Nomination for the Reinhard Mohn Prize
Was any specific effort made to strengthen democratic capacities, build democratic structures and/or strengthen democratic behavior?
Canada’s World was launched as an experiment in democratic development. The people who helped shape Canada’s World were deeply concerned about the lack of a conversation about Canada’s role in the world within the broader political culture. They were also turned off by the narrow and polarized conversations within the formal political institutions and the ideological mud-slinging served up by political parties. We wanted to find a different avenue for democratic expression and so we took a page from the handbooks on direct democracy, the open source movement and the “Wisdom of Crowds” to develop a “by the people, for the people” approach. While this approach respected the wealth of intellectual capital that existed in the foreign policy community, it didn’t draw on that capital. Instead, we ventured out to citizens - the non-experts - to seek their participation and their vision for Canada in the world.
Canada’s World began modestly from a small office at the SFU Centre for Dialogue and grew into a collaboration of hundreds of individuals, universities, foundations, and non-profit organizations. The infectious notions of true participatory democracy spilling out from the Internet and sweeping across communities in North America and the UK provided inspiration.
We used traditional means to solicit people’s views – public opinion research, surveys, questionnaires and interviews - and new methods like 2.5 days of deliberative dialogues with randomly selected citizens, open forum, town hall meetings and interactive workshops. We also used Web 2.0 tools such as blogs, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Wikis, Flickr and online dialogues.
Some methods for reaching out to Canadians worked well (e.g. deliberative dialogue) and some fell flat (e.g. online policy dialogue through the website) , but with each new attempt we tried to share our lessons and open up our process to scrutiny. In doing so we hoped to model a new approach to policy formulation – one that begins with the assumption that power comes from sharing knowledge, rather than hoarding it and that citizens can and will participate in complex policy discussion if given the opportunity. And so, at the same time that we were building the democratic behaviours of the citizens that were engaged in the process, we were creating the scholarship that would build the capacities of institutions and organizations to undertake such processes.
Has the design of the project been adopted by others since its creation?
There have been many groups that have contacted Canada’s World about modeling different aspects of our work. (Only minutes ago, we responded to an interview request by the Ottawa Citizen about Canada’s World as a model in digital diplomacy).
When we first started, a group from Australia contacted us with the hopes of emulating our model for an Australia’s World. Within the first year, the Privy Council Office of the Federal Government featured Canada’s World as a model in effective use of social media.
We were invited on several occasions to share our approach and learnings with the Department of Foreign Affairs, CIDA, Department of National Defence, the Policy Research Initiative, the International Development Research Centre, the Privy Council Office and the Prime Ministers’ Office. It is difficult to take credit for specific initiatives of the government, but the relationship with the civil service was an open and productive one and we were often contacted for additional advice when the federal government was setting up related initiatives. Some of the most noteworthy initiatives where we may have had a more direct influence in their development include Canada 150, the DFAIT e-dialogue process, and CIDA’s communication and outreach initiatives.
Canada’s World was also approached as a featured speaker at many conferences and symposiums including the World Wide Views Copenhagen meetings hosted by the Danish Board of Technology, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities National Conference, the Millennium Scholars Think Again (twice), the Merit Scholars Conference, Think Link Policy Symposium (annual gathering of Canadian think tanks) Engineers Without Border National Conferences (twice), The Manitoba School District Annual Symposium, the University of Alberta International Development Week Forum, the Canadian International Conference, the Group of 78 etc. The Japer Innovation Forum etc.
Other groups have also contacted us for advice on how to shape their initiatives. Some of these include: The Toronto City Summit, The Canadian International Council, Ashoka Changemakers, The UBC Liu Institute Congo Project, Canadian Consortium on Dialogue and Deliberation, the Alberta Climate Change Dialogue Project, World Wide Views, TheMark, Whistler Centre for Sustainability Tedx Talks, Canada World Youth, Esther’s Echo, Asia Pacific Foundation Canada 25@25, the Learning Centre dialogue group etc.
How much money was invested in the project?
The direct cash and in-kind contributions to the project were $2.2 million dollars over three years. All of these funds were raised privately from foundations, individuals and universities. If we include the volunteer contributions and the additional in-kind support provided by Simon Fraser University and the other collaborating organizations that number exceeds $2.5 million.
The largest donors to the project included: The Simons Foundation, The International Development Research Centre, The North Growth Foundation, The Walter and Duncan Gordon Foundation, The Young Family Foundation, the Laidlaw Foundation, the Koerner Foundation, The J.W. McConnell Family Foundation, The Centre for International Governance Innovation, Schools Without Borders, the participating universities.
How much time work days were invested in the project?
It is difficult to estimate the total number of work days because of the sheer volume of the volunteer effort over the three years of the project. Our best estimate is that there were approximately 4,200 work days invested in the project. There was a core staff team that worked full time on the project for its duration:
Project Director – October 2006 to May 2010
Online Community Facilitator and Editor – June 2007 to April 2010
Ethnocultural/Community Outreach Coordinator – August 2007 to April 2010
Administrative Coordinator - October 2007 to December 2008
Regional Dialogue Director – October 2007 to September 2008
21 University Interns - each intern was structured differently, depending on the needs of the university faculty. At the minimum interns worked 10 hours per week for a 4 to 8 month period. Some were full time for a semester of study. In some instances interns returned to work with Canada’s World for a second rotation. Engineers Without Borders provided a paid internship to Canada’s World through their offices and the Simons Foundation provided support to two interns – one based at SFU and another at the University of Winnipeg in Manitoba.
In addition to staff and interns, we hired a number of people on short term contracts as dialogue facilitators, youth convenors, graphic designers, videographers, and translators.
There were volunteers involved in every stage of the project. The most extensive engagement of volunteers was through the Foreign Policy Camp in which 100 volunteers, many under the age of 25 were involved in every aspect of hosting the camp. Young volunteers also galvanized around the Vote for The World campaign which was launched during the last federal election.
Volunteers were also involved at senior levels on the advisory committee, communications and policy committees and in our community outreach work. In some communities small adhoc Canada’s World groups would come together to convene a community dialogue or kitchen roundtable – often without any prompting by Canada’s World staff. Many of the dialogue participants also convened informal gatherings to discuss foreign policy issues within their seniors’ complex or church group after they attended a Canada’s World event. In this way, Canada’s World evolved into more of a movement which connected virtually through our online communities.
Since May 2010, a core community of volunteers continues to be active with Canada’s World – responding to media requests, blogging, uploading information on to twitter, Facebook and our own website and maintaining the database of contacts.