Creating space for transformative conversations

IAP2 2018 Reception: Welcoming Remarks

September 05, 2018

Notes from Robin Prest, Acting Executive Director, SFU's Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dalogue: 

I’d like to start off today by acknowledging the organizing team. The fact that we are all here from across North America and the globe is testament to what a tremendous program they have put together.

This is both an exciting and challenging time for public participation. Exciting because we have success stories to share and innovations to exchange. And challenging because the democratic systems that we support appear to be headed in the wrong direction. Walking into today, I felt reminded of the apocryphal surgeon, who remarks to a colleague: that was a great operation, but too bad about the patient.

Among established democracies, public trust is largely in free fall. Here in Canada, the number of Canadians open to non-democratic forms of government increased by 50% between 2012 and 2017.

In the words of Martín Carcasson, we need to be passionately impartial. This means that, while we are always neutral on the policy outcomes, we cannot be neutral on the process, we cannot be neutral on who has access to participate, and we cannot be neutral on the use of evidence based information to ground our deliberations.

At SFU’s Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue, we continue to serve as a hub for knowledge exchange and as a neutral, third party convenor. But beyond this, we are increasingly challenging ourselves with some tough questions.

  • What is needed to institutionalize the culture of participation into large bureaucracies?
  • How can we increase the competencies of decision makers to be better sponsors of public participation?
  • How can we approach issues systemically, such that public voices can connect with the real levers of change?
  • How can we strengthen citizens’ commitment to democratic principles, such that they will rise to support democracy when under threat?

In the coming year, I fully expect that our profession will need to be increasingly vigilant in safeguarding our core values. This is not meant to be pessimistic – it is a call of hope. It is a call for us to work together to build on our experience here in Victoria, and most of all to widen the circle so that this conversation does not end among P2 practitioners. To be successful, we need to be working with elected officials, policy staff and senior civil servants like never before.

Around the room, you’ll see individuals in t-shirts like myself who would be happy to engage on these issues with you. This includes a group of students and recent graduates here who have exciting ideas to contribute. We’ve also printed a variety of tools and resources that you can help yourselves to at our table.

If any profession is equipped to mobilize, it’s P2. Let’s get to it.

Notes from Shanthi Besso, Director, Leadership and Community Building Programs, Lifelong Learning, SFU:

It’s such a joy to be here with all of you, and with my colleagues from SFU’s Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue. I work in Continuing Studies at SFU, and the programs that I oversee and nurture are focused on Leadership and Community Building. These professional development programs include the Dialogue and Civic Engagement Certificate, the Social Innovation Certificate, and our new Evaluation for Social Change Certificate.

We strive to recognize the lived experience, expertise and resilience of our students, and give individuals the knowledge and skills to strengthen their careers, increase their choices, and effect positive systemic change. Our programs place an emphasis on experiential and authentic learning opportunities, and are increasingly integrating the knowledge and perspectives of Indigenous peoples and people who experience systemic social exclusion.

I just want to say, on a somewhat editorial and shamelessly promotional note, that the professional, adult learners who take our programs are SO incredibly inspiring, and accomplished, and kick ass. You should take some courses just so you can hang out with these people. And the instructors, like Vince Verlaan and Susanna Haas Lyons, who are here this evening, are absolute leaders in our field.

Like so many of you, at SFU we’re grappling with the very real challenges connected with trying to move the needle on issues of inclusion, equity, diversity, intersectionality, and indigeneity. What does this look like in a main stream institution? How can we all, as individuals, help to nudge our bureaucracies, or organizations, our own practices towards justice?

Robin spoke of the critical importance of the neutral convenor, and I agree wholeheartedly. I also think there is room, and need, for provocateurs; for advocates, and activists, and shit disturbers; for those of us who are trying to maximize social and environmental impact. I suspect there are many in this crowd who fit that description.

We believe deeply in the value of dialogue, where shared meaning can be created, and of strengths-based engagement processes, where people feel valued, connected to the process, and committed to the outcomes.

We’re so thrilled to be here hosting you this evening and to be learning with you over the next few days. There are some awesome door prizes to be won so please stick around and raise a glass with us as we kick off the 2018 IAP2 North American Conference!!