7 Tips for Getting Better Results from Community Consultation

BONUS CONTENT: Web-exclusive content for “The Art of Community Consultation” from the April/May issue of Douglas Magazine
Marg Gardiner has been a member of the James Bay Neighbourhood Association (JBNA) since 2003, on the board since 2006, and has spent the last two years as president of the 300-member group that’s well-known for its passionate activism surrounding all things James Bay. In December, the JBNA forces helped shut down a proposal to build gondolas to move cruise ship passengers through James Bay.
With a bachelor’s degree in chemistry, Gardiner spent years enforcing product safety and drug regulations. A veteran of community consultations and granddaughter of former Saskatchewan premier James Gardiner, she’s now gearing up to comment on massive plans to redevelop the 6.2 acres of former provincial property behind the legislative buildings. Here are her sound and seasoned tips on what not to do when consulting the community.

  1. Don’t rely on third-party consultants, who are generally market-oriented and not as open as the actual proponent. Gardiner knows of several situations where consultants kicked off and led consultations, but later the proponents realized they should have been directing the process.
  2. Don’t lie. “It’s insulting to play games. It leaves you with a bad feeling,” Gardiner says.
  3. Do not think that your audience is ignorant or uninformed. Long-term residents know what’s going on.
  4. Don’t put a lot of value on brief and incomplete social media responses. “You get Twitter thoughts and think you’ve got opinions,” Gardiner says. Don’t rely on online surveys, which can be easily manipulated and thus of suspect value. Actually talk to people at open houses. “Value informed thought and opinions more than a tweet,” says Gardiner.
  5. To achieve real and honest consultation, ask the right questions. Proponents should direct the discussion to get answers to questions they need answered. They should not steer discussion to get the answers they want.
  6. Don’t use red herrings to throw people off, meaning, don’t start talking about the colour of the roof or what might happen if someone else buys the land.
  7. Don’t resort to little games, such as asking, “If you have $100, would you spend it on A, B or C?” This detracts from the questions that need to be answered.

To find out more about community consultation, read “The Art of Community Consultation” in the April/May issue of Douglas magazine. Get your copy HERE.