with Community
Refers to time-limited opportunities that intends to collect feedback, either to foster civic engagement, or to facilitate inclusion within a discrete project or portfolio.
Can take form of survey, events, interviews, committees, etc. These typically occur within a set time frame, with an open or targeted/semi-public call for input.
Examples of Consultation:
Online Survey
About Public Transit
on the different types of usage in each neighbourhood.
Public Hearing
for Rezoning Application
in a predominantly racialized and non-English speaking community.
Advisory Committees
for Civic Agencies
providing community perspectives to Council on City priorities
Important Information!
“Please Have this Translated”
Civic engagement and participation tends to be lower in racialized (and especially non-English speaking) communities. To simply accept this as a fact of life, however, does a great disservice to these communities, and assumes that the blame is entirely on the individual.

So what happens in the absence of equitable access to consultation processes? What are the outcomes?
Important Information
What happens in the absence of equitable access to consultation processes?
In reality, low civic engagement is rarely simple apathy, but in many cases, due to the many compounding barriers that can get in the way of information or pathways to participate.
What are the outcomes?
Lack of civic literacy.
Individuals are ill aware of changes affecting their livelihoods.
Low civic engagement.
Voters turnout is consistently low.
Plans and policies failing to address needs  
especially of those who are most affected.
Lack of confidence that their voices are valued or heard
believing that they cannot provide input.

Case Study:
Sliced Mango Collective
While Sliced Mango Collective (SMC) began as an arts collective, they quickly shifted gears to grassroots advocacy and organizing when they saw that their community was not being adequately engaged through traditional public consultation processes.

Low Hanging Fruit
Despite their large population across the Metro Vancouver region (nearly 14% of the entire Tagalog speaking community across the country), the Filipinx diaspora community lacks a formal organized space for cultural sharing and gathering.

By concentration of culturally relevant businesses and services, the Joyce-Collingwood neighbourhood of Vancouver has become the de facto community centre for the community, though not officially recognized or protected as such.
I've lived in Mount Pleasant [another Vancouver neighbourhood] my whole life yet consider this Joyce-Collingwood block ‘my cultural neighbourhood,’ and know so many others in my community who share this sentiment.
(SMC Co-founder)
Sliced Mango Collective (SMC) began as a digital arts collective to create space for fellow Filipinx-Canadian youth who could find kinship over shared heritage and culture. However, in March 2021 the collective found themselves quickly shifting gears only a few months after its formalization when they belatedly learned of a proposed development plan that would threaten the displacement of their community’s largest physical hub.

Open house consultations were already in progress, and at that point, were largely unknown in the community. By the time SMC had learned of the consultation’s public engagement, only three weeks remained to gather and submit comments. Like many other diasporic communities out there who often lack the proper resources and infrastructure to form consistent and stable organizations that could advocate for the community and provide culturally specific support, SMC grew a sense of urgency to intervene and organize.

Upon inspection, the collective quickly identified that the development’s consultation process was largely flawed due to the fact that the means for information and communications were difficult to access or inappropriate for their community’s needs. Consultation materials regarding the rezoning application were published and distributed only in English, and only within the Joyce-Collingwood neighbourhood. Effectively, the community had no idea that a large block of their neighbourhood was about to change drastically.

In order to have a fair chance to advocate for their beloved cultural spaces, the Filipinx community would need to be in the know. Thus began SMC’s work to provide ample information regarding the changes, and at the bare minimum, provide alerts of the process.
Spotlight: #SliceofSupport
The #SliceofSupport campaign was coordinated, translated, and facilitated entirely on volunteer time between 4 of their core team members, all of whom were youth. Together, the SMC team launched with a toolkit for action they co-produced with local community organizers. They then built the capacity to translate this into Tagalog and Traditional and Simplified Chinese, with the help of more volunteer community members. By the end of the campaign, they co-hosted a virtual town hall that garnered 100 participants and has amassed over 3000 views to date.

Over the three week campaign, and continuing on in the following two months, their community engagement skyrocketed. After posting the announcement launching their toolkit, they saw a 250% increase in followers and had a reach of more than 8000 accounts on Instagram, their most active social media platform. The webpage reached 2000 people, and the link to their toolkit document was accessed over 900 times. Between their small team, they also took on speaking engagements about #SliceofSupport for press features and panel events, participating in 8 different ones throughout the campaign and continuing to do so even an entire year post-campaign.
Supporting a Mixed Language Community
Lost in (Google) Translation
A video posted to Sliced Mango Collective’s Instagram account shows one of their volunteers walking through translations for a virtual open house with their parents. The video is lighthearted and silly, but the point comes across very clearly: word-for-word translations (and in this case, automatic translation widgets like Google Translate) simply do not have the nuance for practical functions.
In the example, the phrase in question states that, due to COVID-19 precautions, the “[online] Q&A [form] replaces in-person open houses.” When run through the embedded Google Translate widget this returns: “Pinalitan ng Q&A ang mga bukas na bahay na personal,” where the phrase “in-person open houses” is translated very literally as ‘my own personal house’.

