Only 54 Per Cent of Mississauga Residents Happy With Aspects of City

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If you chose Mississauga to live and raise a family, you most likely made such a decision based on things like amenities and quality of life. However, how effective community and civic engagement from the city is most likely NOT at the top of mind when choosing to live in Mississauga.

But Mississauga is looking to change that perception. City staff and officials have been conducting several workshops as part of a broader plan of developing a community engagement strategy. As this promotional video from the city of Mississauga outlines:

I attended the third community engagement workshop at the South Common Community Centre last week, which was primarily serving as a summation of different engagement strategies provided in two previous meetings attended by residents. This meeting was facilitated by Lee Ann Lloyd from Mississauga’s Planning and Building department (she was also the person who oversaw the Vision Cooksville visioning process). A representative from a firm called LURA Consulting, Susan Hall, was brought in to be facilitator of the discussion.

Before we got into the meat of the discussion, a woman named Catherine Soplet from Peel Poverty Action Group asked a very simply put question: Why is Mississauga doing this exactly? And as hopelessly optimistic as it sounds, Ms. Lloyd’s response was that the people who work for the city genuinely wanted to conduct better civic engagement, and developing this strategy will help prepare a document that will allow city staff to plan their future initiatives with a blueprint on how to engage the public in their decision making process.

In comparison to essential services such as Peel Regional Police, which rank somewhere in the high 90’s percentage wise, satisfaction with Mississauga’s current engagement practices was not as high. A 2015 Environics survey reported that among those who participated in public engagement in the past 12 months, just over half (54 per cent) were satisfied with the process. So there is lots of room for improvement on the community engagement front.

What was first deliberated over was the need to raise awareness that the city is looking to conduct better community engagement. These were the following mediums that residents had suggested city staff examine:

  • Printed information inserted in tax and water bills
  • Fliers in the mail
  • Post ads on electronic message boards
  • Use ethno-specific media/radio/newspapers in specific languages
  • Post all consultation opportunities on Mississauga city website
  • Social media like Twitter and Facebook
  • Direct email invites by the city or through each Ward councillor
  • Radio announcements
  • Information at community centres, libraries, and food banks
  • Videos posted online
  • Television ads
  • Roadside signs

If you’re looking to provide information to residents about the next public meeting, what better way to remind them than putting that information with their tax or water bill showing the next rate hike? That would add extra incentive for them to go to the next public meeting and vent to city staff and councillors, but they may also learn something. Fliers in the mail, however, I don’t think are that effective; I know certainly in my condo building flyers advertising public meetings from politicians usually get tossed into the recycling bin at the lobby. There are also publications in Mississauga that are just crammed with flyers from advertisers and businesses, which in the advent of electronic communication is going by the wayside.

I think the use of ethno-specific media formats would be helpful in reaching out to the diverse demographics that make up Mississauga’s population. The newspapers published by certain ethnic groups in Mississauga are still widely read. Language above all else connects people, and having city announcements and information about public meetings or service changes in something other than English would be helpful, especially for those whose English is not as strong.

However, I am surprised that someone thought the radio and TV advertisements would be a useful awareness tool in achieving the city’s objectives of enhancing community engagement. Considering that most of the specific local news comes out of Rogers Channel 10, you’re out of luck if you happen to be a Bell subscriber, so in effect only half of the population could watch Channel 10 and the news the city could deliver on TV. Likewise, there is no radio station specifically broadcasting out of Mississauga and targeting Mississauga residents. Winnipeg has fewer people than Mississauga, yet the Manitoba capital has 24 AM and FM radio stations. Even if you put up radio ads, you may only reach a portion of your target audience while attracting a slew of non-Mississauga people if you use the existing radio stations that cater to the GTA market.

Then the discussion moved onto the what types of engagement tools the city has used in the past and were effective, as well as what tools they could adopt in the future. Here is a sampling of what was offered:

  • Open houses (drop-in format where people can come and go)
  • Public meetings / workshops (public meetings in a different language?). Also consider facilitators that are representative of the community.
  • Focus groups
  • Design charrette (planning sessions where residents and designers collaborate on building something, in most cases property development)
  • Advisory committees
  • Task forces
  • Door to door solicitations
  • Neighbourhood walks
  • Residents’ panels
  • Online surveys
  • Social media (Facebook and/or Twitter)
  • Streaming public meetings

I’ve been to enough public meetings to know that if there is one thing they could do to change things up a bit, conducting certain ones in a different language that are facilitated by someone represented certain cultural communities could be helpful in expanding the participation of such meetings beyond the same few people that always come out. Open houses may be convenient in respecting an individual’s time, but you still have to provide an incentive for people to come out. The city had done spontaneous ‘drop-in sessions’ where they situate themselves in community centres or shopping malls and just ask people to conduct a survey and ask their opinion, bringing community engagement to them.

There are a final few suggested engagement tools that I would like to provide some extended comments on:

  • Streaming public meetings: Mississauga currently does this with regular council meetings, Planning and Development committee, General Committee, and the Committee of Adjustment. This should be duplicated for public meetings as well, but I would prefer these videos be broadcast on YouTube. Currently they are streamed from the city’s website in conjunction with Rogers television, so the meetings show the councillor’s close ups when they are speaking or city staff replying, which means these clips cannot be duplicated or used by another platform.

Brampton currently puts all council meetings, committee meetings on YouTube; all they do is prop a wide lens camera in the back of the chamber so all members of council are caught in one shot and you can hear the entire meeting, not necessarily seeing the politician’s face up close. If Brampton somehow find a way to do this, I’m sure Mississauga can follow suit.

  • Neighbourhood walks: these were described as guided walking tours in the neighbourhoods of to areas in the city that would be affected by initiatives launched by the city. So rather than just putting up placards in an open house or public meeting showing where the area is, this would put a more tactile and hands-on experience for residents to see how any changes proposed could affect that neighbourhood.

I think this is a great opportunity for Mississauga to partner with nonprofit organizations such as Jane’s Walk, where residents from a particular city would host these kinds of walks around Mississauga (as well as literally cities worldwide). They are a good education tool for residents hoping to learn more about their city.

  • Door to door solicitation: this is mostly reserved for election candidates, charity volunteers or door to door salesmen (which aren’t that prevalent anymore since people buy products online these days). The city’s version would be going door to door to inform residents about certain initiatives they are undertaking and would go to the areas that would be affected to inform them about upcoming meetings they can attend.

If the city of Mississauga really wants to utilize door to door soliciting to its maximum effect, then they need to make sure they have a clear message to take to people. People are not going to open the door if you don’t have a clear purpose as to why you are on their doorsteps in the first place. The outreach and engagement needs to be targeted and informative for residents.

It will be very interesting to see what progresses from these initial deliberations over these engagement tools and see where Mississauga goes from here in terms of doing better community engagement.

Follow me on Twitter at @thekantastic

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