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Feb.6 meeting follow-up post #3

3. social engineering: Experts will decide

One of the reasons why things went a bit sour during and after the first two meetings of the Dufferin Grove “community resource group” (CRG) in February and May of 2017 was that the CRG members thought they were supposed to help decide what to change (a lot? or only a little?) at the rink and the clubhouse. After the February meeting, Lura, the community consultation firm, e-mailed the CRG members a correction to this mistaken idea: "Please be advised a decision of tearing down the clubhouse is first discussed and evaluated by the City staff who are responsible to review and weigh many related policies and regulations such as the mandatory Health and Safety requirements, Building Code, Life Cycle of Assets and Cost evaluation, State of Good Repair and Capital programs."

In the social engineering toolbox for community consultations, that’s the fifth tool: instilling self-doubt in non-designers as to their competence. Who but the experts would understand those "many related policies and regulations" well enough to make smart decisions?

Only a professional Design Consulting Team would have the expertise needed for "comprehensive…detailed design development, construction documentation, tender and contract administration."

The designs these experts were to develop was based on a “scope of work” list put together by Capital Projects staff: plans for a new “community clubhouse” with a commercial kitchen, multi-purpose community/recreation room(s), public washrooms, admin/recreation office(s), snack bar, storage room(s), janitorial/laundry room(s), ice rink refrigeration/mechanical & electrical rooms, lighting, and fire safety plan, plus a new outdoor rink possibly including a skating trail, new ovens and gardens, and a new zamboni garage.

That was the “scope of work” sent to the CRG members in February of 2017 (two years ago now). The list was apparently based on studies the city had commissioned, but these had not been shown to the CRG members. And that was the prompt for a mini-revolt. The fifth tool had not instilled enough self-doubt, evidently. Some, maybe most, of the members wanted to see the study reports. They asked -- was this list the plan all along? And if so, why was the committee asked to consider a range of alternatives, when the scope of work had been determined in advance?

Asking for the study reports caused some confusion. The city’s project team at first answered that the studies would be posted on the Lura website in mid-March. Then word came that the city’s Purchasing and Materials Management Division had said the studies “cannot be shared with the public and are blacked out ….so as not to contravene with [sic] the integrity of RFP Call process.”

RFP stands for the “request for proposals.” The study results were apparently to be made available to the design consultancies competing for the Dufferin Grove design contract, but to no one else. The language of “contravene” and “integrity” is an example of the sixth tool: scaring people with the law. The CRG's request was asking city staff to disobey the law. The city has an integrity commissioner whose job it is to warn people at city hall if they're about to contravene the law.

Even so, CELOS applied to the city’s Freedom of Information (FOI) office, asking to see the studies – just to stir the pot a little. The response from FOI was NO, but for a different reason. Apparently the Freedom of Information Act says that since the studies would eventually be public anyway, after the design consultant firm had been chosen, the city had no need to make them public earlier. Don’t be impatient, people.

Illegality of publication was not mentioned.

Then there was a surprise. In early June, the 2014 “State-of-Good-Repair” report for the rink and the 2015 “Feasibility Study” for the clubhouse were posted on the Lura website after all. No reason was given for the change of mind.

We can guess, though. Instilling self-doubt, or invoking a worry about breaking the law, are both workable ways to reduce the chance of citizen revolts. But a perception of secrecy is not. Lura has been doing community consultations for a long time, and they earn their fees by giving good advice. Chances are that they may have said to the Capital Projects staff – be careful. You want to be seen to be transparent, otherwise you’ll seem to be hiding something.

And releasing a lot of information -- as Lura may have explained to city staff -- is less problematic than it seems. The two reports that were put up on the website required careful and prolonged attention, and even then, they were hard to understand. The 19-page State-of-Good-Repair (SOGR) rink report is mostly tables, with many numbers and unexplained terms and abbreviations. The bulk of information, and the technical mysteries of both reports (“the community room…should be classed as Group A Division 2 Assembly”) meant that the fifth tool, creating self-doubt, could work its wonders. How could an outsider, not a city planner or design consultant, master all that detail?

A two-hour building tour in plain language from a knowledgeable person could have explained most of the two reports’ conclusions, and might have pointed out some of the errors. For example, the report writers apparently didn't know the building's maintenance history, and one of them was unable to inspect the boiler room because they had no key.

But no such tour was available. So the reports got only a skim from most of the community readers, but city staff got the halo of full disclosure.

My next post will be about the seventh tool: too much information -- how pages and pages of pictures and text can bulk up public presentations and overwhelm discussion.

Back to front page of Feb.6 meeting follow-up

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