IAP2 USA Member Profile Claudia Bilotto

April 22, 2020 Leave a comment

Claudia Bilotto, Georgia Area manager, WSP USA – Responsible for
Transportation Infrastructure Business

How long have you been in P2, and where have you worked?
I’ve worked in P2 my entire career — about 20 years. I have a degree in city and regional planning from Georgia Tech and when I first got out of grad school, I was young and eager and outgoing and interested in transportation. I got a job opportunity that enabled me to leverage those skills and be involved with some of the most exciting transportation projects in the region. It was with a woman-owned firm that did P2 work in transportation — that was our exclusive focus — and I was involved in some projects that connected me with some of the big names in the P2 I worked there for the first four or five years of my career, and that was a great way to meet a lot of the agencies engaging in P2 in this region and I was exposed to all the different types of methods that the clients used. Being with this firm brought other opportunities. I got engaged in some national organizations, including the Transportation Research Board (TRB) and its Public Involvement Committee. I was chair of the committee up until recently — from 2013 to 2019.

Public Consultation always seems to be a big issue with transportation. Why do you suppose that is?
There’s a legislative history in the USA, because there were times when the public wasn’t engaged and P2 wasn’t done effectively while infrastructure was being built. Roads or highways would go right through neighborhoods or sensitive areas without people being consulted, so there was a lot of distrust. With this industry, you can’t just do the bare minimum and “check the box”. Agencies are starting to recognize that they have to engage the public in a way that’s meaningful and that invites people to participate and develop trusting relationships — and the expectation of the public is that agencies will follow through on commitments made during the P2 process.

What have been some big projects that you’ve enjoyed working on?
I worked on a rural and human services transit plan, which was a statewide effort. This plan was focused on serving transit-dependent populations who don’t have other means to get around. Some may be seniors, who live in rural areas and don’t have cars. Because of the nature of the areas, systems are difficult to operate and it’s not a transit-friendly environment. The populations we engaged in this process were very appreciative of having a voice in the process. In a typical urban project P2 process, you are often talking about “another road-widening project” and people simply don’t care that much. But this group truly appreciated being asked for their input on something that would benefit them in the long run.

How did you reach out to people in the rural areas?
We worked through some of the state structures that were in place. In the State of Georgia, we have 12 Regional Commissions — these are agencies that assist local governments on a regional basis. We worked with the staff to identify whom we should bring together and used that as a conduit to find the right people to contact. For our techniques, we held meetings in convenient locations and also used a focus group format, where people understood the topics under discussion. We let people know ahead of time what we wanted to learn. The big thing was, this project did not involve pre-conceived notions. Often, P2 involves “Here’s our idea – what do you think of it?” This project involved listening to what ideas might be beneficial. I’ve also worked with Atlanta Regional Commission, updating their regional plan and community engagement plan. They have been open to new ideas, and are focused on going to where people are and using new engagement tactics, rather than following a predetermined format. It was fun to be involved in a project where innovation and creativity were welcome. One of the projects I was involved in from early on was a reversible express toll lane on Atlanta’s “Northwest Corridor”. This project originally started when I got out of school, and at the time, express lanes were a brand new concept, so we had to do a lot of education in the community. What’s more, the project changed shape many times over
the years. At one point it was going to integrate a transit component; at another point, it became a public-private partnership. With all those changes, you can get disheartened. My role changed, too. When I was first involved, I focused on public involvement, following National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) guidelines. I developed the original
public involvement plan outlining how we would engage the public and host the public meetings and charrettes to consider the various designs. Then I moved into the environmental side as the project evolved.
It opened in 2018 after about twenty years in the planning, design, and construction phases, but people are calling it a life-changing project. So being involved in something that took so long to come to fruition and seeing the impact it’s having on people’s lives is truly satisfying.

Have you had a “Golden Learning Moment” — something that went wrong, but you learned from it?
Certainly there have been lessons learned over the years … one of the things that was a problem early on was “siloing” and not having all the right players in the room when you’re engaging. Engineers don’t always feel comfortable dealing with the public and don’t want to address some of the issues. So what I learned was that bringing more resources to meetings and being willing to engage on topics that might be out of the scope of the immediate conversation goes a long way towards building relationships.
Successful P2 means having a long-term relationship in the community. We work a lot with MARTA (Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority), and there are some parts of Atlanta where there is a history of distrust. We often have meetings about a specific project, like a transit extension, but citizens will come to the meeting and want to discuss other issues, such as service gaps. MARTA recognizes that it is important to go to any meeting prepared to talk about other topics — to broaden their scope — and have people on-hand to work through those issues; so they can be affected by that input
even though that wasn’t what the meeting was supposed to be about.

You’re on the Board of IAP2 USA, but there’s no chapter yet in Georgia.
We have two Georgians on the board now (Michael Bailey, in the Department of Human Services, is the other) and the future of IAP2 in Georgia is bright. We have members who have joined, along with P2 specialty firms; there’s also the Centers for Disease Control and more organizations interested in being a part of IAP2. We’re also working
on ideas for engaging state agencies to send staff for P2 training, so I’m excited about the possibility of getting a chapter going. We’re focused on planning a Skills Symposium for this fall in Atlanta if we can get past the current challenges posed by COVID-19.

How important is IAP2?
I find that having a network of professionals that have tried different things and have had lessons learned is so valuable. You need to have people to call as resources and conferences to go to where you can learn valuable information. P2 is very localized — I might not be the best person to lead a project in, say, Michigan where I don’t know the community — but the lessons learned are still things I can apply in my home community.

If you had anything to say to someone just getting into the P2 business …
I would say, approach things with an open mind and an open heart. One thing I’ve learned over the years is that when I’ve been at a public meeting, and someone starts acting in a disruptive way, it is critical to be empathetic to what that person might be going through. There’s a way to change the conversation in a way that benefits everyone. You get better outcomes when you can see the different perspectives

Categories: Member Spotlight

Lessons from a team of bloggers on community engagement

September 16, 2021 Leave a comment

John B. Stephens and Nikki Abija


In December 2014 a group of 12 people started a blog to explore different experiences and views about community engagement. They (endnote 1) aimed to do something which appeared unique. Many blogs have a theme of advocacy on behalf of a community or organization, or on an important social or political issue. This effort was designed to learn from each other over an extended time through interactions among three kinds of perspectives: grass-roots community people, local government employees, and academics who study and teach about community engagement.  The goal was an honest, respectful online conversation about various civic and community topics with moderated comments to build a string of ideas and reactions from an online audience.

This article summarizes what was done and lessons from this blogging experiment. The blog is the Community Engagement Learning Exchange (CELE), which lives at  https://cele.sog.unc.edu/  In  fall 2019, Dr. Rick Morse and Dr. John B. Stephens, the blog’s co-administrators, paused the blog to assess its accomplishments and shortcomings. From September 2020 – April 2021, Nikki Abija, a UNC-Chapel Hill Master of Public Administration student, joined Stephens to assess the five years of CELE’s activity.

Categories: Uncategorized

From the President: Gwen Howard

April 21, 2020 Leave a comment

Dear IAP2 members,
We are currently living in some anxious and confusing times. On top of that, we are being bombarded with Coronavirus communication from our places of work, companies we do business with, companies we don’t do business with and companies who simply have a large presence in our world. I know it’s a lot. As not to detract from the more immediate things on your mind i.e. jobs, employees, family, food and shelter, etc, I wanted to offer a brief introduction and a call to action.
First of all, let me start by saying how much we appreciate your understanding and resilience during this time. We know it’s not easy. Second, as a member of your Board, and recently named President of IAP2 USA, I am honored and humbled in this role. It’s a difficult role to step into during this time making it a tough transition. But I also know that choosing not to lead in times of great disruption and distress is not leadership at all. We all know that out of adversity, we see what we each other is truly made of.
Having said that, we are all leaders either through formal or informal channels. I beseech all of you to continue your strong leadership in your circles and let us know how we can help. In the upcoming months, when we begin to move past the crisis and when we are all ready, I’d like to share some ideas and changes as we continue to meet the needs of our committed membership. And we continue to welcome your ideas.
We are strong and are going to get through this. But we cannot do it without each other. Let’s show what engagement is truly about. It’s about connecting with our family, our community and each other. As public participation practitioners/members, we all know you do not have to be in the same room to truly engage with each other and we need to employ those principles and practices now more than ever. Thank you for your leadership and I hope to meet each of you if not in person, then virtually in the upcoming months.
In addition, don’t miss IAP2 USA and Canada webinars outlining strategies and tools for dealing with the Covid 19 business challenges. Recordings are available.

Categories: Board

Being a Stranger in a Strange Land

July 20, 2017 Leave a comment

Core Values_Article 3_Twitter

By: Lauren Wirtis

“You have to recognize that you are a visitor into someone else’s space.” – Jessica Delaney, IAP2 Federation Trainer

Core Value 5: Public participation seeks input from participants in designing how they participate.

