Engaging You, The Public

Public participation is a cornerstone of good government. In order to properly represent your family and plan for our municipality’s future, elected officials must consistently communicate and provide avenues for you to participate. Citizen input must be related to decision making. Those potentially affected by or interested in a decision must be involved.

There is a broad spectrum of levels of public participation. The range goes from the one way informing through to total empowerment.

Residents often complain about the informing process as they are left with no opportunity to provide input. The changing of school zone signage is an example of informing. Residents were told that the municipality wanted to follow provincial government lead in changing signs. They were given information about driver behaviour and safety measures. The information was provided so that the public could understand why changes were being made.

Consulting is obtaining public feedback and opinion. Residents who took part in the Aquatic Strategy open houses were consulted with. They were told that the County would listen to and acknowledge concerns and would inform them on how their feedback influenced the decision.

Involvement is working more directly with the public to ensure that residents' aspirations are solidly reflected in the options developed. Citizen circles, workshops, and ongoing advisory groups are key tools. The Mature Neighbourhood Strategy process rose above informing into the consulting spectrum. Council did push for more involvement. To be effective for our community, it must actually be collaborative.

Collaboration with the public takes the process to the next level where residents are looked to for direct advice and recommendations in formulating decisions. Administration must then incorporate this advice into the decisions to the maximum extent possible.

Empowerment is the giving of power and decision making into the hands of the public, with a promise that the municipality will implement what residents decide. It is the last and highest level and is most effective when the municipality has a set budget and some framework around the decision. While it is rarely used in our municipality, Gilmore Park Community League did participate at this level in its planning and funding of their park. Community garden groups could work well at this level. This approach allows the community to directly influence budgets, policis, and decisions that work for them.

Different levels of public engagement and tools are required, depending on the situation. The most significant issues require a mix of different communication and engagement strategies. Sadly, most municipal governments are stuck at the lowest end of public engagement. More often than not, the community knows what it needs. I challenge elected officials to listen... before they (and their communities) are left behind.

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