IAP2 Member Spotlight: Patty Unfred
Briefly introduce yourself. Who are you, and what do you do?
I am the community relations manager at Metro, the Portland metropolitan area regional government. Metro has a very unique and broad portfolio of issue areas including land use and transportation planning, natural areas and parks, cemeteries, garbage, recycling, and operates venues including the Oregon Zoo and Oregon Convention Center. I lead the team of public involvement staff who engage the public in policy decisions and services. I will transition soon into a temporary role coordinating and leading Metro’s diversity, equity and inclusion work.
I am a native Oregonian and grew up in the Portland area with four siblings, camping nearly every weekend and providing the weak link in a family tradition of standout high school basketball players. I received my undergraduate degree in political science at Seattle University and my master’s degree in public policy and administration at California State University at Sacramento during a brief stint in California while parenting two toddlers. I have also lived in Hawaii and taught English in Japan a looooong time ago.
I am the proud mother of two college age daughters and am currently navigating the first year of an empty nest. I worked part time when my daughters were small and have been back in the full-time work force for the last 12 years, most of those at Metro, which has been my introduction and classroom for public engagement. I now live with two cats and, occasionally, several raccoons that have discovered how to get in the cat door. I bike to work most days and enjoy hiking in my free time.
How long have you been a member of IAP2? How did you first hear about the organization?
I’ve been a member for about four years. When I began taking on a more direct public involvement role at Metro, I attended workshops and trainings by the local chapter and found the information very helpful to my work.
What attracted you to join IAP2 in the first place?
I particularly appreciate the IAP2 principles and the “public participation spectrum” opened up a whole new way of looking at public involvement. I use the spectrum in staff trainings and often take a large poster-size version with me to project scoping meetings as a good reminder to be intentional about the type and role of public involvement in every project.
In your day-to-day public participation or community outreach work, what gives you the most satisfaction?
We have invested a lot of energy and time into more inclusive public engagement practices, including language translation on the web and materials, more proactively engaging environmental justice advocates in reviewing policy documents, and contracting with community based organizations to broaden and diversity our engagement reach. While we have a long way to go, this is the work that I’m most proud of and that gives me the most satisfaction at the end of the day.
What are the biggest challenges you’ve found in doing P2 work?
Other than the ever-present challenge of never having enough resources or time to do as much as I’d like to engage the public, I’ve found three challenges doing public involvement at Metro:
- Since Metro projects often are long-range planning, looking ahead at 20 to 30 years in the future, it’s often difficult to engage people since there isn’t an immediate impact in their daily lives. I’ve learned the importance of connecting planning work to how it affects people and translating how the decisions affect their quality of life.
- I’m sure most public involvement practitioners can relate to the challenge of being able to demonstrate to the public how their input affected or shaped a public policy decision.
- Our community is becoming more diverse and we are challenged to find new ways of engaging those whose voices haven’t always been heard in public decisions. We need to build long-term relationships with underserved communities that may not have a history of trust or partnership with government agencies.
Why did you decide to get more involved in IAP2, such as chapter work, leading local P2 events and activities, etc.?
As the regional government, Metro plays a convening role with local governments and public agencies. When we restructured Metro’s public engagement review committee in 2012, we also created a public engagement network of professionals from public agencies, non-profits and consulting firms. We have a shared ownership and goals of sharing best practices, case studies and lessons learned to elevate public involvement across the region. Recent meetings, which have been attended by 40-60 participants, have covered developing a tool to share resources, measuring the effectiveness of public involvement projects, and effectively engaging more diverse communities. We created this group to supplement the Cascade Chapter network workshops and trainings and, in the process of coordinating that work, I started attending the chapter executive meetings. That led to my current role as Vice President of the Cascade Chapter.
In several parts of the country, there is interest building in re-launching or re-building chapters to connect local folks on the ground. The Cascade Chapter is very robust and active. What advice would you give to IAP2 members interested in forming chapters or starting the conversation? What’s the starting point?
The starting point — and the desired outcome — is building relationships. The Cascade Chapter is successful and continues to attract new members because it provides opportunities for sharing best practices as well as useful tools and tactics to continually improve public participation. P2 is both art and science and, as such, there is always the need to adapt and learn new ways of successfully engaging community members. Perhaps the most significant reason that the Cascade Chapter is successful, however, is that we have fun. This group of people loves to laugh and genuinely enjoys each other’s company so participating in workshops or executive meetings is not a chore but a pleasure.
What is your most memorable, or favorite, public participation effort or campaign to date?
We launched an online public engagement tool called Opt In in 2012 to try and reach people through a venue that was convenient and flexible for them. We ask them to participate in one or two public opinion surveys each month and also direct them to other engagement opportunities. The overall numbers have been very successful — more than 22,000 members and high response rates to surveys. We are continuing to try and boost participation among some demographic groups that aren’t currently represented compared to the population at large and this has been a challenge. But we have been able to hear from more people — across all demographics – on a regular basis than ever before. We have made Opt In available to other public agencies and non-profits so it has become a regional asset. This fall we’re conducting an evaluation of the tool and will be revamping and improving it.
What are your off-work passions and interests?
Other than my daughters, my passion is hiking and mountain-climbing. I lost a sister in 2006 to lung cancer – a young mother, non-smoker, aerospace engineer and marathon runner. I discovered the American Lung Association’s Reach the Summit program, which raises funds for lung health and helps participants train to climb a mountain. After successfully summiting Mt. Hood, Oregon’s highest peak, in 2008, I was hooked on hiking, climbing and raising funds and awareness about a cause I’m passionate about. I have volunteered ever since, helping other participants train to climb and discovering new and beautiful hikes a short distance from my home in Portland. I bike to work regularly and am an avid — if inconsistent — gardener. I love to cook and I make my own wine with grapes picked from local vineyards.