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Award-winning initiative reflects proactive effort to represent community’s interests.

What do you do when you want to engage the community for their input on an important but long-debated topic in the heat of summer?

You go to them — which is exactly what Fort St. John’s civic leaders did last year to confirm the community’s interests and objectives should a proposed, multi-million dollar hydro-electric dam near the city be approved.

“All of the engagement had to happen throughout the summer, which can be quite challenging because people go away on holidays and are doing other things,” says Pam Robertson, communication and learning specialist with Urban Systems, who helped to develop the strategy to communicate and engage with local stakeholders on the proposed project, known as Site C.

“So to address that, the mayor and council decided to go where the people were meeting — in parks and at coffee houses. And they did a lot of one-on-one meetings. They worked tirelessly to reach out to the community.”

Urban-Systems-IABC Award
IABC global chairperson Kerby Myers presents the Gold Quill Award to Pam Robertson and Fort St. John Mayor Lori Ackerman.
The go-to-the-people approach was one of the innovative aspects of the communication and engagement initiative, which just earned a Gold Quill Award from the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC). Pam and Fort St. John Mayor Lori Ackerman accepted the award June 24 at the IABC World Conference in New York City.

It was a thrill, Pam says. “It’s very exciting for Urban Systems because we are in the process of strengthening our communication and engagement practice, and this award lends a lot of credibility to what we can do for clients. It also shows that our work has been globally recognized,” she says, noting award winners were chosen from hundreds of submissions by blue-ribbon panels around the world based on a rigorous evaluation.

Pam says the significance of the communication and engagement initiative, called Let’s Talk Site C, centred on the city’s determination to engage a diverse group of stakeholders, urban and rural, to accurately represent their interests and objectives in a position paper, which was developed and presented to Site C proponent BC Hydro last fall.

“They were able to present that position paper with a lot of confidence that it really did represent the community’s interests,” Pam says.

Mayor Lori Ackerman notes approval of the project is not up to the city. So rather than take a stand on that, city council pursued its “higher calling” to engage the community so “we could speak with a unified voice to decision-makers.”

“This was such a refreshing approach for a community with a large, natural resource project proposed in its backyard,” Pam says. “The city did not take a side because they recognize they’re not the approving agency; they just really wanted to represent the community.”

Let’s Talk Site C resulted from extensive collaboration, with Pam and Urban Systems planner Katrin Saxty working as a team with the city, including Lori, manager Diane Hunter and corporate affairs director Grace Fika, to develop the strategy. Clear messaging and various engagement methods, such as
videos, a consultation website, social media and community briefing paper, were among the elements developed to inform and gather input from stakeholders.

These and all other components of Let’s Talk Site C were evaluated by the IABC judges, with top priority given to all elements aligning with and reinforcing overall goals and objectives.

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