Member Spotlight: Deanna Desedas
San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) Public Outreach & Engagement Manager Deanna Desedas was first introduced to the IAP2 Core Values, Code of Ethics and Spectrum by Lewis Michaelson when she attended the IAP2 Foundations in Public Participation program (formerly called the IAP2 Certificate Program) in June 2013.
In her role with SFMTA, Deanna oversees the outreach and engagement for major capital construction and neighborhood-focused projects conducted by the agency. “We have hundreds of staff who conduct public outreach and engagement as part of the work they do for the agency. The challenge was how to bring authentic public engagement to scale.”
“We had identified a number of pain points. The community expressed growing frustration with the Agency’s approach to public outreach and engagement, and we would receive complaints about outreach occurring too late in the process, difficulty in reaching the agency and understanding who is in charge of a project, and a lack of consistency across projects. When this frustration turned to opposition, it created costly delays in project delivery in several ways, such as threatened lawsuits, negative press, protests and political pressure.”
To take on the challenge, Deanna embarked on a process to develop a Public Outreach and Engagement Team Strategy (POETS) that would help develop public outreach notification standards for all staff conducting outreach and engagement. By August 2014, she had launched the “POETS Peer Group” a team of 40 hand-picked Project Managers and Project Leads chosen for their leadership skills from multiple divisions across the agency with buy-in from all departments. Over the course of the next year, the POETS Peer Group conducted research on best practices, solicited feedback on drafts and vetted standards and guidelines. Ideas were sought from Portland, Boston, Los Angeles and New York. A grant from the Davenport Institute for Civic Leadership and Public Engagement supported development of the program.
“We needed to put together something compelling about how we engage the community when we implement projects with significant impact. We needed something different than a spreadsheet that listed public engagement as a task to be checked off without further elaboration.”
In early 2015, Deanna enrolled SFMTA in IAP2 USA’s Government Membership Program, which allowed her to enroll all project managers and project leads with public participation responsibilities. Since that time she has worked with IAP2 USA and Lewis Michaelson to bring the IAP2 Foundations program in-house. “Broadly training our project management staff gives us a common language – the IAP2 framework – to talk about and measure the effectiveness of our public participation efforts.”
Deanna and her colleagues within SFMTA use the Core Values and Spectrum every day. “Every project that involves putting together a Project Needs Assessment and Communications Plan requires us to think about the level of engagement we’re looking for depending on the nature of the project, and we frame the techniques we use around that level of engagement. Another way to look at is that we use the IAP2 Spectrum to put together the plans.”
While continuing to push forward, Deanna is now able to sit back to reflect on her efforts. “Now when we engage with stakeholders we try to really listen to them and take their concerns and input to help shape a better project, which helps projects run more smoothly and reach completion within better time frames.” But what Deanna finds most rewarding is building relationships and trust for the agency. Through the work she has done to bring authentic public participation to scale, Deanna has seen a change in public perception of the agency and its role in the community. “You have to have a base, and IAP2 is the solid base from which we started.”