By Lauren Wirtis, IAP2 USA Intern
Larry Schooler is Manager of the Public Engagement Division for the City of Austin, which, Larry jokes, sounds impressive until you realize the division is comprised of two employees. What is truly impressive is all that Larry and his division have accomplished since he started working there in 2009. For one, that was the year Larry became involved with IAP2 USA. After attending his first workshop, Larry thought: “I found it. I found what I’ve been looking for professionally as a field and a secular calling.” During the workshop there was an exercise where participants created headlines they wanted to see for IAP2; Larry still has that posted in his office. Over the years Larry has participated in many of the programs IAP2 USA has to offer.
Larry enjoys that “IAP2 feels so collegial and focused on the sharing of resources. I always walk away from conferences feeling like I learned so much and gave so much in return.” Larry decided to get more involved and was elected to the IAP2 USA board in 2011. In 2013, he was elected president of the board. At the time, Larry noticed that he was one of the few younger, public sector members of IAP2. He was excited to step up as president, craft a vision, and find people to help him carry out that vision.
Still an active member in IAP2, Larry considers himself to be “a community-wide interviewer” who ensures that decision-makers have information from a broad cross-section of the public when they are creating policy. At the Public Engagement Division, Larry and his team help other divisions implement good P2 by helping design the process, facilitate events, deploy a variety of digital tools, and analyze and summarize data. Larry gets the most satisfaction from his work when he hears from a citizen or member of the public that they feel like the process was a good one. “Sometimes I hear this from people who didn’t like the final outcome but think the process was fair.”
These moments make Larry feel like he’s achieving his mission to make the whole process fairer to a greater number of constituents. As a mediator, he works to develop relationships between diverse groups in order to get to a place of understanding and agreement at the end of the process, and has helped a number of task forces with diverse perspectives come to consensus.
“I think too often in the U.S. we’re so results and efficiency driven that we focus on getting to an agreement before we address the relationship.”
Larry has worked to build relationships between the City of Austin and the community using a wide range of tools. One is the Conversations Corps, a unique program in which volunteer liaisons go out into the community to hold meetings with the different districts. This helps the City reach a wider spectrum of constituents and create more representative policies and programs as a result. It also “empowers people to have conversations away from government that are about government issues.”
One of the greatest challenges Larry faces in his work is meeting people’s expectations for good P2. “There is a really high bar in Austin. A desire to shape, collectively, the city rather than for it to be bequeathed to a group of elites.” Larry continued, saying this is one of the best problems a public official can have, that the community has a strong desire to be a part of the conversation and be involved in City decisions. However, there is a conflict between the desire to do P2 and the amount of resources available. There isn’t a realization of what it takes to make good P2 happen.
This is a challenge many practitioners just entering the field will face. I asked Larry what advice he would give to new practitioners in the field. “My advice would be not to take advice, and have them bring their newness to the field.” While the core values can act as your guide, new practitioners can leverage their existing passions and strengths to become more effective in the field. In Larry’s case, this calls to mind work he has done on television, a media with which he’s more comfortable with than most because of his experience in broadcast journalism.
Tool Tip: “Just because you didn’t hear about a tactic during P2 training, doesn’t mean it’s not P2.”
Larry is certain P2 has a big role to play in the future as cities across the world continue to grow and diversify. “We’re in desperate need of people who are willing to step up and advocate for the field in the country. Through strength in numbers we can each do a little to lead to a big result.” Larry is certainly playing his part as he works as a Senior Advisor on the Divided Community Project, serves as a Local Board Chair for Generation Citizen, and is a Senior Fellow at the Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life, all of which promote active citizenship and public engagement.
Larry concluded our discussion with some thoughts about IAP2 USA: “IAP2 has been a godsend to me for about eight years. I’ve been more involved at certain periods of my career than others. I certainly hope to continue to stay involved. I am so grateful for all the organization has given me – training and mentors – and have really seen it change my life for the better.”
