“Getting Past the Usual Suspects” – March 2014 Vancouver Event Summary


Michael Alexander of Vancouver's City Conversations makes a point as Tessica Truong (partly obscured) of SFU Youth Engagement and Claire Havens of SFU Carbon Talks look on.

Michael Alexander of Vancouver’s City Conversations makes a point as Tessica Truong (partly obscured) of SFU Youth Engagement and Claire Havens of SFU Carbon Talks look on.

How to increase the amount and diversity of engagement is a familiar problem for P2 practitioners, and in March, IAP2 BC hosted “Getting Past the Usual Suspects,” a networking social and speaker panel event in Vancouver. The event brought out more than 40 members, professionals, and students, eager to learn and share experiences. There were even visitors from California, Oregon and Alaska taking part.

Claire Havens, Program Manager at Carbon Talks, kicked off the panel describing recent projects at the Simon Fraser University (SFU) Centre for Dialogue on regional transportation issues. Claire spoke about the importance of sharing clear and concise information so participants can provide informed feedback. She also mentioned that simple techniques, like ending meetings on time, can build trust and relationships.

Tessica Truong followed by describing the Co-Design process, spearheaded by Stanley King. Tessica focused on youth engagement, and shared principles that serve to engage many people who typically do not get involved in engagement processes. Tessica highlighted that trust building is crucial, empowering participants to run processes within their communities.

Michael Alexander, Director of Simon Fraser University’s City Conversations, described how the program brings people together to discuss our most pressing challenges. City Conversations tackle a wide range of issues, including climate change, transportation, tensions due to land shortages for agriculture and industry; and even community friendliness and connectedness.

Key lessons learned raised by the panelists and our audience included:

  • Invest in inviting people to participate.
  • Go to where people are, rather than asking them to come to you.
  • Provide incentives to get involved, like prizes, food, child care, transportation, and compensation for their time.
  • Be clear about “what’s in it for them”, i.e. the participants.
  • Make sure clear and accessible background information is provided, to ensure informed discussion.
  • Communicate how input will influence the decision being made.
  • Focus on what matters to the participants.
  • Set diversity targets and stick to them.
  • Set up the room to be inclusive.
  • Build trust and relationships.

Participants also raised challenging issues. For example, how can staff host more inclusive and legitimate engagement processes if the organization’s mandate or leadership does not provide the scope to do so? We also had a lively debate about the Spectrum of Participation and how the level to which people are engaged can be influenced. Overall, the event was a great opportunity to bring our Lower Mainland BC members together and to introduce students and engagement practitioners to our organization.

“Getting Past the Usual Suspects” is also available on video – the first of what will likely be many IAP2 BC events to be recorded. Click here to see it.

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