2014 Public Participation Interviews: John Lewis on Outreach

We recently started reading a terrific interview series from the talented team at Collaborative Services on public participation lessons they have learned in the last year, and we wanted to share their insights with the NCDD community. The third interview in the series features the reflections of John Lewis of Intelligent Futures, who shares insights gained from the award-winning ourWascana engagement endeavor in Canada last year. You can read the interview below, or find the original on Collaborative Services’ blog by clicking here.

Multiple Entry Points into the Conversation Create Multiple Opportunities for Successful Public Participation

collaborative services logoThe uncertainty of change coming to a city’s crown jewel can cause an outpouring of different opinions. So how do you capture all of this input and make sure every voice is heard?

That’s the challenge one firm was tasked with in the summer of 2012, when it came to proposed change for Wascana Centre in Regina, Saskatchewan. Just shy of the Centre’s 50th birthday, the ourWascana Visioning Project was launched to collect citizens’ hopes and dreams for the future of Wascana and its beloved Centre. More than 3,300 citizens shared their 8,000 unique ideas during “ourWascana.” Their input is being used to create a sustainable future for this civic gem for the next 50 years.

This week as we continue our look at public participation successes we hear from John Lewis, President and Founder of Intelligent Futures and native Reginan. By providing multiple entry points into the conversation, Intelligent Futures was able to accurately collect public input and foster an open and honest dialogue during the ourWascana Visioning Project. Unique tools for collecting input such as sounding boards set up in Wascana Centre, a social media campaign and creative graphic design all contributed to the project’s success. ourWascana’s success was then reaffirmed on an international scale when it won the 2013 International Association of Public Participation’s Core Values Award for Project of the Year in the Member at Large category.

Today, Lewis shares with us his firm’s experience working on ourWascana, how their approach to outreach is evolving and some of the other exciting projects Intelligent Futures you should know about. We welcome his insights.

– — –

Given your client list, Intelligent Futures is clearly a veteran outreach firm. How has your approach to outreach campaigns changed or developed over the years?

I think we have become more creative in how we give the community an opportunity to provide input. We use the term “multiple entry points into the conversation” a lot. Whether it’s in-person or online, we are trying to create as many ways for people to find out and share their thoughts as possible. I think we’re also getting better at catching people’s attention (in a good way). We know people are really busy and there are millions directions you can take your attention. Through graphic design, plain language and surprising tactics, we try to make our projects interesting, relevant and if possible, fun!

What do you think is the most important act a host can do to foster constructive public dialogue?

Be honest. If you’re honest and clear – about the parameters of the dialogue, about what is being done with the feedback or your experience in a place – you’ll end up with a constructive conversation. I think the projects that get into trouble are the ones that aren’t honest in one way or another. Honesty is the only way to erode the skepticism that many of these projects face from the outset.

What tools, methods, and strategies were used in the ourWascana engagement process and which were the most effective?

We used the “multiple entry points into the conversation” approach extensively with ourWascana, but the three most effective were:

  1. Community “Sounding Boards.” This was a series of feedback boards installed within the park, allowing citizens to share their ideas within the space itself. It didn’t matter if you were attending a festival, having lunch or walking your dog at midnight, you could look around you and provide your ideas.
  2. An extensive social media campaign. ourWascana came out of a celebration of Wascana’s 50th birthday and was looking ahead 50 years. We collected a variety diverse, surprising facts about Wascana Centre and created a #50thingsaboutwascana campaign that generated a lot of interest in the community that translated to interest in the project. Overall, the project campaign was so successful that we ended up with more Twitter followers at that time than Wascana Centre Authority. An interesting, but good, problem to have.
  3. Use of extensive and creative graphic design. In order to generate interest as mentioned before, we took our visual identity and graphic design elements very seriously. We heard from a number of stakeholders that this was an important part of creating the project buzz, which obviously leads to more interest and responses. We especially heard good things about our “Wascana at a Glance” infographic that captured much of the diversity that makes Wascana Centre special.