To have their toolkit and promotional materials translated into community languages was an asset of extreme importance to SMC. They leaned on more external support: a community organizer working alongside the SMC team connected them to an existing team of translators for Traditional and Simplified Chinese. Yet, translations for Tagalog was something they found very limited access or support to as local Filipinx community members themselves, let alone a newly formed collective.

Considering Cultural Translation
With their personal networks, SMC had initially asked a elder community member to translate key information for them, only to find that their draft was too formal or ‘too deep’. In other words, they knew that English is naturally mixed into everyday Philippine language use, and the technical terms–while translated–would still fly over average people’s heads, all the same.

But in their team of four, only one was comfortable enough with their Tagalog proficiency to facilitate translation work to this extent, as others only had fluency in other major Philippine languages or were unable to speak or write in Tagalog. Even among their community collaborators, only one was formally trained in Tagalog translation services. With their combined efforts, they ended up swapping certain words and phrases into English to accommodate this cultural knowledge.

Understanding the cultural nuances of translation is vital for groups like the Filipinx diaspora, due to histories of imperialism in their homelands: English is highly encouraged and taught in schools, and in a country with a wide linguistic diversity (roughly 180 actively used languages and dialects), alongside Tagalog, it is one of the official languages of the Philippines. In fact, 12.5% of new Philippine immigrants said English was their mother tongue.

This pattern carries on in the diaspora as they migrate elsewhere, and within and across these communities, fluent users of these languages often speak a mix of both colloquially, referred to as Taglish. For the team at SMC, Taglish is what some of them grew up with at home and within their communities, and is better understood and more commonly used (particularly across generations) than ‘deep Tagalog’.

A Shared Vocabulary
Google Translate Fails are by no means a new phenomenon: you can find them all over the internet, ranging from silly accidental innuendos to the lost poetry of Chinese food names. The concept, however, can be extended beyond automatic translations, recognizing that ‘pure’ translations produced outside of a community context have the potential to generate just as much confusion.

Building a shared vocabulary for complex technical jargon improves the overall accessibility and equity for anyone who may wish to participate in civic processes. If the true goal, as engagement specialists, is to create spaces for everyday people to feel that their voices are heard, this means respecting their agency by better understanding the conditions around a community's capacity to engage.

Meet People Where (and when) They’re At
Time is a luxury...
Time is a luxury and the ability to make time for civic engagement is a privilege. Where affordability remains one of the top concerns year after year in Metro Vancouver, many working class people displace their time into working, and often, working multiple jobs to afford basic necessities.
The ability to participate in civic engagement may be limited when civic engagement is unable to fit into one’s schedule. As a result, the spectrum of collected feedback in consultations can be limited and disproportionately disadvantageous for communities where a large proportion of their members may work in specified fields where working hours are unpredictable or inconsistent. These include nurses, hospitality workers, and postal service workers—only to name a few.

While the feedback intake period for the rezoning application was open for three weeks, this did not take into account the amount of time that was necessary to get information out to the community, particularly because officially translated documents were not provided. As part of the #SliceofSupport campaign, SMC facilitated crowdsourced translations of all of the key materials, but were only able to have them completed and published one day before the survey closed. While volunteers stepped up to provide in-person interpretation, realistically this left little time for any community members to be able to fully engage with the materials.

Location, Location, Location!
We’ve all heard it before: “Location, location location!” is one of the most important factors of engagement. For SMC, they needed to attract an audience of supporters to collect feedback on the rezoning application. Stations of sticky notes were deployed in front of well-visited businesses so community members who often used the local services could easily share their stories and support for the campaign. These were collected and submitted to support those who were not able to contribute to the online survey.

While civic participation can be remedied through convenience of location, we must also consider other barriers that may hinder a population’s engagement, such as their relationship with spaces and those who control them. Government buildings can be hostile environments for groups of people because of previous poor or traumatic experiences, mistrust of the system, or feelings of alienation due to language barriers.

Engagement can be lost when oral participation is required; not everyone is comfortable speaking in public, or in front of elected officials no less, regardless of whether the subject matter is directly affecting an individual’s livelihoods. In an attempt to mitigate this, SMC curated strategies during their campaign focused on younger community members building civic literacy with elder family members. This included tips like sharing personal stories of frequenting the cultural hub in the Joyce neighbourhood and simplifying technical terms like gentrification or rezoning.

In addition, timed speaking opportunities do not often take into account fluency levels in the dominant language. English Language Learners (ELL) may be able to communicate in English, but may not be able to speak as quickly and/or with the clarity of a native speaker. In the City of Vancouver’s council chambers, speakers at public hearings receive the exact same time allocation regardless of whether they are speaking in English or through an interpreter. In effect, those who provide feedback through interpretation services have half the allotted time of a person who speaks the dominant language.

All together, these logistical factors can make or break a person’s ability and willingness to participate in civic engagement and consultation processes. Making small adjustments to these processes show communities that their time and feedback are valued and welcomed.

