ENGAGINGLY SO: Bringing Equity and Inclusion into the Public Engagement Process - Connect The Dots Insights
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ENGAGINGLY SO: Bringing Equity and Inclusion into the Public Engagement Process

ENGAGINGLY SO: Bringing Equity and Inclusion into the Public Engagement Process

This March, CtD’s Marisa Denker joined the panel for Women in Transportation’s Philadelphia & WTS Central PA chapters’ event,  ENGAGINGLY SO: Bringing Equity and Inclusion into the Public Engagement Process – alongside friends and partners across Pennsylvania committed to equitable public engagement in transportation & neighborhood planning. While we’re often in like-minded company, it’s inspiring to gather amongst a team of women who have been doing this work for the long haul.

We know from our experience that sharing and shifting power is the crux of equitable engagement; public participation must ultimately return decision making power communities often left out of traditional planning processes. This shifting of power is what transforms planning from a top-down effort to a grassroots and collaborative process directed by communities.

Our dialogue covered topics ranging from non-extractive engagement, speaking up to power to advocate for deeper engagement at all project levels, and how to think about place-based community engagement as a historical process.

Here’s what we discussed:

  • Meeting communities where they are can take many forms. While we all agree that best practice for engagement is to hit the ground running and spend time in community, we learned that flexibility is key to making this happen. Our friend Pati shared that it’s crucial to plan for the meeting that happens rather than the meeting you want. This can be as simple as showing up at pre-existing community meetings rather than extending an invite to new communities to join yours. 
  • Do deep research to understand barriers to access and participation. Without delving into the root causes and understanding why a community may be historically excluded from planning processes, engagement efforts might not hit the mark. Learning neighborhood history, understanding previous planning contexts, and understanding what you are offering communities in exchange for their time and input is crucial for laying the groundwork for sustainable and equitable engagement. Strong engagement requires us to be experts in community perceptions of past planning projects. 
  • Offer solutions to barriers! Offering stipends, childcare, or asynchronous ways to get involved show that time is valued and compensated accordingly. Understanding barriers is not enough when we can search for material solutions. By finding solutions, we bring people together and build deeper trust.
  • Be the advocate for longer engagement. We all agreed that a challenge in bringing equity into engagement are the parameters of project timeframes, budgets, and resources. To fight against one-size-fits-all engagement,  we have to be advocates and make the case for why projects will not be successful without deep engagement. In order for equitable engagement to be valued, we must work collaboratively to fight for it.
  • Move at the Speed of Trust. We have all read and internalized the wise words of Adrienne Maree Brown and her truths hold resonance throughout our work. Trust requires transparency, flexibility, and time. In the context of planning, trust can look like research, sharing resources, taking time outside of the project cycle to meet people where they are, and valuing multiple types and methods of participation.

We were inspired by the many angles and approaches our panelists shared that we can implement to ensure public engagement builds extensive roots that weave through and beyond projects to create ecosystems of engagement. We look forward to continued collaboration and information sharing with industry partners at the forefront of equitable engagement strategies.

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