Last week I took a 3-day course, "The Practice of Engagement" which is part of SFU's certificate in Dialogue and Civic Engagement. Vince Verlaan, who works with HB Lanarc, a consulting firm which focuses on community planning, especially around issues of sustainability.
From their website:
HB Lanarc is a leading planning and design firm helping to create complete, attractive, ecologically resilient, and prosperous communities in British Columbia and across North America. Our mission is to produce planning and design solutions for a sustainable future.
I thought the class was really good. I've been really inspired by the courses in this certificate program so far. 3 days of intensive class time is tiring, but I leave with lots of ideas and renewed confidence.
For instance, I'm involved in planning a dialogue event with members of Vancouver's animal advocacy community which is to be held on January 23rd. I've been concerened, even worried, that the discussions may be broken up by a lot of disagreements and arguments. Now that I've learned more about how to plan these events, and have seen more examples of how they work, I am much less worried about conflict. The format of the event will be such that conflict is less likely to happen, and even if it does, I think it can be handled.
What I have begun thinking more about is mapping out the potential attendees of this event, and how we can make as many of them aware of the event as possible.
It's all exciting and fun, and I'm looking forward to the event, even if I am anxious about it. The room at the library has been booked, and the pre-planning committee will be meeting soon to go over the next steps.
If you have any ideas about the event, or would like more info, get in touch!
This course was a practical look at designing engagement processes. One of the interesting case studies was participatory budgeting in Brazil. Entire communities come together to decide how 6-10% of the budget will be spent. It sounds pretty amazing, and I would love to see something like that happen here.
Vince was a good teacher, and I don't really want to spent time critiquing him or his teaching style. There was some time spent doing lecture-style class work, and then we did several sessions of actual practice with different tools and dialogue methods.
My favorite exercise was the "Critical Friends" exercise. We broke up into groups of 4 people. 1 person in each group explained to the others a challenge he or she was working on. Then the other 3 people had 5 minutes to ask that person clarifying questions. Not challenging questions, just clarifying questions. For the next 12 minutes after that, the 3 people discussed the original person's challenge, while he or she took notes on what they were saying. Finally, the original person recapped what he or she had heard from the others and what had been learned.
In our group it worked really well. The person with the challenge that we were discussing was actually quite amazed that it worked so well. Hearing other people talk about your own idea without being able to take part in their conversation somehow frees us up to really listen to what is being said and not take it personally. I'd really like to try this out in other situations, like possibly work situations, although it won't work all the time and has pretty specific uses.
Now I've got a few more tools I can use and lots more ideas about exciting future uses for them!