What is public participation?
Public participation includes efforts to inform the public in an organization’s (municipality) decision-making or problem-solving efforts. Council reserve the right as per the Municipal Government Act to make any operational, capital and all other decisions and are the only entity authorized to do so.
There are generally five levels of involvement to public participation:
1. Inform – provide the public with balanced and objective information to help them understand the issue and/or solution; transparent communication ensures residents understand why and how a project or initiative is being undertaken.
2. Consult – obtain public feedback on analysis, alternatives and/or decisions presented by Council and/or Administration; the public has opportunities to present their opinions and can sometimes provide feedback and discretionary (providing it meets operational/legal standards) direction on specific choices.
3. Involve – work directly with the public throughout the process to ensure public concerns and aspirations are realistically understood and given appropriate weight by Council and Administration; residents provide input, opinions and suggestions, which are taken into consideration. Final decisions are made by Council.
4. Collaborate – partner with the public for the development of possible objective and realistic alternatives and the identification of a possible preferred solution; the public could have determine some or significant direction of a initiative.
5. Empower – placing some decision-making in the hands of the public (never used). Empowerment should be seen as a form or level of involvement throughout the life cycle of a issue - it demonstrates transparency.
What are some typical elements of meaningful public participation?
- Information provided is timely, complete, and accessible to the public
- A reasonable timeline for participation (i.e. early involvement to avoid the notion that a decision is already made)
- Ensuring that the appropriate level of engagement is undertaken for the project
- Those who are affected by the issue or initiative are able to participate
- Increased awareness of and sensitivity to community values
- The process is adaptive to the needs of participants
- Results are transparent and communicated in a timely manner
Public Engagement is not an exclusive and licence right to be intolerant and disrespectful but rather a meaningful discussion around mutual operational topics to improve service delivery - if you expect respect then remember to act respectful towards all others too - the relationship is mutual not exclusive.