Civic Engagement 101

Citizen engagement processes are built on the idea that creative input from ordinary people can enrich the quality of our institutions and communities.

Citizen engagement entered the mainstream in the 1960s and 70s as "public consultation." This term often describes a formal process, such as the City of Vancouver's public hearings on development matters, where citizens are granted a limited time to address a panel of officials.

In the past generation, BC communities have made use of a growing number of citizen engagement methods. These include open space processes, where citizens are invited to gather and consider a problem from various angles; deliberative processes, where a team or assembly of citizens learns about a set of issues in detail; and more recently, on-line "wiki" processes where citizens build policies and documents through mass collaboration.

Well-known examples of citizen engagement in British Columbia include:

  • Land and Resource Management Plans (1990s) - The provincial government enlisted committees of citizens to work on a regional basis and bridge the differences between loggers and conservationists.
  • Community Visions (1990s and 2000s) - Planners and citizens gathered and discussed ideas on how to protect and enhance services and livability in Vancouver neighbourhoods.
  • The Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform (2003-2004) - Citizens came from across B.C. to learn about different models of voting in parliamentary elections, and to make recommendations for change.

Citizen engagement offers the opportunity to create a citizens' agenda for Vancouver. Our ideas and our plans for housing, transportation and public transportation need to be constantly renewed. We need to keep learning better ways to express our ideas and to listen to each other.

The greatest challenge is to ensure that each citizen engagement process is real and meaningful That is why Think City believes it is important that non-government organizations work to ensure that our institutions engage in sincere processes that use the input of citizens to develop public policy.