Think of a public park you treasure. Now, think of it changing. If you care about a place, chances are you want to be part of that change.
The uncertainty of change coming to a city’s crown jewel can cause an outpouring of different opinions. So how do you capture all of this input and make sure every voice is heard?
That’s the challenge one firm was tasked with in the summer of 2012, when it came to proposed change for Wascana Centre in Regina, Saskatchewan. Just shy of the Centre’s 50th birthday, the ourWascana Visioning Project was launched to collect citizens’ hopes and dreams for the future of Wascana and its beloved Centre. More than 3,300 citizens shared their 8,000 unique ideas during “ourWascana.” Their input is being used to create a sustainable future for this civic gem for the next 50 years.
This week as we continue our look at public participation successes we hear from John Lewis, President and Founder of Intelligent Futures and native Reginan. By providing multiple entry points into the conversation, Intelligent Futures was able to accurately collect public input and foster an open and honest dialogue during the ourWascana Visioning Project. Unique tools for collecting input such as sounding boards set up in Wascana Centre, a social media campaign and creative graphic design all contributed to the project’s success. ourWascana’s success was then reaffirmed on an international scale when it won the 2013 International Association of Public Participation’s Core Values Award for Project of the Year in the Member at Large category.
Today, Lewis shares with us his firm’s experience working on ourWascana, how their approach to outreach is evolving and some of the other exciting projects Intelligent Futures you should know about. We welcome his insights.
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Given your client list, Intelligent Futures is clearly a veteran outreach firm. How has your approach to outreach campaigns changed or developed over the years?
I think we have become more creative in how we give the community an opportunity to provide input. We use the term “multiple entry points into the conversation” a lot. Whether it’s in-person or online, we are trying to create as many ways for people to find out and share their thoughts as possible. I think we’re also getting better at catching people’s attention (in a good way). We know people are really busy and there are millions directions you can take your attention. Through graphic design, plain language and surprising tactics, we try to make our projects interesting, relevant and if possible, fun!
Be honest. If you’re honest and clear – about the parameters of the dialogue, about what is being done with the feedback or your experience in a place – you’ll end up with a constructive conversation. I think the projects that get into trouble are the ones that aren’t honest in one way or another. Honesty is the only way to erode the skepticism that many of these projects face from the outset.
We used the “multiple entry points into the conversation” approach extensively with ourWascana, but the three most effective were:
Were there any revisions to your campaign strategy once ourWascana was launched?
To be honest, not really. We took a great deal of time and care to plan the process, including extensive discussion and feedback from the Strategic Planning Committee of Wascana Centre Authority, and it really seemed to pay off.
It is really difficult to predict the level of response. ourWascana represented our biggest opportunity to take all of our experiences and learn to date and apply them, so we certainly hoped we would receive great levels of feedback. Taking the time to understand the community and plan accordingly certainly helped.
Any time you propose a major design change to a civic jewel like the Wascana Centre, people are going to have very strong opinions. How did the ourWascana process ensure that every opinion was heard and considered?
ourWascana fed into the Comprehensive Review Project for Wascana Centre Authority, which will then lead to a review of the master plan for the space. Having said that, I have to give tremendous credit to the Strategic Planning Committee and Bernadette McIntyre, the Executive Director of Wascana Centre Authority. Throughout the process, they never wavered from our approach to have a completely honest, open conversation and to hold judgement and listen to what the community had to say. It was really remarkable to work with a group of people like that.
There are many communities that are shifting towards more creative and authentic community engagement. ourWascana was a hybrid of many approaches. Some of the folks we have drawn particular inspiration from are Candy Chang, Build a Better Block and Rebar Design Studio out of San Francisco. They are doing great things to make conversations about the future of our places more interesting, authentic and exciting.
Not formally. We are still in touch with how things are going, but hope to work there again soon!
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Thank you John. It is great to see the community of Regina come together to take ownership of Wascana Centre and create the vision that future generations will enjoy for years to come.
Liz Faris, Account Manager
Collaborative Services, Inc.