First, there is a short analysis of the September 19 event. This analysis was sent to the mayor, councillors and candidates running for election. Following that is the report of the event. This report contains a record of the discussion held by the participants.

An Analysis of the September 19th Event:

Breaking new ground on City Governance

Hearing the voices of Ottawa and participating in how the city is run

Held on 19 September 2010 at the Richelieu-Vanier Community Center

Public Event outcomes

“We are a group of community-minded citizens interested in the governance of Ottawa and the region. We are interested in possibilities for true participatory democracy. Currently, we are exploring bringing the citizen’s voice into the municipal election scheduled for 25 Oct 2010.”

This public event was organized using a methodology called Open Space Technology (OST).  This event sought to bring the voice of citizens to the renewal of city governance. To quote Margaret Wheatley, “there is no power for change greater than a community discovering what it cares about”.

We selected a framework of context, process and content to guide dialogue. The context involved the overriding need to better improve city governance as currently characterized by a city council with citizen participation largely outside of the formal governance structure; towards a future governance structure of meaningful citizen participation as formally within the city governance structure.  We need to better connect people living in Ottawa with the decision process in city council.

Voices around process highlighted “engagement “ as a starting point about what people care about towards strengthening governance.  The voices about how this should be done include establishing formal obligations to consult publically on a broad range of subjects and significant development projects of interest. They include recommendations that consultation processes be formalized to be proactive (not after the fact), give priority to listening, take consultation results seriously, be accountable, respectful of public consensus and providing feedback on changes accepted. There is a principle in urban planning that the opinions of people most affected by decisions be given priority and significant weight in the decision process. Voices were clear and insistent and asserted the following related content issues:

1.    The resistance to the Lansdowne proposal was a case in point.  Is there a real “people first” opportunity we are squandering here?

2.    People want a real voice in the budget planning process.

3.    People want a voice in transportation issues, including safety and space for bikes and pedestrians

4.    People want a voice in affordable and adequate housing planning.

5.    Concern was voiced regarding campaign funding and donors and transparency.

Voices around content and issues also highlighted “renewal, beautification and environment” as what people care about.

In this respect the notion of what constitutes a neighbourhood arose as important to urban living.  What we can do for ourselves and what the city can facilitate, i.e., connecting people (our elders, youth, women with the mainstream community), neighbourhood watch, community garage sales, block parents, meet your neighbour events, walking tours and parks.

The event also discussed questions to ask your candidate which included:

  • Where will your leadership enable the city to put people first and allow citizens to flourish?
  • Do you receive campaign contributions from developers or unions?
  • Where is the local community voice in renewal projects such as Lansdowne development?

The event was a success. Feedback included: “my knowledge about city management has been broadened.” ”It’s great to connect with other people who think about a new, more generative way of being together”.  “There is so little time to achieve the political changes necessary to turning our city around”.  “I feel more involved in what can be done to work towards participation in municipal government.”  “It gives me more hope to come into contact with other people who share my concerns about the political system”.  “Meeting great people.”

Next steps. We will continue with further meetings.  We will approach candidates for their views.  We will continue to champion participatory democracy in city governance. Our next event is scheduled for 17 Oct 2010 at the Bronson Centre on 211 Bronson Avenue in Ottawa.


Report of the September 19th Event:

Participatory Democracy

Event 1

Hearing the voices of Ottawa and participating in how the city is run

September 19, 2010


The event ran from 11:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

– Welcome
– Introductions
– Market Place
– Discussion Rounds
– Gallery Walk
– Plenary Evaluation
– Closing

Quotes posted around the room

“There are no more prizes for predicting rain.  There are only prizes for building arks.”


“No is the beginning of commitment.”

Peter Block

“There is no power greater than a community discovering what it cares about.”

Margaret Wheatley

Opening Comments

Pamela Schreiner made the opening comments.

We are exploring participatory democracy. This is an emergent process and we don’t know where this is going to lead.

