In April 2017, the City of Edmonton approved a new Public Engagement Policy (C593), developed using a collaborative process involving City Council, City Administration and members of the public.
The Council Initiative on Public Engagement was the vehicle used to review the City’s practice of public engagement and develop a new policy. In Edmonton, Council Initiatives are set in motion at the beginning of each new Council term. They enable City Council to focus on topics that are important to councilors, so they can advocate for them and work directly with Administration.
Parallel to the creation of the Council Initiative, the City’s Executive Leadership Team had also identified public engagement as a priority and assigned senior organizational leaders to oversee an improvement effort. The attention from both of these important players – Council and senior executives – would prove critical to the success of the Initiative.
From the beginning, both Council and Administration embraced the public’s involvement in the review of their city’s public engagement practices. The first phase of the Initiative engaged thousands of Edmontonians online and via dozens of workshops to discuss the importance of public engagement, and identify elements needed for it to be effective. Members of the public also played a role in analysis of the input gathered and, along with Administration and Council, helped shape the second phase of the Initiative.
This second phase delved deeper into areas of improvement needed to evolve public engagement practice – including a new and improved Policy. Importantly, it was also recognized that the Initiative’s stewardship required changes to become more transparent and credible by involving members of the public in key leadership roles.
To that end, an Advisory Committee was formed, made up in equal measure of senior members of City Administration and members of the public that were representative of Edmonton’s diversity. Under this Committee, five Working Groups were created, each with an Administrative Co-Chair and a Public Co-Chair and including members of both Administration and the public. Thus the Initiative’s findings and recommendations were developed and approved jointly by Administration and the public.
When the new Policy was presented to Council for approval, City Administration provided overall remarks, but the Public Co-Chair of the Advisory Committee also delivered their own comments. City Council also heard from other members of the public who had participated and had the opportunity to ask them questions.
This collaborative effort not only enhanced the credibility of the findings but the public’s involvement resulted in a Policy that instituted some important changes:
- Provides more detail and clarity about its purpose and when it applies
- Provides guidance on the role of decision makers
- Highlights the importance of respectful and safe discussion and debate
- Defines public engagement more clearly, by linking it with decision-making and highlighting the importance of reporting back to people about how their input was used
- Includes a new Public Engagement Spectrum that uses citizen-centric language and does not include “inform”
- Identifies key supporting elements for public engagement that are critical for success
These changes better align public expectations about what ’public engagement’ means. Through the Initiative, the public told us that ’public engagement’ cannot be simply informing them about what the City is doing but, at minimum, asking them what they think, listening to them, and incorporating their feedback when possible and appropriate.
Even after the Initiative’s mandate was successfully completed and the new Policy was approved, City Council, Administration and the public all expressed a desire to continue the collaboration achieved under the Initiative. The result? A new body – the Guiding Coalition for Public Engagement – with the mandate to monitor Administration’s implementation of the Policy and advise on the city’s public engagement practice. Recruitment is currently underway for its members.
In summary, not only did City Council, Administration and the public collaborate to create a new Public Engagement Policy, but they worked together to put the spirit of the Policy into a promise that hopefully everyone can relate to:
This is your city.
We value your input on how we maintain, grow and build Edmonton.
We believe engagement leads to better decision making.
We are committed to reaching out to our diverse communities in thoughtful and meaningful ways.
We want to understand your perspectives and build trusting relationships with you.
We will show you how you help influence City decisions.
Share your voice with us and shape our city.
More information on Policy C593 and the City of Edmonton’s approach to public engagement can be found at www.edmonton.ca.