Praise for the SpeakOut Book


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Sarkissian et al. understand how people learn – with short, interesting stories which inform clear guidelines for future practice. They have had enough experience to understand that whatever can go wrong is likely to do so in community engagement, and that solid planning is simply good risk management. Potential glitches can become learning experiences rather than resulting in frustration and disengagement, so often experienced in traditional community consultation. SpeakOut is a practical guide to running an innovative methodology that ensures people’s voices are captured in a way that is respectful, creative and productive.

Janette Hartz-Karp, Professor of Sustainability, Curtin University Sustainability Policy (CUSP) Institute, Curtin University, Western Australia

Rapidly changing demographics and the complexity of urban planning issues have made the standard forms of consultation redundant. Meaningful consultation with a broad range of people is key to arriving at planning alternatives (and ultimately decisions) that meet the needs of all citizens. The “SpeakOut” method of public engagement is fresh, simple, inclusive, and speaking from our experiences in Thunder Bay, Canada – it is successful!   If you are looking for an exciting way to connect with people, have fun, and build consensus, this book is definitely for you!

Katherine Dugmore, Waterfront Project Manager, City of Thunder Bay, Canada

In light of the pressures we each face in our work, we are indeed looking for ways to build “sustainable communities” (from a community engagement/development perspective, not only environmental sustainability), and many CE professionals want to re-visit our approaches — both to community and to our institutions. Sometimes one may despair that true public participation is increasingly an unrealistic goal, when institutions seem uncaring and communities seem apathetic: this book helps us re-discover ways to “sustain” participation of all stakeholders, through exciting and innovative engagement methods.

Margreth Tolson, Leader, Community Engagement, Vancouver Coastal Health, Vancouver, Canada

This is exactly the kind of practical, illustrated, how-to information based on real projects and real experience that practitioners need. The SpeakOut method pioneered and initially refined in Australia has a huge amount to offer everywhere in the world.

Nick Wates, author of The Community Planning Handbook and site editor of

This is an excellent resource for everyone from the novice to the expert community planner. The authors present clear, straight-forward guidance to a unique process. The SpeakOut process has proven to be a successful format to promote broad citizen input.

Dolores Foley, Chair, Department of Urban and Regional Planning, University of Hawai`i at Manoā, Honolulu

Nations and cities across the world are moving toward a more deliberative form of politics, which creates inclusive public spaces where citizens from all walks of life can exchange ideas, experiences, and perspectives with each other, alongside policy experts and public officials. This book offers civic innovators one more valuable tool for public deliberation, the Speak Out model of talk.

This highly interactive, open-structured and even playful mode of dialogue and deliberation complements the more formal, parliamentary-style models and will help to draw out quieter citizens, organize diffuse ideas, and give free expression to youth and youthful voices. The book provides how-to details, the history and theory of Speak Outs, narrative examples of past uses, and many other resources, such as an inventory of the wider range of deliberative practices.

John Gastil, Professor, Department of Communication, University of Washington, author of Political Communication & Deliberation and co-editor of The Deliberative Democracy Handbook

The Speak Out is a terrific new model for engaging a wider public than the usual suspects. The facilitated drop-in format is relevant in fields far beyond planning and design, combining the face-to-face intimacy of a small-group public meeting with the flexibility of a web-based engagement process. Practitioners will also appreciate the exemplary detail provided by the handbook, taking the guesswork out of replicating this important model.

Ann Forsyth, Professor of Urban Planning, Harvard University

It’s time to deepen the public conversation! SpeakOut gives us an intimate look at how we can do that.

Dr. Patricia A. Wilson, Professor of Planning and Civic Engagement, University of Texas, Austin

Wendy Sarkissian is a national treasure when it comes to the field of community engagement. She continues to boldly stir the pot, constructively and compassionately. She continues to build her ideas, her practice, and carries out her work in partnership with others, and in the true spirit of collaboration. Wendy is one of those rare people who is practical and grounded, while being `well-read’ and theoretically rigorous. For all this, she remains open to learning from others.

Max Hardy, Director, Twyfords Consulting, Wollongong, NSW, Australia

Your work in introducing SpeakOuts to me played a role in a Sustainability Summit held in Makaha for students, families and community who came together to educate themselves through hands-on activities about caring for their bodies, their backyards and their future. It was a blast! Thank you for the lessons!

