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Semester in Dialogue 2016 brochure

Upcoming Course(s)

Applications for Spring 2019 are OPEN.

Complexity of Health and Wellness

Full-time, 15 credits (DIAL 390W, 391W, 392W)

Canadians take healthcare seriously and see our universal system as a key component of our national identity.  Although perceived as universal, the connected beliefs that the system covers everyone equally and provides excellent health care are misplaced.  Commonwealth Fund rankings put Canada at 10th out of 11 countries surveyed, including Australia, New Zealand, France, Sweden and the UK. Only our neighbor to the south has poorer performance.   

Why don’t Canadians perceptions match the reality? What implication does this have for transforming our health and wellness systems?  What can and should be done to address quality, sustainability, universality?

Healthcare uses the largest portion of our provincial tax dollars and like most large systems, transformation is fiendishly complex.  The economics of healthcare demand some form of rationing, human biology and behavior are intricate, and the organizing principles on which healthcare is based were developed in a different era.

The Spring 2019 Semester in Dialogue will explore solutions to health and social care challenges through dialogue, as well as a framework focused on complex adaptive systems. We’ll use dialogue and systems thinking as a substrate to examine the nature of health, inequalities, delivery of health care, and the boundary between health and other societal issues. The course will probe the complexities of health and wellness systems that correspond with our values and ethics while being effective and financially stable.

Specific themes that may be explored with thought leaders and through assignments and projects include:

  • Mental health and addiction
  • Aboriginal health and wellness
  • Aging, dementia and home and community care
  • Precision health and personalized medicine
  • Disability and Diversability in the community
  • Obesity and chronic disease prevention

Students will develop solutions appropriate for complex problems, and present them to appropriate stakeholders as well as publicly through a dialogue event they will develop and facilitate.

Course runs Monday through Friday 9:30-3:30


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.

Urban Energy Futures (Summer 2018)
—Applications are now closed.

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

Cheap, safe, reliable energy is essential to modern urban life. The first and second industrial revolutions were powered by new forms of energy. Modern cities could not have been built without ready access to assured supplies of energy from coal, oil, natural gas, nuclear fission and hydro power. Yet the place of energy in our economy has become one of the most contested issues in our politics - witness the divisive debates over new pipelines, LNG terminals, and the site C dam.

At a global scale, burning fossil fuels for energy is by far the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions which are in turn are driving changes in the Earth's climate with unpredictable effects on the lives of millions of people. Renewable energy offers a promising alternative to fossil fuels - but the transition away from the sources of energy that have driven economic growth for the past two centuries will be contested, disruptive and uneven. 

Against this larger context, cities have become global laboratories for the transition to a clean energy economy. Many individuals and communities are taking their energy future into their own hands by installing their own roof-top solar panels or community owned windmills. Local governments have begun setting targets prescribing how and when energy use in their communities should shift in favour of renewables.

In the last two years, Vancouver has positioned itself at the fore-front of this emerging global movement by setting the goal of 100% renewable energy across all major sectors of urban energy use by 2050. Other communities in Metro Vancouver have embarked on their own low carbon energy transition plans.  

Is the goal of 100% renewable energy achievable at a cost which consumers are willing to bear? How can a city persuade its citizens to make fundamental changes in the way they have always used energy? Is this the job of a city in the first place? And what should be the continuing role of fossil fuels in the urban economy of the future?

This course will tackle these hard questions about Canada's energy future and the role of energy in urban life in Canada within an innovative and intense experiential learning environment. We will take a fresh look at the city around us and learn more about how energy is being used in old and new ways. We will talk to thought leaders, visit energy producers and distributors and develop group projects that serve local communities. At that same time, we will introduce methods of deliberative dialogue and community engagement to learn new ways of talking and thinking with people about these divisive issues.

The goal will be to teach the skills required to build the understanding, empathy and broad-based agreement that will be necessary to move towards a clean energy future in Canadian cities. We welcome applications from students from all disciplines and hope to have as wide a range of them as possible represented in the cohort for this course.

Course Instructors

The course will be led by two experienced practitioners of dialogue and public policy. 

Shauna Sylvester is the Director of the SFU Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue. She is a Professor of Professional Practice in FASS and has been an experienced facilitator, thought leader and social entrepreneur for over thirty years.

