Burlington Election 2014: Community Engagement

Community engagement must mean more than collecting input

wordle - votemarianneTechnology has made it easier than ever for residents to share your views on city issues. I get more input from residents by email and social media, than by telephone and town halls. But community engagement is more than finding news ways to collect input. It’s more than holding public meetings, and checking the “consulted” box on our decision-making checklist. We must commit to using your input to shape decisions – and report back to you how your feedback influenced outcomes. We’ve still got a ways to go.

Hits, Misses & The Road Ahead: Too often, I still hear resident input dismissed as NIMBYism, special interest advocacy, or plain ignorance. Councillors too often argue with delegates that appear at committees, rather than hearing what you have to say. You’re told the issues are complicated, you don’t have all the facts. These attitudes prevent us from listening with an open mind, and tapping into the expertise that exists in our community.

Public input - burlingtonThe city is setting up an online Insight panel of 5000 residents, to get broad input on city issues. The success of this project rests with our attitudes toward the input; if we let it shape decisions, it will be an effective tool for public engagement. If not, it will be little more than an expensive digital novelty.

I will continue to advocate that we consult residents before, during and after decisions are made, and let you know how your feedback shaped decisions – and if it didn’t, why not.

I’ll continue to post news on my blog at ward2news.ca, where you can leave a comment and see what other residents are saying. I’ll continue my monthly newsletter, which reaches more than 4000 residents across the city. You’ve said one of the more important features is the My Take section, where I let you know where I stand, and you tell me whether I’m on the right track. If you don’t agree with My Take, as one resident put it, you can “lobby me.” This is representative democracy at work.

I’ll also continue our Ward 2 Citizens Advisory Committee, which is open to all residents and the general public (versus the by-interview-only closed door meetings these used to be.)