Posts Tagged ‘Public Involvement’

“You’re asking ME to Cut Down the Red Tape?” – Part II
Friday, April 20th, 2012

In a previous blog, I wrote about the U.K. Government’s Red Tape Challenge (RTC), a national crowdsourcing initiative aimed at reducing the overall burden of regulations for businesses and individuals. I want to outline a few of the public involvement best practices that the RTC follows.

  1. Demonstrate support from senior leadership: It’s useful for participants to see real decision-makers standing behind an engagement process, as it can help reinforce the significance of the whole thing. In this case, the RTC is actively supported by the most senior leadership in the UK government. Check out this intro video, where Prime Minister David Cameron speaks rather candidly about why citizens should participate in this initiative (i.e. we need to reduce regulations “that frankly, treat all of you like idiots”). He remarks on  how the RTC will succeed “where so many other governments have failed” by focusing on “changing the default setting” for regulations. This means a shift towards regulations being scrapped “unless someone has a good reason for them to stay” (rather than the other way around). He also explains how pressure will be applied at the ministerial level, which reflects his own rationale for seeking citizen input. He says, “If ministerscome back with arguments for keeping red tape that we really ought to scrap, I need the evidence on my side Evidence from the real world.” Very well said!
  2.  Be transparent about the impact of participant feedback: Participants want to know why their contributions matter and that their time and efforts haven’t been wasted. However, in a lot of cases this isn’t done – sometimes participants never hear back after they’ve contributed! Fortunately, the RTC outlines how feedback will be used to inform decisions, how long the consultation process will take, and how ‘high’ the feedback will go. It also closes the ‘feedback loop’ by announcing any regulatory proposals/ decisions that have been made.
  3. Make connections to related initiatives/ processes: Participants should know how the initiative fits into the ‘bigger picture,’ which will make it seem less of an isolated, one-off process. The RTC makes a specific reference to the related Focus on Enforcement initiative, which is less about any specific regulations and more about the “inconsistent or inappropriate enforcement” of them (which could be the more significant issue in some cases). The RTC is also placed within the parameters of a broader, long term Government commitment, which “signifies a dramatic shift in the culture of Whitehall, as we work together collaboratively to turn the regulatory default on its head.”

 It’s great to see meaningful public engagement initiatives like this being carried out across the pond!

-Tristan Eclarin-

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Chancellor Merkel crowdsources Germany’s future
Wednesday, February 1st, 2012

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is going online to engage Germans on the future of their country. On February 1 the Chancellor’s office launched a “Dialogue about Germany’s Future”, a project that combines an online crowdsourcing website and a series of in-person, “US-style” town hall meetings. It marks the first time the Chancellor is going directly to citizens using an online tool to engage them in decision making.

Over the next two months, Germans will have a chance to share their views on the Germany they’d like to see in the next 5-10 years, answering three main consultation questions:

  1. How do we want to live together? What holds society together? How can we produce more children and be more family friendly? How can society and government enhance security? How can we engage citizens better?
  2. How do we want to sustain ourselves? What are Germany’s strengths on the world market? How can we stay curious and innovative while making money? What can employers, employees and government do to make employment more secure and appealing?
  3. How do we want to learn? What do practical values look like? How can we all learn to do better – at work and at home? What role does the internet play? How can we improve professional development? Can the society as a whole learn?

Taking Ideas Seriously…and Uncharted Territory

In a weekend interview with the Bild am Sonntag, Merkel emphasized that all suggestions would be taken seriously: “They won’t land in the thin air of the internet. Rather, each one will receive an answer, and the best have the chance to be acted upon”. Pushed further, Merkel explained how ideas could be acted upon, while acknowledging the novelty of the initiative:

I can’t promise anyone that we will immediately implement everything, but I also won’t say what won’t work. Reasonable ideas could be turned into a research project or model project. Examples of best practices, on topics such as “better working conditions for the elderly” or “the city of the future” could achieve more than current political discourse. We will also send good ideas to the responsible ministries. What’s clear to me is this: With this online “Dialogue of the Future” we’re entering new territory. We don’t know 100% how exactly this will work, and how many people will actually take part.

Merkel explained that her team of “120 experts” would be pouring over the results after the online tool closes in April, releasing a book in June, and presenting the most useful ideas in September.

In-person vs. Online

When asked why the main thrust of the project was online, Merkel answered simply, “there’s no other way to reach so many people”.

After the crowdsourcing site has been closed, authors of the ten top-voted ideas will have a chance to meet with Merkel in her office.

The online process is also being complemented by 3 in-person “US-style” town hall meetings in the cities of Erfurt, Heidelberg and Bielefeld with 100 participants each, as well as sessions for children and youth.

So what?

