from Anne Harding, President, IAP2 Canada
As the year comes to a close, I’ve been thinking about all that’s happened for our organization in the last 12 months. We’ve had eight great professional development webinars, seen the formation of our bilingual chapter St. Lawrence/St. Laurent, had a presence at a number of regional and national events, co-hosted a North American Conference in Salt Lake City, and we currently have more members than we’ve ever had (over 530)!
I’ve also been reflecting on the many conversations I’ve had with you – our members. These conversations have been about our families and personal lives (because let’s face it, we’re a personable group), and also about the importance of the work we do and how we do it. Over 20 years ago, IAP2 developed the Core Values for Public Participation to provide clarity about what meaningful public engagement looks like. These Core Values have gone through two reviews over the years and still stand as strong foundations for how we know we should work. But it’s not always easy, is it?
Take Core Value #2 for instance, that P2 includes the promise that the public’s contribution will influence the decision. How many of us have been stewards of a process where we know the stakeholders actually have very little opportunity to influence an outcome? This may be for a variety of reasons – technical, time, or financial constraints of the decision, political motivations of the decision-maker, or the all too common reason that the decision-maker has for the most part made up their minds and are just going through the motions of an engagement process. This can be disheartening at best and at worst affects the public’s trust in P2 and results in less engagement the next time around.
So how do we live our values when we’re not ultimately the decision-maker? I know I don’t have all the answers to this question (that’s what our mentorship program is for :) ), but I can offer my thoughts. In any engagement process, I take my role as a steward of the process very seriously, and work hard to make sure my decision-makers (clients, bosses, or peers) know what that means. To me, it means that we must recognize that an engagement process involves real people, like you and me; people who care a lot about what matters to them, and deserve to have a voice that is heard, especially if we are asking them to participate.
Sometimes this means bringing it closer to home for my decision-makers by asking them to think outside their role to their personal lives about a decision that was made that affected them. Once they come up with an example that we can talk about and they tell me their story, I ask them what they would have contributed to the decision if they had the chance. If they did have the chance to contribute, how they would have felt if their time and ideas were blatantly ignored. This kind of personalized conversation with decision-makers has often helped me get past the “check the box” kind of thinking and move to a place where we all see and acknowledge stakeholders for who they are – fellow members of society just trying to do their best for themselves and their families.
How do you live our values in the work you do? IAP2 Canada is looking to recognize the very best in public engagement from across Canada through the development of a national Core Values Awards Program and we need your input! Visit the CVA page to find out how you can share your ideas and be part of the conversation about what great public engagement looks like in our country.
Thank you all for your continued involvement in IAP2 Canada – your professional organization working to promote and advance public engagement across our country. May you all have a very happy and warm holiday season with loved ones, and come back to your practice rejuvenated and energized in the New Year!