A sounding board at the Wascana Centre (Credit: ourwascana.ca)

Were there any revisions to your campaign strategy once ourWascana was launched?

To be honest, not really. We took a great deal of time and care to plan the process, including extensive discussion and feedback from the Strategic Planning Committee of Wascana Centre Authority, and it really seemed to pay off.

Of the 8,000 ideas received during the community engagement process, more than 50% were submitted in person via Sounding Boards rather than through workshops or online. Were you expecting this type of response?

It is really difficult to predict the level of response. ourWascana represented our biggest opportunity to take all of our experiences and learn to date and apply them, so we certainly hoped we would receive great levels of feedback. Taking the time to understand the community and plan accordingly certainly helped.

Did any of the feedback surprise you?

Having grown up in Regina (and actually being married in Wascana Centre) I know the place fairly well. The only thing that really surprised me was how strongly the community feels about Wascana Centre. This masterpiece has been 100 years in the making and while any project gets excited about the change that can happen, it was really a validation of all the vision and hard work that created the place that exists today. People really want to ensure that is maintained and built upon in the future.

Credit: ourWascana.ca

Any time you propose a major design change to a civic jewel like the Wascana Centre, people are going to have very strong opinions. How did the ourWascana process ensure that every opinion was heard and considered?

ourWascana fed into the Comprehensive Review Project for Wascana Centre Authority, which will then lead to a review of the master plan for the space. Having said that, I have to give tremendous credit to the Strategic Planning Committee and Bernadette McIntyre, the Executive Director of Wascana Centre Authority. Throughout the process, they never wavered from our approach to have a completely honest, open conversation and to hold judgement and listen to what the community had to say. It was really remarkable to work with a group of people like that.

Do you know of any other communities that have used a model similar to ourWascana? Can you provide some of the best examples?

There are many communities that are shifting towards more creative and authentic community engagement. ourWascana was a hybrid of many approaches. Some of the folks we have drawn particular inspiration from are Candy Chang, Build a Better Block and Rebar Design Studio out of San Francisco. They are doing great things to make conversations about the future of our places more interesting, authentic and exciting.

Is Intelligent Futures still involved in the Wascana Centre Visioning Process today?

Not formally. We are still in touch with how things are going, but hope to work there again soon!

What are some projects that your company is currently working on that the public should know about?

We are working on a number of interesting projects these days. Two in particular come to mind:

ReImagining: This is a developer-led engagement project to redevelop a former inner-city golf course. Through this project, we are trying to set the new standard for how developers engage with the community. This project is a three-phase process over six months that is all in advance of a formal application even being made to the local government.

Sustainability reporting: We have recently completed our third installment of Pathways to Progress: The Cochrane Sustainability Plan Progress Report. After working with the community to create this award-winning plan, we have been leading the monitoring of progress, which has been really interesting. We’re trying to make the information as user-friendly and graphically appealing as possible, so that the information is actually used.

– — –

Thank you John. It is great to see the community of Regina come together to take ownership of Wascana Centre and create the vision that future generations will enjoy for years to come.

This interview is part of a blog series from Collaborative Services, Inc. a public outreach firm in San Diego, California that brings people together from their individual spheres and disciplines to improve communities and help people adapt to an ever-changing world. The firm uses inter-disciplinary efforts to manage and provide services in stakeholder involvement, marketing and communications, and public affairs. The firm’s award-winning services have spanned the western region of the United States from Tacoma, Washington to the Mexico Port of Entry.

We thank Collaborative Services for allowing NCDD to learn along with them, and we encourage our members to visit their blog by clicking here. You can find the original version of the above article at www.collaborativeservicesinc.wordpress.com/2014/01/29/multiple-entry-points-into-the-conversation-create-multiple-opportunities-for-successful-public-participation.

Original post

Leave a Comment

Leave a comment

Leave a Reply