Our current view of participatory democracy in our municipal context is shown by the following diagram:

When we elect the mayor and councillors, we are participating in democracy. Some participatory democracy exists now in the form of citizen consultations. Our purpose is to expand participatory democracy so that it is an ongoing part of the decision-making process for the city.

Open Space Methodology

Joanne Mantha facilitated the Open Space Technology process. Our focus was on the divergent part of the process, with only a small portion of the process being convergent.

Discussion Sub-Group Results

The discussions were on the theme: Hearing the voices of Ottawa and participating in how the city is run.

Participants were asked to consider what ideas, questions and possibilities they want to explore with other voices of Ottawa? How can we participate in how the city is run?

C1 – Participatory Budgeting, Engagement and Electoral Reform

  1. We have to take steps to understand and bring about participatory budgets.
    1. Find candidates that take union and development donations. This info is accessible. Vote for those that don’t take developers money – e.g. Clive D
    2. Someone will be undertaking this/will e-mail the group
  2. Look at cities that have brought in participatory budgeting.  Can we learn from them? E.g. Porto Alegre, Chicago, Montreal

Comments added during final review:  – Toronto community housing is a good example

D1 – Traffic / Transportation

Safety for

  • Bikes
  • Pedestrians
  • Cars

Defined spaces

Enforcement and awareness of safety rules and equipment of vehicles

Physical supervision of bike paths

Major media / community awareness initiative for benefits of biking / walking (organized leisure walks)

(Ed. Note: picture illustrates road divisions in Amsterdam)

Meeting of community – Invite city representative for traffic/safety and zoning.

E1 – What creates social glue? How do you do it?

1.       clarify your intention

  • Read Peter Block’s book “Community”
  • e.g. host a neighbours day
  • e.g. participate in a drumming circle

2.       Share your intention, spread the word

  • t-shirt
  • chalk art
  • flyer
  • internet spaces (Kijiji, used Ottawa, Freecycle, Craig’s list)

3.       Make it SAFE to engage with others around your intention

  • neighbourhood watch
  • Block Parent
  • look safe – e.g. attract conversation with t-shirt messages

4.       Search for people who share your intention

  • Google businesses in your postal code
  • Invite schools to participate
  • Engage local police, community association
  • Ask questions

5.       Give things away

  • Food
  • Gardening
  • Music
  • Ideas

6.       Use public spaces for events

  • Walking tour of neighbourhood, and mark a path & time
  • Parks

7.       Smile! It’s easy, free and it’s your choice – something you can do! You don’t need to ask for permission

Comments added during final review:  – Create  a Social Glue Department

A2 – Housing

Housing by need and support of:

  • Finances (budgeting)
  • Participation of community
  • Adequate space
  • Close to schools, transportation and community centers
  • Wheel chair accessible
  • Integrated, mixed housing to change attitudes
  • Adequate support for people to be at their best potential

Breed tolerance & acceptance while retaining personal safety

Break down ‘the wall” of beliefs:

Comments added during final review:

– Stratified support system: from full support to some

– Should city be in charge or others like private sector??

B2 – Lansdowne Park renewal, beautiful spaces & environment

  1. Green space, beauty & parks are important – keep Lansdowne Park as a park.
  2. It’s important for the people living in the space to be involved in creating the beauty.
  3. Sparks Street is beautiful but not well lived in – something is missing.
  4. A new school in Windsor has zero carbon foot print and yet is still beautiful.
  5. The spaces we live in & use, such as libraries, are evolving; for example they are evolving online. We need to understand a new emerging paradigm of service before erecting new buildings. And there’s an opportunity here.

F2 – How to facilitate engagement

Basic sense of safety / security needs to be there

  • Know your neighbour
             o   Develop activities, e.g. – neighbourhood walks
             o   Other local initiatives
  • Build local decision-making processes

Make information easily accessible

  • Web, open data initiatives
  • Reduce bureaucracy in accessing information and decision-making processes

Comment added during final review: – ChangeCamp and OpenData initiative held in Ottawa very interesting!


