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Building a Culture of Participation: Citizen Engagement in Vancouver, BC

The “Building a Culture of Participation” report describes workshop outcomes and participant ideas to empower citizens of Vancouver, British Columbia in official city decision-making. This May 2013 workshop brought together City of Vancouver employees, members of Vancouver’s Engaged City Task Force and community members and was jointly presented by Simon Fraser University’s Centre for Dialogue, SFU Public Square and the City of Vancouver.

SFU-logoFeature guest and community organizer Dave Meslin presented examples of active citizen engagement from his projects in the Greater Toronto Area. Meslin proposed four pre-conditions for citizens to engage with their cities: confidence; knowledge of the political system; an expectation of malleability or responsiveness; and a sense of ownership over their city. A summary of Dave Meslin’s ideas is available in the 3-minute video at http://youtu.be/hHMKMjzRZiw produced for the visit.

Next, three local guests presented short case studies of successful citizen empowerment in the City of Vancouver. These included Nathan Edelson speaking on community planning in Renfrew-Collingwood; Peter Whitelaw providing an overview of the Arbutus Lands Co-Designing Process; and Shirley Chan discussing the successful opposition to building a freeway through Historic Strathcona and Chinatown.

Participants then engaged in a breakout exercise, with the goal of designing a model engagement process that would achieve citizen political empowerment in deciding the future of Vancouver’s False Creek South community. For the purpose of this workshop, Citizen Political Empowerment was defined as a citizen engagement process where the City and citizens work collaboratively to frame issues, develop options and identify preferred solutions, or processes where the decision-making power rests primarily in the hands of citizens.

The breakout groups shared many common themes and ideas. Approximately half of participant ideas focussed on outreach tactics to increase stakeholder awareness and input, such as using game-style formats to encourage team building and receive input. Several breakout groups proposed ambassador-style roles for citizens to deepen the connection to community members and support stakeholder groups participate in a city-led process as a means of reducing power imbalances.

Some groups went further by proposing methods for citizens to actively frame issues, develop options, and identify preferred solutions. Suggestions included facilitating dialogues that allow stakeholder groups to hear each other and find compromises, creating a panel of citizen representatives to certify the final plan against pre-determined principles, and presenting options to citizens for voting instead of asking for feedback on a single proposal. Finally, several breakout groups proposed that resident groups could manage major aspects of engagement if they met certain official standards to ensure full representation of their communities and neutrality on policy outcomes.

A full description of the workshop design, presentations and breakout group ideas is available in the final report.

Funding for Building a Culture of Participation was provided through the Centre for Dialogue’s Bruce and Lis Welch Community Dialogue, a yearly event designed to encourage transformative social change through dialogue.

For more information, please contact Simon Fraser University’s Centre for Dialogue at dial@sfu.ca or visit www.sfu.ca/dialogue.

Resource Link: www.sfu.ca/dialogue/programs/welch-dialogue/building-participation.html

Submitted by Robin Prest of Simon Fraser University’s Centre for Dialogue via NCDD’s Add-a-Resource form.

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