Inclusive Civic Engagement in Focus

Notes from guests who visited our office during the City’s annual Doors Open event

Our game plan when we first introduced ourselves to the world of Medium was to tackle a complex issue facing Torontonians in 2018 with a human-centered design approach.

It’s been a big year for the Civic Innovation Office, one filled with a lot of collaboration with exceptional people, both residents and public service providers. Our priority project for 2018 is focused on addressing inclusive civic engagement challenges that are faced by residents living in three Neighbourhood Improvement Areas (NIAs): Glenfield-Jane Heights, Black Creek and Ionview.

We could not do this alone. Our office partnered with the Social Development Finance and Administration (SDFA) division at the City of Toronto who oversee the Toronto Strong Neighbourhood Strategy (2020). We also partnered with two extraordinary resident advisors that are local champions. This integrated project team has supported us in our exploration of the different behaviours and feelings that residents have about civic engagement.

2018 Project Team Group Photo (L-R):
Anne-Marie (CIO), Nick Vlahos (CIO), Janvere Lyder (SDFA), Meghan Hellstern (formerly CIO), Jhaavani Diaram (Resident Advisor), Paula Kwan (CIO), Melody Brown (SDFA), John Smith (SDFA), Laura Hammond (Resident Advisor), Rosalyn Haffenden (formerly SDFA). Photo credit: Civic Innovation Office, May 2018

About Inclusive Civic Engagement

Civic engagement is absolutely vital to the health of the city of Toronto; our team considers civic engagement an important way to build social cohesion and positively impact the communities we live in. We also recognize that there are opportunities to establish new and innovative approaches to support civic engagement activities by co-creating them with residents.

We want to help activate residents that are already engaged, and utilize innovative ways to further encourage them to continue to be positive leaders in their communities. Just as important to us, we want to support the residents that face significant barriers to having their voices heard. Listening to the narratives of why some residents face extraordinary challenges to civic participation is a large portion of our research to-date.

Participatory Research Methods

Our human-centered approach relies on the lived experiences of residents. Here are three of the approaches we used to conduct our research.

1–1 Semi-structured Interviews: We visited the three NIAs on multiple occasions and had in-depth conversations with residents. We heard about the community they live in, how they define civic engagement, the types of activities that bring the community together, the barriers that residents face in coordinating local initiatives, and how residents define community leadership.

Our resident advisor leading an interview with a local resident at York Woods library

Activity-based workshops: Our team actively encouraged residents — particularly youth, seniors, TCHC tenants, and visible and ethnic minorities — to participate in a variety of facilitated workshops. Some of these spaces include The Spot, Toronto Public Library, McGregor Community Centre, all of which were creative spaces where residents addressed the challenges they face in civic engagement and how innovative ideas could solve for these challenges.

Observation: We observed multiple different types of civically related events to learn more about why residents assembled together in a particular space, ranging from City-wide volunteer events, local rallies, public consultations, and resident-led dialogues, and we were especially interested in what issues were most meaningful and most important to residents that would lead to active participation.

More Articles to Come

In the coming weeks, we’ll have additional posts about our project ranging from synthesizing our core research themes to insights, our lessons from ideation, creating the first service blueprint in support of identifying meaningful changes to the Neighbourhood Grants Program, how we’re growing the culture of design thinking with City staff, as well as how our weekly office hours continues to connect and share tools and ideas with innovators both inside and outside of city government. We also want to hear from YOU! Please leave your comments with any topics you want to hear from us.

If you are interested in learning more about the Civic Innovation Office, please visit our website and sign up for our mailing list. You can also find us on Twitter @civictoronto.