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Edmonton set to improve relationship with residents via new engagement plan

Councillors supported improvements to the policy at a committee meeting Tuesday

Councillors supported a new public engagement policy Tuesday that was created by the City of Edmonton.

Metro File

Councillors supported a new public engagement policy Tuesday that was created by the City of Edmonton.

City staff hope to improve Edmonton's relationship with residents, as councilors supported a new plan Tuesday that gears to bolster public engagement.

City administration presented the new plan at an executive committee meeting Tuesday, in an effort to improve how the city discusses proposed projects with Edmontonians.

The proposed changes come after a city audit in June 2014 blasted Edmonton’s public engagement process. The audit said pre-made decisions were discussed during meetings on proposed projects — and barriers had been deliberately placed when in dialogue with the public.

Since then, the city has worked to make improvements — and some of the changes can already be seen across the city.

Administration say public open houses are now more collaborative, where people can provide their thoughts using sticky notes, view models or maps of the proposed projects, and chat with planners directly.

Essentially there’s less shouting over microphones, according to Kirsten Goa, the co-chair of the committee that drafted the changes.

“Some people were angry, but they didn’t dominate the discourse,” she said. “There are concerns, but there’s also a vision. It’s an opportunity to build trust.”  

But more work still needs to be done.

The proposal includes ’20 priority actions’ detailed in an ‘implementation roadmap.’ They include restructuring the communications branch, developing new programs, implementing ‘charters’ for city departments that encourage open dialogue, and including more input from citizens on council reports, among others.

“The value for people is transparency: what am I doing here and why,” said Coun. Michael Walters. “It builds trust.”

Elaine Solez, a community planning advisor with the Edmonton Federation of Community Leagues, said she’d like the city to actually make improvements.

“The jury is still out on whether or not public engagement will improve,” she said. “Improving engagement will take a willingness, not just checking off the boxes.”

Goa said the city might need to go to where people are instead of expecting residents to come to them.

“That might mean going to people’s doorsteps or sending out emails,” she said.

The new policy will require city council approval next week to officially go ahead. 

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