Democracy pioneers: Citizen activists in Victoria BC
Wise Democracy Victoria
Wise Democracy Victoria (WDV) began as a group of citizens concerned about the state of our democracy - in Victoria, in British Columbia, in Canada, and on the planet. WDV is comprised of a network of people who realize that we cannot expect better governance unless we make some fundamental changes in our system. The mission of Wise Democracy Victoria is to seek out and investigate processes that can enhance the scope, collaboration, and co-intelligence of our democratic system. In 2009, WDV was registered as a Canadian non-profit society.
Some highlights from the three Victoria Wisdom Council Statements include:
“The Victoria Wisdom Council: recognizes that the fabric of our society is fraying in a variety of ways.”
“We believe these issues are solvable by fostering a shift from “I” to “We” in our attitudes and actions, by taking a greater role in our democracy, and by recognizing our personal responsibility for these issues.”
“We resolve to reduce our footprint and strengthen our handshake.”
Wise Democracy Victoria has also convened a series of three Creative Insight Councils (see www.wisedemocracyvictoria.wetpaint.org). With a CIC, a question is posed to council members for their input (as opposed to the more open-ended nature of the Wisdom Council).
In 2010, the City of Victoria undertook a comprehensive public engagement strategy in revising the Official Community Plan. This is key legal document provides fundamental direction on infrastructure, development, and priorities for the next 30 years.
In an effort to hear from as many people as possible the City partnered with Wise Democracy Victoria, to facilitate two Citizen Insight Councils made up of randomly selected citizens. (This term is a slight variation on Creative Insight Council, and was selected by the City to reflect the emphasis on citizen engagement.) “This is an exciting initiative,” said Mayor Dean Fortin. “Whether you’re 18 or 85, people have important ideas and insights about our city. The Citizen Insight Councils allow people to come together in a casual setting, hear each other’s ideas and work towards a common goal. The direction set by these groups will benefit the entire community and directly shape Victoria’s future.”
Using a city property database, five-hundred addresses were randomly selected, with letters of invitation sent to the residents. Follow-up phone calls were made to approximately eighty people on the list. This process presented any citizen of Victoria 18 years or older with a chance to be selected to participate, providing a unique opportunity for involvement by a wide cross-section of community members.
Altogether, twenty-one individuals accepted the invitation and took part in two CICs, held on May 28-29 and June 5, 2010. The city asked council members to address the following questions:
First CIC: How can the OCP help move Victoria toward sustainability?
Second CIC: How can neighbourhood planning be improved to better engage citizens, address local issues and further citywide objectives?
In May 2011, a third council was convened by the city, with the original twenty-one individuals invited to help review the draft OCP.
Third CIC: Regarding the draft OCP: “Did we get it right?” “Does the draft OCP match your vision for how the City should look in the next 30 years?”
In response to these questions, the nine individuals who attended were unanimous in complementing the city on the success of the draft OCP in addressing their input.
City councillors and staff have expressed their appreciation for input received from all three CICs. City planners have indicated that the random-selection nature of the CIC provides them with a good sense of the views of a cross-section of residents, to complement the views of the more vocal minority who attend council meetings and public hearings on a regular basis.
For more information on the synthesis of results see www.shapeyourfuturevictoria.ca.
Also see the CIC Review by George Sranko of the Creative Insight Councils in Victoria.Citizen Insight Councils Victoria 2010-11