The project has only been live for a few hours, so I can only make general observations. It’s clear that the project has lots of potential. It has buy-in from Merkel herself, who has committed her government to respond to and act upon all “reasonable” ideas within a strict timeline (the timeline below, which appears on every page, explains the process. Click to view larger image). It shows that the federal government in Germany is interested in using novel ways to engage citizens, including both crowdsourcing and “town hall” meetings.

Potential challenges include how to deal with popular suggestions that are beyond the scope of the federal government. A “Citizen’s Forum” project last year in the country, for example, brought together 3,000 interested citizens who suggested that education systems (a state responsibility) be harmonized across the country. The idea was pretty much dead on arrival, as states have clung to that responsibility vehemently. Critical to the collection of useful ideas will be communicating to participants the scope of ideas being solicited (what is up for discussion, and what is not). Another essential step for the Chancellor’s office will be to ensure enough resources to wade through the ideas (6 hours after launching, a total of 123 have been posted).

Stay tuned for further updates as we track this exciting project.

All translations are my own.

-Stephan Telka-

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The Possibilities for Citizen-Led, Community-Level Change… in Canada?
Thursday, December 22nd, 2011

In an effort to follow new and interesting practices in engaement, I’ve spent some time looking into the work of Everyday Democracy – a non-profit organization that works closely with communities across the U.S. to address complex, local level issues through public involvement (PI). Its work seems to reflect a much larger trend around PI, which is the rise of community-based initiatives, particularly in the U.S.

To help demonstrate the type of impact that PI can have on the local level, let’s look at Portsmouth Listens, a collaborative effort between the city of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and its citizens to impact important local issues through increased PI. According to Matt Leighninger, “Portsmouth Listens shows that public engagement processes do not have to be ‘owned’ by government – that they in fact may be more effective and sustainable when they are jointly owned… it harks back to a time in New England when public life was as much a function of community as politics.”

It all started in 1999 with the issue of bullying in the city’s middle school. In an attempt to address the situation, the school invited students, teachers, parents and neighbours (e.g. homeowners, shop owners and individuals from a nearby senior’s housing complex) to participate in a dialogue.

Some of the most notable ideas came from students themselves, which included moving the school’s bike rack to another area that has more traffic and is less isolated, and increase lighting in certain areas around the school grounds. A year later, the town council used this process as the foundation for gathering public input on school redistricting, which can be a ‘hot’ issue in any community. With a significant enrollment imbalance between Portsmouth’s three elementary schools, rotating dialogues were held in each one. This process helped increase comfort levels, as parents were given the opportunity to get a feel for all the schools, thereby decreasing the antagonism around “moving my kid from their school.”

These types of participative initiatives continue to be used in Portsmouth today. For example, residents can review the city’s Master Plan, which outlines the framework for the community’s planning and land use decisions. In one review, citizens came up with a unique idea that wasn’t in the Plan – to convert an old soap factory to an art colony, which could also attract tourists to the city. For more information, please visit this link for Everyday Democracy’s two-part orientation video (scroll down).

All of this leads me to ask three questions:

  • Are these types of community-level initiatives emerging to the same extent here in Canada? (I would argue that they aren’t, or are not as well publicized)
  • How is the potential for community-level change affected by the fact that our municipalities are “creatures of the provinces,” which provide less funding sources and regulatory levers in relations to their American counterparts?
  • What actions we can take as citizens, so as not to limit the possibilities for citizen-led, community-level change here in Canada?

-Tristan Eclarin-

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In Conversation with Ellis Westwood, Ascentum’s new Director of Project Innovation
Monday, December 5th, 2011

Holly Clark recently had a chance to sit down with Ellis Westwood, Ascentum’s new Director of Project Innovation, to explore his new role, and learn more about his views on the future of public engagement.

1. You have recently been promoted to “Director, Project Innovation”, with Ascentum. Can you give us some context on what this title entails? How is this new position different from your last? What new responsibilities/duties do you have?

The first thing people say when they hear my title is that they’ve never heard anything like it before! For me the new role is about always trying to be creative. It’s about building on tried and tested engagement approaches, but not being afraid to try new techniques or tools. I think the new role reflects my growth at Ascentum over the last five years. It’s an amazing place to learn, work, and have fun. As a Director, I’ll be working directly with clients and delivering projects, while coaching and supporting our really talented staff at Ascentum.

2. What are the highlights of your year, and what do you hope to accomplish in the next year with Ascentum’s clients?

Over the last year, I’ve been involved in some very interesting projects, working with adventurous, creative and smart clients.

