Finally a Common Language for civic projects! A Brief Introduction to IAP2

by: Marci Hotsenpiller, Founder and Principal

It’s been interesting here in Canada over the past year, as all levels of government struggle to determine what constitutes “enough” consultation and public engagement around civic projects.

Many of our clients in local government are being proactive in these areas. Some have drafted and adopted Engagement Policies, guidelines or frameworks for consultation and they work hard to ensure—from the top CAO-level on down—that any new project or programme meets or reflects the intention to consult that is outlined in these documents.

At the provincial level here in BC, the Province is legally obligated to work with and accommodate First Nations, where required, on land and resource decisions that could impact their Indigenous Interests.

And recently at the national level, the conversation about public engagement has taken a more urgent turn, with the debate on whether the public engagement or consultation process is a tool for groups to use in order to “veto” a project.

As a communications professional, I love this stuff. Some might find it an intimidating arena to enter but I—and most of my colleagues who follow the International Association of Public Participation (IAP2) guiding principles—welcome the public dialogue about just how much, and how often, and using what tools, should government engage and involve the public in large projects.

It’s helpful for this discussion to know there is a common language, available to anyone, that sets out just what these words mean. For example, I use these words—engage and involve—carefully. These words, along with the word “consult”, “inform”, “collaborate” and “empower”, have a very specific meaning to any of us working in the engagement field under IAP2 principles (full disclosure—I’m on the BC board for IAP2 Canada).

Here’s an image of the spectrum below, to help explain:

So if you’ve ever had a politician, an engineer, a CAO, an Assistant Deputy Minister or even the Mayor say broadly: “We should consult the public on this,” it’s helpful to check back with IAP2 language and make sure that she or he knows exactly what that promise to the public really means. Sometimes INFORM or INVOLVE is really the goal.

We’ve seen lightbulbs go off in people’s eyes when they see the IAP2 spectrum. People immediately grasp the differences between different levels. They understand how helpful it can be when we’re all on the same page, speaking the same language. Major capital projects and any large civic project—whether they’re in the design, consultation, construction or operations phases—can be a complex and technical beast. There will be opportunities to engage with the public and stakeholders, to engage those who are impacted and inform those who are interested. Speaking the same language always helps.

What do you ZINC about IAP2? Send us a note at with your thoughts/ideas.