ChangeCampTO: Designing a Civic Engagement Toolkit

This post is my first for People Plan Toronto's new blog, and the first in a series of explorations about ChangeCampTO and its implications on the municipal elections and, more generally, on civic engagement with planning processes.

My overall ambition is to share the inspiration that I draw from both the urban interventions being imagined around the world and the increasingly diverse perspectives on Toronto's communities and their everyday experiences of place.  Occasionally, I will dip into even deeper waters and explore the city from the more detailed perspective of water urbanism and environmental planning.

So, please join me in this journey through the current dimensions and future potential of Toronto and its planning world! Along the way, I encourage you to contribute your thoughts, questions, and ideas.

A few weeks ago, I participated in ChangeCampTO: Designing a Civic Engagement Toolkit at the Toronto Reference Library. Addressing the demand for a re-imagined and renewed government and citizenship, a ChangeCamp event is a creative face-to-face gathering that is citizen-led, non-partisan, and enabled by social media. The goal of the ChangeCampTO 2010 was to invent a set of tools for a "Change Kit," or a "ChangeCamp-in-a-box," which could be used by residents across the city to create shared spaces, both physical and virtual, for community dialogue and action about the future of our city. After a brief presentation by host Mark Kuznicki on the context for this toolkit, nearly 200 participants broke out into 30 groups.

Our table's design assignment was to brainstorm some possible tools for a "same time, different place" gathering. We were given 55 minutes to work out our ideas and capture them visually on Post-It Notes and through a table-specific live blog. Suffice it to say, the discussion at the table was very lively, indeed, about the best tools to engage the greatest diversity of the participants and that to the greatest extent. Which social media platforms and other technological tools could effectively enable a single conversation in multiple locations? What lessons could we learn from experienced community organizers and pass on to first-time organizers? How could we get youth to participate as the key brokers between their parents and their civic leaders, between different languages and technologies? Most importantly, which local concerns would provide the catalyst for a community dialogue and collective action, and how would citizens build upon the momentum of an initial event into a broader process for change?

As we searched for a common denominator for engaging residents with different tools, we shifted from new social media to "older" media, like conference calls and phone trees. Most of us at the table agreed that, in general, we needed to go back to the fundamentals of truly meaningful dialogue and inclusive civic engagement - the particularities of these elements remain for all of us still to uncover, - if we were to make any real impact with the toolkit.

At one point, my mind drifted back to , which took place last December at in downtown Halifax. While I was unable to attend the event in person, I was able to follow the day's workshops and conversations online. I remember feeling quite distinctly as though I were actually back in my former home city by virtue of my memory of the event space (it is an old favourite workplace of mine). Jumping back to Toronto, I thought we could suggest in the ChangeKit that organizers take photographs of meeting spaces, so anyone participating either online or by phone could picture himself/herself there and experience the meeting more fully. By shifting our emphasis back to one of the strongest components of our neighbourhoods and our city - our shared spaces - we might be able to take a first step towards a new, and perhaps more dynamic, collective reality.

Before long, our time was up, and we all had to move on to the other tables, leaving behind our artifacts for others to debate, and hopefully, to bring to life in the very near future.

Moving forward, a group of ChangeCamp volunteers will be analyzing and synthesizing our ideas, input, and feedback to craft a framework for action. Over the next few months or so, I'll share some of the dialogues, projects, and lessons, as they emerge and evolve. Until then, you can review all the content we have generated so far on the

- Clara Stewart-Robertson

Sat, 2013-02-16 12:33

Join us at  where we'll be talking to people all day about planning issues.  Tell us what issues matter to you the most.  Tell us what you would like to see in a "Planning 101" toolkit.  Tweet your ideas to #Planning101.