By Lauren Wirtis, IAP2 USA Intern
Lulu Feliciano is the Outreach Manager at San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA). “We oversee transit, parking, traffic, bike lanes, anything that happens on the street regarding mobility.” Lulu first learned about IAP2 three years ago when she was able to get a seat at the City Planning Department’s five-day IAP2 Foundations course. The messages and tools presented in the course (the core values, the spectrum, etc.) struck a chord. Lulu had completed the SFMTA’s Transit Effectiveness Project, during which there was a fair amount of public upset about the redistribution of transit service. “The pain we were going through was beyond transit.” It was clear the community was not feeling heard.
After the IAP2 Foundations course, it was clear that SFMTA needed to create a standardized and streamlined approach to outreach. The agency worked with a variety of stakeholders, conducted numerous focus groups and interviews (both internally and externally) to understand how the public wanted to be engaged and the best way for SFMTA to accommodate those needs. Along with Deanna Desedas, Lulu helped develop Public Outreach and Engagement Team Strategy (POETS), which would eventually mandate that projects requiring a certain number of hours be assigned a public information officer.
That was just the beginning. In 2015, the pre-construction phase for the Van Ness Improvement Project began, in which two miles of the densely developed street were going to be renovated to accommodate a new bus rapid transit service in the middle of the street. Lulu and her team were determined to “engage and inform” the community, which included residents, business owners, and the hundreds of thousands of people that traveled to and through this street on a daily basis. Lulu used IAP2 principles to help create the engagement strategy, which included:
- The City of San Francisco’s first pre-construction survey
- The Van Ness Business Advisory Committee
- Interactive Text Message Campaign
- Project Overview Walking Tours
- Meet the Expert Speaker Series
2016 IAP2 USA Core Values Project Award for Creativity and Innovation: Van Ness Improvement Project
“The fact that this project is now serving as a model and inspiration for further innovation and advances
in the organization’s public participation practices is further testament to the value of this project.”
—IAP2 USA 2016 Core Values Awards Panel of Judges
“Van Ness was the first project to apply IAP2 principles. Now we apply them to all projects small or large.” P2 is equally important throughout the lifecycle of a project, from planning to construction to implementation. Reflecting back on the SFMTA’s P2 journey Lulu noted:
“Sometimes it’s through challenges, mistakes, and heartaches that you really learn your lesson. Now most everybody is mindful of good P2. I realize it’s more difficult, that it requires more time and more resources, but it brings better outcomes.”
Lulu says the biggest challenge of doing this kind of work is trying to balance public versus agency needs, especially in long-term planning. Trying to plan for 20-30 years in the future can seem gratuitous compared to the issues facing the community every day. Sometimes larger goals struggle to meet on-the-ground realities. “We can eliminate parking so that other vehicles can move around, but we have to be realistic that some people need cars. There’s no magic bullet for this stuff.”
One of the most important parts of her job is working with communities of concern and “engaging with them to make sure they have a voice at the table.” Lulu regularly relies on her IAP2 Foundations training as well as what she learned in the Designing for Diversity class: “The loud voices will be heard. It’s the quiet, more silent voices you need to elevate and pull up.”
Read more about the Van Ness Improvement Project in SFMTA’s 2016 IAP2 Core Values Awards Application.
Introducing Lauren Wirtis!
Lauren is a recent addition to the IAP2 USA community, becoming a member in January of 2017! We are also excited to announce that Lauren is our 2017 Intern. Welcome to the IAP2 USA community!
Lauren became a planner because she is passionate about P2. She is interested in what people think about the places they live, what changes they would like to see, and how to get more people involved in their communities.
Lauren recalled a time she took part in a series of open houses that were engaging the community around ways to reutilize a 35-acre waterfront property. During one meeting, community members had the opportunity to talk to Lauren about ideas they thought had been left out of the redevelopment options. Some of these ideas were included in the presentation at the next meeting. People were excited to see their ideas up on the screen. One woman in particular approached Lauren saying, “That was my idea! That’s the thing we talked about!” She showed up to every meeting for the rest of the project.
