Calgary Community Engagement on School Transportation Budget

First Submitted By brennan.corriston

Most Recent Changes By Jaskiran Gakhal

General Issues
Specific Topics
Elementary & Secondary Education
Mass/Public Transport
Government Corruption
Educational Resources & Opportunities
Scope of Influence
Start Date
End Date
Time Limited or Repeated?
A single, defined period of time
Make, influence, or challenge decisions of government and public bodies
Develop the civic capacities of individuals, communities, and/or civil society organizations
Spectrum of Public Participation
Total Number of Participants
Open to All or Limited to Some?
Open to All With Special Effort to Recruit Some Groups
Facilitator Training
Professional Facilitators
Face-to-Face, Online, or Both
Types of Interaction Among Participants
Discussion, Dialogue, or Deliberation
Information & Learning Resources
Expert Presentations
Video Presentations
Written Briefing Materials
Decision Methods
Opinion Survey
Communication of Insights & Outcomes
Type of Organizer/Manager
Academic Institution
International Organization
Type of Funder
Evidence of Impact
Formal Evaluation
Evaluation Report Links

The Calgary Board of Education, facing limited funding, reduced student transportation services. After community opposition, the CBE and a consultant led a community engagement process to educate the public on the issue and receive input on the community’s budgeting priorities.

Problems and Purpose

In 2015, the Calgary Board of Education (CBE), facing limited funding, reduced transportation services for students.[1] After parents and others expressed opposition to this decision, the CBE and a consultant led a community engagement process designed to educate the community about the issue and get input about community needs and priorities in budgeting and transportation decisions. They sought to include the community in making a “sustainable, long-term decision that would be accepted by staff, parents and students.”[2] Over several weeks, through in-person meetings and workshops and online surveys, the community helped create and then voted on different funding scenarios for the CBE’s transportation budget. This allowed the community to help shape the budgeting decisions that were eventually made by the Board of Education.

Background History and Context

The Calgary Board of Education decided to create an inclusive community engagement process after negative reaction to its unilateral decision to reduce transportation service levels for students. The reduced levels caused thousands of students to travel farther from their homes to their bus stops than the district’s established limits. The community, which was not included in making this decision, expressed significant opposition, including “negative media coverage, a petition, and parent pleas to the provincial government.”[3] The Board of Education responded by “[restoring] the previous service levels”; because this increased the overall budget deficit, this was seen as a short-term solution. IAP2 (International Association for Public Participation) Canada judges, in giving the project a 2017 Honourable Mention, note that “This approach was taken in recognition that past attempts to make transportation changes created an distrustful relationship.”[4] Recognizing the need for a solution that was sustainable in terms of both budgeting and community acceptance, the Board hired a community engagement consultant, Delaney + Associates, to create and run the process. This appears to be the first time that the Calgary Board of Education has done this sort of community engagement work, and the Board presents this level of engagement—i.e., at the IAP2 “collaborate” level, instead of the “consult” level, as “unique for an Alberta school board.”[5] The project took place from February 2, 2016 to May 13, 2016.

Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities

Although the community did not appear to explicitly demand a formal engagement process, it is clear that the community’s negative response to the initial transportation changes led the Calgary Board of Education to reconsider its approach and involve the community in future transportation budgeting decisions. As the CBE stated in its IAP2 Awards application, “Repairing relationships, creating new relationships and building trust with – and among – stakeholders was a major focus and positive outcome of the CBE’s Master Transportation Strategy engagement project.”[6] With this in mind, the CBE should be considered the primary organizing entity, though the community’s reaction helped motivate the CBE to organize. As mentioned above, the CBE hired Delaney + Associates, a community engagement consulting agency, “to design, facilitate and report on a series of in-person and online engagements in support of developing a long-term Transportation Strategy.”[7] It is unclear how the community engagement process, including the work of the consulting agency, was funded.

The CBE and Delaney + Associates (D+A) created an engagement plan, then community members helped shape the process. It appears that the CBE and D+A decided that community workshops would be used to gather input on how to adjust services and/or fees in order to meet the district’s budget. The workshops’ design was informed by stakeholders. CBE staff provided “input on the engagement plan and the transportation factors… to be discussed during the community workshops.”[8] Likewise, two parent organizations and two students provided input on the engagement plan.[9] In addition, a Transportation Engagement Advisory Committee—including technical experts, school officials, other representatives, parents, and students—helped shape the engagement process.

