Renovate the Public Hearing

Renovate the Public Hearing is an initiative created by the Centre for Dialogue to act as a a convener and catalyst: a collaboration to pilot changes to the provincial local government land-use public hearing requirements as a means to enhance social justice, community-building and strengthen democratic culture.

Goal

Improve municipal efficiencies and increase trust in democracy by identifying evidence-based recommendations for revising the British Columbia's Local Government Act public hearing requirements to create stronger public engagement practices, supports for reconciliation, and more effective local government pre-development approval processes.

Objectives

  1. Analyze existing legal frameworks, including relevant case law, and explore options for legal reform

  2. Increase understanding of how public hearings evolved and their effects

  3. Improve democratic decision-making by building stronger trauma-informed and culturally respectful relationships

  4. Pilot and evaluate alternative options for public input that meet the needs of local governments and communities

  5. Recommend evidence-based reforms to support more meaningful public input in land use decision making

What We've Heard About Public Hearings

"When I think of the 10 worst days in my personal and professional life in the last 15 years, 7 of them were public hearing days."

"The right to be heard is a fundamental value of our democracy and our judicial system. That's what the public hearing is for."

“Zoning as an urban planning practice has a racist history and the public hearing format is a way to ensure that voices are often given to those in higher social power.”

"Public hearings are where I hold my elected officials accountable."

"Public hearings are the pandoras box of democracy. Where institutional norms, policy, people, values, morality, inequity and power meet– and usually not for the better ."

"The public hearing could be called a waste of time and so is much of democracy. You can't not do it. You have to let the community have their say because it's their community. I wouldn't change it."

What's Next for Renovate the Public Hearing?

  1. Fundraising: we've received CMHC Housing Supply Challenge Stage 1 funding to develop the project, build collaborations and think through how we can identify evidence-based solutions.
  2. Building Partnerships: we are building partnerships across British Columbia and internationally to inform pilots and their evaluations.
  3. Generative Dialogues: In Spring 2022 we will convened a generative workshop to identify what is valued about current public hearing procedures and what criteria should be used to evaluate any alternatives. We are also holding focus groups and conducting interviews to better understand the benefits and costs of public hearings for cities, developers and communities.
  4. Research Reviews: to inform change, we need a deep understanding of how the status quo came to be, current critiques, and alternatives. Thus we are doing a deep dive into: ​colonial history and critiques of public hearings, global examples of alternative public engagement practice and best practices for evaluating public participation.

In April 2022, we held a province-wide workshop. Check out the related resources:

Three Planned Streams of Work

1. Legal Review

B.C. Law Institute (BCLI) will prepare a scoping paper and lead consultation and drafting of report on the law and policy regarding local government public hearings.

2. Pilots

The Renovate the Public Hearing Team will co-create and pilot scalable alternative options for quasi-judicial public hearings in four local governments in B.C

3. Evaluations

Evaluate pilots and compare results to current public hearing procedures to identify best practices for building capacity, relationships and respectful engagement requirements for land use decision-making

Project Activities

Research

Completed 60 informal scoping interviews and reviewed more than 150 academic research articles and archive documents related to public hearings in BC and public engagement practices worldwide. Will conduct formal research to identify barriers and costs related to public hearings in BC.

Legal Review

BC Law Institute will lead a 70 page study paper on BC public hearing legislation and common law. They will then lead and advisory informed legal reform process to understand opportunities and implications for reform.

Pilots

Over one year, the Centre will host and test alternatives to public hearing models in four local governments in British Columbia. Each pilot will build community members' capacity, develop toolkits and provide facilitation education to reduce barriers to community participation. 

Evaluation

Create and use a principles and values based rubric to evaluate pilot alternatives.  The evaluation will track opinions, emotions, and knowledge changes created during the pilots via ethnographic observation, surveys, and interviews. 

Validate Recommendations

Learning exchanges with pilot partners and deliberative dialogues with participants from all phases to workshop policy recommendations.

Public Education and Convene

Create public facing communications via website, social media, opinion pieces and traditional media. Host dialogues, activities for high schools and seniors, and community events that celebrate public engagement and democracy to educate residents and build capacity in municipalities.  

Timeline