Launching the Dialogue Dispatch Newsletter

June 26, 2023

Dear colleagues, partners and fellow practitioners,

The Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue is thrilled to announce the launch of a newsletter aimed at people and organizations working to transform the field of democratic participation. Filled with inspiring examples, good practices and practical tools, these “Dialogue Dispatches” will share and expand on the growing body of knowledge and democratic innovations we are witnessing in Canada and around the world. Just as importantly, we hope to lean into thorny issues in our sector, such as the challenge of connecting citizen and resident voices to real decision-making, and the persistent inequities in who can speak and who is heard.

Around the world, nations and communities are encountering the natural limitations of traditional democratic systems to respond to the key challenges of our era.

Complex issues—such as climate change, the housing crisis or a global pandemic—call for systemic responses and raise important questions about people’s values and priorities, making it difficult for elected representatives alone to chart effective courses of action. Meanwhile, digital media has facilitated the development of attitudinal echo-chambers and the spread of misinformation and anonymous hate speech, leading to increasingly entrenched views and polarized public discourse. These and other factors are contributing to the erosion of trust in democratic institutions, a sense of political disempowerment, and increased attraction to anti-democratic populism and authoritarian solutions during times of hardship or emergency.

Since the founding of our Centre 20+ years ago, however, we have witnessed a true paradigm shift in democratic practice with a growing recognition of the importance of more direct and frequent public participation in decision-making. At the Centre, we have designed and delivered over 400 engagement projects including small community roundtables, national dialoguespublic engagement strategies, and an upcoming citizen's assembly recruiting a demographically-representative “mini-public” to provide recommendations for a new Official Community Plan that contributes to a zero-carbon future.

The OECD has been mapping a “deliberative wave” with over 600 similar deliberative mini-publics emerging around the world, breaking political gridlock on complex issues such as climate changeabortion, or end-of-life. Public participation is increasingly moving from one-off engagement towards institutionalized forums, such as the permanent Citizen Assemblies in BrusselsParis and Milan, and participatory budgeting in Scotland, Portugal and New York State. Bolstering democratic participation is now a core strategy championed by the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (#16), the OECD’s international Ministerial on Building Trust and Reinforcing Democracy, and Canada’s Open Government Strategy.

At the Centre, we seek not only to scale up and institutionalize avenues for shared decision-making and dialogue, but also to enhance the quality of democratic engagement—promoting relational over transactional engagement, equitably centering the voices of communities who are most impacted, and facilitating respectful ways to explore disagreement. Our goal in the year ahead is to further articulate core principles for democratic participation, including deliberation, equity, depolarization, human rights and systems thinking through numerous research and knowledge mobilization initiatives.

Through our conversations over the years, we have heard from you about your needs to move the needle in your various areas of practice.

Leaders in government and civil society are seeking real-world case studies to strengthen the case for participatory practices in their institutions, and de-risk the introduction of innovative methods. Dialogue and engagement practitioners need practical tools and resources to support the design and implementation of ethical and effective participation. And we all need networks to share our experiences, learnings and insights and build collective support for change—so Dialogue Dispatch will not be a one-way channel. We invite you to reach out, share your questions and inspirations, and participate in the knowledge exchange and collaborative research initiatives we will be hosting.

Until then, sign up now to receive the first issue of Dialogue Dispatch on August 1st.


Nicole Armos, Manager of Knowledge and Practice

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Robin Prest, Program Director, Democratic Participation and Innovation 

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