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Renovate the Public Hearing is a collaborative initiative created by SFU's Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue to act as a convener and catalyst in the public hearing space. Our project is piloting changes to British Columbia's land-use public hearing requirements to enhance social justice and community-building and strengthen our democratic culture.

Renovate the Public Hearing illustration of people at a public hearing

Renovate: (verb):  to make over again; to restore to freshness or vigor; to renew.

Why Renovate the Public Hearing?

As municipalities are exploring better ways to get feedback from communities and leaders are making more and more land use decisions, BC's current public hearing process is not supporting an inclusive process for strong decision making. Instead, public hearings are often viewed as performative exercises that exacerbate societal divisions and leave people angry or apathetic toward local government.  Because of this, many voices are asking to revisit the purpose and process of BC's public hearings.

What We've Heard About Public Hearings:

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

Our 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. Research and analyze the financial, environmental (climate) and public health impacts of the public hearing process

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

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

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

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What's Next?

  1. Building Partnerships: We continue to build partnerships across British Columbia and internationally to inform pilots and their evaluations, and are collaborating with several cities, towns and municipalities.

  2. Generative Dialogues: In Spring of 2022, we convened our first major generative workshop to identify what is valued about current public hearing procedures and what criteria should be used to evaluate any alternatives. In Spring of 2023, we hosted an Innovators Forum to bring together people and organizations most impacted by the public hearing process to discuss reform. We continue to hold focus groups and conduct interviews to better understand the benefits and costs of public hearings for cities, builders and communities.

  3. 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.

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