Ongoing Relationship:
Building & Repairing
Barriers to Compensation
All of SMC’s labour for #SliceofSupport was completed on a volunteer basis. And, due to bureaucratic limitations, even if compensation had been available to support community facilitation, SMC would not have been eligible or have the correct infrastructure to receive any funds for their work as they are not a registered society. In many instances, large public institutions are unable to contract vendors who are not registered businesses and/or do not have general liability insurance.
However, registration, either as a business entity or through regional nonprofit registries, requires coordination and ongoing maintenance. In addition, insurance and other certifications, such as WorkSafe BC for groups operating in the province of British Columbia, contribute large overhead costs that most small groups would not be able to recoup over the course of a short facilitation contract or consultation.

A Constant State of Burnout
As a consequence of the city’s lack of coordination with the public, the members of SMC found themselves in a constant state of alert to keep track of additional news relating to the developmental plan, and to immediately respond to any last minute changes whenever possible.

Officially, the campaign ran for three weeks, but realistically, SMC’s work to meet their community’s needs were highly condensed and could be calculated into three month’s worth of labour. All 4 SMC members, who were all either in school or working full time, had been working around the clock to cover the engagement process along multiple fronts. As a result, the team experienced intense burnout which prevented group members from returning to the collective’s activities and continuing on with plans in which the collective was created for. For some, the effects of burnout were still felt even a year later.
I could get a phone call that changes everything. At that point in March, that was the only thing I could think about. There was never a moment where I could actually be disconnected from that.
(SMC Co-founder)
On top of the tangible labour hours of mediation, interpretation and translation, navigating bureaucratic barriers can be an emotionally and exhausting process, and for some a retraumatizing experience due to their lived experiences. While this work is often perceived as admirable and held up as an example of leadership and community commitment, this reactionary labour disproportionately falls upon equity-deserving communities, which leads to unsustainable cycles of burnout and prevents these communities from building internal capacity to uplift their communities proactively.

What is the Goal?
These are the tangible outcomes of short-term, transactional feedback and consultation processes. Further, these types of single-instance feedback sessions –especially those that are a ‘requirement’ based on the process of rezoning and other development applications– signal to communities that their voices only matter as a checkbox in the pipeline towards a project’s final goals.

If the goal is true relationship -building and -repair, this requires ongoing conversation in meaningful ways that allow community members to contribute to the overall guiding vision of a neighbourhood, policy, or plan. Proactive and equitable participation in the planning process allows equity-deserving communities the time and space to provide thoughtful contributions to issues that directly affect their livelihoods. Outside of the pressure of time-limited consultation periods, we have the opportunity to imagine full futures for all.
Sliced Mango (SMC)
Framing Questions
In this case study, we explored the spaces outside of direct word-for-word translations, the importance of meeting communities where they’re at, and next steps towards building long-term relationships with community members.

What questions can we ask ourselves in the planning process to address these?
01 —
Shared Vocabulary
Direct word-for-word translations from English aren’t always the best ways to communicate meaning. Check in with trusted community members with the following questions:
Are there colloquial vocabulary commonly used in this context?
Are there political implications for the words that we are choosing?
Does this community have a working understanding of the dominant language?
Is there an existing language used by other institutions in the region?
02 —
Needs Assessment
What are some typical ways that this community moves through the world? Do these create additional compounding barriers that may prevent them from public participation?
What are the life patterns of people in this community?
What is this community’s mobility like?
Are the spaces we are hosting ‘safe’ and welcoming for people in this community?
Are community members at a disadvantage compared to a dominant language speaker?
03 —
Relationship Repair
Investing in long-term relationships shows communities that their feedback is valued outside of election cycles or time-limited opportunities, and can lead to future avenues for mobilization.
Do we have ongoing relationships with community leaders?
What do they get out of the feedback session?
Do community members have a known location/point of contact for sharing feedback outside of scheduled times?
Focus Area:
Navigating Community Hubs
Truly equitable consultation processes prioritize building a wraparound public engagement system that says, “We value you and your experiences as you are.”

For so many people, consultations often feel like a checkbox that is completed simply as part of a long list of tasks in a project. Ultimately, this implies that their feedback only matters when it is towards the progress of something else. There is no single or perfect solution to this question, but rather it requires coordination and collaboration between community organizers and public institutions, in ways that set up each side for success.
Invest in Long-Term Relationships
Support through Physical Space
Long-Term Systemic Change
Broadly speaking, public engagement and consultation are measures that ensure that public institutions are held accountable to the communities that they serve. However, when the processes themselves exclude certain communities, what are some structural changes that we can incorporate so we are better able to respond to shifting populations?
1. Reciprocal feedback loops
2. Equitable Citizen-Led Advisory Committees
3. Structure and Accountability
3. Regional Coordination
Where to next?
Language accessibility touches on a broad spectrum of work within communications and engagement.
Choose your next stop:
How to curate proper interpretation resources for day-to-day services.
How to curate proper interpretation resources for day-to-day services.