Kitchener residents are often willing to provide their input into the future of their neighbourhood or city, but it can be frustrating when they aren't told how their input is used in decision making, one city councillor says.

"Part of it is because there's no return loop – you go to a public meeting, you put in your input, maybe you meet with your councillor there, but sometimes the loop doesn't get closed," Ward 4 Coun. Yvonne Fernandes said in an interview with Craig Norris on The Morning Edition Wednesday. "They don't know what happens until all of a sudden traffic calming may happen on their street or something changes in their neighbourhood and they feel like, 'Wait a minute. I said I wanted this and now I'm getting that.'" 

"We want to make sure there's every opportunity for people to engage on whatever issue they're passionate about or whatever's happening in their community."

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When people attend a public meeting, they want to understand whether they're expected to give input or if it's just information, a new report on community engagement in Kitchener says. If they are giving input, residents then want to know how their input is used, and that is not always the case. (Matthew Kang/CBC)

Report says engagement strategy needed

On Tuesday, a report written by community engagement consultant Josh Joseph was presented at the city's planning and strategic initiatives committee.

It's the first time the city has done a comprehensive review of how it engages with residents.

"The review assessed our community engagement efforts across the organization and has identified the gaps, challenges and opportunities and how they can be addressed," the report stated.

For the report, Joseph spoke to the mayor and councillors, more than 100 members of city staff, more than 100 citizens at workshops and committees, and sorted through more than 500 responses submitted through the Engage Kitchener website.

The report highlighted three main lessons learned from the feedback:

  • The importance of being clear about the purpose of engagement and how citizen input will be used.
  • The need for training, resources and support to deliver successful engagement activities.
  • That trust and respect in the process is built when the city delivers meaningful engagement focused on quality over quantity.

The report then made 16 recommendations – categorized under four themes: before engagement, during engagement, after engagement and general – to improve the process. A full implementation strategy is needed, the report said, but what that would look like and how much is might cost was not immediately clear.

Yvonne Fernandes

Coun. Yvonne Fernandes says it's important residents know they're being heard. (Yvonne Fernandes)

Public needs to understand 'why' of decisions

Fernandes said it is important to take community engagement seriously because it helps build trust between residents and their local municipal government.

"It's important because we're so connected through social media that we want to make sure that people really understand what's happening in our community."

"And if we don't take those opportunities, misinformation and rumours just mushroom like crazy. So we want to make sure that people have the real, true facts about what's happening," she said. "I think it's really critical that the public trust when they say something, that we're listening and if we don't agree with them or we've come out with a different decision, why we came out with that decision."

Hear the whole interview with Coun. Fernandes: