Canada’s First Civic Design Camp

Yesterday I had the pleasure of attending and presenting at Canada’s first Civic Design Camp held at the MaRS Discovery District in Toronto.   The purpose of the day  was to bring designers, public servants and innovators together to learn a process of design while working on real problems.

Reinventing civic society by design is gaining traction globally, but it was surprising to hear how far along some cities are.  The mayor’s office of Boston has an innovation lab where new ideas to improve citizen experience are prototyped and tested with room for failure built right in.  Clever ideas are improving citizen experience.   As  Nigel Jacobs said, “Good design makes people like you.”  Spothole (a tool for getting potholes filled quickly), “Where’s My School Bus?” and City Hall to Go are some of the interesting solutions that have come out this project.

The afternoon was dedicated to learning the design process.  Five sectors of government shared problems that they are grappling with. cdc

We were divided into interdisciplinary teams led by facilitators to explore the problems and prototype solutions.  Storify tale here.  It was fun and introduced me to a few new design tools which I will definitely use with students next year.

I hosted an unconference session on Mental Models and the Ladder of Inference:  How the ideas we hold in our heads are limiting, lead to entrenched positions and prevent us from getting to interesting solutions.  It was very well received.  Session attendees saw the power in the tool.

I also took time to pitch my social enterprise idea, driven by the question:

What would happen if an entire community became better at thinking, collaboration and complex problem-solving?

I envision a Centre for Integrative and Design Thinking for the City of Hamilton where anyone/group in the community can come to learn thinking and problem-solving strategies.  The audience was receptive and willing to engage with the idea, for which I am tremendously appreciative.  A huge thank you to the fantastic questions asked to help clarify my thinking,  connection suggestions  made (you need to talk to/seek funding from ….),  and the constructive feedback for idea improvement.

Thank you Katie Verigin (@kverigin) for the visual notes of my talk!



What Civic Design Camp made my realize is that it is possible to bring together groups with polarized views to – instead of debate, which leads nowhere – engage in the design process aimed at creating solutions.  I left at the end of the day energized and optimistic that the processes and tools for reinventing government, planning, civic discourse and decision-making are about to explode into everyday life.

Thank you organizers and sponsors! I thoroughly enjoyed the day.









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