Following Nova Scotia’s 2016 municipal elections there was a nearly 50% turnover of elected officials. This means that there are hundreds of councillors who are new to their role and responsible for managing local services, facilities, infrastructure and expectations.
Fortunately there remains a lot of experience at the table along with a renewed sense of citizen involvement in many communities across the province. At Engage Nova Scotia, we are noticing great progress in particular, in communities where partnerships exists between citizens, community organizers, businesses and local government.
For the last six months Engage has supported the continued growth of these partnerships, starting by connecting municipal leaders and staff with skills and hands-on experience with public engagement. In May 2017, Engage has worked with more than 30 separate municipalities by offering “Public Engagement Clinics” in large group settings as well as small, local gatherings.
Our first clinic “sold out” with more than 50 municipal officials and staff in attendance who connected with regional peers and experts in engagement from across the province to learn how to:
- Kickstart public engagement
- Build community partnerships
- Create meaningful engagement strategies
- Build greater trust and raise awareness in community
The clinic was designed as a safe space to share stories of success and failure, as well as current thoughts and aspirations relating to public engagement. On request we were invited to broaden the reach of this clinic by re-offering in four regions in the Annapolis Valley and South Shore. Using a more dedicated and regional approach these sessions addressed issues unique, relevant and timely for each municipality, such as:
- Activating voices beyond the vocal majority
- Collaboration versus control in conversations between citizens and government
- Engaging in the online common, social media and other tools
- Managing expectations and defining your promise
- 98% of participants reported they were more likely to undertake or change their approach to public engagement specifically because of this clinic. Specific plans leaving this clinic included:
“To increase internal capacity and have a more organized/strategic approach to engagement. To continue to build a culture of engagement – build trust!”
“To stop doing episodic/topic-based engagement sessions AND to train our new staff (all staff) on more ways to engage the public beyond traditional formal sessions. I want for Kings County to work closer with our municipal partners and resource share more. We can build a shared capacity.”
“To get community engaged in a community activity related to the municipality”
“Using the tools learned today to try to better engage my community. Knowing how to reach your target audience, using the best meeting format for that audience”
We look forward to continuing this work in the New Year with resources and support for municipalities who are making efforts to broaden public engagement in the planning and decision making processes.