Having a Say in Our City Posted on January 18, 2017 by Miranda Jimmy A municipal government has the most direct impact on people’s day-to-day lives. From roads and transportation, to water and utilities, to parks and libraries, Edmontonians access city services everyday. The decisions our City Council makes can have an immediate influence on how we live in and enjoy our city. It is because of this direct impact on everyday life that the City of Edmonton has to make sure to connect with residents and ensure that services are responding to the needs of the community. After the last election, several members of City Council brought forward concerns to City Administration on how the City of Edmonton was conducting public engagement and consulting with residents. As a result of these concerns, the Council Initiative on Public Engagement was founded in 2014. City Council directed Administration to talk with residents about their concerns, listen to their suggestions, and find better ways to engage residents in our city. Specifically, the Council Initiative set out to answer these questions: What do we mean when we say “public engagement”? Why do we carry out public engagement in the first place? What are the benefits and underlying principles of engagement? If we agree that public engagement is important, what are the key elements of good public engagement? If we do it extremely well, what would that look and feel like in a city like Edmonton? How can we all work together to create effective solutions and action plans? How will we grow and sustain meaningful, successful relationships and processes? What is the role of the broader civil society as a key partner with the City in public engagement? How do we empower our most committed and engaged leaders to help us change, and how do we grow and develop new and emerging leaders? As a concerned resident and active community member, I became involved with the Council Initiative in late 2014. I attended one of 40 public consultation workshops that were held to hear from residents about their previous interactions with City of Edmonton consultation processes and to better understand what was working and what could be improved. During the workshop, I met residents from all over the city who wanted to improve the way the City connects with residents and provide a variety of perspectives to a well-rounded discussion. In all, over 1000 residents attended these workshops and provided insight to the process. After these broad consultations a group of community members selected from each of the 40 workshops were invited to come together in January of 2015 to sort and categorize the notes from each of the sessions. At this secondary workshop, I was able to see the true breadth of information that had been collected and the themes that emerged. It was clear that the City of Edmonton needed to create a new way to consult and engage with the public. It was also clear that more work would be required to engage community voices to develop a new process. In September 2015, the Council Initiative on Public Engagement released the final report for Phase One. The report outlined the work completed to date and the plans for a second phase to continue the work. By this time, I had already seen a shift in the way the City of Edmonton was talking about public engagement and the importance of community perspectives in decision making. For example, public consultation had begun for the Lewis Farms Community Recreation Centre in West Edmonton. I saw that the way the City was approaching engagement was beginning to shift in real ways and residents were driving this change. I wanted to remain involved in the process as the second phase of the Council Initiative began. The first phase had identified strategic areas of focus and working groups were struck to develop plans for changing public engagement across all aspects of City Administration. Each working group was made up of half city employees and half community members, all volunteering their time to improve the way our city engages the public. Over the past year and half, the Council Initiative on Public Engagement has forged ahead with hundreds of hours of volunteer time to improve the way our City is listening to residents. I am proud to have participated in driving this work forward as a member of the Vision, Policy & Framework Working Group. Together, have created the strategic vision for a better way of engaging the public in Edmonton. During the second phase of this work, several public updates have been provided, including the most recent update this past November. This Spring, the work of the Council Initiative on Public Engagement will go before Edmonton City Council. They will have the opportunity to approve a new approach to engaging residents that has been co-created by residents for residents. Throughout the Council Initiative, we have modeled the way the City should be making decisions – with open minds, working together, and hearing all points of view.