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Record Engagement: Vancouver Fraser Port Authoritys Community Strategy

Record Engagement: Vancouver Fraser Port Authority's Community Strategy
Record Engagement: Vancouver Fraser Port Authority's Community Strategy


As the federal agency responsible for the stewardship of the lands and waters that make up the Port of Vancouver, the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority has the noble and vast mandate of enabling Canada’s trade through the port, while protecting the environment and considering local communities. 

The port authority’s jurisdiction includes more than 16,000 hectares of water, more than 1,500 hectares of land and hundreds of kilometers of shoreline, bordering 16 municipalities and intersecting the traditional territories and treaty lands of several Coast Salish First Nations.

As Canada’s largest port, the Port of Vancouver is about the same size as the next five largest Canadian ports combined. Home to 27 major terminals, the port is able to handle the most diversified range of cargo in North America: bulk, containers, breakbulk, liquid bulk, automobiles and cruise. As the country’s gateway to over 170 trading economies around the world, the port handles $1 of every $3 of Canada’s trade in goods outside of North America. Enabling the trade of approximately $200 billion in goods, port activities sustain 115,300 jobs, $7 billion in wages, and $11.9 billion in GDP across Canada.

The port authority and Zencity Engage (formerly Civil Space) teamed up to support public engagement for the Pitt Meadows Road and Rail Improvements Project,  which aims to separate road from rail at two of the busiest rail crossings in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia. The port authority wants to reduce bottlenecks in the Lower Mainland – not only for cargo carriers, but for local communities as well. 

For example, the rail crossing on Harris Road can be blocked for an average of three minutes during a single train crossing, with up to 40 rail crossings on a given weekday. It was identified in the Top 500 highest risk railway crossings in Canada.  

The port authority team chose Zencity Engage to be their engagement platform, with the goal of mitigating the impacts of growing trade and goods movement on the community of Pitt Meadows. Key project benefits include improving safety and community access by creating more reliable travel times and better emergency response options. To meaningfully engage with a community with a long history of trade and rail activity,  the team needed the ability to reach further into the community than they had before to truly dialogue with Pitt Meadows residents about the project and its key goals.

New Tools for a New Team

Previous engagements between the port authority and municipalities were largely supported by contracted agencies—the Pitt Meadows engagement was unique, marking the formation of a new in-house project communications team to lead the engagement internally.  This team needed to hit the ground running and that meant being equipped with a tool that allowed for near-term agility, along with strategic long-term vision for an elongated feedback process.  

Beyond  needing a flexible toolset, the port authority’s project communications team wanted to ensure  the capability to create and run engagements in house, without needing to outsource every change and tweak. 

To ensure the team could make the most of Zencity Engage’s cutting-edge user experience and an intuitive authorship and reporting interface, our partnership began with onsite training to get the port authority’s authors and engagement leads situated early and well. Beginning with functionality demonstrations and an open Q&A of the platform, training lead to live test engagement creation. In advance of training, the team was supplied with their unique Zencity Engage accounts so that they could work directly in their new instance and grow their familiarity early.

Connecting the port authority team with their accounts alongside their dedicated Zencity Engage trainer provided immediate opportunities for exploration—the team was able to investigate question types, learn more about unique capabilities of the platform that caught their eye, and begin to collaborate with one another on how they would begin to create their digital engagement. 

Designing for True Access

Having traditionally worked with paper engagement methods like surveys and questionnaires, the port authority team was pleased to have a range of digital methods suddenly at their fingertips—ranking questions, map annotations, embedded media, and much more. 

As they began to develop their strategy, however, the true value of a digital engagement became readily apparent: traditional paper engagements were reliant on presence, on manual circulation, and on manual collation. With their Zencity Engage engagement, the port authority could—for the first time—present a truly accessible experience.   

Beyond the standard purview of access through medium—phones, tablets, computers, and WCAG compliant assistive devices—true engagement accessibility is defined by context. Not only could the port authority’s project audiences now reach the engagement from any digital device, they could now immerse themselves in the surrounding contexts through additional information (via embedded videos, articles, and a project hub that outlined the engagement process from end-to-end). 

Having the historical and consequential context surrounding the engagement, along with the ability to access the information and questions digitally from any device, provided the port authority audience with true access, to both the interface and the meaning. 

“You can only do one or two open houses, and not everyone will attend. You need to provide context to everyone, and digital enabled that.”


Rallying a Community

Launching a civic engagement is a delicate balance between fostering awareness, boots-on-the-ground exposure, and creating open space for inquiry, participation, and feedback. Between the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority, the City of Pitt Meadows, and the Canadian Pacific Railway, there was buy-in across stakeholders and partners to spread the word and ensure that audiences had ample time, information, and context to participate. Between the three parties, the engagement was promoted via:

  • Social Media Campaigns
  • Newspaper Ads
  • City-issued Press Release
  • Highway Billboards
  • Banners in the City Core

Finally, after an initial open-house session to launch and advocate for engagement participation, the port authority team provided attendees with cards that held the engagement URL along with additional copies for interested citizens who couldn’t attend, neighbors, and coworkers. 

Thanks to the campaigning and ease-of-access provided by digital access, the port authority was able to quadruple their audience for the digital engagement.

Engagements as a Launchpad

Previously, the largest number of participants in a port authority engagement had been 72 people. At the close of the Pitt Meadows engagement on Zencity Engage, the port authority had nearly 400 submissions started, with an 80% completion percentage

Along with a record-high participation amount, the engagement held over 800 comments from citizens, participating in forums and discussions across the engagement. With a new level of participation, the port authority team found themselves inundated with profound insights that will come to shape the Pitt Meadows project:

  • Residents of high-impact areas within the project zone were able to voice their needs for the first time
  • The majority of the community felt that local history and art needed to be reflected in the project
  • An overwhelming amount of feedback highlighted the importance felt by the community for there to be additional safety measures throughout the new overpasses for women and children

Having moved forward as part of their longer-term strategic plan, the port authority released reports to the community outlining “What We Heard,” and “What We’ve Done.” – and recently reached a pivotal milestone with the approval and signing of a project partnering agreement for the Harris Road underpass. The port authority team is now looking to engage a design-build contractor to advance the design of the underpass and to reach out to the community again as part of this process.



At the close of the Pitt Meadows engagement on Zencity, the port authority had nearly 400 submissions started.


With an approximate 80% completion.


With a record-high participation amount, the engagement held over 800 comments from citizens participating in forums and discussions.


Working with the Zencity Engage (Civil Space) team and tool has been great – the platform gives us the tools we need to engage with our stakeholders and the communities we’re working with in a dynamic way, and the excellent customer service we receive from the Zencity team has been invaluable in helping us make the most of the tool

Amanda McCuig

Manager of Project Communications, Vancouver Fraser Port Authority

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