Shauna has founded four organizations Carbon Talks, Renewable Cities, Canada’s World and IMPACS – the Institute for Media, Policy and Civil Society, and she has led a number of university wide initiatives focused on city-building including two week-long Community Summits: Alone Together: Addressing Isolation in the Urban Environment and We The City.  Shauna also facilitated the Mayor of Vancouver’s Task Force on Affordable Housing, served on the Greenest City Action Plan External Oversight Body and was the lead Convener of Moving in a Livable Region, the largest consortium of business, academic, labour and community organizations working on transportation funding in BC.

Shauna is also an active volunteer and has served as a board member of the Downtown Business Improvement Association, Mountain Equipment Cooperative, Vancity Credit Union, Vancity Capital, the Voluntary Sector Initiative, the BC Assessment Authority and numerous non-profit organizations.

Michael Small is a Climate Solutions Fellow of the Centre for Dialogue. From 2015 – 2018 he was the first Executive Director of the Centre's program called Renewable Cities, which supports cities in the transition towards 100% renewable energy. As Executive Director, he hosted Renewable Cities Global Learning Forum in May 2015 and again in May 2017.

Prior to joining SFU, Michael was a senior executive in the Canadian Foreign Service and a Canadian diplomat for thirty-four years. He served as Canada’s High Commissioner to Australia from 2010 – 2014. In Ottawa, from 2006 – 2010 he was Assistant Deputy Minister for Global Issues and then for Human Resources in the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. He served as Canada’s Ambassador to Cuba from 2000 – 2003. Earlier in his career, he played a leading role in shaping Canada’s human security agenda for Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy and as the Co-ordinator for the Canadian delegation to the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.

Michael is the author of a case study of third party mediation in international conflict called “The Forgotten Peace: Niagara Falls, 1914” (University of Ottawa Press, 2009).  He is a Fellow of the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs at Harvard University. He was also the curator of two travelling photographic exhibits, “Canada – Cuba: One Hundred Years in View” (2003) and “Pacific Currents” (1996).

SFU Semester at CityStudio (Fall 2018)
—Applications are now closed.

Full-time, 15 credits (DIAL 390W, 391W, 392W)

Semester at CityStudio brings together bright, innovative students from diverse backgrounds, disciplines and universities to collaborate with The City of Vancouver on demonstration projects. CityStudio is an immersive, team learning environment combining interdisciplinary skills with the complexity of collaborating within a group setting. The course combines dialogue and design elements, and requires students to engage with communities, research existing urban interventions and design projects to improve the world around them. Students will co-create projects based on needs of City of Vancouver and the community and are encouraged to bring an open mind about project scope to the program. 

By focusing on current issues that matter in Vancouver, students have an opportunity to develop innovative solutions that assist The City of Vancouver in reaching its goals. Students cultivate the skills necessary to conduct student led dialogues, public presentations, and to engage in multi-stakeholder processes with policy makers and City of Vancouver staff. The course offers field experiences, on-the-ground training, leadership development, group process, and urban sustainability project management skills.

Course runs Monday thru Friday, 9:30-3:30.
Students register through SFU. Course open to students from all participating universities.

Course instructors 

Janet Moore

Holly Schmidt is a Vancouver artist, curator and educator. She has a research-based practice that engages processes of collaboration and informal pedagogy. Moving across disciplinary boundaries, she explores the relationships between practices of making, knowledge creation and the formation of temporary communities. Her exhibition, public art and residency projects include Pollen Index (2016) Charles H. Scott Gallery, Till (2014/15) with the Santa Fe Art Institute Food Justice Residency, Moveable Feast (2012) Burnaby Art Gallery, Grow (2011) Other Sights for Artists’ Projects. Upcoming projects are Midnight Picnic (2018) Boca Del Lupo, Locals Only (2018) AKA Gallery, and Accretion (2018) 10 Different Things with ECUAD Living Labs, City Studio and Vancouver Public Art. She’s developed and taught course in social practice at Emily Carr University of Art and Design, as well as curating community engaged artist projects with the Contemporary Art Gallery.  

Adrian Sinclair is Director of Engagement for Transformation Projects and for The Vancouver Mural Festival. For over 10 years, Adrian has produced civic events, public programming and large festivals in Vancouver. Adrian specializes in event design, stakeholder engagement, and event management that aims to transform how art and culture is seen and experienced in cities. Formerly, he applied his passion in this area as Public Programs Coordinator at The Museum of Vancouver. In addition to his public engagement work, Adrian is the co-author and illustrator of Freestyle Focus Group: Learn to Freestyle Rap and Build Community (2016). He is also Co-Founder of the BC Mobile Sauna Society.