One of the topics that came up was what some call "voter apathy." Our 29% voter turnout in the last local election (2008) raises the question: How do we engage residents in the local issues? How do we get folks out to vote? Some people think it's because they don't care. Could it be that the current system creates barriers?
Torontonian and self-proclaimed community choreographer Dave Meslin gave a Ted Talk recently on what he called The Antidote to Apathy. It is well worth 7 minutes of your time.
Dave's talk addresses seven barriers to citizen engagement at the local level.
One of the barriers is city hall itself.
He gives the example of a typical city's newspaper ad regarding a zoning application. You know the ones -- North Cowichan puts them in the newspaper all the time. They're in a box with fonts so small and crowded almost everyone needs a magnifier to read them. Though they meet the requirements for communicating with the public - how much do they engage citizens in the planning process? Anybody in a communications or graphic-design course that submitted such an ad would get an F.
Then Meslin clinches his case: "imagine Nike writing an ad like that."
NIKE INC. September 14, 2011
Notice of Retail Purchase Opportunity
Nike wishes to announce that on October 1st, 2011, at select stores around the city, a new designer show (# 45340) will be available for purchase. Product #45340 comes in three colours, has a mesh and nylon shell and is available in men's women's and children sizes.
Of course, Nike would never publish this -- they want to sell shoes, by the thousands! Whereas, Meslin points out, most municipalities don't really want thousand of citizens showing up for planning meetings. If they did, their ads would look more like this. (click for a larger view)
Meslin encourages us to redefine what looks like apathy as "a complex web of cultural barriers that reinforce disengagement." And he talks about what many of them are. I highly recommend that you watch the video, and pass it on to your network. Imagine a municipality where folks are engaged in the planning process -- a municipality that prides itself on communication (including listening) and consultation with residents. A municipality that truly reflects our values.
I'm imagining it. I'd love you to join me.