Shape Your City

Public engagement is a vital component of every project undertaken by the Halifax Regional Municipality. The Regional Municipal Planning Strategy (Plan) is to “engage citizens in the development of policies, programs and services as the basis for building healthy, strong and inclusive communities”. The plan further states, “HRM seeks to engage citizens in an ongoing dialogue through education, promotion and public debate on regional and local issues. Participation should be inclusive and accessible to all.”

Every project at the municipality is different and has unique engagement needs.  If you have something to say about any current municipal projects, but can’t attend an engagement meeting,  take this opportunity to get involved, read what people are saying, and tell your local government what you think through Shape Your City. The Shape Your City online hub complements traditional consultation activities like open houses and town halls. It makes engagement programs like these more inclusive and accessible and makes it easier for you to share your opinions through tools like discussion forums, quick polls and surveys.

Understanding Engagement
If you want to know more about how HRM develops engagements for our various projects, we’ve outlined our approach below. We’ve developed an approach to engagement for policies, programs and services that reflects the needs of the project and the community it impacts. There are key steps and considerations for all types of engagements to ensure they are effective, accessible and inclusive, approved by Regional Council, as per Administrative Order 2023-002-ADM (Respecting Public Participation for Planning Documents, Certain Planning Applications, and Engagement with Abutting Municipalities).

There are standard steps/considerations involved in developing an engagement approach. When planning engagement, staff familiarize themselves with the community, identify any barriers to participations and work closely with our Diversity & Inclusion team to ensure underrepresented communities are consulted. At a high-level, this assessment guides how we design the engagement programs and what tools and formats are used to reach residents (e.g. in person, online).

Engagement Considerations

Assessing the need for, and purpose of, public engagement

Staff complete a series of impact assessments based on legislative requirements, Regional Council direction, the level of impact on the community and the level of influence participants have on the outcome. These assessments help inform the objectives for engagement.

Familiarizing ourselves with the community

Working alongside the municipality's Office of Diversity & Inclusion/African Nova Scotian Affairs Integration Office, staff seek guidance from the communities that are impacted by the project to help inform the most appropriate forms of engagement. Considerations include community demographics, resources, broad representative participation and appropriate meeting times and locations. Community needs are considered by screening conditions to determine if a more robust or targeted level of participation is required. 
As many communities have been historically underrepresented in, and excluded from, participation, engagement strategies aim to centre the voices, interests, values and experiences of underrepresented identities and cultural groups. Staff actively seek to include diverse community members when planning engagement activities. 
Pre-engagement may be necessary for applications or projects that require significant or sensitive engagement approaches. Pre-engagement is an opportunity for informal networking, individual introductions and enhanced communication by bringing together impacted stakeholders to help identify issues and determine how best to engage.

Identifying barriers to participation

Before engagement activities take place, staff work to identify and address barriers to participation by considering the communities who may be impacted. Barriers to participation may be physical, informational, attitudinal, technological, cultural, etc. and include anything that prevents a resident from fully participating in an engagement opportunity. Individual residents, as well as communities, may have less experience, confidence, or capacity to participate; as such, staff work with them to determine the most effective ways to engage inclusively. 

Anticipating and addressing barriers to participation means asking critical questions to understand how and why persons are excluded and how we can work to foster more inclusive and accessible engagement.

Designing engagement activities

Engagement activities are designed intentionally to ensure accessibility and build trust with residents. 
Online engagement may include making information on, social media, surveys or Shape your City, the municipality’s online engagement portal.
In-person engagement events may take various forms to optimize mutual learning and facilitate communication between project staff and residents in real time. Best practices are followed, including consideration of barriers to participation. 

Delivering engagement

Staff continuously monitor the effectiveness of engagements and communicate regularly with stakeholders to build and foster authentic relationships. Careful consideration is placed on building trust and centering marginalized voices during engagement to ensure feedback is reflective of the community’s needs. This includes offering a welcoming environment and providing adequate resources when facilitating meetings. 
Project updates are made available to residents indicating project status and timelines, how feedback was or will be incorporated into the decision-making process, what will happen next and how residents can continue to participate.

Reviewing, analyzing and reporting feedback

Records from engagement activities are maintained to ensure all feedback is considered. A 'What We Heard' report is often used as an effective way to summarize feedback received, contributing to strong and transparent relationships between the municipality and the community.
These summary reports are published online to enable residents to review and validate the findings or bring forward concerns that may not have been addressed. A social lens review is also conducted to ensure the findings are reflective of, and sensitive to, all members of the community.

Evaluating engagement

By evaluating engagement activities, staff are able to identify and address issues, and also inform future municipal engagements. The following indicators are considered in the evaluation of our engagement programs:

Inclusive participation, balanced and complete information, effective process, capacity building and resources. 


This Public Engagement Guidebook has been created as a tool to help ensure municipal engagement initiatives are developed with these goals in mind.