3 questions to promote citizen-led changes

adore and endure each other graffiti

“This film should be mandatory viewing for every mayor in Canada.”

This comment was shared in the chat box during the panel discussion that followed an Ottawa-based online screening of my film, The Great Disconnect.  The panel featured architect Rosaline Hill and social entrepreneur Manjit Basi. It was an engaging discussion about responsibility and accountability for how to make our communities more vibrant, connected and inclusive.  

While I 100% agree with the above comment – it also got me thinking about all of the people and all of the layers that play a role in strengthening and maintaining our community connections. 

In an article on the principles of asset-based community development (ABCD), author and expert Cormac Russell offers three questions when discussing the “citizen-led” principle of ABCD:

  • What is it that residents in communities are best placed to do together?
  • What is it that residents can best do, with some outside help?
  • What is it that communities need outside agencies to do for them?

Cormac Russell explains that if we can engage with those questions, then we are more able to mobilize the kind of changes that would be most helpful to us, as citizens. 

It’s important to note that the answers to the above questions will be different for every community and every neighbourhood. You may find yourself in a vibrant community where connection and interaction comes easily and effortlessly – but some of us may be living in a community where it’s the opposite. And because there are so many factors that influence community wellbeing (e.g. design of the neighbourhood, the type of housing, socio-economic considerations) without asking those questions, it’s hard to know where to start. 

But the key thing is to start. And some ways to do this include:

-Schedule a zoom chat with your neighbours (or socially distanced meet-up) to discuss goals for your neighbourhood, using the above three questions to frame your conversation.

-Educate yourself on upcoming city planning activities and participate in any opportunities for feedback (Ottawa residents click here to learn more)

-Establish a relationship with your city councillor and stay in the loop with initiatives that affect your community. 

-Connect with your neighbours and local businesses. Not only will it increase your wellbeing, but it will also strengthen the social fabric of your neighbourhood, which can lead to collective impact for the positive changes that you wish to seek.

A friend of mine, Rebecca, gave me permission to share some of the ways that she connects with her neighbours:

  • Schedule an annual leaf-raking day. Set up a table for refreshments (coffee, tea, muffins, etc.) to encourage connection and conversation. 
  • Collectively build and maintain a local ice rink. ‘
  • Organize holiday food exchanges. 
  • Organize gift drives or other donation-based or volunteer initiatives to support those in need.

(For more on neighbouring and ideas of how to do it, click here). 

Having strong neighbourly ties and community connections can have such a profound impact on our lives, and we need to hold ourselves and others accountable for their role in this. As Cormac Russell states,“Collective efficacy is measured not by the strengths or capacities of its leaders, but by the power and connectivity of its groups and their connectivity to each other, their ecology, culture, economy and the gifts of those at the edge.”

Click here to read Cormac’s full article. 

Leave a Comment