THE HIGH COST OF TRYING TO INCREASE PUBLIC ENGAGEMENT
KAMLOOPS - The City spent nearly $60,000 trying to get citizens involved in budget discussions this year and only got 44 people to public meetings—or roughly $1,300 per person— and most councillors said that was too much.
“$57,000 for 44 people to come to a budget meeting has got to be an abysmal failure,” Coun. Ken Christian told council this week. “My sense is the public is not interested in consulting on broad topics.”
The October budget meetings have by far been the most costly public engagement event this year. Only 44 people actually attended the two two-hour meetings and between wages (about 32 staff members attended each meeting), logistics and advertising, the city spent about $57,000 to host those meetings.
Staff and council said several things may have contributed to the low turnout. The meetings were held earlier than normal, in part because of the November elections. It's advertising was also lost when Kamloops This Week failed to run a full page ad the day of the meetings. It turned then to Radio NL, but the ads were bumped for coverage of the shootings in Ottawa.
Council directed staff to strive for more engagement with the public about a year ago and since then an estimated $180,000 has been spent, and that is considered a lowball estimate.
“I still don’t believe we captured it all,” Tammy Robertson, the City's business manager, told Infonews.ca. “But I think we’ve taken a very important first step to measure and quantify the work we do. We can use it as a benchmark going forward to better understand the costs and value.”
Several other councillors pointed to the need to reel in the spending and find a more efficient way of reaching the public, but they all agree public engagement is still a necessity.
“There’s a huge cost to not doing good public engagement,” Coun. Donovan Cavers said, while Coun. Pat Wallace said if people were interested, they would show up.
“I never noticed a guard with a gun at the front door when we’ve done a budget meeting.... If people have a burning issue they’re out in full. But if not, they don’t.”
The civic election was also a prime time for public engagement and while Robertson says engagement was definitely up online (about 34 per cent), she is not sure how it translated to the polls. Only 33 per cent of eligible voters cast votes in the election two weeks ago and there is no concrete way to track whether those engaging online actually voted.
“I don’t know if there’s any bigger engagement opportunity than the election,” she said. “Engagement on social media and online was up, but I don’t know how it translated.”
Of all the public events held, just under 4,700 people attended. Of all the online posts the city made on Facebook and other sources, 453 people engaged by commenting, liking or sharing the post. Another 854 people completed surveys and 69 people used Twitter to interact with the city during the budget meetings. News media and businesses, including the Chamber of Commerce, were not included in the numbers.
City council will now use the hard numbers and estimates to decide on service levels for the 2015 budget. While it sounds like most are willing to cut some meetings ,it is unclear at this point what the goal for public engagement will be in 2015.
The numbers in the public engagement report are for staff time only, which accounts for the majority of the related costs. Public engagement events included meetings, open houses, public hearings, workshops, input sessions, planning sessions, school presentations and town halls for items like the budget, road construction and community plans.
To contact a reporter for this story, email Jennifer Stahn at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 250-819-3723. To contact an editor, email email@example.com or call 250-718-2724.