Nicole Swerhun, founding principal of Swerhun Inc., began her work in community engagement in Toronto as the city contemplated removing the Gardiner Expressway East, an aging piece of elevated waterfront highway. She continued in Bosnia as communities came together to rebuild immediately after the signing of the Dayton Peace Accord. She also organized processes for the rebuilding of a devastated neighbourhood in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
In the course of these diverse and often conflict-ridden processes, Nicole found that the mechanics of the processes were critical to success. Building on the experience and work of others in the field, she developed a set of working principles, techniques and tools that could be useful in a wide range of situations.
With her co-author, Vanessa AvRuskin, Nicole has synthesized these experiences and principles in this easy-to-use manual. Together, they describe these methods and their potential uses to provide a unique and pivotal contribution to the evolving art of community engagement.
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Discuss. Decide. Do.
Although it is now accepted that public engagement is essential for good planning and city building, there is not a clear understanding across the board of how to do it effectively, nor even its purpose. For some it is simply "getting to yes" (which implies selling a pre-conceived idea) but ideally it is true consensus building that begins a clear slate.
The mechanics of public processes are critical. All too often unnecessary stumbling blocks are created that make it difficult to proceed. For example, the process might have failed to engage a sufficiently broad range of interest groups, or there may not have been effective communication and means of recording feedback, or consensus on basic ground rules may not have been established at the beginning.
And that is where Discuss. Design. Do. will be the most helpful. It combines the lessons of the last 50 years with the current experiences of Nicole Swerhun and her colleagues. It is a straightforward, objective presentation of the tools that we all need to conduct successful public engagement in a wide range and topics.