Saanich Council had directed the Parks Division to develop a management plan for the Saanich-owned portion of Haro Woods, two parcels of land totalling 5.8 ha, with adjoining property owned by the CRD and the University of Victoria.
The management plan required a guiding vision for the park, and clarity about its recreational role and natural areas strategy. An advisory group was established. The client was looking to get support from the public process for the management plan they created.
We soon understood that the contentious issue was cycling and the building of jumps in the park. The jumps, some of which were dangerous to walkers on paths, compromised the health and sustainability of the forest.
In addition, some stakeholders had been involved for years, even decades. They had worked on restoration of the land and lacked trust in the engagement process. Some believed that Saanich had an agenda. We also were trying to engage a local public who felt engagement processes were constant.
Saanich residents including neighbours who property adjoins the land, young families, youth, UVic students, destination cyclists, nature lovers, dog walkers, First Nations, and visitors to the area.
Trust has been key to this process. We take the necessary time to build relationships between advisory group members and other stakeholders. We highlight commonalities and demonstrate how different perspectives don’t require opinions to be correct or incorrect. We exercise what consensus means so that the group can appreciate differing perspectives and agree that group decisions based on these perspectives are the best decisions that can be made at the time.
The 18-month advisory group strategy includes varying activities to keep the advisory group engaged, from revolving conversations to field trips to cafés to fishbowl processes. When we meet challenges, we used revolving conversations to allow others to understand different perspectives. Eventually, while our advisory group was divided on one issue, they had grown to respect each other and felt there integrity in our process, so they agreed to accept the public input received, even when it might differ from their own position.
The first public engagement strategy included field walks including an offered mindfulness forest walk and a wildlife nature walk. From this public process, we were able to return to the advisory group to finalize a vision for the community.
The second public engagement session took the form of a world café and explored the goals that the advisory group had created. A custom-made “forest tea” was created and served. Participation continued to raise the issue of youth and young adults wanting a cycling area in the park with bike jumps. Goals were successfully refined and Saanich Parks was able to finalize a draft management plan for review and presentation to the advisory group, Saanich committees and the public .
The third public engagement open house format included stations for each of the three most controversial goals: recreation, surface and protection, with a goal of driving residents to a survey. Presentations were made throughout the four-hour long event allowing participants to understand how we had arrived at this draft. Surveys were completed by over 400 respondents, considered a healthy success by Saanich.
Our engagement continues as we continue to explore whether cycling in the park is possible while adhering to the established and approved vision by the community.
To ensure accountable and transparent processes, all meeting reports are posted publicly and questions invited at any time.
While we are still in this process, success is evident with the advisory group. They had originally committed to 6 meetings. This turned into 10 meetings as we adapted to need and involve more identified stakeholders. The public events have been well attended. The client has completed a draft management plan that has been reviewed and commented upon. These insights have helped us determine the need for a different off trail biking option and our work continues on this.
Engagement Strategy/Facilitation/Creative Direction: Valerie Elliott
Art Direction, Design and Production: Stephan Jacob