Municipal public engagement options in Ontario

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| Published , updated March 20, 2024

It is the role of council to represent the public and to consider the well-being and interests of the municipality.

Section 224

Municipal community engagement plans in Ontario

Some municipalities in Ontario have developed formalized plans on how they are to engage residents of their community and collect feedback:

The City of Greater Sudbury conducted a community engagement review in 2014 to explore options to promote strategic and fulsome community engagement and provide citizens with opportunities to become involved in municipal decision-making processes that aligned with the Public Participation Policy.

The accompanying survey resulted in the highest number of respondents since the City started conducting regular surveys, with nearly 1,000 people providing a response, while the public input session was poorly attended, suggesting that it is important for residents to have the ability to engage at their convenience rather than at a specific date and time.

Political decision-making is most effective when it includes public input from an active, engaged and educated public. … It is the responsibility of [the City] to assess opportunities for public engagement.

City of Greater Sudbury, Public Participation Policy

There are a number of ways that a municipality can engage and inform residents and solicit feedback on plans and projects to gauge what the interests of the municipality are.

Common engagement options

Online community engagement software

EngagementHQ

EngagementHQ provides a primary location for each project or initiative that includes publishing updates, documentation and collecting feedback about the project.

It includes contact information (name, email and phone number) of the staff member responsible, a timeline of project updates, public feedback submitted by other residents and links to relevant files, allowing people to get “up to speed” follow along if they’re interested in a project that’s already underway.

The platform can send push notifications to users – such as emergency notices, event information, county waste collection changes, road closures, etc.

This gives the municipality the opportunity to inform, consult, involve, collaborate and empower residents and allows administration the ability to obtain feedback from residents

Questions and answers

Public feedback

Other software platforms

Municipalities’ online engagement platforms

Here are the municipalities in Ontario that use online engagement platforms:

How much does EngagementHQ/Bang the Table cost?

  • Collingwood paid $15,000 per year in 2022
  • Centre Wellington paid an annual fee of $10,000 in 2016, $10,176 in 2021
  • Chatham-Kent paid an annual fee of $22,500 in 2020.
  • Sarnia paid $18,000 per year in 2019

Live chat customer service

Some municipalities offer live chat customer service to residents, including:

Civic petitions

Petitions are a formal way citizens can bring grievances or concerns to the attention of City Council that become part of the public record.

Petitions should contain the following information and be submitted to the Office of the City Clerk:

  • Contact information of the owner/representative of the petition, including full name, address, telephone number, and email
  • Clear purpose of the petition
  • Action(s) being requested
  • Date the petition was started
  • Name and postal code of each person who signed or electronically submitted their name to the petition, and if possible, the civic address of all participants.

Example petition forms

It is the fundamental right of citizens to petition their elected representatives.

City of Greater Sudbury

Speaking before council

Individuals or groups may request permission to appear before Council and speak at a Standing Committee or Council meeting as community delegates. This is a formal channel of public participation and the presentation will become part of the public record.

In Burlington, delegates have 10 minutes to address standing committees and 5 minutes to address Council. To register, speaking notes and PowerPoint presentations typically must be submitted beforehand.

Public input sessions / Calendar of opportunities

Find and subscribe to a variety of public engagement opportunities and events.

Open houses

Open meetings

Meeting minutes

Surveys

Social media

Follow on social media: Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Citizen Advisory Panels

Neighbourhood Associations

Community Action Networks

Email subscriptions

311

Communicating with council

The mayor and councillors can be contacted through informal channels such as e-mail, phone and mail.

Public Participation Spectrum

Many Canadian municipalities use the International Association for Public Participation’s (IAP2) spectrum/framework for public participation, which is a recognized global standard that shows the possible types of engagement with stakeholders and communities. The spectrum also shows the increasing level of public impact progressing through the spectrum beginning with “inform” through to “empower”.

Burlington outlines the tools they will use to engage the public in each of these categories:

Inform toolsConsult toolsInvolve toolsExample toolsExample tools
Fact sheets
Websites
Open houses
Public comment
Focus groups
Surveys
Public meetings
Workshops
Deliberate polling
Citizen Advisory Committees
Consensus-building
Participatory decision-making
Citizen Juries
Ballots
Delegated Decisions

What is the public record?

All communications made through the Office of the City Clerk or at a public meeting (City Council, standing Committees, boards and committees) create a public record which is kept on file. They may be viewed by the public and copies may be released on request.

Informal vs formal channels

  • Informal channels: Communications shared through informal channels such as sending email, phone and mail to a council member are NOT a matter of public record and not referred to during Council’s decision-making process.
  • Formal channels: Communications shared through formal channels are a matter of public record, and are documented and referred to throughout Council’s decision-making process. All formal communication requests may need to be directed to a particular department such as Legislative & Court Services.

Sources

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