Participant Recruitment and Selection

The Calgary Board of Education and Delaney + Associates sought to include participants that represented a variety of students’ needs and experiences. In addition, the process included professionals and officials with important knowledge, such as school officials, members of the Board of Trustees, and representatives of transportation groups. The Transportation Engagement Advisory Committee, for example, included school principals representing “all grade levels” and “a mix of regular and alternative programs,” and parents of students “who have significant transportation programs,” students who “do not take CBE transportation,” and students “with exceptional needs.”[10] This committee also included “Calgary transportation providers, a CBE trustee… and CBE staff.”[11] As outlined below, the process included several in-person meetings as well as two online surveys. In their final report on the process, Delaney + Associates state that “Efforts were made, for all engagement activities, to recruit a representative sample of stakeholders.”[12]

Methods and Tools Used

As mentioned above, the CBE and Delaney + Associates created an engagement plan, then community members helped shape the process. This engagement and decision-making process took place in three main phases: planning, discussion/scenario-building, and scenario review. (These divisions are based on the author’s own understanding, and are not formal steps discussed by D+A.) The process included in-person workshop and forums, telephone interviews, and online surveys.

The first phase, planning, included workshops with CBE staff and interviews with both parents and students. In this phase, staff, parents, and students offered feedback on the engagement plan and the plans for community workshops. The second phase, discussion/scenario-building, included community workshops in which the community was educated on the issues and discussed various “transportation factors” that could be changed in order to balance the district’s budget. Through the workshops and an online survey, community members expressed what they’d be willing to change and what they wanted to maintain about these factors. The input from the workshops and survey was then used by community members and officials to create six draft scenarios, involving different changes to fees and services. The third and final phase, scenario review, included two forums discussing and offering feedback on the scenarios, as well as a concurrent online survey that allowed the public to rate and rank the scenarios 1-6. These methods and the decisions that came as a result are discussed in more detail in the section below.

What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation

The planning phase included two workshops with CBE staff, interviews with parent organization representatives, and interviews with two students, to “discuss and receive input on the engagement plan” as well as to “receive feedback on the format and design of the community workshops.”[13]

The discussion/scenario building phase started with fifteen community workshops—”one session in each of the five CBE [geographical] Areas,” on three different nights.[14] In the workshops, participants—mostly parents of students—discussed “nine transportation factors”:

“a. Travel distances from student’s home to the bus stop
b. Bus ride time
c. Eligibility for ridership (age, program affiliation and other factors)
d. Bell times
e. Number and location of bus stops
f. Access to waivers
g. User fees
h. Two-year or three-year implementation plan for changes
i. Low ridership routes.”[15]

“After short presentations and information-sharing” about the factors and situation, the workshops operated as World Cafés, with separate tables for each of the nine factors plus “an ‘Other’ table.”[16] With three rounds, each participant could “choose the three factors they most wanted to discuss.”[17] For each factor, participants talked about “what aspects… they wanted to ‘preserve’ and what aspects were ‘flexible.’”[18] These workshops reached 290 participants.

The next element within this phase was an online survey, allowing members of the public to discuss their “level of willingness to accept changes to these factors.”[19] Roughly 1,600 people completed the survey. Based on the input received in the community workshops and survey, a “Scenario-Building Workshop” was held to create “different draft scenarios to close the transportation budget gap.”[20] This workshop was considerably smaller, with nineteen participants. The participants—including Advisory Committee members, CBE staff, and workshop participants—had access to “technical expertise” on the feasibility and impact of changes, as well as “reports from the 15 community workshops.”[21] After this workshop, “CBE transportation and finance staff worked to analyze and quantify financial implications for the draft scenarios,” as well as to create “derivative scenarios”; six draft scenarios were presented to the public.[22]

The final public engagement phase, scenario review, focused on these six draft scenarios. There were two “community forums… to discuss and receive feedback on the six scenarios,” with focus group discussion of the scenarios and what the participants would change “to make them more acceptable.” There were 41 participants in the two forums. Around the same time, there was another public online survey that “asked respondents to rate each [scenario] on a scale of 1-6 based on their degree of support.” Where the first online survey was publicized “through a link on the CBE website and via social media,” this online survey used both those methods as well as emails “to parents who signed up for updates.” In total, this survey reached even more participants than the first, with roughly 1,800 respondents.[23]

This process included a combination of expert/traditional knowledge and public interaction and engagement. Some ideas came from the existing power-holders and were then shaped by the community. After the initial engagement plan was developed, it was adjusted in response to community feedback; in addition, community input helped shape the design of the workshops. The transportation factors were decided by the CBE and D+A, but the draft scenarios were shaped by community input from the workshops as well as technical knowledge.

It does not appear that the process was designed to yield a single, formal recommendation; instead, it was designed to gather input to help the decisions made by the CBE. In the end, “the CBE announced short-term transportation plans… that align with what was heard during the engagement process,” and D+A indicate that community input will help shape a future “long-term strategy.”[24]

Influence, Outcomes, and Effects

The process was quite successful. The original goal, as stated by D+A, was “to work directly with parents, students, staff and other stakeholders in order to ensure a safe, reliable and cost-efficient program.”[25] Other important goals included “Repairing relationships, creating new relationships and building trust with – and among – stakeholders.”[26] Both the consulting agency who led this process and the participants themselves tend to agree that the process achieved its goals.

