If free and fair elections are the democratic face of local government, public participation in decision-making is the city’s democratic fabric. As the Senior Public Engagement Advisor at the City of Vancouver, I help design public participation processes that enable us to reach a broad diversity of our community. I joined the board at IAP2 because I think it is important to strengthen and promote public participation in government decision-making across Canada.
At the core of IAP2 are values that allow us to move beyond processes of engagement to build community resilience. In 2012, the Vancouver Foundation published a ground-breaking report titled Connections and Engagement. In it, the Foundation surveyed 3,841 people across Metro Vancouver in order to measure people’s connections to their community. They found that “most neighbourhood connections in Metro Vancouver are weak, most residents do not participate in any form of community activity, and forging meaningful relationships is a challenge for many, particularly across barriers of difference such as ethnicity”. The most cited obstacle to proactively participating in their neighbourhood was that people feel they have little to offer.
Interestingly, the Vancouver Foundation report also found that people who were not involved or connected with their neighbours were also less likely to participate in civic life. Social involvement and inclusion, therefore, do not only affect the quality of our everyday life in the city, but also directly impact resident’s engagement with local government. And since government is experiencing Canada-wide trends of low voter turnout and, according to the Edelman TrustBarometer, broad mistrust in the institution of government, it is time we took a more values-based approach to engagement.
Understanding the importance of neighbour-to-neighbour connections to civic involvement has helped us at the City of Vancouver shift our public engagement focus from per-project transactions to fostering relationship-building opportunities. When we are developing programs or events, we think about the ways in which the format will encourage connections between residents and build longer-term relationships with the City. The creation of our Mayor’s Engaged City Task Force was shaped by this goal, which has permeated its recommendations. Fostering resilient communities is an important foundational goal for all governments, at any level. I am delighted to help the IAP2 provide guidance and support for local communities who wish to bolster social connectivity, political participation, and community resilience.