VanSplash Advisory Group Blog Post 1: Background on the group

Posted: January 18, 2019

I’m departing with tradition by starting to blog about stuff that’s not directly about CX or Learning & Development and instead has a different focus – in this case, my work as part of the VanSplash Advisory Group in the city that I live in: Vancouver, Canada.

(CX and L&D readers, you may still find my writing on this project interesting as it touches on customer advocacy, VoC, communication strategy and strategies for handling end-user feedback.)

Background to VanSplash & The advisory group

The creation of this group has come about as part of a rather long and convoluted process. Here is the official VanSplash Aquatics Strategy page which tells you all about it.

This page isn’t the clearest though, so I’ll describe my understanding of what’s happened in plain language and TL;DR below that.

VanSplash is the name for Vancouver’s draft aquatic strategy, created by Vancouver park board staff, which lays out how aquatic facilities in the city will change over the next 10 years (with a wider vision that spans the next 25). I say draft aquatic strategy, because even after an incredible amount of consultation with the public in getting the proposals in the new strategy right, it got shot down by the park board at the meeting where it was meant to be approved. Many members of the public objected to proposals to close some much-loved smaller neighbourhood pools in favour of creating bigger pools in different areas, and there were other areas of the strategy which were also not received well.

After they turned down the strategy, the park board called for the creation of an advisory group to rethink the recommendations made in the draft strategy. I got recruited to the group in December 2018, one of 20 members out of 358 applications. We have the difficult task of reviewing the draft strategy and generating new ideas which a majority of different aquatics users will be happy with – regardless of whether they or their family use aquatic locations for sport, recreation, fitness, swimming lessons, therapy, rehab or anything else. We will be working together for a period of around 7 months, assessing the recommendations made in the draft strategy. Around July 2019, a report of our findings will be produced and used by park board staff to make recommendations to the park board on how to proceed.

TL;DR The advisory group are supposed to make recommendations on how aquatics in the city needs to change and develop, while representing the best interests of all types of users.

Why I’m blogging the advisory group’s work

The advisory group had its first meeting last night where we went through general pre-engagement activities for new teams – established our operating values, a process framework, mapped out our wishes for measures of success etc.

We even got pipe cleaners to fidget with.

One thing that came out of this was the need for all group members to consult with others to guide our decision-making. And in consulting with others, we need to cast our net wider than just our existing communities. Taking a city-wide view will be vital if we are to make recommendations which fit a wide range of users, and don’t just cater to the needs of our localities or the usage types we personally fall under.

I’m also a big fan of transparency in decision-making which affects the experiences of users of services of any type. Because Vancouver’s aquatic facilities play such a huge part in the health and wellbeing of so many people, I think it’s important that I am upfront and transparent about our group’s work and the types of issues we are engaging with.

I know some people weren’t happy that this advisory group was created, since wide public consultation occurred in the first place, so it does seem strange on first glance that the project is now being thrown to a smaller group. But I hope that being transparent about the processes we go through will show that we intend to act as advocates for all 7000 people who took part in the consultation process – not replacements for them and their ideas.

It’s because of all of this that I have decided that I would like to blog about the work of the advisory group. I’m doing this on a separate category of my work blog as I don’t have anywhere else better to do it. I hope though that I can apply the expertise I use in my day job to this project (more on that in a later post) and that my regular blog readers might find my experiences interesting, as I will be advocating for service users and good communication practices throughout.

About me & my interest in VanSplash

The About Me section of this website is mostly work-focused so I’ll introduce myself here a bit more.

My name is Kaye. I’m 32 years old, living in Renfrew-Collingwood with my partner and our cat. I’m from England and moved to Vancouver about two and a half years ago.

I am a true water baby and I swim at Renfrew pool every morning before work. I’m lucky that the pool is really close to my home so it takes five minutes to drive to. It hasn’t been easy to build this into my routine, but I do this happily because I truly consider swimming to be essential to both my mental and physical health.

I never had access to any aquatic services that were anything like this in the UK, and I believe that the city of Vancouver has an amazing opportunity to help make people happier and healthier through paying careful attention to the experiences that these facilities provide.

I personally am a fan of smaller neighbourhood pools and especially spaces where adults can go to clear their heads and exercise in quieter surroundings. Both my partner and I look forward to going to Renfrew each morning as it’s a time for meditation and reflection before the busy day begins.

Although this is the way I use our aquatic facilities on the regular, I’m aware that other people use them very differently, and our other group members are proof of that.

About our group members

There has been great work done in putting together a group that is representative of as many different types of people and aquatic usages as possible.

We are single people, married people, mums and dads and those who are childfree. We are gay, straight, bisexual, transgender and queer people. Some of us have lived in Vancouver all of their lives, and some are quite new. We represent abilities ranging from professional athletes to those who have serious disabilities. We are a wide range of different races, ages, nationalities and cultural backgrounds.

But our 20 members don’t represent everyone, and although a majority of types of people were represented, some were represented maybe by only one or two members. Some people we identified as lacking much direct representation in our group include:

  • Youth (although several members have children of various ages)
  • Non-English speakers
  • Non-swimmers (i.e. waders, those using facilities for cooling or warming only)
  • Clothing-optional swimmers
  • Visibly queer or visibly trans
  • Water polo
  • People of Colour
  • Indigenous and Metis (First Nations and Urban Indigenous)
  • Vulnerable
  • Homeless
  • Community Centre Associations
  • School Board

If you belong to one of these groups in particular and have opinions on the future direction of Vancouver’s aquatic facilities, we would especially love to hear from you to make sure your views are represented.

Next steps

I am going to be talking with a lot of people about what our group are doing during my day-to-day activities. If you want to catch me at Renfrew, look for the lady with lots of tattoos. I am covered in flowers and birds. You can’t miss me! Please do feel free to talk to me, because although I have lots of tattoos and might look a bit scary, I am a normal friendly person 😊

I’ll be writing up my impressions of our first meeting once park board staff have posted their notes and slides. I am going to be using plain language to try to translate board-speak in a way that we can all understand, and I am going to be honest about everything I perceive in all meetings I attend. I’m certainly not going to be mincing words about this recently-passed motion, which has adjusted our group’s scope in ways that are very unclear, given that the meaning of this motion is lost in layers of impenetrably formal language.

In our next meeting we will be touring some aquatic facilities. This is quite exciting as some of the park board commissioners themselves will also be coming on the tour. If you want me to ask them any respectful yet pointed questions, I would love to hear them!

How to comment

I am intending this blog to be more megaphone than microphone as I am a normal person with other commitments to balance and I can’t spend a lot of time replying to things online. I still want to encourage comments but I would prefer that they go through official channels, so that park board staff and the rest of the group hear them, and I am afraid that if you comment here I may not be able to respond as quickly as you might like.

The official email address for comments is vansplash@vancouver.ca.

You can also subscribe for official Vansplash updates at the bottom of this page: https://vancouver.ca/parks-recreation-culture/vansplash-aquatics-strategy.aspx

And you can also follow the #vansplash hashtag on Twitter. I’ll be posting using this hashtag whenever I update this blog.

Thanks for reading!

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