In their final report, D+A state that “through this engagement, the community better understands and supports the trade-offs that need to be made when managing a large and complex system,” and that “enhanced understanding and shared values… have created common ground for action among all members of the CBE community.”[27] The CBE’s application to IAP2’s Core Value Awards notes that the community actually came to decisions similar to the unilateral decision made by the CBE previously. “The approach adopted by stakeholders at the community forum and through the online survey was very similar to the one they rejected less than a year earlier… When announced, the CBE decision was well received.”[28] Participant evaluations about the events they participated in indicate that participants largely felt that they were “encouraged to share my thoughts and/or feedback,” that they were ”able to provide input on the best way for me to share my thoughts and ideas,” and that “my input was documented as part of the engagement process.”[29]

The aforementioned application notes that the “process actively built respect, and a willingness to collaborate” and that “stakeholders felt genuinely heard through the process, which also served to build trust and relationships.”[30]

The initiative has become part of a broader community engagement effort, developed concurrently with the transportation process, called Dialogue. The Calgary Board of Education’s Dialogue Framework contains principles, roles and responsibilities, and a step-by-step community engagement process to be used “when... there is a decision to be made, and input and feedback can influence the decision.”[31] Calgary’s Chief Superintendent, David Stevenson, wrote that “Our Dialogue Framework is a solid first step in making community engagement an integral part of all that we do.”[32]

Analysis and Lessons Learned

This process was successful in including stakeholders who had previously been excluded from decision-making processes. Participants represented a relevant range of areas of expertise, and included parents of students in many different types of situations. In addition, as noted above, participants had positive responses when asked about their voice in the process through post-event evaluations. The project received an Honourable Mention from the International Association for Public Participation: Canada, for “Extending the Practice through Creativity, Contribution and Innovation in the Field.”[33]

The fact that the Calgary Board of Education has created a Dialogue Framework along with this process to apply to future situations is encouraging. As their IAP2 awards application notes, “This project is notable because it definitively proves the value of engagement.”[34] They go on to discuss that the process yielded conclusions similar to what the CBE initially decided unilaterally, but that approval was much higher due to participation in the process.[35] It seems that a combination of feeling included, feeling that their voice was heard, and being better informed about the challenges and tradeoffs of balancing the district’s budget made participants happier with the final result. Given that this process was implemented in the wake of a negative community reaction to a unilateral decision, lessons are to be learned here for decision-making bodies in many different fields. If an organization is public, or interacts fundamentally with the public, as do Boards of Education and many government agencies, the Calgary case shows that it ought to consider including, educating, and listening to the public on important decisions. The Calgary case shows the value of community engagement in making a difficult decision—here, the engagement yielded better acceptance and more support of the final decision than when the Board of Education handed down its own decision previously.

See Also



[1] Delaney + Associates, "Final Report: CBE – Transportation Strategy Engagement," 2,

[2] Calgary Board of Education, "IAP2 Canada Core Values Awards Application," 3,

[3] Ibid.

[4] IAP2 Canada, "2017 Core Value Awards,"

[5] Calgary Board of Education, "IAP2 Canada Core Values Awards Application," 9,

[6] Ibid., 7

[7] Delaney + Associates, "Final Report: CBE – Transportation Strategy Engagement," 7,

[8] Ibid., 3

[9] Ibid.

[10] Calgary Board of Education, "Transportation Engagement Advisory Committee," 2,

[11] Calgary Board of Education, "IAP2 Application," 12,

[12] Delaney + Associates, "Final Report," 4,

[13] Ibid., 3

[14] Ibid. 4.

[15] Ibid. 3.

[16] Ibid. 4.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Ibid., 4.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Ibid., 6.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Ibid., 11

[25] Ibid., 3

[26] Calgary Board of Education, "IAP2 Application," 7,

[27] Delaney + Associates, "Final Report," 11,

[28] Calgary Board of Education, "IAP2 Application," 2,

[29] Delaney + Associates, "Final Report," 10,

[30] Calgary Board of Education, "IAP2 Application," 8,

[31] Calgary Board of Education, "Dialogue Framework," 6,

[32] Ibid., 5.

[33] IAP2 Canada, "2017 Core Value Awards,"

[34] Calgary Board of Education, "IAP2 Application," 2,

[35] Ibid.

External Links

Calgary Board of Education, "Dialogue Framework," November 28, 2017.

Calgary Board of Education, "IAP2 Canada Core Values Awards Application," May 10, 2017.

Delaney + Associates, "Final Report: CBE – Transportation Strategy Engagement," June 16, 2016.

IAP2 Canada, "2017 Core Value Awards," September 2017,


Lead image: Calgary Board of Education

Secondary image: Calgary Board of Education IAP2 Canada Core Values Awards Application

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