Nuts and bolts of good engagements
Clarify your key points.
Work through all the questions you anticipate the community asking (based on your initial conversations with stakeholders). Try to frame clear and honest answers to each question.
A piece of advice
Consult whoever can answer the question with authority before the consultation. For example, if the community is concerned about school pressures, have the school administrator write a letter stating the school is able to handle the pressure. Having this letter in hand will resolve the question immediately and show the community you have done your homework. It demonstrates your commitment and builds trust.
Prepare a final draft of the good relationship agreement and the plan you have created with community partners and have it ready for public viewing.
Have the story of “what you hope to accomplish and why” polished and ready to go.
Nuts and bolts of a great consultation event
Choose a natural, local venue that people feel comfortable gathering in like a community hall, a local school, or faith community. If possible, it should be close to the site you wish to develop. This space should:
- Be fully accessible to people with mobility issues and auditory challenges.
- Have ample (free) parking available.
- Be large enough to comfortably accommodate your audience.
- Have good sound and lighting to facilitate strong and clear presentations and communication with the audience.
- You can also consider alternative venues like a mobile information booth, perhaps accompanied by a food truck or ice cream vendor.
Make the space welcoming with:
- Good signage.
- Food and refreshments.
- Greeters and an information table. Have trained greeters who make people feel heard and their presence immediately appreciated.
- Childcare (to enable young families to participate).
- Enough seating for your anticipated audience, with flexibility to add more if necessary.
- Play some music to make the space warmer and more relaxing.
- Have a clear agenda and accessible information.
- Bring nametags for all event hosts and speakers (and possibly participants as well).
Accommodate your audience as best you can by:
- Scheduling the event at a time when most will be able to attend. Offering multiple dates and times may be appropriate.
- Considering the needs and experiences of local cultural groups. For example, make information available in other languages if possible or try different ways of hearing or engaging with people such as talking circles or table conversations.
- Having community supporters and project advocates (perhaps those that speak the language, even if it’s the language of the street) to help “navigate” the project.
- Advertise the consultation event with flyer drops, road signs, newspaper articles and local social media groups.
- Share your message through local stakeholders and their networks as much as you can. For example, put posters and flyers in local coffee shops, schools, faith communities and the library. You can also ask the local community league to co-host the event on Facebook.
Design your informative flyer to be simple and clear and easy to share. Remember:
- Do not do things last minute! Send them out at least two to three weeks in advance in case people are going on vacation.
- Try to be very thorough with your flyer drop so local apartments also get it.
- Have messaging in multiple languages if appropriate.
- Make a strong effort to invite all stakeholders (and do not exclude people who are impacted).
- Knock on doors to explain the project and deliver flyers to connect with close neighbours one-on-one. This will also make it easier to get a sense of who will most feel the impacts of your project.
- Seek out media coverage by contacting specific journalists who have a demonstrated interest locally or municipally. Seek out a radio interview to reach the local area.
Planning your agenda
A straightforward agenda helps build trust and soothes anxiety. Be sure to give people a clear and simple overview of the agenda at the start of the meeting and ensure you finish on time.
Here are some good ingredients for an effective agenda:
- Recognize, in an authentic way, treaty relationships with indigenous communities that share their home with us.
- Introduce yourselves—explain who you are and what drives you to do what you do. This helps establish trust and openness.
- Explain what you hope to accomplish in this meeting. (Ie. This meeting is to hear your questions or take a look at initial ideas…)
- Provide a clear presentation of the project. Use clear and accessible language. Don’t drown people in information, but don’t oversimplify things either.
- Distribute an information sheet at tables before the meeting to proactively answer some questions. Use experts and speakers to educate the group on particular concerns, for example:
- A board member could share the reason for the project
- The architect could speak to the nuts and bolts of design and development.
- Someone could explain how property and tenant management will work.
- Professional support workers could talk about the work of supporting people with addictions and mental health concerns (note: it is okay to highlight a people’s stories but do not personally identify individuals in any way).
- Someone could share their story as a possible new neighbour in need of a home. This helps alleviate fears and break down stigmas.
- An urban planning expert (make sure it’s a real expert, not just a consultant) can speak to how the project may fit in the community.
- Guard time for questions. These can be handled in a large group setting (town hall), but be sure to also make time for smaller settings as well for those uncomfortable speaking in a large gathering.
- Begin and end your session with an overview of the process. Include what you hope to accomplish in this session. Explain next steps and what they people can anticipate as follow-up. Provide a timeline on what they can expect for any communications in between or about when the next event will be.
Practical tips for an informative and accessible meeting
- Have people submit questions ahead of time so you can prepare answers in advance.
- Choose good communicators who feel comfortable talking and can clearly express ideas.
Communicate in more than one way. Do not rely only on verbal information such as town hall with a single speaker because:
- Different people often hear things differently, and not everyone is an auditory learner.
- The people who are confident about speaking in public or who have powerful voices can dominate the airspace at the expense of others
- Save time and space for smaller conversations around tables or information boards with project sketches. Remember, not everyone is comfortable expressing themselves in a large public conversation.
- Be sure to have people in the room who are able to speak to their experience of success (as tenants, as neighbours, or as participants in other consultations).
- Encourage people to connect personally about any questions or concerns they have.
- Use visual information to reinforce the message and help people absorb and remember what you have to share.
- Give enough time to take questions if you use a town hall format, and don’t rush. Setting time limits on open-air group questions may be helpful to guard time for smaller private conversations. (Again, not everyone is comfortable to speak in a large public setting, and you want to ensure everyone has an opportunity to share their thoughts and questions.)
- Use pictures and facts and statistics, alongside stories.
- Use media creatively.