Yesterday, the London Citizens’ Panel (http://citizenspanel.ca/) made an announcement at London Central Library about a new initiative they’re rolling out over the next 6 months. Their goal is to move beyond issue-specific events like the ones they hosted over the winter for citizens to discuss/tackle the issue of income disparity, and hear from Londoners of all areas and backgrounds about citizen engagement itself, how it works (and doesn’t) for them, how the entire experience can be improved in our city.

Glen Pearson, a member of the panel, writes about it this next phase in engagement in today’s blog post. He says:

And there is a powerful new element to the work of the Panel this time around. The entire public library system in London has opted to fully partner with the us. The reasons should be obvious. Long before any of the groups got started in engagement, the libraries were already deeply involved in such work. But more than that, they have the ability through their extensive networks to bring thousands of Londoners into the process that previously had remained outside of it all. In many ways this is the most exciting part of this entire enterprise for me.

It all starts with an event Thursday May 24 at Wolfe Performance Hall at Central Library, featuring 3 of London’s top civic bloggers: Glen Pearson (http://glenpearson.ca/), Gina Barber (http://ginabarber.blogspot.ca/) and Philip McLeod (http://themcleodreport.ca/). From there, the Citizens Panel will be working to meet with citizens from all over the city, via the London Public Library system; they also have a survey on their website for citizens to tell them about their experiences with City Hall, and/or reasons why they don’t connect with the city. To keep the project on course, they will have follow-up meetings in September and November, to report their progress and final findings.

It’s important to stress that all members of the Citizens Panel are doing this as volunteers, not paid by or representing anyone but themselves, as citizens looking to engage others and understand what can be done to improve citizen experiences in our city. They aren’t affiliated with the City, though they will be reporting to Council with their findings.

Above all else, we need to reach beyond the “usual suspects”; we need to have this discussion with Londoners that have been silent. They want to hear about their experiences with City Hall, or why they choose not to connect. This is especially important in the context of projects like ReThink London (http://rethinklondon.ca/) that aims to give every member of our community a say in how our future is shaped.

Please check out the Citizen Panel website, answer their survey (it’s very brief, will take less than 5 minutes of your time!), and stay connected for future events. But please also reach out to those in your circles who don’t usually engage with City Hall and/or citizen initiatives. All voices are needed to have a truly vibrant and diverse city, the hope is to have input from as many citizens as possible.

As I said in my previous post, we need to collectively address and work against cynicism, engage with our city and encourage others to do the same. I’ve been thinking and learning more about ReThink since I posted, and see that this really is a once-in-a-generation opportunity. London Urban Designer Sean Galloway (who has been spear-heading ReThink London) has been a major inspiration to me in his message about the future of our city, and all the potential we have. An example of his thoughts on our city’s future can be seen here in this Ignite talk he gave last year.

ReThink is all about shaping our City for the next 20 years, effectively for 2032. This is our time to make our voice heard, and talk about exactly what kind of city we want to see, live in and be a part of.

It is also time to think big.

In this excellent post, Philip McLeod concludes:

The ReThink London exercise – actually planning officials prefer to call it a campaign, although experience might be a better word – will wrap up in the fall of 2013. By then all the other reports will have been completed and vetted and ReThink should pull everything together into a cohesive statement about the kind of city Londoners want this to become. Pretty much everything is on the table, an opportunity for some intelligent and visionary thinking that doesn’t often come along. All you need to participate is an opinion.

This is our time London. Please take some time to deeply consider what you like in our city, and everything that can be done to make it even better. Reach out to friends, family and members of your community and invite them into the conversation. I’ll do the same, and together we can create a real community dialogue. We won’t have another chance like this for another 20 years.

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