OPEN MIKE: Ask the Experts! – The IAP2 June Webinar
We tried something new for our June learning webinar: assembling a diverse panel of P2 experts to respond live to questions about practices and techniques. Eight IAP2 members – four from Canada and four from the US – with a wide range of interests and specialties, took part in the panel. Here are some samples from that webinar:
From Adrienne in San Francisco: If you set up an open house to present information in a combination to inform and consult with participants then how do you manage public comment if there are more than 50 people led by a cantankerous community group?
From Vince Verlaan: It initially depends on the phase of the project you are in….very different techniques if you are starting vs finalizing a process. Always engage these groups in advance to understand who they are and what their concerns are, make sure they know who is on the other side and how their input has been used, show them the impact of that input, give them a space on the agenda…and if you have to, challenge them to allow others to share their ideas.
From Anne Carroll: First (as narrow-minded as it may sound), I never give anyone a microphone. I always do things in smaller groups. So if a large group showed up with lots to say, I’d find a way to ensure their individual perspectives are accurately documented (preferably by each of them) — without disrupting everyone else’s opportunity to participate. That said, if pretty much everyone is rejecting how the session is set up (I also almost never do open houses), then it’s incumbent upon me to redesign in real time — but I’d still do small groups, document in detail, and so on.
From Meghan in Toronto: What’s in your P2 toolkit and why? Are “older” P2 tools still relevant today?
From Brenda Pichette: The most important tool in my toolbox is me, with my really big ears, for listening. Any good process has to begin with quality listening, so I’m not looking at tools in terms of online tools and that sort of thing; I’m looking at it from a much bigger perspective. … I make sure that I’ve done really good stakeholder analysis, to work through a really good planning process.
Empathy also has to go with those big ears, so that we really get a sense of what the stakeholders’ interests and concerns are.
Follow-up from Phyllis in Saint John: what are some specific tools that you find useful?
Brenda: One of the most important tools is the World Café and to set things up in smaller groups so we can avoid grandstanding and we can have proper interactive conversations.
Anne Carroll: many of the “old standbys” work great: it all depends on the time and place and what you’re doing. It’s about form following function – not the other way around.
Vince Verlaan: If you’re not doing a high-quality engagement with a meaningful question and the right people in the room and the right experts on-tap, it won’t matter what tool you use, they’ll reject it as being not genuine enough. If you have a genuine, meaningful project, where the client really wants to hear from people and will use the input, the tool becomes less important … there are many tools, but they won’t work if the primary conditions aren’t right.
From Tiffany in Winnipeg: How can you go beyond techniques like public meetings when you are seeking feedback on technical and complex topics where a base level of knowledge is needed to respond to proposed options?
Vince Verlaan: First of all, practitioners keep a variety of techniques and tools on hand and learn to adapt them to a particular client or issue. Some clients will have a project and say, “we need to do a World Café” or “we need to have a public meeting” or “we need to do an online survey”, and you have to pull them back and ask, “What is the question?” “What is the critical issue?” and determine who needs to be involved and what information they need. There will be some people who aren’t comfortable with or used to a particular tool, so you need to adapt what’s in your toolbox to fit them.
In the case or really complex issues that affect a lot of people, you need to provide enough background information they need is provided: the project, the options, and the trade-offs so people can have an informed opinion. That doesn’t mean talking down to them: it means a summarizing a 90-page engineers’ report into three boards – and that’s all done in the pre-planning process, which determines whether a P2 project will go sideways or not. Summary background, short-form questions and answers, workbooks, complementing more deep-dive workshops; you can use all these tools to help people understand and make an informed decision.
Those are just a few of the questions, in what quickly became a lively discussion using many webinar tools. You can watch the entire webinar June webinar.