Saanich Council had recently 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 are extremely dangerous to walkers on paths, compromise the health and sustainability of the forest.
In addition, many stakeholders had been involved for many years, even decades in restoring the land and lacked trust in the engagement process, convinced that Saanich had an agenda. We also faced a local public that felt they were constantly participating in engagement processes.
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 cafes to fishbowl processes,. When we finally meet the challenges, we have used revolving conversations to allow others to understand different perspectives. Eventually, although our advisory group was divided on one issue, they had grown to respect each other enough and felt there was integrity in the process, they agreed to accept the public input received even if that might differ from their position.
The first public engagement strategy included field walks. Several options were offered to the public, including a 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 cafe 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. Presentations were may several times throughout the four hour long event allowing participants to understand how we had arrived at this point.
To ensure an accountable and transparent process, reports are posted publicly for all meetings and questions are welcomed at any time. Surveys created by Saanich Parks were completed by over 400 respondents, a high number for Saanich.
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. We have over 400 respondents for our last survey, which Saanich considered high compared to previous surveys.
Engagement Strategy/Facilitation/Creative Direction: Valerie Elliott
Art Direction, Design and Production: Stephan Jacob