Paula Nagao, Coordinator, TAO2, Honolulu

If there ever was a time when community engagement and participation in planning was needed it is now, with communities around the globe working hard to respond to unprecedented levels of economic, cultural and climatic change. Wendy Sarkissian and Wiwik Benjamin-Mau have written a comprehensive book on how to go about it, and are sharing an unusually effective approach to getting community input called SpeakOuts–a process that uses booths, graphic recording, modeling, and many, many other media to creatively engage participants. Their many case examples are complemented with thorough checklists and principles for designing and leading successful community engagement processes. An added bonus is an exhaustive bibliography of related work. Clearly this book was a labor of love!

David Sibbet, President and Founder, The Grove Consultants International, San Francisco

SpeakOut! “¦because the community’s input is too important to be tokenized, …because people are too busy to be invited to community workshops without vibrant, engaging and informative participation. And “”¦because people of goodwill need help to get it right”.

Arthur Orsini, Director of Child & Youth Engagement Programs, Urbanthinkers, Vancouver, Canada

Wendy Sarkissian has a well-deserved international reputation in community participation and community engagement, honed through many projects in numerous communities, large and small, rural and urban. I still remember her getting a group of 240 citizens of Murrurundi, New South Wales – none of whom I believe had ever come across the concept of social planning before – to work in small groups and work out some common futures for this mountainous village. In SpeakOut, Wendy and her co-authors share their wisdom borne through many years. A wonderful book.

Don Perlgut, Chief Executive Officer, Rural Health Education Foundation, Sydney, Australia

This sourcebook of designing for meaningful community participation offers many lessons as a research tool for people in the design fields – as well as being a means of building community and invigorating civic engagement in itself.

Janis Birkeland, Professor of Architecture, Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Australia

This is a very practical book. It’s a welcome and refreshing addition to the tools around to help planning practitioners to hear a more diverse range of community views.


Taking the conversation to where people are is to be applauded. The Speak Out engagement tool can break down barriers to participation to allow for conversations with a more representative community, and not just the articulate and interested minority groups.


The book makes clear the importance of thorough planning for the engagement event and ensuring that there is sufficient time, resources and staffing to engage meaningfully with communities. The book’s emphasis on the need to evaluate the effectiveness of activities is particularly welcome, as too often rigorous evaluation of community engagement is something that is forgotten and the opportunity to learn and improve is lost.


Speak Outs can help put some fun back into community engagement, enabling communities to feel more positive about conversations with practitioners.

Julian Hill, Executive Director, Urban Development, Victorian Department of Planning and Community Development, Melbourne, Australia

Wendy and the team have done it again – delivered to us a practical and tested model for enhancing our public participation practice.   Nearly 20 years of designing and delivering SpeakOut forums in numerous countries as resulted in tremendous insight into what works well and the importance of planning as a key ingredient to a successful (seamless) process.   Wendy and Wiwik have done a stellar job of documenting these learnings in an engaging and attractive way – not always what we get in a manual.   The layout, graphics, checklists and numerous case studies help to make it stand out from crowd.


I am particularly drawn, as I suspect my community members are, to the accessibility of SpeakOut design.   It demonstrates a rare skill to be able to balance this level of informality or `drop in’ without compromising on the quality of the data collection process.   No wonder it is an attractive option for people and groups who have reason to be skeptical, or who are not used to being asked for their opinion or who get missed via the main stream processes.


A huge thank you to all involved for taking the time and effort to share the SpeakOut model and learnings.   What better way is there to demonstrate your leadership in, and commitment to enhancing the practice?   I am sure that this manual will achieve its aim of “helping people of goodwill to get it right”.

Desley Renton, Past President of the Australasian Affiliate and President Elect, International Association for Public Participation (IAP2)

Congratulations on an excellent publication! Plan C are using the SpeakOut model of engagement on a wide range of projects with great success and I would recommend this publication to any engagement practitioner who is seeking an inclusive, innovative and practical community engagement approach.

Jim Gleeson, Managing Director, Plan C, Brisbane, Australia

This is a wonderful tool for training the next generation of planners and designers in good participatory process. Not only does the book cover the techniques and preparation, it deals with the smallest, but most important details necessary to manage a complex process and do it well. There are details on how to debrief when participants are still lingering or how to adapt a complex asset-based community development tool to conduct a skills audit within the time frame of a workshop. There are few books that integrate the tools and process, then walk you through how to “make sense of the outcomes,” as this one does.


The range of techniques are extensive and creative. For example, the “intergenerational letter writing” and the “interviews with parents” exercises are wonderful ways to communicate across generations. No voice will be left out if you follow this book.

Sheri Blake, Professor, Department of City Planning, University of Manitoba, and Director, Detroit Collaborative Design Center”¦amplifying the diminished voice.