“Public engagement” describes all the ways in which the City interacts with the public every day to build relationships and to seek and receive input and advice on its programs, policies and services. Individuals, businesses, organizations and groups can offer feedback and expertise in many ways, including participating in a virtual or in-person meeting, joining a City advisory group, answering a survey, submitting comments to a Council committee, interacting with individual staff and by calling or connecting with their City Councillor or 311.

Public participation helps strengthen the relationship between the City and the public, and shapes Toronto’s policies, programs, and services to meet the diverse needs of Torontonians.

In 2021, the City began the first phase of a review of the City’s public engagement methods, standards and resources to consider ways to deliver more inclusive, accessible and relevant engagement with the public, particularly Indigenous, Black and equity-deserving communities.

The Public Engagement Review aims to answer several questions including:

  • How can the City better support public engagement opportunities with all Torontonians?
  • How can the City build trust and a stronger relationship with the public?

Thank you to all who shared their input and ideas. Below is a summary of what we’ve heard to date and our next steps.

If you have questions or would like to comment on the summary or data please email engagement@toronto.ca.


Planned with Community

Staff consulted with engagement leaders to develop the methods and questions used to ask the public about their experiences engaging with the City and our approaches.

The surveys and small-group discussions described below were developed with advice from  City divisions,  engagement practitioners from Black and Indigenous businesses/organizations, the City’s Lived Experience Advisory Group and Partnership and Accountability Circle, the Centre for Connected Communities (renamed the Catalysts’ Circle) and the Toronto.Aboriginal Support Services Council.

Online surveys

Between July and September 2022, we collected input from:

  • 962 members of the public
  • 58 businesses, experts and organizations involved in consultation and engagement
  • 57 staff from 32 Canadian municipalities
  • 228 City staff from 35 divisions and 3 agencies


We interviewed 17 Canadian and international municipalities about their strategies and best practices.

Community-led discussions

Community organizations engaged their members within Indigenous, Black and equity-deserving communities on behalf of the City, as survey participation from Torontonians in these communities was low. We also asked them to reflect on general feedback from the surveys and share their perspectives.

  • Peer facilitators with the Centre for Connected Communities (now the Catalysts’ Circle) led discussions with almost 100 Black and equity-deserving residents
  • The Toronto Aboriginal Support Services Council facilitated five 5 discussion circles with 100 Indigenous community members and created an Indigenous Engagement Toolkit as a guidance for City staff
  • Member organizations of the City’s Black Resiliency Cluster within its Partnership and Accountability Circle facilitated eight discussions with 54 participants from the Black community

The City received a wide range of thoughts, ideas and recommendations that generally fell within the following themes.

 Truth, Justice and Reconciliation

  • Respect and reflect Indigenous culture and knowledge in engagement with Indigenous communities
    • prioritize relationship building over episodic over-engagement
    • increase numbers of Indigenous City staff and cultural awareness for non-Indigenous staff
    • collaborate to plan, deliver and evaluate engagement, engage individuals and organizations
    • formalize processes and agreements for appropriate compensation, honoraria and gift-giving
  • Co-develop Indigenous engagement frameworks and common processes with community
    • partner with communities to understand their priorities and co-develop an overarching engagement framework, staff training and guidance for commonly-used activities (e.g. surveys, meetings, advisory groups) specifically for Indigenous communities
  • Create engagement roles with and for local leaders and organizations
    • work with community leaders to plan and deliver engagement activities
    • hire local facilitators
    • recognize leaders and participants with honoraria or gift-giving
  • Recognize the diversity within community
    • seek perspectives from a wide range of individuals, leaders and established and grassroots organizations
    • create space and processes for diverse experiences and views.
  • Support Indigenous suppliers for engagement and other City services
    • co-develop procurement processes and bids where appropriate
    • help firms, public benefit organizations and grassroots groups led by and trusted by the community to understand and access City contracts
    • reduce requirements for certification/accreditation for social procurement
    • consider adding minimum requirements for a portion of work to go to diverse suppliers
    • support payment for services that is comparable to private-sector partners

“600 years of history. A lot of catching up to do. Not something that can be done quickly and easily. Acknowledge the mistakes so that we can correct it. Natural progression – invite the Indigenous community to those tables. Indigenous peoples aren’t too different from everyone else.”  – Community member



