one-way flow of information. Consultation promises to listen and acknowledge concerns of citizens and other stakeholders.
Many organizations choose to engage the public for a variety of reasons. For example, legislation requires some, like governments, to conduct a level of consultation. Others, like not-for-profits, are interested in increasing awareness, or seeking public guidance on developing programs or services.
Above all, organizations must conduct meaningful public engagement activities. In other words, activities are respectful, inclusive of, and relevant to everyone. Engagement is not simply ticking a checkbox. Organizations must enter into engagement activities with honest intentions to listen.
Public engagement is just that; engaging members of the public. So, who is the public? It may be individuals, groups, specialists, residents or all of the above. Who does your program, service, initiative, decision or project impact? That is who you want at the table. Furthermore, look beyond the initial circle of people impacted. Informing others outside the inner circle or creating opportunities for them to provide input, may yield interesting information.
Public engagement leads to informed decision-making. Certainly it increases understanding. You gain an understanding of what the public is thinking. Similarly they gain an understanding of your organization, its goals and objectives. It is natural for people to want to have a say at what impacts them. Heard often is the phrase, “Nothing about us without us”. That is to say, engage the people impacted by a decision in the process.
Knowing when to conduct public engagement is critical. If a decision is already made, engaging the public in a manner that suggests their input will influence the decision is deceiving. However, if your organization is truly wanting input to help inform a decision, then public consultation can be a great way to move forward. The spectrum of public engagement developed by IAP2 Canada outlines the promises you are making at each level of engagement initiatives.
It takes a lot of planning and consideration to conduct meaningful public engagement. How do people want to be engaged? How do you ensure all parties are able to attend? Is your approach inclusive? What barriers exist which may prevent public participation? As a result, a strong facilitation plan is a must. A variety of techniques in a facilitator’s toolkit can achieve desired outcomes.
Ask for help
Consultation is much more than putting people together in a room. Consequently, your organization may not have the expertise required to conduct meaningful public engagement. From polar bear management and protecting bees, to oil and gas exploration and municipal amalgamation, my clients are involved in a diverse range of public consultation activities. Working with my clients, we develop a facilitation plan together. Drawing on my public participation, project management, and public speaking training, I provide the neutral, professional support they need. I am skilled in facilitating both in-person and virtually using a variety of online platforms.
If you are looking for some guidance in conducting consultation or any form of meaningful public engagement, feel free to contact me to discuss further. Do not take it just from me. Check out the testimonials on my website to hear what my clients are saying. ~ Carole