Interaction with the public Interaction with the public Interaction with the public
Practical guide
 
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Practical guide interaction with the public
Home > Interaction process
  Interaction process  
   
A few methods | Suggested approach

Up to now you have assessed your interest in and the suitability of taking into consideration the concerns of the community and preparing a structured interaction approach with citizens and groups.

In doing so, you:

  • reviewed the main components and potential impacts of the project you are developing;
  • checked which municipal regulatory framework will apply to your project;
  • broadened your knowledge of the community;
  • held a few informal meetings with key community stakeholders;
  • took stock of the advantages, disadvantages and suitability of an interaction approach.

You then:

  • set objectives;
  • specified the required level of participation.

You have now reached the action stage, but have yet to determine which interaction model you will choose.

There is more than one way of doing things and while it may sometimes be possible to rely on a single model, a combination of models is the more frequent choice.

Among the recognized models, some are more suitable at this stage than others, considering that interaction with the public is initiated by a promoter, with no obligation on its part, and that the interaction takes place while the project is in the development phase. It is preferable to avoid overly official models (for example, public hearings with filing of briefs) or excessively informal ones (e.g., ad-lib discussions over coffee). Promoters have every reason to avoid committing to lengthy, complex proceedings—or, conversely, in ones so simple that the conditions for credibility are not fulfilled.

HELPFUL HINT

To be effective, the chosen model for interaction with the community must have the flexibility to adapt in response to the changing needs of both the participants and the promoter.

As an example, this guide presents a number of models along with suggestions to help ensure their success: working meetings, public meeting, and open house.

HELPFUL HINT

COMPETENT RESOURCES

Early on, it is a good idea to set up a team within the firm, composed of competent personnel who are experienced at clearly communicating information and who have excellent listening skills.

For practical reasons, do not make the project leaders the same people who manage the interaction process: this would likely make them judge and defendant at the same time. Because they have trouble viewing the project with the required detachment (which is only natural) they may be tempted to sway the public rather than listen.

Implementing a citizen interaction approach requires various skills, depending on the context. As needed,
don’t hesitate to seek the services of a competent outside resource with experience in public consultation
and participation, who can, for example:

  • advise you with respect to the choice of model and the various stages involved in arriving at that decision;
  • facilitate dialogue with people in the community and meet with stakeholders;
  • keep you informed of the status of dialogue with the public and suggest models for the consideration of citizen opinion in the decisions to come.

A resource with experience can be appointed to lead the working meetings (or, as the case may be, public meeting). This person must be equipped to facilitate the flow of discussions, encourage participants to speak out by clarifying a question asked by another participant, or clarify answers if audience members seem not to understand, and ensure that everybody feels their voice is being heard and that the public’s comments
are properly understood.

In some circumstances, reliance on an expert resource can save you time and energy, both during finalization of the project and during its implementation stage.