Step 7: Write a Report That Supports Decision Making

The seventh step focuses on creating written evidence of what happened in a way that is useful to decision makers and that participants recognize as their own.

CASE STUDY

A large municipality conducted a review of their Official Plan. Public consultation is an important part of the review process, and the city completed the first of two round of consultation. The consultation included four identical open house/workshop meetings, one in the north, south, east and west areas of the city. Detailed notes were taken at each of the four workshops and one overall consultation summary was produced that combined the results of all four workshops.

a. Take detailed raw notes of everything that’s said during the meeting (including the proponent’s contribution to the meeting, especially their responses to questions).

Roughly five pages of single spaced point form notes were generated at each workshop.  Notes reflected, as much as possible, exactly what people were saying but did not track who said what. A sampling of raw notes from one workshop is provided below (public feedback was responding to the following focus question “What do you like about how and where the Official Plan directs growth and change?)”:

  • Like predictability for developers
  • Stable neighbourhoods
  • Emphasis on different transportation options
  • Consistency, intensification efficiency as well as concept of complete streets – not just favouring vehicles, but also bikes and transit
  • How it deals with employment zones
  • Like mid-rise developments
  • Like idea of maintaining character of neighbourhood areas
  • Like avenues, mixed feelings about intensification
  • Would like to see diversification of employment in downtown


b. After the meeting, organize the raw notes.

For example, put all responses to a particular focus question in the same place. Then cut and paste similar points so they are beside each other even if the point was raised much later in the meeting. This makes it easier to identify themes amongst responses and, importantly, moves the report away from a chronological account and closer to a decision support tool.

The following text represents how the raw notes were organized under key headings related to what people liked about where and how the Official Plan directs growth. The headings below organized comments relating to directing growth and neighbourhoods. There were many additional headings included in the organized raw notes – these are just a sample.

What participants liked about how and where the Official Plan directs growth:

  • Overall, we agree with focus of directing growth to where its currently being directed
  • The idea of distinguishing high growth areas from low(er) growth areas makes sense
  • Avenues and downtown are the best places to direct growth
  • Steer growth away from downtown and waterfront
  • Keeping housing downtown and integrated with employment
  • Away from the downtown core
  • Seems like a good balance of avenues and industrial
  • Avenues and centres work well to focus growth
  • How it deals with employment zones
  • Like idea that growth directed to downtown – that neighbourhoods staying stable
  • Like that development is being encouraged away from downtown core

What they liked about how growth relates to the city's neighbourhoods:

  • Liked neighbourhoods stable
  • Respect for neighbourhood character
  • Stabilization of neighbourhoods
  • Approve ideas of stable, residential neighbourhoods
  • Focus on neighbourhood character
  • Stability of neighbourhoods – maintaining neighbourhoods
  • Stable neighbourhoods
  • Like idea of maintaining character of neighbourhood areas


c. Translate the point-form notes into full sentences that reflect the feedback received.

These sentences need to aggregate contributions from a number of different participants.  Use of language is very important at this stage:

  • Use the language that reflects the language used at the meeting. Write it down verbatim so that participants recognize the words as their own.  If a certain word was used several times and that word is not in the report it will make the report less believable. 
  • Highlight areas of common ground as well as areas where opinions differed.
  • Indicate whether a participant, some participants, or many participants shared a point of view. It is not common to track who said what, instead more general descriptions are used such as “Many people said” or “A few participants thought”, or “One person said”. This is a qualitative exercise.  As a general rule it is inaccurate to say everybody agreed to something or that there was consensus (unless you asked each person individually and each chose to reply). Another option is to indicate that “no objections were raised”.
  • Reinforcing extreme positions using emotional language is not helpful to finding common ground.  Extreme positions need to be reflected as accurately as possible.
  • People who were not at the meeting should be able to have an accurate picture of what happened when they read the response.  For example, if you write “There was a lot of discussion about trees” it’s plausible that the participants liked trees or didn’t like the trees which is confusing.  Instead write “there was a lot of discussion about the importance of trees in the area and that more are needed”.
  • The reporting needs to reflect not only what people said but also the rationale behind it.  Only with this understanding can issues be resolved.  

The meeting summary included the following points regarding what participants liked about where and how the Official Plan directs growth:

  1. Many participants felt that the Official Plan is generally directing growth to the right places – specifically mentioning the downtown, centres and avenues. Also, many people expressed support for the idea of stable neighbourhoods.
  2. Several participants liked the avenues as areas of growth. They expressed a variety of perspectives on the appropriate intensity of development and cautioned that growth on the avenues must be at the right scale.
  3. Generally, participants were supportive of mixed-use developments. Some people felt that employment areas should feature a greater mix of uses, particularly near arterials and transit. Others recommended that mixed-use policies be strengthened to ensure that mixed use developments are more than just predominantly residential.


d. Identify the 3 to 5 most relevant messages from the meeting notes.  These act as an executive summary of the meeting.

  • The messages need to reflect the main points discussed – they provide a high level description of the feedback received.
  • One of the key messages could reflect the general sentiment of the meeting.  For example, "there may have been a considerable amount of frustration in the room however people demonstrated a willingness to work through it."  Or," people felt appreciative of the fact they were being included in the process."
  • The key messages should highlight if there was a lot of agreement around any particular point or if there was a mix of opinion.

Here are examples of two key messages in the meeting summary:

  1. Considerable support for where the City is directing growth and change. Participants expressed considerable support for where the Official Plan directs growth and strongly supported the Official Plan policies that protect neighbourhoods. Minor refinements to these policies were suggested.
  2. Transit, services and affordable housing need to keep pace with development. Several participants discussed the relationship between land-use, density and transportation. Transportation and affordable housing were consistently raised as areas in need of improvement and investment. Many participants felt that a greater emphasis should be placed on providing improvements to transit and cycling infrastructure. Many also felt that there was an important need to build more affordable housing.


e. Combine the pieces of the report as follows:

  • Page one includes the name of the meeting, the location and date, as well as a brief overview of the meeting purpose and number of participants. This typically takes up less than a quarter of a page. It is also important to note who wrote the report and that it is a draft that is subject to the review of participants at the meeting prior to being finalized. Include the date by which any suggested edits are due (about one week), and the name, phone and email to whom suggested edits should be sent. Once suggested edits are received (if any) this note should be updated to read “This report was subject to the review of participants at the meeting.”
  • The rest of page one includes the key messages from the meeting.
  • Page two includes a list of any questions of clarification asked by participants and the responses provided by the proponent. If there are a lot of questions it can be helpful to organize these by theme.
  • Pages three onward would include a summary of the detailed feedback received (as written in step c).
  • The final page should include a brief description of any wrap up remarks and next steps.

The following text was at the top of the overall consultation summary:

In [month and year], a public meeting was held at [location] as part of public consultation process being delivered as part of the [name of the project]. Approximately [number] people participated representing a broad range of perspectives and interests, including [for example, resident associations, school boards, businesses, industry associations, developers, planning firms, environmental and affordable housing advocates, students and the general public].  Discussions focused on what’s working with the Official Plan and what areas could be improved. This report is a compilation of the feedback received. 


f. Include relevant attachments at the back of the report, such as:

  • A list of participants and their affiliation. List everyone – the consultant team, technical resources, politicians, volunteers, stakeholders, etc.
  • Meeting agenda
  • Presentation materials (though these are most commonly stored online)
  • Detailed feedback from individual workbooks (optional)
  • Other


g. Distribute the report with a brief cover note to meeting participants for review. Finalize the report based on any edits received.