A Decade of Community Engagement

Thu, 28 Jul 2022

Janet Webber
Executive Director, SFU Public Square

It’s hard to believe it, but SFU Public Square turned ten this year! 

Back in 2012, SFU’s new strategic vision to be the engaged university declared that:

SFU will be B.C.’s public square for enlightenment and dialogue on key public issues, and will be known as the institution to which the community looks for education, discussions and solutions.

SFU Public Square was launched to help make this vision become a tangible reality.

Since then, we have programmed hundreds of public conversations, discussion panels, workshops, debates and more to hold space for SFU and our communities to find ways to meaningfully engage with each other and contribute to the issues that affect all of our lives.

As part of that work, we’ve held eight community summits that have pushed the discourse on issues such as loneliness and social isolation, the future of work, disinformation and society and, most recently, equity and justice

We have moved our offices from our incubation space at the Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue at SFU Harbour Centre to 312 Main where we are now co-located with other community-focused SFU units and dozens of community-facing organizations that are working to foster social and economic change and improve health outcomes.

And in the last couple of years we’ve had to reimagine how we deliver on our mission by adapting our programming from in-person to virtual and now to hybrid formats to keep being of service to our communities during our ongoing global pandemic. 

A milestone event, like a ten year anniversary provides a great opportunity to look back and reflect on our history and think about the work we’ve done, how we’ve developed as an organization, the impact we’ve had and the incredible individuals and organizations we’ve had the pleasure of collaborating with.

It’s important to acknowledge how the ways we work as a team, the topics and themes we focus on, and our approach to community engagement and knowledge mobilization have all evolved over the past decade. 

Much of this growth, without a doubt, has been due to the collective awakenings and cultural shifts in our society. It has also been propelled by the priorities and leadership at SFU, and fostered by the folks we’ve been fortunate to work with and the knowledge they’ve shared.

But largely, our growth has been driven by the many people who have been part of SFU Public Square in some capacity. As a team, we’ve had many challenging conversations that have led to organizational shifts and transformations. As a leader, sometimes the lessons have been hard and required me to look deeply at myself and change how I show up at work and in the world. I’m incredibly grateful for this aspect of my role and the culture here and know that we must and will stay open to growth and development as people and as an organization.

Much of this decade-long journey of learning has been captured in our latest publication Holding Space: A Community Engagement Toolkit which offers the principles that guide our work and the methods behind what we do. While it was designed as a blueprint to support others at post-secondary institutions in developing their own community engagement initiatives, its contents should hopefully be of value to any community-serving organization. 

Our new online guide to Accessibility and Inclusion in Community-Engaged Events serves as a companion piece to Holding Space. This ever-expanding resource is a collection of our learnings as we work to program more accessible and inclusive spaces, and it includes many links to other great resources we’ve benefitted from. This living document will be regularly updated as we continue to learn about evolving best practices. 

When I think about the last ten years of SFU Public Square and I try to wrap my head around what’s been accomplished, I am humbled, awestruck and, frankly, more than a little overwhelmed. There has been so much knowledge of all kinds shared and exchanged as well as music, drawing, place-making, pop-ups, poetry, book readings, videos and writing. There have been so many incredible moments and connections that have sometimes lasted only moments, but some that have carried on to this day and have been the origin of phenomenal new things.

There has been laughter and tears, applause and silence, and countless hours of human beings creating, relating and being in spaces and places together with fundamentally the same hope and aim: to attempt to contribute to making our world a better place, for ourselves, our families and our communities. 

And most importantly for me, it has always about our relationships. Nothing ever happens at SFU Public Square without some kind of group effort –– sometimes it’s a big and broad team and sometimes it’s a small but nimble collective, but there are always vital visionaries, champions and ambassadors. And often it involves the formidable effort of a few tenacious folks burning the midnight oil to get the final details of an event sorted, a graphic designed, a webpage live, or an honorarium arranged (IYKYK). 

To the staff, volunteers, students and interns who have worked at SFU Public Square, to our leaders, peers, colleagues and collaborators at SFU and in our communities, to our speakers, audience members and participants who’ve attended our programming, we say thank you! What an honour and joy it has been to have your trust in us to help you bring your visions and activities to fruition and to present programming that is worthy of your time and attention. We’ve loved meeting you, learning from you, supporting you, co-designing with you, and hosting you!

As we continue to celebrate and reflect on ten years of community engagement, we will be sharing more memories and insights from our past –– including videos, media and images as well as interviews with some of the folks who have shaped SFU Public Square.

And as a gift for our anniversary, we want to hear from you!

  • What are your fondest memories of SFU Public Square? 

  • What do you think we should do next? 

  • What topics should we focus on?

Fill in this form or email your thoughts to With your feedback –– and as SFU charts its new strategic vision –– we will chart the next decade of SFU Public Square together!