Seven staff engaging… It’s not quite seven swans a’swimming, although it can sometimes feel like swimming when in the midst of a particularly intense engagement. All that aside, we’ve had our share of memorable moments this year, and we asked our staff and associates for their personal highlights. Enjoy!
Brenda (Ottawa office)
Earlier this year, I had the exciting opportunity to step out of my usual administrative role, get out of the office and go “into the field” (as they say on the TV show NCIS). In June, I took notes for four focus groups facilitated by Jessica in beautiful British Columbia. Being part of an engagement led by one of our fantastic facilitators, and listening to participants’ stories and experiences was very humbling. It gave me a look through a window into another province’s issues and concerns.
In the end, we are all struggling with matters of the heart that face us, our families and friends every day. Engagement, as I saw, can help ease a burden, and it lets people be heard who maybe wouldn’t otherwise participate.
It was a real change of pace for me when I got to revisit my elementary school teacher days this past September. I was tasked with designing our Kids Connection booth at BC Hydro’s Merritt Substation Open House. I designed and facilitated creative crafts called Birds on a Wire, Make Your Own Transformer, Buzzing Bees and more. It was such fun to engage children with crafts and creativity. I hope they had fun; I sure did! And, being in the beautiful Nicola Valley is always a huge treat!
Richard (Vancouver and Ottawa)
My engagement highlight happened during a public meeting that was arranged to discuss health service planning, and included the closure of several very old local hospitals in Ontario.
As I was organizing the room about an hour before the meeting was to start, three older couples came into the room. I told them the meeting wouldn’t start for another hour. They said “We’re here to give you a hard time about closing our hospital.” I said, “You need to tell me about that – I want to understand your concerns.” We sat and talked about their fears and aspirations for about 30 minutes, and then I excused myself to finish setting up.
Through the course of the two hour meeting – which was planned to support the 42 confirmed participants, but in fact was attended by 78 very vocal people – we talked about acute care and community health care programming. Throughout the whole meeting, Burt, Sarah, Albert, Mary, William and Carol were fully engaged. I was able to refer to our prior conversation to move discussions forward by saying, “Yes, I’ve heard that, and we’ve documented that concern, right Burt?” or, “We were just talking about that opportunity before the meeting, right Carol?”
It was wonderful to have the advanced intelligence about community concerns and be able to demonstrate to the entire audience that my clients and I were fully apprised and open to considering community concerns and aspirations. The meeting could have be a difficult one, but because the client was open, empathetic and fully engaged with the community, it was one of the best public meetings of the year.
While I was facilitating a community workshop in a library, a young child of about 10 years old came into the meeting. He asked what was going on and if he could take some juice and cookies. The cookies were chocolate and he decided to stay. When asked where his parents were he said: “Home. I’m supposed to be doing my homework, but this seems more interesting.”
He brought the average age in the room down by several decades. The focus of the workshop was on how the community wanted to be engaged in an ongoing way. Needless to say, he had very different ideas about what that might look like. He wanted to be engaged with funky posters at the skateboard park, he wanted to hear about community news through his smartphone messaging app, and he thought notices in his school bulletin would be helpful to let his parents know about events. His perspective was different and enlightening. His key message was… this is a cool place and I like living here.
Most of the stakeholders came from a place of how engagement could “fix” what was broken, but this very precocious 10-year-old wanted to know how he could participate to make his community better. Perspective is everything; a good reminder to be sure.
My engagement highlight of 2015 was the stakeholder engagement project that we did for the BC Ministry of Health. For the project, we needed to engage a wide range of stakeholders. This is not an exhaustive list, but we spoke to colleges and associations of physicians, nurses, pharmacists, and midwives; health sector privacy officers, researchers, and data stewards; privacy protection and civil liberties advocates; patients from different parts of British Columbia, and from different patient sub-populations: mental health, HIV+, physical disabilities, and opiate substitution treatment (methadone); family caregivers; and the Representative for Children and Youth.
I learned so much about our health system and the different challenges British Columbians face on a daily basis. One learning, however, will stay with me and I will keep sharing it forever: “You, as the patient, are the owner of your own health record. So ask for copies of it, check it, keep it, ask to correct it if wrong, and protect your PharmaCare record with key words. Be involved in your health.”
I was recently delivering a D+A workshop called “Facilitating Engagement” in Prince George, for a group of experienced facilitators. There was a woman in the group who had clearly done a lot more facilitation than myself, but she was a genuine life-long learner and her stories added great value for the group. She clearly didn’t need to be in my workshop, but there she was, humbly seeking an opportunity to refine her skills. After the workshop, she told me I had created an environment that truly was a space for collective learning, and that I modeled a way of engaging in which the group could be at its best. I was honoured by her comments.
Earlier in the workshop, I had asked the group to engage in small group discussions about a time when they experienced really good facilitation. As I wandered around the room, listening in on snippets of the conversations, I overheard one person commenting that I was not really “doing” anything as the facilitator – I had simply created the opportunity for other people to bring what they know into the conversation, and to let the group create their own shared knowledge.
I share these stories to remind us all that we don’t need to go overboard with technique, style, or flare. What I have discovered (and rediscovered), is that what people want most is meaningful engagement, and to be trusted and respected enough to have their own wisdom honoured in a session. I am grateful to be able to play this role in my practice as a facilitator.
As a relative newcomer to the D+A team, I have been in learning mode for much of the last six months. It has been an interesting, stimulating and wonderfully enriching time. The highlight of my learnings was the International Association for Public Participation (IAP2) Foundations course, which I took in September. There were many takeaways from the five-day session, but perhaps the biggest win for me was solidifying the knowledge that there’s a proven, step-by-step method for planning and implementing engagement projects. There’s no need to guess, or make stuff up – experts around the world have already developed a tried-and-true approach that will set any engagement project up for success.
I highly recommend the course, even for those who aren’t working in a strictly engagement-focused role. I am looking forward to continuing to apply my learnings in a variety of projects in 2016 and, perhaps most of all, I’m excited to keep learning more and growing in my engagement practice.