  • Elevate Black and equity-deserving voices
    • educate the community about participation opportunities
    • engage where and how communities can most easily participate
    • create culturally-appropriate, sometimes distinct approaches and spaces for these communities to lead and participate in engagement
    • train staff to increase understanding of the legacies of slavery and colonization
  • Co-develop engagement frameworks and common processes with Black and equity-deserving communities
    • partner with communities to understand their priorities and co-develop an overarching engagement framework, staff training and guidance for commonly-used activities (e.g. surveys, meetings, advisory groups) specifically for Black and equity-deserving communities
  • Support Black and equity-deserving suppliers for engagement and other City services
    • co-develop procurement processes and bids where appropriate
    • help firms, public benefit organizations and grassroots groups led by and trusted by the community to understand and access City contracts
    • reduce requirements for certification/accreditation for social procurement
    • consider adding minimum requirements for a portion of work to go to diverse suppliers
    • support payment for services that is comparable to private-sector partners
  • Link public engagement more strongly with other City teams and strategies

 “Black-only spaces are helpful, but [it’s also important that] diversity and other cultures are there and that Black voices are heard in the mixed/diverse environments – in non-Black spaces, voices of Black people are heard and seriously considered.” – Community member

 “The Black Community are not represented well because only certain Black groups/agencies are heard but more Black residents need to be involved in the decision- making process.” – Community member

 “Representation should happen across sectors such as healthcare, childcare, arts, etc and include diverse Black community organizations, including grassroots, small business, non-profits and institutions.” – Community member

 “We need to consider the experience people have in spaces such as Boards in the City’s agencies and corporation, including experiences of racism, exclusion, and lack of influence.” – Community member

 “Toronto Strong Neighbourhood Strategy 2020 is one way that racialized people living in NIAs [Neighbourhood Improvement Areas] felt heard and supported by the City. All neighbourhoods are ecosystems made up of multiple actors and spaces. Leveraging those actors and spaces to foster meaningful engagement can help bring about the kinds of solutions called for in this report.” – Community member


Relationships and trust

  • Strong relationships are key to meaningful engagement
    • the City must invest in building relationships and trust with community, which in turn increases participation numbers and diversity, the quality of discussions and feedback, and insights to inform decisions
  • Meet with community outside of consultations
    • Staff should support neighbourhood tables and attend community-led programs, meetings and events to get to know individuals, leaders and organizations, share each others’ plans and priorities, and use this knowledge to improve the design and delivery of one-off consultations and avoid over-consultation

“The City only really seeks Black voices and participation for things surrounding crime.” – Community member

 “As we are doing this work, we are consulted but so what? There is no follow-up and engagement to talk with people and to share the themes that come up and next steps this causes trust issues.” – Community member

 “We also need to recognize that the City is often speaking to the elite in the community. This includes the elite of the Black community. There needs to be more effort to connect with “regular folks.” The elite cannot represent the issues and experiences of everyone.” – Community member

 “It is frustrating for the Indigenous community to see City’s left hands do not know what the right hands are doing, and people are tied of being consulted over and over again.” – Community member

“It would be really great to get City of Toronto representatives out to our spaces as opposed to us always going to their spaces. Have them come out, introduce themselves. You know, let us know what their roles and responsibilities are in the city. So, we can understand how to contribute properly.”   – Community member


How the City engages

  • Promote the value of public engagement
    • Identify the City’s core commitments, principles and reasons for public engagement, and educate the public on how the City makes decisions on programs and services
  • Choose the right methods of engagement, and offer variety
    • Use in-person and virtual methods that meet project objectives and community needs and give participants a choice in how they can participate
  • Understand and remove barriers
    • Clear language, accessible documents and web content, adaptive technologies, allowing anonymous participation, accessible locations, language translation and interpretation are among the approaches that support a diversity of engagement preferences and abilities
  • Be clear about scope
    • Tell the community from the beginning what the City wants to know, what their input can influence and what cannot be changed or has already been decided
  • Close the Loop
    • Seek community input to validate/make sense of input where appropriate, and always tell the community what was said, how the City will or will not use input, how decisions will be made, and future steps
  • Take the time to engage
    • Plan enough time for feedback and thoughtful community consideration

“What it is important is to get a digestible way of understanding what is being done by the City. Breaking down the silos – work being done over and over again, and people are duplicating work which is preventing us from moving forward.”  – Community member

