Civic Action Lab draws solid participation from the community - good ideas came out of it - now we wait for the Staff report.

News 100 blueBy Pepper Parr

May 30th, 2019

BURLINGTON, ON

 

They spent two days on the task – held three public meetings at which the turnout was more than respectable – to answer one question:
How might we enhance the way Citizen Advisory Committees engage with Council?

It is a question that lurked in the background during the October election. Those people that take an active interest in what’s going on in the city were not happy with the way city council at the time was listening to them and they wanted a change.

They got a change – a new council, except for one holdover and a new Mayor.

Dwyer-Tanner-preg lady

A combination of a staff member and citizens doing the thinking – produced the base information from which a Staff recommendation will emerge.

The city has had Advisory Committees for years. The challenge, and the struggle, for staff at city hall was to find qualified people who had the interest, the experience by way of background and the time to take part.

The Gazette has asked a number of staff people which Advisory committee really worked well. All had to pause and think about it – and everyone we spoke to agree that Heritage Advisory was doing a great job.

Many added that Sustainability was also doing a good job but that the job they were being asked to do was to big – the scope of their mandate was just too wide.

There was once Transit Advisory Committee that was a disaster – it just didn’t work and the Waterfront Advisory Committee had a chair that didn’t know what the job was – his years as a leading practitioner in law resulted in a mind that couldn’t see very far beyond a tightly written legal brief. That committee met a sundown date. There are plans to revise that one and to create a new transit advisory committee.

Change agent Stephanie von

Ideas were put forward, debated and revised.

Outside the strictures of city hall there are a couple of committees that work very well – Bfast is seen as being the best of them.

The Direction given to the Clerk’s office was to:

Conduct an overall review of citizen advisory committees, including consultation with the public and citizen advisory committee members, and report back to council with recommendations and options for any changes to improve effectiveness by Q2 2019.

Changing the structure of the Advisory committees in place was the issue and what about 100 people spent two and a half hours on at three session this week. The participants were grouped at tables of three to five with a city hall staffer in place to help them work through the tasks they were given.

The session we observed was a group of people working through the agenda and having fun.

Rick Boersma Juice

Rick Boersma was the facilitator who took the participants through each of the several steps needed to get from the early investigation to their best idea.

Rick Boersma, the lead facilitator who worked for Juice Inc. (a different corporate name) a company out of Guelph, made sure that each step of a process happened on time.  Each group began by investigating the root causes of the problem they wanted to resolve; the do some Brain Storming to come up with ideas, then choosing the best of the ideas and be able to put forward a well articulated proposal that met the criteria.

The group we watched did some investigating on what the root causes behind the issue were and added some analysis before they did some brain storming and played a quick hand of Brain Poker that told the group what kind of a thinker each participant was. It’s was a short game worth playing.

With the Brainstorming done the group had to choose the best idea had and ensure that it met three criteria:

How desirable it was for the participant
How feasible it was.
How viable it was.

With that done they then had to write an articulated proposal.

It was really interesting to watch run of the mill people digging away and tossing out ideas. One table we watched closely included a pregnant mother, a young woman who could have been in high school student and an adult male with a doctorate in Medieval studies and a staff member who has an irrepressible level of energy.

LAdy with post it -

Narrowing the ideas and ensuring they met the criteria needed to defend them before the decision makers.

Did every group come up with boffo ideas? No, but there was nothing that was embarrassing – everything that was put up on the wall had merit.

One group however did catch the spirit of what we think the public and many of the staff were hoping would come forward. Their solution consisted of a circle – with three lines coming out of it with a letter beside each line: A, B, C

A: Redevelop the application process.
B: Develop technical and communications tools for the Advisory committee.
C: Create a fluid cycle between staff, the committees and council.

Another idea that did qualify as boffo was having a Workshop event for Council where every Advisory committee met annually with council to talk about what was working for them.

Group 7 blonde lady

Weighing an idea, ensuring it met the criteria and then getting buy in from the rest of the group.

Many feel that the application process is suspect – has too much council control and not a true reflection of the citizens in the city. Some saw sitting on an Advisory committee as the beginning of a political career while others just liked to be around the people who make decisions but bring little to the table in terms of skills and experience.

Danielle Manton

Danielle Manton, Manager of Committee & Election Services

Danielle Manton, Manager of Committee & Election Services, said there would be a Staff report to Council by September and she committed to ensuring that those who took part in the Civic Action Labs got copies as early as possible.

From where we were sitting to looked as if the participants got a lot out of it – staff seemed really pleased – there were several that put a lot of themselves into the process of drawing ideas and thoughts out of the participants.

The report gets tabled in September – let’s see what they come up with.

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2 comments to Civic Action Lab draws solid participation from the community – good ideas came out of it – now we wait for the Staff report.

  • Penny Hersh

    After sitting on and leaving an Advisory Committee I have felt for a very long time that these Advisory Committees need to be independent of the City. It is one thing to have a Council Liaison sit on each committee to provide information, it is quite another for the City’s agendas to be masked under the guise of Advisory Committees.

    Until staff and council are prepared to let these committees operate independently these Civic Action Labs will result in a report that sits on a shelf somewhere gathering dust.

    Does anyone remember the “Shape Burlington” Report, or the “Age Friendly” Report?

  • steven craig Gardner

    As a participant in the afternoon session I can tell you I think everyone had a blast. Facilitator was great structure worked well and we got lots done in tha short time period. Our group came up with a lot off same observations as you did or your groups did. Basic agreement seemed to be it was broken. And needs a complete renovation. The Issue is not with anyone one side (council city staff or citizens) rather with all. Also an interestin discussion on moneys each committee gets i.e. their budget. A very worthwhile and educational experience for me.

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