Core Value 6: Public participation provides participants with the information they need to participate in a meaningful way.

Core Values 5 and 6 remind P2 practitioners that everywhere they go in their profession, they are the outsider. When talking to Jessica Delaney, Mary Hamel, and Cheryl Hilvert, the action they spoke most about in terms of these two Core Values was asking questions. What I learned from them and their stories was how to be a good visitor, who maybe might just get invited back. From what I can tell there are three good rules of thumb: Read more…

Categories: Core Value Awards

Fun in the sun &… New Online Training Offered with IAP2 USA

June 28, 2017 Leave a comment

EB funinsun

July is coming up fast! Train from anywhere and be surrounded by professionals working to improve their skills and hone their techniques! In the month of July we are offering two UNIQUE training opportunities that will give you real, usable tools and techniques to apply in REAL WORLD situations. Nowhere else will you be able to experience the flexibility and usability of online training, at such an affordable cost! Read more…

Registration in 5 Easy Steps!

June 28, 2017 Leave a comment

-4 early bird

You’ve made the decision to go to the Conference, yeah … now what? Just follow these easy steps:

STEP 1: Register for the Conference (if you’re an IAP2 member from outside the USA, contact info@iap2usa.org for the registration code) Read more…

Selling the boss on the 2017 North American Conference

June 26, 2017 Leave a comment

EB sell your boss sm

Schedule-at-a-GlanceStudent ScholarshipBecome a Conference Sponsor!

Register Today!Learn More

Do you just know that you need to be at the 2017 IAP2 North American Conference in Denver in September, but your manager still needs convincing? These Top Five Reasons should help:

  1. No need to re-invent the wheel – learn from others’ experiences both good and bad. Find out about emerging trends and issues. If you come away with one or two good ideas then you have paid for your conference.
  2. Skill building. There are so many good and effective ways to do public engagement. Find out what they are and bring them back to your workplace.
  3. Networking. Have you ever wanted to pick up the phone or send an email to people that have similar ideas or concerns as you do? How about trying out an idea before you pay for it? Meet those colleagues at the Conference, people are happy to learn and share together.
  4. The conference theme is “P2 for the Greater Good”, and what company doesn’t want to be associated with that.
  5. Good Public Participation = Good Results

Whatever reasons you go with, we hope to see you there. You’ll be in for sessions covering topics running the whole range of the P2 field, as well as “Pathways”: longer “deep-dives” into current P2 affairs, workshops, tours and of course our Core Values Awards Gala.

And remember: there are only a couple of weeks left to get the early-bird rates (another good reason for your manager to make a decision) – US$ 550.00 for members and $700.00 for non-members! As of July 1, those rates go up by $100. We’re also getting a great rate at the host hotel, the Westin Downtown: US $189/night if you book by August 6. See the Conference website for details.

EB SponsorDemocracy Branded

Are you with a company that supplies or supports public participation? The 2017 IAP2 North American Conference is the ideal way to connect with future partners and renew acquaintances with current and past ones.
Sponsorship opportunities are available to suit any size company or organization: have a look at the Sponsorship Application Kit to find out more!

Learn about Sponsorship  –  Apply Now!

The “Good” Word

June 22, 2017 Leave a comment

catherine-smithBy: Cathy Smith

IAP2 USA Board Member and Chair of the Communications Committee

Think back to Spring 2016. Where were you? Well, if you were an IAP2 USA board member, you were in a hotel conference room making a key decision – to develop a strategic communications plan for our community. We decided to “un-jargon” our own language to make it easy for our clients, participants and the community-at-large to grasp the benefits of quality  involvement and to motivate all of us to continually enhance our skills.

Over the course of 2016, your Communications Committee led itself through a thorough planning process. We identified audiences and partners, evaluated our unique place in the marketplace of services and organizations,  dove into the underlying concepts of what the organization needs to say now and into the future, and developed messaging that is clear and direct.

Our core message has two parts – both centered on the concept of “good” skills and outcomes:

“Pursuing the greater good: good decisions made together.” Read more…

Categories: Board, Press Release

Train from anywhere – IAP2 USA offers NEW online courses!