“The City may feel a pressure to ‘perform’ and highlight quantifiable outcomes, but the City should be aware of how the idea of ‘progress’ can be colonial in nature and may alienate communities they are looking to engage.” – Practitioner


Procurement and partnerships

  • Simplify, explain and promote City procurement
    • Simplify processes for City staff and potential bidders, promote opportunities, and offer information and training workshops for organizations/firms (particularly those run by Black, Indigenous and equity-deserving operators) to understand, access and win procurement opportunities
  • Allocate resources for engagement
    • Train and support City staff to include appropriate budget and resources in relevant projects for engagement
  • Prioritize collaboration over competition
    • Create procurement processes that encourage vendor partnerships in bidding and delivering services, including supporting large firms to mentor smaller firms, supporting calls that do not require the lowest bid, and allowing community organizations to participate in bid review and contract awards

“We need to have more Indigenous people doing the outreach. We need more Indigenous contractors and advisors leading that work. Indigenous led engagement should be prioritized. We have too many non-Indigenous working for the City, they don’t have those experiences and aren’t leading the work. We need specific Indigenous processes. First Nations, Inuit and Metis do not participate in non-Indigenous processes – they won’t participate generally- they, if they come, will sit in the back.” – Community member

 “People are putting together an RFP [Request for Proposal] without an understanding of the Indigenous engagement protocols- they need to be Indigenous led to be more meaningful.” – Practitioner

 “Conduct a get-to-know, develop a relationship, and type of pre-qualification meeting with Indigenous and Black candidates (virtual, or in-person).” – Practitioner


Accountability and evaluation

  • Ask people how well the City is doing
    • Consistently collect data on who is and isn’t participating and seek and publish feedback from the public on their interest and awareness in engagement, the ways the City engages, their experiences, how to improve, and factors that influence their engagement such as trust in government and social capital
  • Continuously measure and improve
    • Identify performance metrics and involve community in regular measurement and improvements in procurement and public engagement
  • Consider outcomes and outputs
    • Performance indicators should go beyond the number of participants and activities to measure who is engaged, why people do and don’t participate, their expectations and the impact of public feedback on City decisions, policies and programs

“Transparency is key – could talk about constraints and time – get real clarity on the goals of the City and the community – focus on the common goals…” – Community member

 “Demonstrate clear benefits for community and/or agencies participating. Why to get involved. What happens with the data and from outreach? Outcomes and Impact agencies/residents can have. Should build on what we’ve already heard, and hopefully connect with existing work. Why people are or aren’t included in engagement activities.” – Community member

“The City should feel ok to admit when things didn’t go well”  – Practitioner


Organizational excellence

  •  Centralize / formalize key engagement functions
    • Consider changes to internal organizational structures to increase coordination and support for key corporate functions while also being flexible and supporting divisions to lead engagements and relationship building with communities
  • Train and support City staff
    • Staff want more resources, leadership support, central coordination, training, and policies and guidelines to effectively and consistently deliver, evaluate and improve public engagement

“Structures, principles, toolkits, policies. Where this resides is important…There is a need [for] broader understanding and have consistent practical practices.” – Staff

While I am generally interested in improving public engagement, I find that it’s very intimidating and complex to broaden my approach and experiment.  It would be great if there was a one-stop shop that told me what supports I can access, how to procure them, great examples of public engagement initiatives, and templates that I can easily adopt.” – Staff

 “Staff should receive training on new public engagement techniques, tools and etiquette and have a base of peers to connect with in preparing for and evaluating the engagements they were involved in.” – Staff

 “Multiple people/staff/programs are tapping into the same community groups. Be genuine and authentic. Can we have a database to document the different engagement efforts across City divisions.” – Staff


City staff are reviewing feedback from the review to consider:

  • What participation opportunities are already available that we could promote or make better?
  • What is the City already planning that might address the feedback we received? Can plans be easily adapted? Are more resources (staff or financial) needed?
  • Where is new action needed? What can be done quickly, and what changes might take a bit more time or resources, or should make up a longer-term strategy and resource review?

Data from the public survey has now been added to Toronto’s OpenData website.  Input from the community-led discussion groups and smaller data sets from staff, businesses and consultants are summarized above.

If you have comments or feedback on the data and summaries to-date, please let us know at engagement@toronto.ca.

Updates on the review will continue to be posted to this site.