At the end of the day, “it’s that moment where people feel like they are making a decision about their own lives. A shift in their perception of their own abilities.”
Lauren is a Planner at Maul Foster & Alongi, an environmental consulting firm helping communities with brownfield remediation and redevelopment in the Pacific Northwest. Like many areas across the U.S., former mills and industrial development sites in the Pacific Northwest were tied to rivers and waterways. Now shut down, these sites create unique challenges to sustainability and economic development in local communities. As a planner, Lauren helps these communities figure out how to investigate these sites for contamination and develop short- and long-range plans for remediation that include the community vision and lay out the ordinances the communities can adopt to inform future development. “Participation in decision-making should be accessible, honest, and truly impact the outcome.”
“As a planner in community development, I see my role as the facilitator and interpreter,
translating between the world of public policy and the experiences of everyday life.”
In Lauren’s experience, the biggest barriers to quality P2 are funding and time. Being efficient without sacrificing the end product is a tenuous balance. “I don’t bill for a minute more than necessary. Funding is hard to come by. Design standards are high, and we work hard to meet those standards without losing anyone in the process.” The amount of time and funding it takes to reach a truly representative group of a local community is, unfortunately, not always feasible. This can leave people feeling like they weren’t fully engaged or listened to, and being able to amplify the voice of those who have historically been silent is empowering to the community, and rewarding to those facilitating the conversation.
Chris Hartye was formally introduced to IAP2 in 2008 shortly after joining the City of Hillsboro and being asked to update the Hillsboro 2020 Vision & Action Plan. Adopted in 2000, the 2020 plan was a 2002 IAP2 Core Values Award winner. The City of Hillsboro has most recently been recognized as the 2016 Organization of the Year Core Values Award winner for North America, due in large part to development of the Hillsboro 2035 Community Plan, which renewed the vision and action plan that guides the city. Hillsboro is a full service city with a population of 99,000.
With a background in strategic planning and stakeholder engagement from a business/economic development perspective, Chris recognized the IAP2 Core Values and Code of Ethics as largely “second nature” in the Pacific Northwest. It seemed a natural extension to conduct the City’s next generation planning efforts using the IAP2 P2 framework.
Chris gets the most satisfaction from hearing about what people are passionate about, “I love to hear firsthand what people care about, especially community members that don’t often voice their opinions, who aren’t always a part of decision-making processes. To directly hear their voice, passion, ideas, and dreams … to me, there’s really no substitute.”
Chris and his team made a point to go where people already are whether it be the farmer’s market, grocery store, or elsewhere. “When we meet people where they’re at, I find that they’re much more forthcoming as opposed to if you host a public forum, for example. People are often more candid, and more passionate, about the things that are important when they’re in their own environment. These are the conversations that carry with me as opposed to anything I’ve seen online or maybe heard at a public forum.”
“Face to face allows for more robust conversation, and the opportunity to discover not only people’s passions, but their talents, resources and the skills they bring to the table. It’s often through P2 that we recruit our volunteers; you wouldn’t know or discover these talents if you weren’t out there doing P2. It helps you discover the human capacity in your city. And then to try to empower that as best you can – find opportunities to involve folks in what they’re good at; what they’re skilled at.”
#1 Challenge – Truly and authentically reach diverse audiences
The biggest barriers to authentic engagement are often language and cultural barriers. “It’s an ongoing, day-to-day thing; a box you never check.”
Hillsboro has communities of “new arrivals”, new residents that often haven’t formed formal organizations, so it’s challenging to reach out to them but the process can be fairly straightforward. From the first awareness a new group is emerging, a few of the first steps are:
- Awareness and identification – Understanding the demographics, the numbers, the geography of where folks are settling; what languages are spoken by the community;
- Finding community leaders – Whether they come through the faith community, are in the nonprofit realm, the business community, or affiliated through the schools;
- Engaging and listening to those leaders – But not by asking them to speak for everybody. “It’s not: we’ve talked with these leaders, so we’re covered; it’s about allowing them to inform you – local government – on the best way to go about engagement.”
