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Pepperdine | School of Public Policy

Davenport and P2Club Publish Public Engagement Series in CA City News

Over the last few weeks, the Davenport Institute partnered with The P2Club (P2 = Public Participation) to write a 5-part series for California CityNews on “best practices” in public participation and community engagement. Davenport Executive Director Maureen Tobin and Kit Cole (Kit Cole Consulting) are seasoned veterans in the P2 space, having worked in both the public and private sectors over the course of their collective careers.  This series gave us an opportunity to work with a new organization in the space and start a publication partnership with a new outlet.

We started the series with Top 5 Mistakes You Are Making in Public Engagement to highlight common errors in public engagement and how to avoid them. These pitfalls are ones we have seen throughout our work with cities all over California, pre and post pandemic. One of those mistakes is not keeping the City Manager or City Council in the loop on public engagement efforts. “Your CM/CEO and elected officials are not going to be happy about getting ambushed at the local Starbucks by the folks who just happened to be there, organizing against your project.”

Public Engagement is a team effort and it is important to ensure everyone in your organization is on board. Our second piece in the series zoomed in on How to Get Others to Do P2 With You to help guide those in local government who feel like they are facing this challenge alone. In addition to seeking help from fellow team members within the organization, we encourage public engagement professionals to connect with community leaders and community based organizations. It always helps to have more hands on deck!

Next we wrote on 5 Questions to Ask Before Starting the P2 Process to help local government leaders determine their starting point. Oftentimes starting a public engagement process can be intimidating, especially if you are new in the role. But, public engagement is an essential component of good government and when done well, plays a key role in building trust between local government and the community.  On the other hand, public engagement can be exhausting, especially on the heels of a major health crisis that pushed local government leaders to the frontlines.

It is important to pause and assess how you and your team are doing, and where there can be areas for care. In our fourth piece, Top 3 Ways to Take Care of Yourself in the Face of Angry Neighbors, we focused inward on the health of public engagement professionals and provided a few recommendations on self-care. One of those recommendations is one we also highlight in our Professional Certificate for Public Engagement and that is to Quit Taking it Personally (QTIP). This technique requires a mindset shift and a reminder that angry neighbors are not upset with you personally. A tangible expression of that reminder is to put a qtip in your pocket before going into your next meeting with the community. Everytime you place your hands in your pockets, you will be reminded that any vehement feedback is not about you.

In our last installment of the series, we focused on How to Effectively Evaluate your P2 Efforts and how to use that evaluation as a measure of success. We have found that feedback is the key to evaluation. “In order to evaluate P2 efforts, feedback mechanisms need to be built into your organization and processes.” Feedback can be done via surveys or in-person conversations; whichever format you choose, make sure you follow up post-feedback even if it is just with a note of thanks.

This short series was our version of a quick take on a few facets of public engagement, but it is not comprehensive by any means. Public engagement is a dynamic, ever changing process and we encourage all practitioners to attend trainings, collaborate with fellow professionals in the field, and extend a bit of grace to your team in the form of self-care. Community engagement can be grueling work at times, so we relished the opportunity for others to learn from our mistakes and, ultimately, find more opportunities for successful P2 outcomes.

Looking ahead, we are planning to collaborate on an hour-long webinar for California CityNews to expand upon the material from our article series and leverage a more interactive format. Bringing P2 professionals together to discuss what works and what doesn’t is an essential part of moving the needle toward more recognition and understanding from cities, counties, businesses, and communities that public participation is not just a box to check, but is necessary for any well-functioning model of “shared governance”.