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Building Community Democracy:
An Evaluation of the Neighborhood Small Grants Program
About Neighborhood Small Grants
Neighbourhood Small Grants (NSG) offer $500 to community members to hold any activity or event that they believe will help build community in their local area. Since 1999, the program has grown each year and now involves communities across British Columbia. Created, supported and promoted by the Vancouver Foundation, the program has produced countless projects, friendships, and activities that promote neighbourhood belonging and joy amongst its participants.
About Our Evaluation
The Strengthening Canadian Democracy Initiative at the SFU Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue wanted to find out if participation in the NSG program affected project leaders’ social capital (human networks), participation in democratic engagement, and motivation to create change.
We found that 86% of NSG survey participants participate at least somewhat often in their neighbourhood, and 95% know at least a few of their neighbours well enough to ask for help if they need it. This did not change as a result of the 2020 program.
The more social capital and community participation a project leader reported, the more likely they were to have positive views on democracy. NSG leaders participating in their neighbourhood are also more likely to believe voting gives them a say in how the government runs things. They described serendipitous conversations and supporting one another as significant in this regard. These findings suggest that acting locally, feeling belonging and supporting one another all correspond to stronger levels of democratic engagement and commitment.
Some participants did not see a connection between their project work and democracy. This disconnect appeared to be rooted primarily in participants' perception of democracy as synonymous with government or institutions and disconnected from grassroots community participation. These participants tended to also have a negative perception of politics.
Participants who linked their project work and democracy identified common values and the empowerment of individuals as the connection between the two.
Participants cited democratic values of inclusion, equity, personal choice, and individual freedom as part of their projects. They also made connections to citizen-led change as key to democracy.
Interviews with project leaders identified the Neighborhood Small Grant Sweet Spot: four attributes and two outcomes that help motivate people to create change in their communities.