We asked Public Consultation and Engagement experts the following question regarding their Two Key Challenges, and they were kind enough to share their insights with us:

What are the two key challenges faced by public consultation and engagement professionals today?


Terry Sargeant
Reaching the right audience with the right message. Negative messages from parties opposed, in whole or in part, to a project under review will often cloud the messaging we want to get out. In the current public sector world, there are often many, different consultation processes for each project. This can lead to information overload – a serious problem, often impeding our ability to get messages out.


Senior Advisor,
Andrew J. Chapeskie
Two key challenges are:

  1. Addressing a dynamic and rapidly evolving Indigenous Rights landscape
  2. Improving cross-cultural understanding across a range of matters of significance to Indigenous communities – from the nature of indigenous landscapes to how indigenous relationships to land, including customary stewardship and governance of natural resources, inform their approach to development.


Chief Consumer Officer and Executive Director, Consumer Affairs and Strategic Policy,
Barbara Motzney
With the advent of the Internet and social media becoming ubiquitous in our everyday lives, there are a plethora of opportunities to engage the public. As a result of this, two key challenges have emerged: (1) how do you cut through the “noise” and (2) how do you overcome engagement “fatigue”.

There has always been competition for the attention of public, but now the public consultation and engagement landscape has evolved – as has the rest of society – to adapt to the possibilities of the Internet and social media, but in doing so, there are that many more pulls on the public’s attention. The issues of “noise” and “fatigue” have been exacerbated rather than improved.


Neil Ellis
There are many key challenges faced by public consultation and engagement professionals today. These challenges can range from; not having sufficient budget to conduct quality consultation, lack of time to complete consultation properly, a true commitment to consult and a perception that there is a lack of interest from the target market you are trying to consult with.


Director of Public and Aboriginal Engagement,
Michele Perret
First, the complexity of the project. We are dealing with a highly technical subject – in my case, pipeline construction, operation and legal regulation – and we have to explain it in a way that makes sense to British Columbians and Albertans. At Northern Gateway, we’re committed to continuing engagement with Aboriginal and Non-Aboriginal communities. This means ensuring they regularly receive information from us that is both comprehensive and comprehensible. Second, the diversity of the Aboriginal Communities and other Stakeholders. We need to ensure the input we receive reflects the various voices engaged in the conversations.


Professional Facilitator and Trainer,
Jo Nelson
  1. Accumulated suspicion and cynicism of the public about whether their ideas are actually heard, and…
  2. Resistance of internal experts to external ideas, mostly because they don’t have a way
    to integrate them successfully.


Spokesperson, Mayor’s Engaged City Task Force,
Lyndsay Poaps
Balancing online engagement and face-to-face engagement while creating rich and meaningful processes is still a challenge for our sector. The need to do both at the municipal level won’t go away in the medium to long term. Harmonizing the ways in with the public can be involved in community processes is key if the public is going to trust that their participation has been consequential. The pressure to create processes that sustain interest and engage participants in a way that respects their resource and capacity limits is only growing and our sector needs to show leadership and innovation in this area.


Principal, Group Facilitator, and ToP Trainer,
John Miller, CPF, CTF, BA, MA
  1. A huge disconnect continues to open up between apparently competing world views in the political realm: democratic and …not so much. Civil society attempts to fill the vacuum but these are not a replacement for engaging citizens in their own governance. And we forget that civil society includes organizations that promote opinions that are not so “nice” too, so xdivisions risk becoming exacerbated.
  2. The cost of engaging the public seems harder to afford as a stand-alone or added-on activity due to changes in the structure of the (Canadian) economy. How do we truly engage the public yet do it cheaper as well as better and faster?


Jerry Natanine
  1. How to satisfy the needs of the affected region. Knowing the economic and social conditions of a region. Most people view the ‘industry’ as a real big money maker and people want to get in on the rewards. How to adequately accomplish that is a big challenge.
  2. Industry having to operate by Land Claims and or treaties seems burdensome to an industry. Industries that have come have had big plans for their operation only to have land claims and their regulations as an inconvenience.


President & CEO,
Ben Warner
We are challenged by the lack of contemporary national and international model individuals we can point to as examples of productive public dialogue and engagement. Too often public discourse is combative and competitive; the purpose is to win at advancing one’s argument, rather than learn from each other and seek a shared solution. When we bring people together for public engagement, we need to work harder to create new patterns of communication that emphasize respect for one another’s opinion and the value of working together to reach consensus. A second key challenge is that technology is both connecting us and dividing us. We have greater virtual connections and access to information than ever before. We also have the ability to filter out connections and information so that our only conversations are self-reinforcing – we don’t hear different opinions except in the context of having someone mock or refute them. This makes it harder for us to learn to engage with people who have differing viewpoints, or to engage in conversations longer than a text or a tweet.

Continue reading expert insights on:

  • How relevant, or applicable, are the traditional engagement strategies in securing sustainable community support? Read insights
  • How is social media influencing public opinion, and how far have public and private organizations reached in utilizing it towards strengthening their outreach? Read insights
  • Are Canadian companies doing enough to engage the silent majorities? What more needs to be done for the public to have real influence over decisions? Read insights