Week-long ‘open office’ energizes community feedback
Planners take a non-traditional approach for Imagine Invermere 2030
A non-traditional community engagement tactic empowered 200-300 community members to participate in a one-week community consultation open office about future plans for the District of Invermere. In a community that hasn’t had engagement success from the District’s perspective in the past, how did the planning team do it?
Rather than create a survey or a town hall gathering for the update of the Official Community Plan, the team set up a week-long, downtown open office. Community members could stop by any time between June 16 and 20 to discuss planning issues that were important to them.
“It was set up as a really open conversation on any topic without any time restriction,” project manager Sara Anderson of Urban Systems Calgary says.
The idea was born when a team of Urban Systems Calgary staff led by senior planner Lauren Bartlette, Sara, and community consultant Erin Welk brainstormed how to engage community members on their hopes, needs and wants as they relate to the District’s vision. The team knew that the District encountered challenges in garnering participation with previous engagement attempts, so in order to create a vehicle that would appeal to the community, they devised this atypical approach.
The open office was advertised in newspapers and through pamphlets sent out by mail. A notice was also posted on the District website.
Sara was energized by the extent of interest from the community, as revealed by both the sheer number of people that participated and the deep level of conversation that emerged. The District has a population of about 3,000.
“It’s exciting because the Official Community Plan is the guiding document that provides policies on how to implement all the strategic goals.”
Sara focused on questions and discussion around community infrastructure. She learned that most people are interested in assuring water quality in Invermere. Key topics included drinking water sources and how storm water runoff can impact Windermere Lake.
The team will now incorporate insights from the primary community engagement and gap analysis processes held in June into the revision to the District of Invermere’s Official Community Plan .
This stage is slated for completion at the end of July. The team will then review progress with District staff and possibly hold another community engagement process to be determined at that point.
Although the open office model was successful in Invermere for the first stage, Sara notes that each community is different, so it’s important to look at each context specifically and respond dynamically when deciding on what tactic to use.
The overall goal is to update the District’s Official Community Plan to align it with the other District’s planning documents in a way that resonates with the community by the end of the year.
“It’s exciting because we’re setting up the stage for the coming year and how Invermere will develop in years to come,” Sara says.