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Upcoming Courses

Summer 2020: Semester in Democracy: The Next Frontier

Full-time, 10 credits (DIAL 390W & 391W)

Program dates: May 11 - June 26, 2020
Application deadline: February 15, 2020

Democracy: The Next Frontier is an immersive 7 week Semester in Dialogue course that examines the institutions, culture and practice of democracy in Canada. Through self-directed learning projects, dialogue with thought leaders, site visits, group projects and skills building workshops, students will experience what it means to live in a democracy. Students will also explore the new frontiers of democracy by developing, designing and executing a democratic engagement project and delivering a public dialogue on democracy. Whether you are a democratic champion, a skeptic, or completely new to the study of democracy, we invite you to join us as we explore uncharted territory and go where no citizen has gone before.

Democracy is rooted in the fundamental belief that the people, the demos, exercise supreme authority over how they are governed. From Rousseau’s social contract to Locke’s rule of law, the democratic system of government was designed to place citizens at the centre of decisions that affect their well-being; it meant giving voice to citizens. Winston Churchill once famously quipped that democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the other ones that have been tried from time to time. Yet, as we await the dawn of the second decade of the 21st century, alarm bells for the state of democracy are ringing louder than ever worldwide. Rising anti-democratic populist movements are putting pressure on how democracy’s institutions work, making it difficult to respond to the needs of the electorate. Increasing polarization is undermining the ability to reach consensus on solutions to serious policy issues, raising questions about the ability of political leaders to solve problems. And, the growing influence of social media networks is poisoning civil discourse and providing fodder for those seeking to sow discord through disinformation. Few, but the truly uninformed think Canada is immune to these global forces. The evidence suggests otherwise.

Canadians don’t hesitate to stitch a maple leaf to our backpacks when we travel abroad or to cheer when “O Canada” plays at the Olympics medal ceremonies. It shows we all have a deep, shared pride and sense of our place in the world. And, why not? As a country, Canada routinely places near the top of most lists of the best place to live; this includes indices that trumpet us as a model democracy. Yet, according to the 2019 Americas Barometer, Canadians’ sense of pride in their system of government has taken a hit over the past decade or so, dropping from 63% in 2006 to 39% today. In a 2019 SFU Centre for Dialogue survey, just a third of Canadians said they trusted elected officials in this country; another 68% felt their representatives didn’t really care what ordinary Canadians like them thought. Hardly a ringing endorsement of a well-functioning democracy.   

How did we get here, and more importantly, what is needed to bring the demos back into democracy? Without the “stamp of approval” from Canadians that their democracy is delivering the goods for citizens, our democracy is at great risk. While strong democratic institutions are critical to the health of our democracy, they are only as strong as the people who believe in them.


Shauna Sylvester is the Executive Director of Simon Fraser University’s Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue and Co-Founder and Senior Advisor of SFU Public Square. Shauna is a skilled facilitator, social entrepreneur and commentator on international issues. She has led several dialogues on density, business development, transportation and energy and she served as the lead facilitator for the Mayor’s Task Force on Affordable Housing in Vancouver. Prior to leading SFU Public Square and Carbon Talks, Shauna served as the Founding Executive Director of Canada’s World—a national citizen engagement initiative on foreign policy. In addition to her international work, Shauna is involved in her community. She is a current board member of Mountain Equipment Cooperative and has served on the boards of Vancity Credit Union, Vancity Capital, the Voluntary Sector Initiative, the BC Assessment Authority and numerous non-profit organizations. In 2010, Shauna was recognized by The Simons Foundation as a Peace Leader. In 2003, she was named one of Canada’s Top 40 Under 40 in the Globe and Mail after receiving a similar award from Business in Vancouver Magazine in 2000.

Daniel Savas worked as a Senior Vice-President at Ipsos Reid for more than 17 years, as a public affairs and market research specialist. He conducted research projects for private and public sector clients, as well as advocacy groups. As Senior Vice-President at Ipsos, Daniel led and managed Ipsos' public affairs practice in Western Canada from 1992 to 2006. Since 2006, he has been responsible for leading Ipsos' Higher Education Research Account Team for North America. In 2009, Daniel set up his own research consulting practice – Infuse Creative Insights – working with Ipsos in the higher education sector, the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada, and with other clients seeking research advice and expertise. In 2010, Daniel accepted a position as Adjunct Professor in Simon Fraser University's Master's of Public Policy Program, teaching research methods and survey design. He also teaches market research in Simon Fraser's Writing & Publishing Program.

Current Course

Spring 2020: Semester in Wicked Problems

Full-time, 15 credits (DIAL 390W, 391W & 392W)
Program dates: January 6 - April 9, 2020

The world is becoming increasingly complex. Climate change, mass migration, and epidemics of chronic disease are just a few of the wicked problems we will face in the coming decades. The Semester in Wicked Problems (Spring 2020 Semester in Dialogue) will explore some of these problems and many others using dialogue and systems thinking.

Dialogue is intended to be an engaging and inclusive conversation for all participants and is based on an understanding that everyone in the room is coming from a different background, and will have different interests and views. The goal of the Semester in Dialogue is to create a space where views can be expressed and where participants can actively listen to each other and learn something new. Dialogue ultimately provides a space to bring together diverse viewpoints, explore these differences, and work towards understanding them better. Systems thinking recognizes that complex problems are different from simple or complicated problems. Some systems are only simple or complicated, meaning they will be predictable, controllable and designable, e.g. sending a rocket to the moon. Other systems are complex, meaning they are unpredictable, self-organizing and emergent, e.g. raising a child.

The Semester in Wicked Problems will enable exploration of a variety of complex problems, what makes them complex, and how solutions to complex problems need to be quite different from the “tried and true” solutions to complicated problems we’ve come to rely on.

What wicked problem keeps you up at night? 


Dr. Diane T. Finegood is an experienced research leader and strategic thinker with an excellent track record of heading national and provincial health research organizations. She served as President & CEO of the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research (2012-2016) and inaugural scientific director of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research’s Institute of Nutrition, Metabolism and Diabetes (2000-2008). Diane is currently a Professor in the Centre for Dialogue and Semester in Dialogue at Simon Fraser University. As a bridge-builder and systems thinker, she has successfully facilitated the needs of disparate stakeholders to carve out common ground for effective dialogue, collaboration and outcomes. Diane is also an internationally recognized researcher whose work and expertise range from cell biology, physiology, and mathematical modeling, to population and public health, health policy and knowledge translation.  She has received a range of awards, which reflect her impact as a leader, scientist, partner and mentor.

Chris Yakimov is the Associate Director, Digital Community Engagement for the Office of Community Engagement, SFU External Relations. He has worked as a digital strategist in the private, nonprofit and now public sector, and has a BA and MA from UBC in Psychology and Education, respectively. His graduate thesis was a narrative inquiry that explored the power relations brokered by the word “self”, in academic, therapeutic, and everyday discourse. He’s heavily influenced by thinkers like Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Antonio Damasio, Jaron Lanier and Judith Butler, and brings an abiding and passionate interest in the roles of emotion, autonomy, language and power within the complex bio-relational system that is “us”. Current interests include: critical deconstructions of economic and business systems, blockchain, cooperative governance, and the underutilized potential of fiction in knowledge mobilization and pedagogy. Vancouver-born, he loves hockey, photography, cli-fi, breakfast sandwiches and looking forward to whatever his three-year-old daughter will say next.

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Semester in Dialogue 2016 brochure