North Cowichan Mayor Al Siebring makes his point. (Photo by Don Bodger)

North Cowichan looking for more public input — and they’ve budgeted $27K to get it

Council decides to conduct citizen satisfaction survey and hold training sessions for staff

The Municipality of North Cowichan has set aside $27,000 in its budget for 2019 for a citizen satisfaction survey and public-participation training for employees.

Council gave thumbs up to the initiatives, with the survey costing up to $15,000 and the staff training up to $12,000, at its meeting on Jan. 16.

A citizen satisfaction survey is seen as a statistically valid method of collecting feedback from residents about their satisfaction with the municipality’s programs and services.

While the City of Duncan and the Cowichan Valley Regional District have used citizen satisfaction surveys before, mainly using telephone and online surveys of the population, to gather data, this will be North Cowichan’s first satisfaction survey.

Now that the $15,000 has been approved for the satisfaction survey, staff can begin to seek independent experts for this work.

The survey is expected to be conducted in the first half of 2019.

In a staff report, North Cowichan’s manager of communications and strategic initiatives Natasha Horsman said public agencies everywhere are hearing that citizens want more information and the ability to provide input into decisions that affect or interest them.

North Cowichan Mayor Al Siebring added that, in the past, the municipality would look to the CVRD’s citizen satisfaction surveys to determine how North Cowichan’s residents feel about the services provided by the municipality and where they think the priorities should be.

But he said it was decided that North Cowichan needed specific information from its residents on municipal issues, particularly at this time when a new council is starting its term, so a decision was made to conduct a separate citizen satisfaction survey.

Horsman said that, as part of the more robust public-engagement process that North Cowichan is embarking on, council is also increasingly asking municipal employees to inform or engage with residents.

“To be successful, consultation or public participation activities require trust, authenticity, and perhaps most importantly, extensive planning,” Horsman said.

“As the municipality continues to enhance its public participation activities, it is critical that council and employees have opportunities to develop knowledge and tools about best practices.”

Horsman said the International Association of Public Participation provides an internationally recognized framework for public participation, and a half-day workshop for elected officials in the municipality had been scheduled with a trainer in February.

She said staff want to bring the trainer from the workshop back to the Cowichan Valley later in the spring to provide 40 to 50 North Cowichan employees with a one-day boot camp on public participation.

“The $12,000 budget breaks down to a cost of between $240 to $300 per person, which is competitive,” Horsman said.

“It should be noted that this training initiative is being developed cooperatively by communications staff across the CVRD. All members of the regional district have been, or will be, invited to participate, along with the Cowichan Valley school district.”

Siebring said the training for elected officials and staff is the result of increased expectations in the municipality of the best ways to engage with the public.

“It’s been a challenge for some time that the usual voices we hear from are from both ends of the political spectrum, with few from the majority in between, so we need a more broad engagement with those who don’t normally show up at council meetings,” he said.

“The citizen satisfaction survey and the training cost money, but we’ve been hearing for years that the municipality is not plugged into the community and there are costs to try to deal with that.”

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