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Understanding the Public Consultation User Experience

An exciting feature of YIMBY 2016 was the ability to host your own workshop as part of the official YIMBY schedule. And what better way to talk about community development than to have a consultation on the public consultation process itself?

In collaboration with Metastrategies and Swerhun Facilitation, we co-hosted a workshop entitled Cut to the Chase: How to Figure out if a Consultation is Legit & What You Can Do About It!” – a consultation on consultation. This 60 minute workshop explored the participant experience during public consultation workshops and discussed different ways to know if a consultation process was going to be meaningful as well as strategies to improve the process.

We structured the workshop on four activities:

  • Activity 1: Tuning In: Breaking out into pairs, use Impromptu Networking to explore the experiences of participants around public consultation
  • Activity 2: Surfacing What Works: Discussing at a deeper level each participant’s own experiences with public consultations and learning from each other using Appreciative Interviews
  • Activity 3: Tuning into the Experience: Understanding the participant experience with public consultations using an Empathy Map
  • Activity 4: Tactics and Strategies: Based on the issues that have been identified in Activity 1, 2 and 3 brainstorm potential tactics and strategies that could improve the public consultation process.

About 20 participants came out to the workshop and it generated a very lively discussion about what would make for a great public consultation process. The activities surfaced many frustrations that are often faced by participants and provided some insights on what could be improved.

Some of the key frustrations included:

  • Lack of diversity at consultations (homogeneity of participants)
  • Confusion about role/location of consultation in the greater planning process
  • Results of consultation unknown (how great is its impact? Does it change anything?)
  • Process can feel exclusive (inaccessible language)
  • Sugar-coating of process
  • Process can also silence people and limit discussion

For the participants, a successful consultation would have:

  • Co-creation of the process
  • Opportunities to find and build community
  • People being treated with respect and inclusivity, and;
  • Interaction with a diversity of interesting ideas

While we feel that we barely scratched the surface of this important conversation, we definitely learned a lot about all the things that work and don’t work in a consultation meeting as well as many perspectives – such as from participants with mobility challenges – that often get ignored. We hope to be able to continue this discussion as part of the YIMBY and Shape My City Network and draw in more perspectives both from participants and those who host consultation meetings.

The full report of the workshop – which talks more about the insights learned and suggested improvements – can be downloaded at the link below.

Many thanks all of the participants who came out to the workshop and provided their invaluable input! Thanks also to Nicole Swerhun and Liz Rykert for being awesome collaborators and facilitators during the session. And finally, a special thank you goes out to David Alton, who not only participated, but authored the final report!


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