Conducting Effective Community Engagement with Newcomers across Canada: A Scoping Review
How to best engage the public, capture a diversity of interests in community-wide decision-making, and effectively identify the ‘common good’ are all age-old problems within the field of urban planning. Today, the complexity of these challenges is further compounded by rapidly-rising rates of immigration, which is the reality confronting many cities across the globe. In Canada, where newcomers continue to settle overwhelmingly in urban areas, planners have been working to overcome the barriers inherent to public consultations that have a long history of being largely inaccessible, top-down, and performative exercises. The aim of this scoping review is to evaluate the recent Canadian research on factors contributing to effectively engaging immigrant communities in local decision-making processes. The paper employs a scoping review methodological framework set out by Arksey and O’Malley (2005) using a search conducted in seven databases. Twenty-nine articles—representing case studies of local engagement activities featuring newcomer populations in municipalities throughout British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario, and Québec—were identified for inclusion in the review. The findings suggest that embracing the spirit of multiculturalism and creating public spaces that build on existing community resources to embody and accommodate diversity are critical elements for effectively consulting immigrant groups in civic decision-making. Further, centering issues that address either the general well-being of local communities or the socio-economic and cultural needs of immigrant populations in particular were met with equal enthusiasm by newcomers when the deliberative environments were warm and inviting, evinced a sense of cultural competence and sensitivity, and allowed for meaningful contributions from participants to have a visible impact on decision-making processes. The review elaborates on the most salient factors from the articles included in the study, followed by a discussion of the implications for the work of local planning practitioners and others serving in functions that promote community well-being.