I am not afraid to disclose that I volunteer on an accessibility advisory committee for the TTC while remaining employed as a public servant and transportation planner with a higher level government. That potentially makes me a “special interest” advocate in a public sector position. Here, I will make a big confession. There may indeed have been instances when my volunteer experience in accessible transit influenced how I carried out my 9-5 work but I think it’s completely fine, nor am I violating any ethical code of conduct.
Being an advocate in a professional setting is obviously a double-edged sword. On one side, it enables me to be a subject matter expert on the topics close to my heart. On the other side, I can easily be criticized for being heavily biased and reluctant to acknowledge the perspectives of those with different values and experiences from mine.
Then there’s the perception that I may have a conflict of interest, given the potential for me to leverage my 9-5 job to support the interests of a publicly funded agency that I happen to volunteer with, but that doesn’t necessarily put me in a troubled situation. The Ontario Professional Planners Institute (OPPI) explicitly states in their code of conduct that “members have a “primary responsibility to define and serve the interests of the public”. Advocating for accessibility is my way of fulfilling my responsibility to serve the public interest. As well, the TTC is not my client or an investment holding. So there is absolutely no pecuniary interest from my end.
Advocacy is driven by personal values and passion. Personal values and passion are what separate the movers and shakers (ie. Leslie Knope) from your stereotypical beaurocrat counting down the days to retirement (ie. Garry Gergich). My passions are what led me to my career as a planner. Without them, I may as well have leveraged my math degree to pursue a career that pays more money. Lawyer and planning theorist Paul Davidoff argued that values are part of every planning process and that the planner isn’t solely a value-neutral technician. Davidoff also stated that advocate planners use their experience and knowledge within the field of planning to represent the ideas and needs of their comunities.
A forward-thinking profession shaped by constantly evolving technological and demographic trends needs to attract passionate people who are unhappy with the status-quo and push for progressive change. Many of these people are advocates in one way or another whether it’s for social justice, active transportation, source-water protection, a zero-carbon transportation system, etc. Without passionate individuals, planning authorities risk being trapped in a closed-minded culture resistant to change.
There is no shame in idetifying yourself as an advocate.