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The Future of Community Engagement: Review of IAP2 Conference

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The International Association for Public Participation (IAP2) conference did not disappoint. When the collective group is comprised of public participation specialists, you expect to see sessions incorporating all the best practices in presentation, interactive material, and various methods used to communicate well. In addition to the planned content, the shared experience truly showcased a group that is going to change the world and put Community Over Competition in every sense of the phrase.

Public participation is more important than ever

Trust in governments, municipalities, neighbors, and individuals is nearing an all-time low (is this surprising to you?). At the same time, expectations for participation and opportunities to share our voices are on the rise. Citizens are more actively seeking ways to have an impact: if they are unable to find something existing, they are creating it for themselves. Facebook Groups, Go Fund Mes, Community Conversations, etc. are popping up in communities all over. As expectations raise, simply informing people of what is going on in their local community is not enough.

There is no such thing as “Cookie Cutter Community Engagement”

Yes, there are best practices, but at Gates + Associates we find they vary from project to project and location to location. At the start of every project, we review what is working in the community engagement practices currently in place and how we can make improvements. One of our favorite questions to ask – who is missing? Teens are notoriously over scheduled (yes, those college applications and grades are important!) and are perceived as uninterested. This is one of our favorite groups to target because teens often have genuinely forward-thinking solutions and are more likely to participate in future community projects when they see their shared visions come to life.

Have a #FailFest

We hate looking at our failures. It’s uncomfortable. We don’t want to look bad in front of colleagues and clients. But if you take just a moment to dive into it, your best lessons can be learned. There was a breakout session where public participation practitioners from around the globe wrote down comments/criticisms they have received on their projects, past and ongoing. Guess what? There were some real common themes! (“I never heard about this before.” “What does it matter? You aren’t going to listen to me anyway.”) After first, taking it personally, and then moving through the need to defend yourself, (“We’ve done 20+ social media posts, flyers, door hangers, postcards, entry signs, pigeon carries, dancing telegrams… and you are here now, so how did you not hear about it?!”) we were able to go over suggestions for reaching another plan, hopefully more tailored to those community members. Each failure is a clue to your next success…and it’s always worth trying to do better.

Article was written by Kelley Lotosky

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