Organizing a Citizen's Forum on Sustainable Development
|Region(s)||Montréal, Québec, Canada|
|In domains||Giving Back to the Community, Good Governance, Government, Optim Ressources|
In April 2007, the elected representatives of Ahuntsic-Cartierville expressed their willingness for their District to become a major actor of municipal sustainability. A sustainable development (SD) bureau was created and at the end of 2007, the first SD action plan was adopted by the municipal administration. The design of a 20-year strategic SD plan was scheduled for the following years.
In the process, a commitment was made to set up two stakeholders’ dialogue structures in order to help with the strategic planning process and to ensure a follow-up on the projects included in the action plan:
• a socio-economic partners’ committee
• a citizens Forum
Optim Ressources assisted the District with the set up and animation of the 2 committees, but this article focuses on the Citizens Forum.
The forum’s first objective was to collect citizens’ vision, expectations, needs and suggestions on different aspects of sustainability applied to their District, in order to enrich and orient the second SD action plan 2010-2012 as well as the SD 20-year strategic plan. The second objective was to identify volunteers to create a permanent citizens committee to assist the municipal team in the implementation of the actions and follow-up on results.
The project was launched in October 2008, for an event scheduled in March 2009. The timeframe was short. The design of the Forum was made to allow as much time as possible for participants to work and brainstorm on sustainability. Some fun and educational activities were scheduled to ensure a festive and positive spirit to the event.
Topics debated at the tables came from the first SD action plan: economic vitality, social development, environmental stewardship, urban planning. Each topic was broken down into 5 to 7 sub-categories that were explained and illustrated at the tables.
In order to offer citizens several opportunities to participate, at convenient times and closest to their home, three dates were suggested:
• a Wednesday night (18h30 – 21h) at the heart of Cartierville
• a Wednesday night (18h30 – 21h) at the heart of Ahuntsic
• a Saturday (noon – 17h) in the municipal offices
The two Wednesday events included a brief presentation of sustainability and the Forum’s context and were concentrated on the two workshops.
In addition, the Saturday event featured the Al Gore conference on climate change, delivered by the Director General of the David Suzuki Foundation for Québec, who also is a resident of Ahuntsic-Cartierville. This was followed by a presentation by the District Director and the Manager of the SD bureau. The day was conducted by a professional animator and ended with a non-alcoholic cocktail prepared by a solidarity economy firm based in the District, who took care of all food and beverages for the 3 events.
Several partners were present with information stands and childcare services were offered all day long with zero waste activities.
At the end of each event, citizens were encouraged to communicate their contact information if they were interested to join the citizens’ committee.
Ecoresponsible gifts were given to some participants through draw of lots, given by the District and its economic partners. Finally, GHG emissions were compensated with Planetair.
• Attract citizens to the events
Communication is essential for such a project. Citizens’ response rate being quite low, the information needs to be visible everywhere and get to the people in many different ways (media coverage, distribution of flyers, posters in public areas, direct contact with known citizens and local associations, free advertizing in newspapers…). In this case, a specific logo and visuals were designed.
• Lead citizens to make concrete and useful suggestions
Individuals tend to stay on the conceptual level or on the problems they face in their everyday life. The table animators were responsible for leading participants to formulating concrete and constructive ideas that could be evaluated and possibly transformed into projects.
• Take the results into account in the strategic planning process and the action plan
Citizens’ ideas are very diverse. Some related to huge projects like creating public markets. Others are community initiatives, such as organizing neighbourhood activities. For the municipal team, it is a matter of identifying which suggestions fall under its responsibilities and how it can support others. It also needs to evaluate the feasibility of ideas and how they relate to municipal priorities and budget. This part may last several months.
• Live up to commitments
Citizens consider the Forum as a positive event that has the potential to make a difference in the future of the District. They dedicate time and energy to it and expect the municipality to take their ideas into account. It is therefore extremely important for the municipal team to communicate with the public on a regular basis and explain which elements were taken into account and why others were not. Volunteers for the committee also need to be informed about the next steps of the project.
75 citizens took part in the Forum.
22 volunteered for the committee, of which the first meeting will take place in June 2009. They will meet 3 to 4 times a year.
Close to 300 suggestions were made by the participants and are currently being looked at.
The full report is available in French on the website : http://www.bonheurdurable.com/
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