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Congratulations to Megan Mattes on her SSHRC Doctoral Fellowship

June 15, 2022
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The Department of Political Science celebrates the achievement of PhD student Megan Mattes who has received a SSHRC Doctoral Fellowship of $20,000 per year for four years.

Megan Mattes’ research focuses broadly on how governments engage citizens and how public input is incorporated into policymaking. Now, she is examining how B.C. municipalities consult the public on land-use decisions through public hearings.

“For decades, people have complained about how dysfunctional public hearings are, and how futile it feels to participate in them,” says Mattes. “I'm interviewing councillors, municipal staff, homeowners, and renters to better understand the different perspectives on public hearings–what they like about them, what they hate, why they attend, and why they don't.”

Mattes has discovered that people dislike public hearings for many (often contradictory) reasons. For example, some people say hearings are often poorly attended, whereas others complain about their length if too many people show up. For some, the timing of hearings is problematic. If they are held during the day, many workers can’t attend. If they run late into the evening, staff and councillors are unable to see their children before they go to bed. However, the ultimate complaint about hearings from participants, renters and homeowners alike is that participating in them is futile. They feel that councils don’t listen, and that councillors’ minds are made up at the outset of sessions.

Having identified these problems, Mattes is exploring options to improve engagement in municipalities that expands far beyond public hearings. This engagement could occur during the official community planning development process, and it should allow renters, not just property owners, to be more involved.

Long-term, Mattes intends to study how people react and organize when they are consulted, but their input is ignored.

“What happens when cities have conducted engagement and outreach, but then choose to ignore the citizen input for whatever reason?” she asks. “How do citizens react to that? Do they turn towards other strategies to pursue their goals?”

About Megan Mattes

Megan Mattes received her Bachelor of Applied Science (BASc) in mechanical engineering and her Master of Public Policy (MPP) from the University of Toronto. She is currently completing her PhD under the supervision of Professor Edana Beauvais.

“The problems I was interested in solving didn’t have technological solutions. They required governance solutions and policy solutions, which is why I went into the Master of Public Policy program,” says Mattes about her academic journey.

She decided to go on to complete a PhD, as she became interested in opportunities for deepening democracy, which are outside of the normal electoral structures that we have. Mattes has worked with the SFU Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue to pursue her B.C.-based project and connect with people province-wide.

If you would like to learn more about Megan Mattes’ research, you can email her at: megan_mattes@sfu.ca or connect with her on Twitter: @meganjmattes