Context Research
Thought leadership project on inclusive engagement

A model for inclusive public participation

The Context team designed and executed a pro-bono study in summer 2017 engaging members and leaders of Vancouver’s Chinatown in focus groups to co-create a model to inform and shape how to make public engagement processes more inclusive. 



Context sought out to examine and better understand how we might make public engagement more inclusive, and improve the way we design and execute our public processes. It was out of a commitment to best practices, but also out of recognition that engagement processes are failing to reach and hear from voices in cultural and marginalized communities.

Our team took a community-engaged research and engagement approach by working collaboratively with members and leaders of Vancouver’s Chinatown for help and insight. Community input was gathered through two focus groups with 21 participants, and a report back meeting helped shape what inclusive public participation could look like, resulting in a co-created model to guide engagement professionals. 



The project began with a gap analysis to find existing tactics on inclusive practices for engagement professionals. This initial research and analysis formed the framework for the model and identified areas for community input in the focus groups.

The engagement process included participant identification, outreach, two facilitated focus group workshops, and a report back meeting with a sushi dinner. Through community contacts and referrals, the team reached out to project participants based on roles and active involvement in Chinatown. This project was on the heels of a contentious community issue in Chinatown (105 Keefer), making the project trickier in managing suspicions and distrust in the project and Context’s intentions, requiring time for transparent communication and relationship-building. 

The focus groups were held in Chinatown at the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Garden, and were designed to build trust with participating community members, make space for them to be and feel heard, and focus on gathering input and insights for the model. The facilitated workshop had plenary and break-out sessions reflecting on: how public processes can be exclusionary; why inclusion is important to participants; and seeking input and validation on promising practices for inclusive.



Participant input was analyzed, themed, and drafted into a model with five pillars, each having a goal, outcome, guiding strategies and suggested tactics. Recurring themes and considerations were summarized into grounding principles and limitations to form the foundation and introduction to the model.

A report back meeting was hosted 1.5 months after the project initiation to share a meal with participants and present the draft model for validation and feedback. Participants shared their support and appreciation for being included in the process, and a final report was drafted and circulated a few months later.

Context is now applying and testing the model in our communication and engagement projects, and presenting the model to fellow engagement practitioners at the 2018 International Association of Public Participation (IAP2) North American Conference.


    "I am excited about being invited to participate in building this model. Now I would like to see how this can be applied."

    "This is great, I felt like all issues were heard."

    "Excited that a consulting company is taking this on."

    " I definitely feel that I have been heard coming into today’s session. Thank you!"

    "Thank you for initiating this. It has been so interesting." 

    "I am glad to have been included. Thank you for your thoughtfulness, flexibility, and openness."

    "Would love to see [the model] taken to other communities (Japanese, Punjabi, etc.) for their feedback."

    "This model looks very promising and I am super excited about seeing it tested in the real world."


    Download the project summary report with the full model here: Model_for_Inclusive_Public_Participation_with_Vancouvers_Chinatown.pdf

    Download the 2018 IAP2 Conference Presentation handout here: 2018_IAP2_Conference_Presentation_Handout.pdf