Webinar Insights on Reimagining Public Engagement in Parks and Public Spaces
Discover the 7 key insights from our webinar “Don’t just tick the box, think outside it: Reimagining public engagement in parks and public spaces”. This webinar is part of our series 7 Questions: The Future of Parks and Public Spaces.
Our September 30, our webinar titled “Don’t just tick the box, think outside it: Reimagining public engagement in parks and public spaces” inspired the seven key insights below, which we hope will help shape new creative and community-centric approaches to community engagement that happen long before park designs are rendered and long after the ribbon is cut.
The webinar is part of our series 7 Questions: The Future of Parks and Public Spaces. The webinar panellists were Cheryll Case, Founder and Principal, CP Planning; City of Brampton, Jennifer Franks, Lead, Indigenous Placemaking, City of Toronto, Mikael St. Pierre, Project and Development Manager at Montréal Urban Ecology Centre, and Sophia Horwitz, partner and co-founder of COLAB.
Don’t just tick the box - make engagement meaningful
So often, community engagement is thought of as a “must-do” when developing new public spaces. Jennifer spoke about the importance of doing more to ensure engagement is meaningful, timely and purposeful. Meaningful community engagement begins with a reflection about how a project may benefit the community (and not as knowledge extraction for the project), respecting the time and capacity of the people being engaged, offering compensation for contributors’ time and knowledge, connecting with local leaders and designing a fit-for-project engagement strategy.
Cheryll recommends thinking of community members as consultants - “We pay consultants great amounts of money to do this work. We should also pay community members as they are also the consultants - they're providing us a consultation on the appropriate ways of using this public space.” - Cheryll Case
“There are so few people that actually have time, energy, ability and interest to participate and come out to public events, but they still have the right to shape their communities to better meet their needs. How do we move away from the transactional and extractive elements of public engagement, and move towards an inclusive ecosystem, with the social support infrastructure that enables citizens to be able to meet their own needs? So that they can lead change in their neighbourhood. So that there are less barriers to actually meeting their needs, whether it be food, childcare, or human connection, or anything else.” - Sophia Horwitz
Build the case for change
Mikael spoke about the need for engagement practitioners to enhance their evaluation practices. In order to fully capture the impact of a project and properly build the case for change, engagement practitioners can employ a variety of data collection methods. Data collection methods can span digital and in-person techniques and can focus on the period before, during and after a project.
“If we're not able to build a case and show how it could be beneficial, we won't be able to change that paradigm.” - Mikael St. Pierre
Engage early and with the right people
Quality community engagement takes time. Giving your project the appropriate timeline can mean the difference between surface-level and meaningful engagement. Longer lead times provide greater opportunities to engage with community leaders and focus on co-creation as opposed to knowledge extraction.
“Meaningful engagement requires the dedication of adequate resources - time, people and money. And so, so often, adequate resources just are not dedicated to this type of work. Good meaningful engagement takes time.” - Jennifer Franks
Engaging with hard to reach communities
Jennifer spoke about the need to slow down and identify project constraints at the outset. From there, design an engagement process that is inclusive and collaborative: Identify and engage community leaders, identify ways to combine engagement requests happening in a single community and compensate people for their time.
“Working with Indigenous communities is thankfully becoming more and more top of mind but it also means that there's a lot of demands placed on community organizations and Indigenous peoples to share their knowledge and share their thoughts. I have lots of different suggestions - there's the whole conversation around being really purposeful about why you're engaging and being able to articulate that clearly. So no one wants to feel that their, their time is being wasted or that they're just a checkbox. I would also say canvas the community and other staff if you work in a municipal context for example to ensure that that this caught this kind of work is not already being done. [...] It's really important to state how your work will benefit the indigenous community and not just benefit your own project. [...] Compensate people for their time, labour and knowledge - whether it’s financial or provide a gift, pay for transportation or childcare. Find ways of compensating people.” - Jennifer Franks
Jennifer Franks Lead speaks to empathizing and strategizing community engagement fatigue when working with small, hard to reach and/or Indigenous communities.
Give people real power
Leverage engagement methods and practices that tap into the community’s real power. Mikael spoke about using methods such as participatory budgeting and creative social media exercises to get people excited and engaged.
Then provide the support for the community to enact change: “Communities have gifts and ideas and energy to contribute but so often there are barriers and inability to use these gifts. I think it's our responsibility to create those spaces and to challenge the status quo to look at what else is possible and how we support that.” - Sophia Horwitz
Our panellists are sharing their key takeaways on community engagement
Be transparent, circle back
Be honest and transparent about the scope of the project -- What are the benefits for the community? What are the non-negotiables (what needs to happen, what can’t be changed)? What change can actually be affected? Commit to keeping people informed about the project’s progress and process.
“It's really important to close that loop and ensure that people know they've contributed in a meaningful way.”- Sophia Horwitz
“If for some reason your project or initiative has ended or funding has been pulled, let people know and just be really honest and transparent about it so they don't feel - they want to feel acknowledged.” - Jennifer Franks
One size does not fit all
Each project is unique - and each community engagement strategy will require a unique approach that fits the context, community and constraints of the project. Designing an engagement strategy during a pandemic is a tricky thing - there is the assumption that “digital is best.” However, many organizations are turning to more analogue approaches, such as bulletin boards, small outdoor group engagements and though community leaders. Virtual engagement and digital tools can be leveraged to set the foundation for the project, get feedback and share information, but in-person engagement should still be a high-priority component of a project - just at a safe distance.
“And whenever we'll be done with, with this whole pandemic thing, hopefully, we will keep some of the best that we’ve learned through this, such as digital engagement, but we'll keep going with what we know is better - and that's in person, in the field engagements and participation processes.” - Mikael St. Pierre
How do we adapt our engagement practices during COVID-19 without reinventing the wheel?
Watch the full webinar
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