New approaches to promotion, engagement and communication are needed to make planning more exciting for youth, as well as to better explain the connection between participant feedback and its influence on decision-making.
Most engagement processes include three steps: promotion of a project or engagement activity (like a town hall or a survey), engagement with the public (in a meeting or at a pop-up, for example), and a report-back on the feedback received (in a consultant or a staff report). The Actions proposed in this Focus Area are organized according to these three steps.
Over the last several years, City Planning has made a tremendous effort to be better storytellers, clearly explaining planning concepts and issues through brochures and short, informational videos with the goal of helping people to understand why planning is relevant to their lives. City Planning should continue this effort with a particular emphasis on reaching youth. One way to accomplish this is through a City Planning YouTube series or podcast. This storytelling platform could periodically include a Q & A, where audience members could write in and share questions to be answered in an upcoming episode.
City Planning should make better use of the physical spaces in which youth spend time, like coffee shops, TTC shelters, university campuses and libraries. Any promotion in youth spaces needs to have a tone that is accessible, understandable and eye-catching for youth. This type of promotion doesn’t need to be limited to posters or flyers; it could also be achieved through the use of physical objects or interventions in public spaces that catch people’s attention, such as temporary public art installations or street chalk infographics.
Many local media include weekly listings of Toronto events, like concerts, gallery openings and movie releases. City Planning should partner with these media organizations—including both digital and physical publications, like Urban Toronto, Torontoist, blogTO, Spacing or NOW Magazine—to include weekly highlights of City Planning engagement activities.
Enabling remote participation in planning processes will help to attract youth audiences who are tech savvy but reluctant to attend a meeting in person. There are a variety of platforms City Planning could use to enable remote participation (web conferencing, telephone town halls, live streaming, live-tweeting, live-blogging). After each event, the recorded stream should be hosted online for people to watch on their own time and could also be accompanied by a feedback tool to further increase participation rates.
Some youth prefer to participate or communicate using art or other less literal media. City Planning should involve artists to incorporate arts-based practice into engagement processes, using techniques like Photo Voice, community mapping or digital storytelling. This Action could be combined with Action 3 by involving an artist in helping participants develop specific arts-based skills that feed into a planning process. For example, a photographer could work with participants to teach them how to compose, shoot and edit photos of places in their neighbourhood that feed into a planning process. At the end of a process, City Planning could showcase the art produced at a final event.
Rather than expect youth to come to places that are convenient for City Planning, City Planning should go to the places that are convenient for youth, just as it does with existing PiPS initiatives. These places could include community cultural events, farmer’s markets, outdoor concerts, street festivals and college and university campuses.
Many City Planning engagement processes convene Stakeholder Advisory Groups to get advice and input from representatives of external agencies or organizations. On future projects, City Planning should require that Stakeholder Advisory Groups include at least one youth representative.
The City Planning Division should create an “Office Hours” program to bring City Planners out of City Hall and into communities. During high-profile projects (either city-wide or neighbourhood-specific), a City Planner could staff a space in a library to promote the project and seek people’s input, like a kind of Pop Up event. Over time, City Planning could begin to have a semi-permanent presence in libraries.
PiPS has been successful in raising the City Planning Division’s profile with youth. Expanding the PiPS program would mean hosting more frequent pop-up consultation activities and connecting them more explicitly to decision-making and planning processes. At the outset of a project, City Planning or its consultants should identify locations or events that would be suitable for a PiPS booth.
Outcomes of most planning processes are communicated via written reports, but other media (including videos, infographics, graphic novels, interactive e-books, etc.) can be more engaging for youth. City Planning should use these media more consistently in its projects, potentially by requiring consultant teams to include graphic design, video production, storytelling or other specialized media skills.
While City Planning often releases reports outlining engagement outcomes in the context of strategic planning exercises, this should be done more consistently across all processes. In addition, future planning reports—both consultant reports and staff reports that go to Council—should clearly explain how participant feedback influenced final recommendations.