Sunday, January 17, 2010

An Opportunity for the City of VIctoria


With the big success of the counter petition with respect to the Johnson Street Bridge the City of Victoria gains one thing that most local governments do not have - a public that is now interested in what is going on at city hall and wants to consulted with respect to plans.

A big problem with local government is that only a tiny fraction of the public actively pays attention. In the Capital Regional District this is further hampered by the fact we live in either one or three cities and not 13. If I were on council, I would see this ground swell of anger over the process related to the bridge as chance to get a lot more people to interact with the city and express their opinions.

The City of Victoria has a draft Engagement Strategy and want input on it by the end of February. Given the badly run process around the bridge, this would be a great chance for the council to go out to the people involved with the counter petition and ask them to highlight what they saw as the flaws in the process.

The council needs to step back and try to understand what it is that they did to make the public react as it did to the Johnson Street Bridge project. Clearly something was done wrong by council because there was this unprecedented response to the counter petition. It was a problem with process in my opinion.

A process of self reflection by the council and then some frank discussions with people who were upset by the bridge project would be a healthy and productive direction to take. It all nicely fits with the civic engagement project they sit has been working on. Because there were problems with the bridge project, the public will be able to express concrete real world examples of the problems with process.

Part of my business is working on consultation and public engagement. The City process to develop an engagement strategy is a very good idea, but the public input into the process has been weak because most people have very few concrete thoughts about how they want government consulting with them. It is only when they feel ignored or slapped in the face that the public realizes it does matter to them.

One aspect of modern engagement is using online tools. For those of you interested, the City of Victoria has a facebook page. There is a discussion page there and you can join the conversation.
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