Challenges facing IAP2 USA emerging chapters are exacerbated by systemic racism’s impact on the lives of black and brown community members and the COVID-19 pandemic. How do we prioritize improving the practice of public participation (P2) when black and brown people are being disproportionately impacted by COVID-19? How do we collaborate on bringing people together more effectively when we, ourselves, can’t physically be together? How do we build community and challenge each other to grow? These are some of the tough questions emerging chapters are asking themselves in these unprecedented times.

For the San Francisco-Oakland (SF-OAK) and Greater Los Angeles (LA) chapters, challenges include everything from the fine details to ethical questions related to the lens through which we’re doing our work as P2 practitioners. Challenges include, identifying chapter leadership with the capacity to volunteer, clearly defining leadership roles, holding leaders accountable to their commitment, logistics coordination, scheduling, planning, implementing, surveying members, adapting to ever-changing conditions, travel to/from events, being present, building relationships, allowing space for vulnerability, humility, and our humanity; and the list goes on! 

The Greater LA chapter isn’t technically an “emerging chapter” since it has existed for nearly five years, but it does not have a bank account, officers, or a regular series of events.  Instead, the chapter has held lunches every few months, around the region, that bring folks together with a guest speaker to discuss relevant P2 issues of the day.  Recently, the chapter came together (virtually) to brainstorm leadership and what’s needed now relative to future events. The pandemic has been an emotionally trying time for chapter members, and yet they seek connection to improve their practices. Many agreed that travel was a barrier to past chapter events and that it could be mitigated by holding digital events. Inspired by the SF-OAK and Puget Sound chapters, the LA chapter decided to plan a casual happy hour to prioritize relationship building during current social distancing times.

Since forming in January 2020, the SF-OAK chapter has addressed some of these challenges by having two vice presidents to help lead the chapter alongside the president, which helps prevent burnout and promotes collaborative teamwork. They prioritized relationship building by starting board meetings with names, pronouns (if they use them), and personal emotional check ins. This has been especially important to prioritize emotional vulnerability and human connection during the pandemic. This created trust and capacity among the SF-OAK chapter board to give the space and time needed to prioritize activism, healing, wellness and decrease our stress during the surge of the Black Lives Matter movement. Inspired by the Cascade chapter, SF-OAK collaboratively created and shared a statement of solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. They agreed to discuss their commitment to racial equity in their next board meeting.

There are many challenges to work through and one way the SF-OAK and LA chapter found to navigate them is to connect and collaborate with other chapters like the Cascade, Orange County, and Puget Sound chapters. As we say at IAP2, we make better decisions, together. The SF-OAK chapter hopes to see other chapters and IAP2 USA members on this journey towards anti-racism. Please remember, we are here for you if you need resources - email us at


Challenges Facing Emerging, and Not So Emerging, Chapters

By Frankie Burton

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