Understandably, you will want to engage as many stakeholders as possible in your plan development. However, timelines, resources and levels of interest from stakeholders will dictate the scope of your consultation process. Carefully consider the ‘who, what, when, where, why and how’ of stakeholder involvement as you develop the consultation process.
For each stakeholder, consider the following:
- Are you simply letting them know that a youth plan is being developed?
- Are you seeking input into proposed strategies?
- Do you want the stakeholder to co-own the solutions?
There are distinct levels of consultation:
- Gather information;
- Discuss or involve;
- Engage; and
Regardless of your approach, use the consultation process to build trust and goodwill.
Table 17: Consultation Levels
There are diverse strategies you can employ depending on the stakeholder in question and the purpose of the consultation. Consider what would be most effective given your goals.
Table 18: Consultation Strategies
Use the table below as a template. Identify organizations and stakeholders in each category, determine at what level they’ll be consulted and which strategies you’ll employ.
Table 19: Consultation Stakeholders
Do your homework
It is important to get grounded in the evidence first; don’t begin consultations if your planning group (backbone supports, project manager and steering committee) is not familiar with the evidence on ending youth homelessness, does not have a general sense of the issue in community, or is unsure about the potential solutions required to address the issue. This does not mean you’ve developed a plan and are simply ‘shopping it’ in community for a stamp of approval. It simply means you’ve done your homework and are taking on consultations from a solid foundation.
A sound understanding of the issue does not mean your research is complete; rather, your data collection process should include reviews of existing literature, policy, data and consultations themselves. The consultation process will likely include a diversity of methods to collect information: one-on-one interviews, small informal/formal meetings, large community forums, surveys, etc. Your job will be to collate the diverse sources of information into a coherent synthesis that shapes the proposed response.
Help stakeholders prepare for consultations by providing backgrounders, research summaries and a resource guide for further reading.
Consider how you want to break the information out to communities in a logical fashion. Most communities have at least two community sessions where broad input is sought for planning. During the first session, the focus is to set the stage: outline research findings, best practices and a synthesis of findings about youth homelessness locally. These events are generally larger in scale, inviting representatives across stakeholder groups to get informed and participate in an early dialogue about the youth plan. You can consider bringing in speakers from outside the community to give participants a sense of what is happening elsewhere in terms of promising practices and ultimately to inspire action locally. Winnipeg recently hosted such an event, where research was presented along with emerging areas of focus (see Resource section for their materials).
You can develop a facilitator’s guide to outline areas where you want input early on from participants at the event. Ideally, participants should be broken into small groups and given questions to prompt discussion. A facilitator can either be selected ahead of time or by participants. These sessions are useful to get the participants engaged in emerging areas that will drive the content of the final plan. You can set up these sessions to delve into discussions about potential solutions as well, rather than going over the issue again. Over-engagement within this phase can streamline the authoring of the plan and the steps in the following phases.
Check what you heard
The more inclusive and mindful of your biases you are, the more the plan will authentically reflect stakeholder input. This will ensure the plan is grounded in evidence and increases the likelihood that it will be successfully implemented. At times it will be difficult to look past your own opinions. Other times, stakeholder feedback will contradict the research body of evidence. Additionally, you may think you’ve heard affirmation of your direction, when in fact you’ve missed a key point entirely. Remain open-minded and flexible throughout the plan development process.
You can consider coming back to community to affirm what you’ve heard in consultations. A ‘what we heard’ document summarizing community input is often used in plan development to ensure accurate reflection of input. This also provides community stakeholders with another source of communication about the process, keeping them abreast of plan development.
Fix it before you launch it
Once you have a draft of the plan, or a good sense of your direction, it is a good idea to go back to community stakeholders and ‘check-in’ on your assumptions. Again, you can ask for input on the proposed strategies and goals, but also begin the discussion on implementation issues and foster buy-in before you release the final plan.
This can provide excellent input on areas you missed or didn’t consider adequately. The tone of the plan or even the way a particular group is written about can at times raise concerns. It is better to correct these issues in the draft stage than for these to grow into divisive points post-launch. These conversations can also serve as early testing ground for implementation as stakeholders begin to see themselves in the plan and may step up to ‘own’ particular actions before the plan is finalized.
Mind the buy-in gap
Do not frame consultations from a deficit lens. While it is important to articulate gaps and delve into the issues that contribute to youth homelessness, blaming is not conducive to buy-in or collaboration. Stakeholders need to see themselves in the plan; they need to see their role being valued and part of the vision for the future. Coming in ‘guns blazing’ on the faults of government, emergency shelters or other stakeholders will not do the broader movement any service. You need everyone willingly at the table; the tone of community and stakeholder consultations can make or break how certain groups buy-in to the plan. Alienating a key service provider early on can hurt implementation and it may cost you years of progress. Be mindful of the local politics as you set out on your consultation process.
Depending on where and when the backbone supports come in will determine if you are ‘leading’ or ‘partnering.’ For example, Alberta’s youth plan was developed following strong leadership and innovation in the community. The Alberta government viewed themselves as ‘partners’ and not ‘leaders’ with respect to the transformation required to respond to youth homelessness.
Conduct separate discussions, early on, with potential stakeholders who do not support the plan and make headway on difficult conversations before the larger group meetings take place.
You can also consider how you want to celebrate local progress and expertise, rather than simply focusing on what’s not working. A collaborative ending youth homelessness effort will be built on the foundation of existing efforts. Consider a way of acknowledging what is going well in your community and using conversations about the plan as an evolution of good work being done better, rather than labelling the existing efforts as entirely ineffective. While it is true that the status quo is no longer acceptable, blaming and faulting the stakeholders you need to build a reimagined response will undermine the new vision and way forward.
Maintain open communication
While you may have a formal schedule of meetings and community consultations, sometimes critical information will come to you through informal channels or happenstance. Make concerted efforts to be constantly available and open to communication with stakeholders. This will demonstrate that the planning group is open to collaboration and feedback thus, building trust and buy-in. Of course, formally communicating on plan progress through newsletters, email updates, verbal updates during stakeholder meetings, etc. is essential to maintain momentum in the community.
Excellent resources are available to help you develop your consultation approach, while taking account of best practice approaches for engaging groups such as Indigenous people, youth, government, the private sector and the media. This toolkit references these resources throughout.
The rest of this section outlines specific consultation strategies for the aforementioned groups. It draws on learning from communities who have developed or are developing youth plans to provide practical strategies for engagement.