A Citizen Studio to Transform Democracy in Peterborough

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We know the old ways aren’t enough anymore. Some of the old ways are fundamental to civil society. There is no sensible replacement for elected governments and the civil service who work with them, there really isn’t.

And yet, it doesn’t at all seem like that’s enough anymore does it? It’s not that we need something to replace our City Halls. And sure, there are certainly things that might be done to continuously improve our City Halls and Works. But, it is time for something in addition to those great gifts.

Our proposal is to create that something to come alongside our current democratic institutions; something to enable and ennoble citizens in their connectedness, giftedness, and power.

In Peterborough it is worth noting that we have a space for incubating entrepreneurship. Years ago, the City of Peterborough invested in the Greater Peterborough and Area Economic Development Corporation. It has morphed a bit, and is now known as Peterborough & the Kawarthas Economic Development. And, now we also have the Innovation Cluster and Startup Peterborough. These are spaces and hubs, public and private and in partnership, for encouraging the grassroots efforts of people to create their own livelihoods and by extension work opportunities for other members of our community. It is an evolved and supportive ecology.

In the last few years, there has been tremendous growth in the number of people capable of hosting community conversations on a variety of subjects and using a variety of forms.

Paul Bennett told us in a Future of Peterborough interview that he is excited about the state of things entrepreneurial in Peterborough. He did say though, that if we’d asked him about the state of things a few years ago, he might not have been so upbeat. Now, with an organization or two in place, a strong and growing network, as well as mentors, he feels things are pointing in the right direction. We believe him because he’s been around the block and even owns a few.

He interestingly noted that it is difficult when things are not set up for you to be successful at what you are good at.

In the meantime, Ian Attridge in his Future of Peterborough interview is sensing that, in the realm of civil society—a counterpart to entrepreneurship—Peterborough has organically developed much more capacity for community engagement, neighbourhood development, dialogue, and design. There is even a group of community engagement hosts and facilitators meeting regularly to explore and develop their works and crafts.

In the last few years, there has been tremendous growth in the number of people capable of hosting community conversations on a variety of subjects and using a variety of forms. And yet, as Ian points out, we haven’t quite seen the change at an institutional level that we might like. He’s right.

So, given the success our entrepreneurial community has had in “setting things up for people to be successful at what they are good at,” why wouldn’t we do the same in civil society?

During our All Citizens Meetings we heard remarkable, remarkable things. We cannot recommend the harvests from those events enough. To hear what the citizens of Peterborough felt was important and how they felt we could address some of those things together, the images community members cast and recorded for the future, and the visions for partnering with an evolving City Hall has been extraordinary.

Headlines compiled by attendees of the May All Citizens Meeting.

Headlines compiled by attendees of the May All Citizens Meeting. (Click to enlarge).

Something that stood out at our September All Citizens Meeting was that there is so much going on in the City that we have too many things to choose from. And yet, it seems that the people leading these are not connected to one another. Niambi Leigh has noticed something similar. Nor are community members regularly invited into a space where they might discover what is already here, alive, and well on the way to some of the generative images of the future we heard expressed.

With all this in mind, it would seem that just a touch more ‘form’ and we could catalyze leaps and bounds into deepened democracy and thriving community.

Now, by deepened democracy, we mean going even beyond improvements to City Hall processes many of us have been advocating for like; more transparency, more community consultation on City projects, more time for community members to receive, review, and represent themselves regarding City reports. That is all better democracy to be sure.

By deeper democracy we also mean the cultivation of the power of community members, in their expertise and agency, to tap their talents and do things together, to be successful at what they are good at.

What if there was an association of local associations and, most importantly, citizens?

What if that association held regular spaces for citizens to explore their talents and interests together, to create more citizen groups like Reimagine Peterborough and Peterborough Pollinators?

What if it could incubate social enterprises, cooperatives, art hives, public-private-partnerships, stewardship foundations, with and alongside our existing civil society organizations including City Hall?

What if this space hosted ongoing gatherings to bring citizens together with a view to cultivating civil society?

What if citizens created new initiatives and gave birth to new associations?

What if we networked associations, citizens, community facilitators, and media in deliberate and artfully hosted ways, always?

What if we partnered with some of the venerable institutions in our community, like our college, university, city hall, foundations, and housing organizations?

A standing Citizen Studio staffed by well-trained dialogue hosts and convenors, with spaces for design, guidance and support for emerging new associations, forums for collected impact, system navigators, and a media outlet of its own would be a potent force for our City’s social and cultural evolution.

To explore the idea of a Citizen Studio in Peterborough, contact Peter Pula at peter@resonancecentre.com.


Photo by Yvonne Hollandy.


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