I had the pleasure of attending the 2016 International Association for Public Participation (IAP2) North American conference Sept. 28-30 in Montreal. During the three days, I had the opportunity to learn from some of the best and brightest practitioners in the field of public participation (P2) and gained valuable insights about some of the challenges P2 practitioners are currently facing.
My top five session insights: (click on the session titles to access the full presentations)
- Over Our Dead Body: This session focused on what has happened to public engagement since IAP2 was founded; in particular, where it has thrived and where it hasn’t. The good news is that P2 is still on the rise and people care more about public participation! The bad news is that there is a general lack of trust from the public, and fear on the part of many decision makers to use P2 because they don’t know how to do it or have had a bad experience. Click on the session title for the full presentation, including some current statistics.
- Using Online Engagement for More Inclusive Public Participation: Whether it’s for the purpose of engaging a hard-to-reach audience, or making it more convenient for participants to get involved during their busy day-to-day lives, the opportunity for online tools to supplement in-person engagement activities cannot be ignored. This session covered some valuable tips and tricks for using social media and web applications to promote and engage audiences organically on the web. From establishing meaningful co-relations, to legal challenges with storing participant data, the benefits and challenges of using social media platforms are worth exploring.
- Facilitation Matters: Planning for a facilitated meeting and “just another meeting” are two very different things – “winging it” is ultimately a recipe for disaster. Using a wedding as a metaphor, the importance of paying attention to the details when planning a facilitated in-person engagement were discussed in detail throughout this session. Selecting an appropriate venue to host the meeting, sending meeting invitations and strategically timing an engagement event are but a few examples. “It’s all in the details”, as we say at D+A. Want to learn more? We do facilitation training! Click here for more info.
- Making Engagement Meaningful with P2 Toolkits: When an organization’s people are involved in design and implementation of the P2 process, they have a greater stake in the successful outcome of the initiative. Participants at this session had the opportunity to learn how P2 toolkits can be used to build internal capacity within an organization and guide P2 “newbies” through an engagement process with confidence. Several examples of previously developed P2 toolkits were shared to shed some light on the potential for a creative and energizing design process, as well as how they can be used to create internal buy-in and trust during a P2 project. Click the session title to see some of the creative toolkit examples.
- Duh, make it interesting: This session took participants back to basics by addressing the challenge of reaching stakeholders with important information, during an era of “information fatigue”. It reinforced that an important part of any engagement is tapping into the interests of stakeholders. Some key tips: provide information in layers, use methods that encourage people to explore on their own, and create a connection with the issue or place being discussed.
There was a lot of great information exchanged at the conference. Check out all the sessions here.