We all represent each other

I spoke with Nadia Garas of Fluor and Adan Carrillo of Horrocks about the human element and the power of relationships in public involvement.

“We all represent each other”, says Adan Carrillo, Public Involvement Coordinator with Horrocks Engineers. Public involvement professionals are members of a tight-knit group of dedicated people that first and foremost care about helping communities partner with their governments to build better places to live and work.

Many times, communities have to undertake projects that disrupt people's lives in the short term, but will ultimately improve the community’s long-term health. These projects may impact people’s ability to travel or force some people to sell their homes and move.

At these times, it is even more important to have a human element, that is, a person to explain the project and how it will impact the community, and to work with people directly on how to manage the short term and better plan for the long term.

Nadia Garas, Public Involvement Director with Fluor spoke about learning the difference between “being a problem solver and knowing when to listen”. She told me about a time that a local business owner impacted by a project called her. Up until that point, the business owner had no human element in the project to connect with, and just thought of the project as a huge headache brought on by a faceless transit agency. When he called the number provided for the public, he was surprised to get Nadia, a real person, to talk to. And they talked and talked and talked.

Early on in her career, Nadia says, she may have not recognized that this business owner just needed someone to talk to, who could hear his concerns and let him know that there was a face to this project and that his concerns were being heard. Now, she says she has more of an instinct of when to be a listener. And because she was a listener, she avoided a battle and could create an environment where they could come to an understanding.

Creating relationships and friendships is what matters most in these situations. “Reputation is based on the quality of relationships you make”, says Adan, “Even if you can’t please everybody, at least you did a thorough effort, at least they know that it was fair.”

Adan says that those relationships especially pay off when the budget for public involvement is tight. He advises to reach out to different departments or agencies that share the same challenges in reaching out to the public. Adan even collaborates with competitors, not only because a competitor on one RFP may end up being your partner on the next one, but also simply because public involvement is such a tight-knit community that everyone knows each other and wants to help out if they have more expertise in a certain district or subject area.

Nadia points out that these relationships can extend outside the immediate field of PI into local ambassadors, such as the Mayor or pastors. People are more willing to listen to someone who is familiar and already holds their respect, which makes ambassadors who understand the value of the project a great asset to have.

Whether it’s working with community leaders, business owners, or even competitors, relationships are at the center of public involvement.

View expressed in article are the professional opinions of the practitioners who participated and their participation in this article is not an endorsement of the IdeaMapr Engagement Tool

"Faces" by Oksana Latysheva