"How can I help?": The 5 principles of democratic engagement in practice

March 13, 2020

Democracy is struggling all around us. Between the influence of fake news and the rise of populism, it is harder and harder to have confidence in our ability as a society to make good political decisions. So “how can I help?” is a question many democracy advocates ask themselves each day. When the concept of democracy is huge and overwhelming, how can we expect to help with something so much bigger than any one of us?

Together with the Institut de Nouveau Monde, the Morris J. Wosk Center for Dialogue has developed five actionable principles to show us how we can help. This set of five principles helps us break down that big, ominous, overwhelming concept of democracy into something easier to understand and easier to act on. 

1. Build capacity to participate

You can help equip people with the skills and knowledge they need to take advantage of existing opportunities around them. Let those around you know that there are already many opportunities to help keep our democracy strong and healthy. From participating in strata meetings to volunteering for federal election campaigns and everything in between, there are numerous ways to participate in democratic decision making.

2. Foster commitment to democratic values

You can help by asking, "what are our shared democratic values, and why do they matter?" Just by asking these questions, you can strengthen and change the answers. By making a point of vocally sharing your commitment to democratic values and being clear about how valuable they are to us, you can foster a culture of pride and importance around democracy within your circles. Sharing aloud a commitment to democratic values can foster feelings of ownership over our democratic system.

3. Deepen Relationships and social connections

You can help support a healthy democratic system by making friends, deepening relationships in your communities, and creating shared narratives. In our national poll, we found that Canadians are three times more likely to think that elected officials care and twice as likely to attend public consultations when they have a strong sense of belonging in their community.

4. Be inclusive and accessible

You can help by being equity-focused and removing barriers to those who are marginalized by changing your language around accessibility and choosing to understand barriers as priorities. Often when we have discussions around creating accessible, safe spaces we discuss peoples’ barriers, but what is often called a barrier can be understood more accurately as a priority. For example, it is a priority for someone to be able to see and hear at an event. By choosing the framework of priorities, we can empower staff, stakeholders, clients, and participants to recognize that valuing peoples’ priorities is the best way to create equity-focused and accessible spaces.

5. Establish accountability

You can help by making sure organizations are giving people avenues to express their expectations and communicating effectively on how they are being met through action. To help build a cycle of accountability we must always be asking and answering the questions, “do we understand what peoples’ expectations and needs are?” and “do our actions and statements meet those expectations?”


We know that wanting to support democracy can be a daunting task. However, by doing simple things based on these five principles like deepening our democratic relationships, sharing our passions, and discussing opportunities to be heard, we can all help strengthen our democracy. We also encourage you to share this article, print out our poster, and develop a plan for how you can take action on the ideas that matter most to you.