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Tell the City of Greater Sudbury how you want to be heard and involved in your city

by Naomi Grant

Tell the City of Greater Sudbury how you want to be heard and involved in your city

What type of communication and engagement do you want with your city?  Did you know that the city is asking you that question right now?  If not, you’ve already got something to tell them about what they need to do  to reach you. 

Today is the last day to fill in the on-line survey.

There are also two open houses coming up.  June 19th, 7pm at the Mackenzie Street Public Library and June 24th, 7pm at the Lionel Lalonde Facility in Azilda.

How else can you provide feedback?  Well, it’s hard not to see the irony in this one, because the answer seems to be ‘that’s it’.  An e-mail or postal address for written feedback has not been provided, nor has the name or number of a contact person.  There has been no outreach through existing organizations like the Sudbury Action Centre for Youth, community health clinics, Best Start Hubs, schools, N'Swakamok, Better Beginning Better Futures, or any of the other places they might have connected with people where they’re at.  How useful is the feedback going to be in connecting with citizens who aren’t already plugged in to civic affairs? 

Even for the most involved citizens, the input process has been far from ideal.  Two stakeholder meetings have been organized for members of advisory panels and community action networks.  I’m a member of an advisory panel (and am on several other community related city contact lists), and I received no notice of these meetings.  Fortunately, a CAN member did, and happened to forward it to me.   She got 3 days notice.

So lets start with effective and timely communication.  Citizens can’t engage with a city they can’t communicate with.  The city needs to be much more effective in reaching people, and that means using diverse methods, and reaching people where they’re at and through the networks they’re already plugged into.   Citizen centres need to be a one stop shop not only for paying tickets and taxes, but for finding out what’s up, how to have your say, getting issues resolved, and getting community led projects supported and completed.  The city website needs to be accessible and informative so you can find information easily, and search successfully for specifics.  Click on ‘public notices’ on the city website today .  Any indication they’re looking for your feedback there?  Nope.

Trying to follow municipal decisions?  Better be committed.  Agendas are posted at the end of the work day Friday, for meetings the following Monday or Tuesday.  “It's ludicrous to expect citizens to go through this volume of reading over one weekend. And they want community engagement?”  tweeted the Sudbury Cyclists Union this past Saturday.    Want to know the results of a decision that wasn’t covered in the news?  Call your councillor, or be patient.  It might not be posted for months,  Looking for a staff report?  Better know the date of the meeting it was presented.   Municipal decisions and policies should be easy to find, and searchable.

And then there’s the other requirement of communication:  listening.   The city needs a culture of openness that welcomes people’s ideas and concerns, and the skills to really listen.  That needs to be backed up with a process to address stumbling blocks when they occur.

Let’s look at one of the most simple and common interactions between a city and its citizens.  Something happens, and a citizen puts in a complaint or raises an issue.  A number of cyclists did just that when street sweeping left sharp and dangerous debris on the Howey Drive bike lane.  They are past week 3 of calling in to be told it’s ‘on the list’ and ‘will be done soon.’   In my neighbourhood, it took over two years for a very large pile of clay and other road debris to be cleared up from a  park entrance – the leftovers from a  road works project nearby.   At least eight people had put in repeated calls over that time.  Without renewed initiative by a resident and the area councillor, we would still be waiting.

Every complaint, whether phoned in or sent electronically, should receive a tracking number for easy follow up.  There should be timely communication and a prescribed timeline to take action and resolve the issue.  In the meantime, here’s a tip:  ask for a tracking number, do your own follow up calls, and if there is no resolution in sight, get your councillor on board.  If that doesn’t work, it’s time to take it to the media.  Getting a reasonable complaint addressed should not be this much work.

Many citizens go well beyond complaints.  Many are actively working to make their community better.   Projects from community gardens, to playground revitalizations to block parties and beyond are led by citizens coming together to make good things happen.  There have been some great partnerships with the city on some of these projects.  There are also many abandoned projects, shipwrecked on the shoals of barriers such as lack of response, lack of resources, or lack of needed permissions.   Often it is a case of not knowing who to talk to to get things going.  At the recent Bike Fest, a man spoke of pulling together donated materials, financial donations, sponsors, and a location for a mountain bike venue in his community.  He was told by the city he’d have to be the project manager as well to get it done.  With a  full time job, that wasn’t an option.

Citizens contributing to their community should find a clear path and a helping hand from the city.   Surprisingly, even citizens with a recognized role in citizen engagement often do not.  The frustration of the Sustainable Mobility Advisory Panel in not being informed of, or given the opportunity to comment on, major road projects;  their struggle to get a stroller policy for transit;  the Ward 1 CAN’s long fight for pedestrian lighting, and the lack of communication to them when a standard for pedestrian lighting was finally proposed:  these are just a few examples.  Too many good and knowledgeable people leave these roles because they feel their efforts to make positive change are stymied by the very city that invited them to participate.

These and other stakeholders need good communication and good support,   They need to be informed early of relevant policies and decisions coming down the pipe, and they need to be involved in an ongoing discussion with staff, to provide iterative feedback that can shape the project from the beginning.   They need to know they have a voice and see their work reflected in outcomes.  These same principles need to apply to calls for public input.  The public needs to see a range of options with supporting information.  They need good access to information to review the options,  and they need to see their input reflected in the next drafts.

It all starts with effective communication.  Reaching people where they are comfortable with the information they need, and listening, truly listening, to what they have to say.  

 

Naomi Grant is a member of the Green Space Advisory Panel, and has been involved in many public input opportunities as an individual and as chair of Coalition for a Liveable Sudbury.

 

Core values of public participation (from the International Association for Public Participation)

1. The public should have a say in decisions about actions that affect their lives.

2. Public participation includes the promise that the public’s contribution will  influence the decisions.

3. The public participation process communicates the interests and meets the process  needs of participants.

4. The public participation process actively seeks out and facilitates the involvement  of those potentially affected.

5. The public participation process involves participants in defining how they  participate.

6. The public participation process provides participants with the information they  need to participate in a meaningful way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Naomi Grant (Naomi Grant)
Sudbury
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About the Sudbury Working Group

The Sudbury working-group of The Media Co-op was formed to create independent media in the North, to speak to our issues and outlooks on our communities as well as the world around us. Independent media provides an avenue for people who are wishing to gain critical perspective on the issues that matter most to us, and to give a voice to those people and stories that you won't find in the mainstream media.

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