New Approaches to Public Participation

By Tanya Zwahlen

Last week, I took a five day training from the International Association of Public Participation (IAP2) in Toronto. IAP2 is a member-based organization that is passionate about developing the practice of public participation (P2) across the world. They have provided training since 1992 that helps P2 professionals keep projects on time, budgets in line, and communities connected, informed and engaged. IAP2 believes that successful P2 is an art and a science that makes stakeholder engagement work for everyone involved.

The first three days covered Planning for Effective Public Participation and the last two days focused on Techniques for Effective Public Participation. Our course instructor was Richard Delaney from Delaney + Associates, an experienced P2 expert with a great facilitation style and a lot of great stories from the field. I was the sole American, and my Canadian classmates represented government, schools, consulting firms, public relations firms, and the natural gas industry.


This training was a game changer for me and for Highland Planning. The planning course taught a five step process for public participation to:

1. Gain internal commitment for projects
2. Learn from the public
3. Select the level of participation for a project and define the decision process
4. Identify the public participation and communication objectives
5. Design the public participation and communications plan

A lot of what I learned made intuitive sense to me after planning and facilitating hundreds of public meetings over the past ten years. But the IAP2 process also helped clarify how to identify risks, how to define measurable objectives for public outreach, and, perhaps most importantly, how to set expectations for involvement from the start.


Below is the IAP2 spectrum of public participation. An important step of every process is to decide where on the spectrum the outreach process will reside. Here’s a nice summary of the differences between each level of involvement.





On Thursday and Friday, we learned 110 new techniques for public participation. And practiced a whole bunch of them. I have a lot of new tricks up my sleeve. And I can’t wait to share them with Western New York communities. More on this soon…
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