“We try to be deliberate with community leaders in clarifying that we’re not here to ask them to be representative or make decisions on behalf of their communities; rather, we’re here to learn how to best engage with the community. And in the end, it’s that “little bit at a time” that moves us forward to creating new futures together by allowing P2 to help grow relationships and capacity.”
Chris has shared his story about the City of Hillsboro’s Community Visioning Process as a Core Values Award winner with IAP2 in the December 2016 webinar, as well as at the 2015 ICMA Annual Conference in Seattle with City Manager Michael Brown, and he looks forward to getting more involved in the IAP2 USA Cascade Chapter. To learn more, visit our 2016 Core Values Awards page.
Facilities Master Plan, he didn’t foresee winning the 2016 IAP2 USA Core Values Award for Respect for Diversity, Inclusion & Culture. What he did see was a district-wide commitment to honoring diversity and inclusion that he was determined to embed in every aspect of the facilities planning process.Three years ago when Tom Parent, Facilities Director for the Saint Paul Public Schools in Saint Paul, Minnesota, embarked on the process to renew the 10-year
To give you a sense of the magnitude of this project, Saint Paul Public Schools (SPPS) is Minnesota’s second largest school district serving more than 38,000 students with 78% students of color, 72% in poverty, and more than 100 languages and dialects spoken. The district has 72 facilities (68 of which are schools), 7.3 million square feet of space, and 465 acres of land constituting a 2.1 billion dollar portfolio.
Tom was introduced to IAP2 in 2012 by IAP2 USA board member, and then Board of Education member of Saint Paul Public Schools, Anne Carroll, when she delivered a training to district leaders in the three IAP2 pillars: the Core Values, Ethics, and Spectrum. He joined IAP2 USA at the onset of the Master Planning work when he realized how the tools would play a critical role in changing the process.
“Getting off the ground was as important as anything. We understood facilities master planning from the perspective of technical experts, and we needed to be clear with everyone involved that we had a lot to learn from community aspiration, and how to capture that for our vision for the learning environments we create for students.”
Tom relied on the IAP2 Spectrum to help his team make the transition from “technical experts delivering design conclusions to the community” to engaging the community in every step along the way.
“It was important to consistently establish where we were on the Spectrum and target our activities based on who would be at the table. It was an iterative process of defining first where we were and where we wanted to be and being inclusive in the ways we chose to get there. Using the Spectrum in this way became very aspirational. We set ambitious process goals and were excited to see them come to fruition.”
Another early critical decision was to require every district employee as well as external consultants who participated in the Facilities Master Plan to undergo intensive racial equity training – the district even invited all members of the local chapter of the Institute of Architects to participate.
“From the onset a key focus was having people show up authentically in the process. We didn’t want people to show up with administrative privilege. The people facilitating the meetings had to have the ability to navigate the challenges of structural racism and honor different perspectives. The 16 hour training we went through helped us develop a framework for how we identify, talk about, and address issues of systemic racism. It’s about understanding these topics are hard, and there a lots of challenges that come with them that make it too easy to shut down, but we all have to live in the discomfort of addressing them.”
Throughout the process, Tom was most personally impacted by the student voice.
“Hearing what students had to say was the most powerful work we did. When we hear the perspective of students who spend 13 years in our educational system, and learn about how they work, socialize, and learn, that’s when some really great work happened. To give them the ability to have input into end design was as empowering for us as it was for them.”
All too often Facilities Master Plans are driven by compliance and destined to sit on a shelf. In contrast, this plan is intentionally not complete, but rather is set up to support ongoing engagement and planning to honor the process. “We’ve changed the culture around how the the district does master planning. It’s a living document that reflects how we approach managing our buildings and grounds moving forward.”
And Tom is sharing his department’s learning with principals and administrators across the district.
“This August, we did a workshop with systems leaders – the academic and operational staff dedicated to student learning – about how the master planning process unfolded, and how we used stakeholder mapping and identified the various levels of communication and engagement in daily practice. We were able to share how it doesn’t need this big process like a master plan to be intentional about including the end-users of decisions.”