Participants were invited to evaluate this event by answering the following 4 questions.

What do I find most important and exciting about what I experienced today?

  • My knowledge about city “management” has been broadened
  • Openness, informative, process for bringing up the issues closest to the heart of each participant
  • I heard a variety of important political ideas:
          o   Participatory Budgeting
          o   That these questions will be made on film and uploaded to YouTube
  • The genuine interest and caring of citizens on issues that matter
  • Meeting such high quality citizens
  • New knowledge:
           o   participatory budgeting in North American cities is a reality;
           o   issue of “developer $” not talked about – why?
  • I learned a lot. I gained a lot from the exchanges with others, including some small steps for action
  • Lots of time spent explaining and moving and changing

What concerns me most about what I experienced today?

  • Participation in allocation of budgets. Environment for good health
  • What concerns me would be if the results would not go forward
  • There is so little time to achieve the political changes necessary for  turning our city around
  • The size of the group – where is everyone? No definition was given to what participatory democracy is. That would have helped me to deepen my exploration of the topic. Suggestion: have a group conversation about what participatory democracy means to each of us.
  • Some questions were not being answered by facilitator
  • How can we engage the disengaged – baby steps
  • That enough care/skill is devoted – in smaller discussion groups – to let everyone finish, maybe introduce talking sticks at some point
  • Good idea. How to stream line. I did like the freedom though

What has changed?

  • My view of city government has changed
  • I feel more involved in what can be done to work towards participation in municipal government
  • It gives me more hope to come into contact with other people who share my concerns about the political system
  • I have new insights about what is holding me back from bringing my next leadership skills to civic engagement. I have new ideas about where I can take small steps and actions to spark initiatives. I have a deeper understanding of others perspectives on issues e.g. social housing, beautification and improvement.
  • Meeting great people
  • Makes me want to learn more about Ottawa’s municipal decision-making, set up, etc.  And learn about other cities’ successful initiatives
  • I feel more involved, found some opening to take action
  • Little. The more it changes the more it stays the same.

What could be a next step?

  • A meeting for additional contributions for future actions.
  • Next step could be further exploration in various topics – e.g. Deepen the question, research topics and find more specific challenging question to pursue.
  • One person in our group undertook to make a list of candidates who take campaign contributions from developers and unions as a first step to promoting participatory democracy
  • For whom? Feedback the ideas generated & put on report walls to citizens. Invite community organizations to engage in this.
  • Meeting these people again
  • More people? Engage with other similar-minded groups. Learn from candidates what is their opinions on topics discussed. Process-wise: Perhaps shorten explanation time at beginning – like free flow, conversation & that we can move from group to group. As for communication, you should ask how people heard about the event.
  • Observe the interweaving of goals of our group to the events/election and see where to go from there
  • More power to you! Useful open forum.

Questions for Candidates

We determined questions for mayoral candidates based on the discussions that we had. Participants were videotaped asking these questions for potential use at an upcoming all-candidates debate.

§  Would you support a bylaw or motion that would make receiving campaign contributions from developers or unions illegal and why?

§  Do you agree with participatory budgets?  If so, what %.

§  Where will you bring your leadership to bear to enable the city and its citizens to flourish?

§  My vision of Ottawa is a city with many ways of getting around that are safe and include extensive use of bicycles. What is your commitment to make this vision a reality?

§  How can renewal projects, such as Lansdowne Park, be done in ways that truly take public input into account in the plans in an ongoing way?

Closing Comments

Our diagram on participatory democracy is already changing. Participants were asked to provide feedback on the diagram and on the process. This will help us do more of these.

This process is being used in other municipalities for decision-making and to create tangible outcomes.

At the end, the atmosphere in the room was respectful and uplifting. Participants appreciated the additional knowledge that they gained about the complexities of running a city.