Centering Equity and Inclusion in an Engagement Framework

March 10, 2023

Co-creating the City of Victoria’s All Our Voices Engagement Framework

"Equity means having a space at the table, our voices are heard, we have agency in what happens in our neighbourhood."

All Our Voices - Community Conversation Participant


How can we develop an engagement framework that better serves all residents, and in particular, equity-seeking groups?

This was the leading question for the City of Victoria, BC as they worked to update their municipal public engagement framework with an inclusion and equity lens, following a 2019 City Council directive to embed distributional, structural and intergenerational equity into the City’s corporate policies, including in its civic engagement. While the City’s original engagement framework included commitments to inclusion and accessibility, further work was needed to ensure the City’s engagement approach was informed by diverse perspectives, identities and lived experiences. In response, the City of Victoria’s Engagement and Equity, Diversity and Inclusion staff partnered with the Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue to embark on the All Our Voices project, a two-year research and consultation process consisting of three phases:

Phase 1: Relationship Building and Research

Throughout 2021, the City’s Engagement and EDI teams co-hosted 22 online Community Conversations with 55 organizations that serve or represent equity-seeking groups in the City of Victoria. This phase helped to build trusting relationships with equity-seeking communities, while beginning to explore what inclusive and equitable engagement could look like. City staff also engaged in research and learning on inclusive and equitable public engagement, including multi-day courses and workshops from Simon Fraser University and IAP2.

Phase 2: Community Engagement

Insights from Phase 1 were incorporated in the second stage of broader community engagement, which included online and in-person community roundtables, individual coffee chats, idea boards placed in community spaces and an online survey. This phase was an opportunity for the City to “learn by doing,” piloting inclusive practices while tailoring them to local community contexts.

Phase 3: Integrating and Implementing

The updated All Our Voices Engagement Framework developed by SFU’s Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue (the Centre for Dialogue) and City of Victoria (the City) staff weaves together learnings from the engagement process alongside the Centre for Dialogue's Beyond Inclusion Guide and guiding City strategies, policies and reviews such as their broader municipal Equity Framework. However, reports don’t always translate into practice without additional guidance. The Centre for Dialogue also collaborated with City staff to design a user-friendly staff handbook and planning templates and to deliver two City-wide staff trainings. These accompanying resources helped to introduce changes in the Engagement Framework, increase staff understanding of what equity in engagement means and automate the incorporation of inclusive practices in the planning phases.

Key Findings from the City of Victoria’s All Our Voices Engagement Framework

Over the course of a two-year consultation process, including focused conversations with 55 local organisations, public roundtables and an online survey, the All Our Voices engagement process asked the community–and in particular, equity-seeking and historically marginalized communities–questions such as:

  • What could the City do to make it easy for you to share ideas and feedback?
  • What would make it feel safer or welcoming for you to share ideas and feedback?
  • What would make you feel that the City heard your ideas and feedback?

So what can an equity-focused engagement framework look like? Alongside general introduction to the purpose of public engagement, the All Our Voices Engagement Framework includes:

  • An up-to-date snapshot of the demographic diversity of the City
  • Definitions of terms such as “equity,” “inclusion,” “anti-racism” and “reconciliation” in relation to public engagement
  • Seven pillars and seven principles of equitable engagement, incorporating the feedback they received from their local community
  • A checklist to scan for accessibility barriers
  • Suggested guidelines for respectful participation

When the Centre for Dialogue co-created the Beyond Inclusion guide for equity in public engagement, a process like the All Our Voices consultation and framework were what we hoped to inspire others to lead. For as much as we could provide good practices from research and our own consultation process, additional values, principles and approaches for equitable engagement are likely to emerge in each context. Beyond Inclusion was always meant to be an invitation (or provocation!) for ongoing conversation.

We’ll now share highlights of the conversation that took place in the City of Victoria, in response to the three key questions they posed:

Topic #1: What would make it easier for you to share feedback or ideas with the City of Victoria?

"Seeing more representation helps so much. People coming from different countries, working together, seeing it happen- not just talking about it. Not just representation for the sake of representation—there are so many diverse people with something to contribute to the community."

All Our Voices - Community Conversation Participant
  • Building up trust over time, acknowledging that traditionally under-heard communities may have a history of hurt with government that reduces their trust in sharing personal information or feedback with government.
  • Meeting people where they’re at, offering a range of engagement opportunities including in community venues, different dates and times, and online.
  • Removing barriers to participation, such as by giving advance notice, having an option to register or complete surveys over the phone, providing translation and/or interpreters, and finding ways to offset the costs of participation.
  • Presenting information in accessible formats so that participants can enter conversations with the City on equal footing. Information should be provided in advance, in plan-language, translated to relevant languages, and using visuals.

Topic #2:  What would make it feel safer or welcoming for you to share feedback or ideas with the City of Victoria? 

“The City needs to do the deep work of community and relationship building because this is where the real trust and relationships happen.”

All Our Voices - Community Conversation Participant

“When you’re engaging with marginalized communities, understand that people have a history and there can be some hurt. Put compassion in the forefront when you are engaging.” 

All Our Voices - Community Conversation Participant

  • Working with community partners to co-design or co-host engagement opportunities in a way that works for both the City and community members. The City needs to be familiar with local community organizations and work to build relationships and trust.
  • Honouring lived experiences as a source of knowledge and recognizing existing power imbalances or disproportionate representation (e.g. often homeowners make up the majority of the participants in engagement processes).  
  • Offering opportunities for participation earlier in the decision making process, before decisions have been made and working at higher levels of the public participation spectrum, where participants are invited to collaborate on solutions and make final decisions.
  • Ensuring that events are safe, welcoming and accessible by choosing venues that are in safe locations, are welcoming for all by having a diverse set of trained staff and non-gendered bathrooms, and are scent and pet-free.

Topic #3: What would make you feel that your ideas and feedback had been heard?

“All feedback and ideas need to go to Council, not just cherry-picked ideas that support the recommendation.”  

All Our Voices - Community Conversation Participant

“Continue to make efforts to include marginalized voices at the table. People with lived-experience should be included in decision making.”

All Our Voices - Community Conversation Participant

  • A clear process to “close the loop” reporting on what was heard, what recommendations were brought forward to decision-makers, and the resulting outcomes.
  • No cherry-picking, sharing all feedback and ideas with decision-makers, not just ideas that support a preferred decision.
  • Providing more personal responses to inquiries and ideas instead of generalized statements.

Let's Start a Conversation

Purpose of Inquiry

Please do not use this form for room bookings.* To book room rentals in the Wosk Building, please email or visit the Meetings, Events and Conferences website.