Tom has presented locally and nationally on issues of long range educational facility planning, equity, and the intersection of the two.
Traci Ethridge, Assistant Director of Corporate Communications & Marketing for the City of Charlotte, North Carolina, first learned about IAP2 from colleagues who had attended the IAP2 Foundations in Public Participation program. “I was part of a working group tasked with examining how the city was engaging with the community and developing an overall strategy moving forward. We wanted to make sure that we were bridging the gap between the community and local government. Our organization has success around a lot of projects and initiatives and we wanted to implement a standard practice such as the IAP2 Spectrum.” The Spectrum will become the foundation to community engagement planning and a key piece in shaping the city’s overall strategy.
The City of Charlotte was one of the first municipalities to take advantage of the IAP2 USA Government Membership program when it was introduced in January 2015. “We definitely saw it as an investment in the direction we were moving and wanted to make IAP2 resources accessible throughout our organization. As we continue to engage the community in initiatives like the Community Investment Plan, we recognize that various projects can be in different places on the Spectrum. The important thing is that the community engagement plans begin with a high level overview of the Spectrum and the understanding that we are connecting with the community throughout the life cycle of the project.”
Beginning in the fall of 2014, the city conducted a series of community meetings to begin planning efforts for the Cross Charlotte Trail (XCLT). “The team decided to organize pop-up meetings to engage with the community and this method proved to be very successful. They attended neighborhood meetings, participated in weekly bike rides and connected with people at local festivals and events at locations along the proposed trail route.” This spring the trail project was awarded the Region of Excellence Award by the Centralina Council of Governments.
For the City of Charlotte, community engagement isn’t just about planning capital improvement projects. It’s about reaching people, listening and even tackling tough, sensitive issues impacting the community. The work being done by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department (CMPD) is a great example. An initiative called Cops & Barbers provided a forum for open, honest dialogue on police and race relations in the African American community. It is an opportunity to meet people where they are and where they routinely go (the barber shop) and start a conversation between officers and people of all ages in the community. Last year, CMPD partnered with the North Carolina Local Barbershop Association to coordinate town hall meetings throughout Charlotte. The program was recognized by the White House Task Force on 21st Century Policing. A simple, yet impactful idea turned into a form of community engagement that brings diverse groups together.
“It is exciting to see the connection grow between our organization and the community we serve. We have a unique opportunity to effectively engage with our community through many platforms and cover a variety of topics that matter to those who live, work and play in our city. I look forward to seeking out ways to incorporate more of the IAP2 Spectrum into all aspects of our engagement.”
Traci volunteered to serve on the IAP2 USA Communications Committee in 2016, and has gotten involved in the organization’s communications planning initiative. “IAP2 USA is committed to helping organizations figure out where they are on the Spectrum and helping them be successful with their community engagement initiatives. I’ve learned so much from other committee members and from members in other cities who are trying new things and engaging in different ways. IAP2 USA is a perfect fit for what we’re doing here at the City of Charlotte.”
And she’s excited about bringing community engagement to the next level at the city. “There are people who do some form of community engagement in every department. Whether it’s employees out in the field, project managers, city leaders or elected officials, there is interaction with the public on a daily basis. As an organization, we want to engage, build relationships and actively collaborate with the community.”
Traci is hoping to reconvene the working group to look at embedding P2 in the city’s overall strategy for planning and delivering city services. “We’re seeing the positive impacts when we listen to what matters to the community and bring back what we’ve learned. Now I want to look more holistically at how we put all of the pieces together to establish community engagement at the core of everything we do.”
Traci recognizes the city can’t use a one-size-fits-all approach, but is asking questions around “What does engagement look like from an overall standpoint? Are we hitting the target to engage effectively? Are we being intentional about looking for ways to engage the community?” While these questions will be answered over time, she sees the IAP2 Spectrum as the foundation to build a lasting strategy for engagement.
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.”