One of our recent engagement projects was “Our Health Our Future”, Canada’s first national dialogue on childhood obesity. We used a blend of in-person, online and social media tools to foster conversations across Canada on healthy weights and about how we can all work together to address the growing health problem of childhood obesity. As part of our creative approach, I used social media to foster conversations on Facebook and Twitter about childhood obesity. We engaged hundreds of caregivers, youth and stakeholders across Canada and to hear how childhood obesity affected them and their ideas for making our kids healthier.

So that’s where I’ve come from over the last year. Where do I want to go? Well, I’d like to continue to use social media, to complement the engagement work that we do through in-person and online channels.

3. Why do you think public engagement is important?

I think public engagement is important because it helps organizations make more “sustainable decisions”. These are decisions that are durable and sustainable into the future, developed by involving the people and perspectives that are affected and need to be involved.

At the beginning of my career, when I worked for the federal government, I worked alongside people that were smart and passionate, but at the same time they didn’t have all the answers. For me, engaging the public means providing government and decision makers with those additional perspectives, ideas and experiences from those outside government. It’s these additional sources of evidence that organizations need to make more sustainable decisions on important public policy challenges.

4. You are well known at Ascentum for being very well-versed in social media and new technologies. How do you think we can continue to capitalize on these tools to perform better public engagement?

For me, social media is all a conversation. It’s about people sharing points of view, information and ideas. It’s tools that people can use to co-collaborate and co-create.

So, social media is a natural addition to many public engagement projects. Depending on the project objectives and target communities, social media may not always be suitable for every engagement project. But when it is, we tap into and join the conversations that are already happening or foster new ones aligned with the topics we’re engaging on. These can act as natural complements to other streams of communications we might be doing, such as online deliberation or dialogues.

Social media also allows us to broaden the scope of our engagement. By using social networking tools like Facebook, which has 17 million Canadian subscribers, we can help our clients reach more people, hear more stories, gather more ideas, and ultimately make more sustainable decisions.

5. Based on your experience of social media and its progress thus far, what do you see for the future of public engagement in relation to these new technologies?

I’m really excited about the possible application of social games in public engagement. Imagine if you could use an interactive tool to actually re-design your community park or your neighborhood services on an engagement website? You could choose the design and size of your local community centre. You could redesign the public transit routes that serve your neighborhood.

This idea reminds me of that popular computer game from the 1990s, Sim City. In the future, online engagement could take a similar form. The only difference is that it would be more interactive, more social and you could collaborate with others to co-design solutions to the problems we face in our communities, cities or our country.

6. What’s the most important thing you’ve learned in your experiences? How do you think this will see you through your future?

I’ve learned a lot over the past five years! But the most important thing is that, to help my clients get the insights they’re looking for, it’s my job to help them ask the right questions.

In planning projects, I always like to start working backwards from the end. I ask my clients, what would success look like? What do you want to know from the people you are engaging? And also, what information do we need to give to participants to make it deliberative, so that they can give you their informed perspectives?

If organizations don’t ask the right questions of the people they are trying to engage, they won’t be able to gather the experiences or ideas they’re looking for, as well as their broader engagement objectives.

Some final thoughts…

It has been and continues to be an amazing experience at Ascentum. Every day, I get to work with really smart people who are passionate about public involvement. I get to work with all kinds of neat clients on interesting and important issues. All of that makes it easy to get up in the mornings and come to work, and I’m looking forward to the upcoming year and the future beyond that.


-Holly Clark-

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Ascentum community engagement project for South East LHIN a “resounding success”
Friday, October 21st, 2011

Earlier this year, Ascentum was hired by the South East Local Health Integration Network (LHIN) to engage community members across southeastern Ontario and gather public input on new health care plans for the region.

We worked closely with staff from the South East LHIN, as well as physicians and other clinical experts, to design a series of deliberative workbooks that local residents could complete online to have their say.

Here’s an excerpt from a recent press release that looked back on what we achieved.  According to the South East LHIN’s CEO, Paul Huras:

The fact that we heard from 867 participants who took the time to complete a total of 1775 detailed workbooks is a solid indication that this engagement worked very well,” said Huras. “Each of these participants took the time to learn, understand and comment on workplans that were detailed and complex. The process provided a great deal of quantitative and qualitative feedback that has helped our Clinical Leads and their teams to adjust and fine tune these plans,” he added.

We appreciated the opportunity to work with the LHIN and their partners on this project.  From our perspective, they were truly committed to gathering input from their communities and using it to help guide their decision-making.

In fact, you can read the full public report of what we heard during the engagement here.  And here’s a link to the full press release.


In support of LHINs

Recently, some people have questioned the value of LHINs.  These critics say that LHINs are too costly, or take money away from front line care.

From my perspective, the right question about what LHINs do should be framed differently.  Who best understands the health care needs of local communities across Ontario?  Local residents and health system planners, or those in a head office thousands of kilometers away?

