2021 was another challenging year for local governments, and a particularly busy one for those working in public engagement. As we continue to face uncertainty amidst another wave of the pandemic, it's important to relax over the holidays to be ready for all the challenges and opportunities 2022 will bring us.
So we asked some leaders in local government and public engagement for advice on how to best rest and unwind, as well as what they're looking forward to in the new year.
Four ways to recharge over the holidays
1. Spend time offline
With many of us working from home, we've been spending more time than ever looking at our screens. "Endless online meetings and social media can drain even the most vivacious among us," says City of Vancouver councillor Christine Boyle.
Use this time to take a break by turning off your devices and not checking your email. If you can't avoid your devices entirely, consider limiting the time you spend on them.
"I have daily limits for my apps so they’re blocked once I reach the time limit for the day,” Rebecca Alty, mayor of the City of Yellowknife, says. “Having to actively override the app makes me less likely to mindlessly scroll."
However, organizational norms and policies also affect whether staff feel comfortable in being away from their devices.
"With employees working from home, there is a growing expectation that they are available 24/7," says Joan Botkin, former Manager of Communications for the Town of Oktoks. "Senior administration needs to be clear that staff have the right to disconnect and focus on family over the holidays."
"If it’s an emergency, get people to call," Alty recommends.
2. Get outside
While the weather may be colder this time of year, being outdoors has benefits for both your mind and body – just make sure to layer up! "Take a break, and take a walk or roll around your neighbourhood or into a nearby park or forest,” advises Boyle. “Nature is healing – get out into it.”
This can be a social activity as well, and a good alternative to seeing people indoors. "A nice walk with friends, family, a podcast or music gets my mind off work," Alty says.
3. Do a fun activity
After a busy year, this is the perfect time to do something just for fun that's unrelated to work. This could be an old hobby, finally reading that book that's been gathering dust, or even an activity you've never tried before.
District of North Vancouver councillor Megan Curren said she plans to "cook a vegan meal out of the cookbook my mom gave me last year (that I haven't opened!) and eat every bite with intention."
"Think of one activity that you loved to do as a kid, and do it," suggests Alty. "You’ll probably be pleasantly surprised that it’s still fun as an adult."
4. Take time to pause and reflect
This year has seen lots of ups and downs, so remember to be kind to yourself and celebrate your accomplishments.
"You are not responsible for doing it all! Your contributions are enough. Know that you are making the world a better place with your efforts, and others are doing the same, it's not all on your shoulders," says civic engagement specialist Susanna Haas Lyons. "Take this time to pause, enjoy the moment, be in your body, laugh, listen, and do things that make you feel human."
Curren recommends meditation, even if it's starting with just two minutes at a time. You could also try journaling, listening to music, or however else you like to reflect.
Three things to look forward to in 2022
1. More engagement opportunities
Recent municipal elections in jurisdictions like Alberta and Quebec mean there will likely be plenty of new councils looking to engage residents and set their agendas in the new year.
"Councils will be setting their four-year strategic plans, and there are many elected officials who are new, so they will be wanting to gauge public opinion on future initiatives and priorities," says Botkin. "Council and administration are most active the first two years after an election in allocating resources to new projects, programs and initiatives, which will lead to increased public engagement activities. At least that's been my experience."
2. Better online engagements
After the initial adjustment period at the start of the pandemic, people have become much more comfortable hosting and participating in online meetings.
"As much as we groaned when they were the only option, recently we’ve had some in-person meetings and afterwards people have remarked at how they missed certain aspects of online meetings (less commute time, documents could be easily shared, easier for childcare, etc.)," Alty says. "I think there are pros and cons of digital, in-person, and hybrid meetings/engagements, but knowing their pros and cons and having the choice on which one to use based on the situation I think will be beneficial in 2022 and going forward.
Having more familiarity with online engagement options, and when to use them, also opens up space to try out new things that may previously have been seen as too complicated.
"It's still very important to provide low tech options that are accessible to everyone, but it's also possible to experiment with new online techniques that enable creative collaboration and input," says Haas Lyons.
3. Building community connections
This past year has not dampened the public's appetite to be engaged and involved. If anything, it has demonstrated the resilience of communities and increased residents’ desire to connect with others.
"On a cold rainy evening recently, our climate committee met up in one of our local parks and had plant-based pizza and hot apple cider for an in-person meet and greet," says Curren. "These are volunteers who took time out of their busy lives to come out in the dark and rain to connect with other climate folks who believe a better world is possible. This gives me hope."
2022 will only provide even more opportunities to bring people together – virtually or in-person.
"I think communities are weary, but also ready for connecting with one another,” Haas Lyons says. “Engagement in the coming year should help people learn about their community, connect with others who care about the topic of engagement, and demonstrate the ways in which their voices are being heard.”