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Fellows in the Field: Frana Milan

We asked Frana Milan, Program Manager at the King County Department of Natural Resources & Parks, to share some of her experiences working in and around Seattle. Frana has taken our intensive 8-day Fellows Training and more recently, another Pomegranate Center training customized for the King County Department of Natural Resources and Parks. Frana is a champion of community engagement and passionate about her work to improve public spaces with/for King County residents.

PC:  How did you get into your line of work?
FM:  After a decade in the environmental non-profit world, I landed a job with King County Parks on the Business Development and Partnerships team, which is charged with developing public-private partnerships that support King County’s 28,000 acres of parks and 175 miles of trails. Specifically, I work on communications and community relations, marketing, fundraising, and cultivating community and corporate partnerships.
I went to grad school at the Evans School of Public Policy & Governance at the University of Washington, where I focused on environmental policy and non-profit management. I feel lucky that I’ve landed a job that fits my field of study so perfectly.

PC: What are some of the joys of your job?
FM:  First and foremost, helping to protect some really cool places. King County is unique in that we have natural areas just minutes away from such a large urban area. The people who live here also love these places and have shown time and again their dedication to keeping them protected. Last but not least, I get to work with King County residents – whether they are attending an event, volunteering in a park, or interacting with us on social media. It’s always fun to talk with people and learn why they’re drawn to a particular park or trail.

PC:  Why did KC Parks invite Pomegranate Center to conduct a training (besides the fact that you raved about the full Fellows Training that you attended last year)?
FM:  King County Parks strives to nurture a stewardship ethic with our park and trail visitors, neighbors, community partners, and all King County residents; we believe that is ultimately the key to the success of taking care of our parks and trails.
However, we operate on a shoestring budget – our funding comes from a property tax levy that is approved by King County voters – so we don’t have resources to carry out extensive planning processes on capital projects or hire fancy consultants to come up with shiny plans. But since our work has such a direct impact on people and their communities, it is extremely important that we provide avenues for them to plug into what we’re doing. Many of our staff play roles where they are interacting with the public in different ways, and I felt like the Pomegranate Center’s model for engagement would strengthen the skills of our staff to be more inclusive and more effective in the different ways we work, whether it is planning for a park improvement project or balancing different types of uses of our facilities.

PC:  Are there things you think KC Parks will be doing differently having had the Pomegranate Center training?
FM:  Without a doubt! I believe that the training helped staff envision a different approach to interacting with community members, including integrating engagement from the beginning, especially through the use of a steering committee that can act as the project’s ‘convener of the process.’ I also think staff are more aware of different ways to run public meetings and I think our leadership now has a better understanding of the time it takes to prepare for and nurture an effective public engagement process.

PC:  What are your hopes for what the future holds for your organization?
FM:  My hopes are that we can institutionalize the learning that we gained from the Pomegranate Center training so that it is shared throughout our organization and truly becomes an integral part of our organizational culture and ‘how we do business.’ Ultimately, this will mean that King County Parks will carry out better projects and that we’ll have a more engaged citizenry who are as passionate as we are about King County’s parks and trails.

PC:  Which tools/techniques from the Fellows Training do you use most?
FM:  The preparation questions – having well-planned questions already laid out helps us be more thoughtful and strategic about our work. Plus, Pomegranate’s tips and tools for facilitating meetings have been a huge help.

PC:  What elements do you think are essential for successful community projects?
FM:  Three things come to mind:
1) The use of a steering committee as the ‘conveners’ of the process (versus being deciders) …and making sure to clarify what that means so that everyone is on the same page and has bought in to that as their role.
2) Preparation preparation preparation.
3) Demonstrable success/progress – parks and trail projects can go on and on (in some cases for decades!) so of course people’s levels of engagement go up and down. Having something along the way to point to as a result of their input or participation goes a long way in helping maintain momentum and nurture support.

Frana Milan (far left)
We’ve had the pleasure of knowing Frana for some time. Here she is (far left) at work on totems for Skyway Park in 2008.