June 22, 2017 Leave a comment


Summer is here and we are excited about these upcoming courses. We have three new courses just for YOU! You can expect that every one of these courses will give you real, usable tools and techniques apply in REAL WORLD situations. Topics include Participatory Budgeting, Social Media, Evaluation, and Tools & Techniques selection. There is a course to fit every p2 professional no matter your experience level or area of discipline. Read more…

How to Hit the P2 Sweet Spot

June 22, 2017 Leave a comment

Core Values 3 4 Banner

“It is better to debate a question without settling it than to settling a question without debating it.” – Joseph Joubert

Let’s see if we can’t do both. In order to successfully debate a question and settle it we need Core Values 3 and 4, which tell us to include everyone who may be impacted by the decision and to use their input to reach a sustainable decision. To fully explain the role these Core Values play, I’ll be sharing three stories that were told to me when I interviewed Susanna Haas Lyons, Wendy Lowe, and Doug Sarno.

Core Value 3: Public participation promotes sustainable decisions by recognizing and communicating the needs and interests of all participants, including decision makers.

Core Value 4: Public participation seeks out and facilitates the involvement of those potentially affected by or interested in a decision.

In explaining how these Core Values operate, Wendy described a venn diagram that is used in the IAP2 training manual illustrating the attributes of potential solutions during a decision-making process. Once circle includes options that are affordable, the second includes ones that are technically sound, and the third options that are publicly acceptable. “What we as P2 practitioners are trying to do is to find the sweet spot.”

The Advanced Mixed Waste Treatment Project

The US Department of Energy was dealing with a volume of waste in Idaho that was hazardous and radioactive. The DOE prepared an environmental impact statement to find the most appropriate, affordable, and technically sound. They engaged the public throughout Idaho and, four years and lots of money later, decided that an incinerator would be the best way to proceed.

However, when they went to get their permit to build the incinerator, they had to check in with the Department of Environmental Quality who asked the DOE which way the wind would blow. That was the moment when the DOE realized they’d more or less forgotten a category of stakeholders: the State of Wyoming. Specifically Jackson, Wyoming where the citizens would be bearing the brunt of the environmental externality. Jackson held a public meeting attended by 500 people that raised $500,000 and killed the incinerator overnight.

This story demonstrates how when you leave out one of the affected parties you cannot know what options are in the publicly acceptable bubble, and can reach solutions that are unable to sustain themselves.

Interestingly, the phrase “including decision makers” wasn’t added to Core Value #3 until 2005 when the Core Values were reviewed. This was one of few substantive changes, but the committee doing the review felt that without this wording the deck would be stacked in favor of the stakeholders. Decision makers are important because they hold the institutional knowledge that populates the options in the bubbles of what is affordable and what is technically sound.


In 2007, California was undergoing health care reform under Governor Schwarzenegger. Susanna, working for America Speaks, helped convene a statewide forum in which over 300,000 people participated, including many undocumented immigrants. The forum looked at two proposals for reforming health care, what they offered, and the major choices that had to make when deciding between the two. This forum enabled legislators (the decision makers in this instance) to see what their constituents supported and make more informed decisions.

The next step in the process is reaching a sustainable decision. Doug said to me, “Making decisions is pretty easy, implementing them and making those decisions work is where the hard part comes in.” A sustainable decision is the difference between getting public buy-in versus public ownership.


A former uranium processing facility needed to be closed and its waste disposed in Ohio. There was a huge waste site with wastes that were more or less hazardous scattered throughout. The local community had felt pretty firmly that they did not want this to remain in their backyard. One member of the community in particular, Lisa, was quite vocal about this. And when a workshop was held that used chips for participants to allocate to on- or off- site disposal, Lisa swept all the chips off the board. “I don’t want any of it to stay here.”

Doug told her that was an option, but now it was time to run the math. The facilitators had programs set up that would calculate the number of expected truck trips, traffic accidents, greenhouse gas emissions, etc. that would result from moving all of the waste from Ohio to Nevada. As Lisa watched the numbers populate she turned to Doug and said, “We can’t do this.”

In the end about 90% of the waste by volume remained in an on-site disposal facility. Most of the more hazardous material was moved off-site. The area is now a 900-acre wildlife preserve and education center. There is also a history museum on site that includes a description of this notable public participation process.

Doug described this as “the most fundamental aha moment I’ve had in my career” watching the public participation process move a participant from a “them” to a “we” mentality. This is the full expression of all three circles of the venn diagram. It hits the sweet spot and reaches a sustainable solution that the community not only accepts, it owns.

cv2 speakers


This article is the first in a series of articles about the Core Values. Keep an eye out for the next article in upcoming newsletters.

Do you have a Core Values story to share? Please tell us about it here!

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Learn more about IAP2’s Core Values

Lauren Wirtis

By: Lauren Wirtis
IAP2 USA Intern