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Strengthening Public Engagement in Edmonton, Canada

January 11, 2016

We think leadership works best when it helps others hold the reins. With that as a guiding principle, we’ve worked with many types of community leaders across the country and even across the Pacific to build on and improve their skills so they can better engage their constituents.

In November, we partnered with Fiona Cavanagh and Zane Hamm of the Centre for Public Involvement, as well as the forward-thinking city of Edmonton, in Alberta, Canada, to kick off a civic engagement training program.

We tailored this program, a series of workshops, to city employees, public servants and nonprofit leaders in the region. The workshops build upon the ongoing work of Matt Leighninger, vice president of public engagement, with the city, and in particular the findings presented in the Strengthening Public Engagement in Edmonton report.

Matt and I traveled to Edmonton to deliver the first workshop on strengthening civic infrastructure. Civic infrastructure refers to the opportunities residents have to participate in decisions, preferably in a wide variety of ways and across broad range of issues.

This first training provided participants with a focused opportunity to examine what others are doing around North America to engage the public. Through this experience, we hoped to inspire new techniques that public officials and nonprofit leaders can incorporate into their own work in Edmonton.

The aim of all of our engagement work is to create a system and culture where engagement processes become a sustainable and embedded part of governance. An important thread of developing sustainable engagement is the fact that people value engagement as a means to foster community, not just to weigh issues of political importance. We emphasized this point during the training, encouraging leaders to consider this perspective as they develop opportunities for interaction.

Participants also examined ways they can develop organizational structures that facilitate public involvement and sustain good engagement. They explored how best to work effectively across cultures in the context of public engagement. Finally, they sought innovative techniques for getting the community involved in public decisions, even when the subject matter is technical.

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Nicole Cabral

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