We have done work for several LHINs, including Share Your Story, Shape Your Care for which the North West LHIN won the International Association for Public Participation (IAP2)’s Innovation of the Year award for 2009.

We’ve always found LHIN staff to be dedicated, hard-working local residents driven by a desire to coordinate health services in a way that reflects local priorities, needs and values.  We think their work is important and hope they are able to continue building on the progress already made.

To end, a local MPP for the region once told me “When you get the public involved, you get way better results.  When you leave it up to a politician, it takes too much money; it takes too long; and they’ll probably get it wrong!”

– Ellis Westwood –

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An alternative view of Alberta: Edmonton, energy, climate change and citizen deliberation
Friday, September 30th, 2011

The brouhaha against the Keystone XL pipeline once again shines a harsh light on Alberta and its oil sands industry. And the National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy’s latest report on the costs of climate change to Canada sharpens the debate.

What flies under the radar in the rest of Canada is the fact that Edmonton City Council recently passed a comprehensive and far reaching environmental strategy called The Way We Green (TWWG). Its goals and policy directions, including on climate change and energy, are nothing if not forward looking and very ambitious. (more…)

@ascentum tweets of the week
Thursday, September 29th, 2011

Here are some of the Twitter posts and links that we’d like to pass on from this week. You can find us on Twitter at (more…)

Announcement – Mary Pat is becoming a Partner at Ascentum!
Monday, September 19th, 2011

As the warm air subsides and the seasons shift, the Ascentum team is also feeling some major changes in the atmosphere. It has recently been announced that Ascentum’s Director, Mary Pat Mackinnon, will be promoted to Partner at Ascentum! In her position as Director, Mary Pat has led public and stakeholder engagement initiatives and is integral to the strategic planning work Ascentum does for its clients. (more…)

“When you get the public involved … you get way better results”. Strengthening Healthcare in Southeast Ontario
Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

“When you get the public involved … you get way better results.  When you leave it up to a politician … it takes too much money; it takes too long; and they’ll probably get it wrong!” (Lou Rinaldi, Ontario MPP for Northumberland-Quinte West)

When Ontario MPP Lou Rinaldi opened a media event with this tongue-in-cheek observation last week, he certainly got a good reception from the audience, ranging from nodding heads to roars of laughter.

He was in Belleville, along with staff from Ascentum, for the official launch of the Community Engagement for the South East Local Health Integration’s “Clinical Services Roadmap” initiative – a project to involve communities across the region in helping design measures for improving the way health care services are organized and delivered locally. (more…)

Recovery in Haiti – Using the Power of Dialogue
Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011

One year ago, Haiti was shattered by one of the most devastating natural disasters in its modern history. The 7.0 magnitude earthquake destroyed an already fragile country, killing 300,000 people (roughly the size of London, Ontario), leveling towns, villages and cities, including the capital Port-au-Prince, and chipping away further at the spirit of the nation. (more…)

A Resolution and a Commitment
Wednesday, January 5th, 2011

It is never too late to make a New Year’s resolution.  We at AmericaSpeaks and Ascentum thought it might be helpful if we proposed a resolution focused on Open Government that federal managers can adopt to start the year off right: Resolve to make a specific, concrete commitment to enhance citizen participation in your agency.

(Note: Ascentum and AmericaSpeaks are partners in offering online public engagement services to agencies in the US Government in support of the White House’s Open Government Directive) (more…)

Hear the Stories, Change the Practice, Change Patient Experiences…
Friday, November 26th, 2010

The best way to improve services is to listen to people’s experiences and their ideas, then use these as inputs for change….

We’re really pleased to be working with The Change Foundation on a new public engagement initiative. (more…)

Crowdsourcing: 5 Reasons Why It’s Here to Stay
Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

From designing marketing campaigns to vetting brand ideas to solving customer service-related issues and shaping new government services, crowdsourcing is a dynamic tool being used ever increasingly by companies to solve some of their most quizzical quandaries. (more…)

Public Involvement: some parting thoughts from Ascentum’s first co-op student
Thursday, April 29th, 2010

With my current co-op semester coming to an end, it seems appropriate to reflect on my experiences here at Ascentum. As the company’s very first intern, I really didn’t know what to expect when I first began. But now, in considering what I’ve learned over the past four months, it’s challenging to figure out where to begin! (more…)

The New Advocacy: NGOs take note…
Tuesday, March 30th, 2010

Public involvement has changed how advocacy works.

Today, civil society organizations – whether they are local nonprofits or national associations – are fostering social change through collaborative dialogue with their publics instead of “top-down” or expert-oriented campaigns.

By involving the public, who want to be engaged, these advocacy efforts are leading to more sustainable and innovative solutions to shared problems. (more…)