Citizens engage (10 tips)


When Pam Moody was elected mayor of Yarmouth, Nova Scotia 15 months ago, she was inundated with demands to fix things: “The town should do this, you should do that.” She could see the difference between a pity party in a struggling town, and a town that stood up to look after what needed to be done. Her response:



Jim Mustard, deputy warden of the County of Inverness, Nova Scotia, is driven by his passion for children. His passion has led to an exploration of early childhood development and how our brains develop because we spend time together. In our communities, he sees lost opportunities for us to grow and develop when we place experts at the front of the room and we remain alone and in silos. We are not creating new structures in our brains to build connections with each other that will allow us to be more resilient – and create communities that serve us in the best ways possible. We don’t talk about what binds us – we sit and listen.


Paul McNeil, publisher of Island Press Ltd. followed his passion to create a place for Atlantic Canada’s rural communities to find local solutions. He brought people like Pam and Jim to Georgetown, Prince Edward Island, to tell stories and notice what works. They did not sit and listen to a few experts; they explored the stories in the room and they are changing the face of rural communities.


I met Pam, Jim and Paul as moderator for a session at this week’s Federation of Canadian Municipalities’ Sustainable Communities Conference and Trade Show in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. To replicate the Georgetown Experience, which was all about connecting people and supporting the development of new relationships, we began with their quick story of Georgetown, then we asked everyone in the room to dig  into the panel’s stories and tease out the story behind the story.

Our little FCM community built connections with each other they would not have if we would have stayed in the “sage on the stage” pattern. They also proved that there is significant expertise everywhere in the room – in the community.

When citizens are engaging themselves, here’s what’s happening, according to our pop-up community:

  1. Bring your best self – leave the negative at the door
  2. Tell stories
  3. Pursue unusual partnerships
  4. Take action – don’t worry about the specifics
  5. Trust that people want to contribute
  6. Trust that people want to take responsibility
  7. Offer minimal structure
  8. Practice working with each other – commit to meeting more than once
  9. Get together – bust the silos
  10. Pause to look at what’s really going on, the macro


As Pam, Jim and Paul reflected on the session, they all noticed that people are started for leadership, but its not leadership from elected officials thats missing. Its the leadership of people standing up to say:



What work is your community calling to you to do?

Only you hold yourself back.

_____ _____ _____


This post is a wee bit  of the book I am working on, while I am working on it. Here are some plot helpers of Nest City – The Human Drive to Thrive in Cities:


Appreciating the patterns in people


The people in the room are the pattern

the voices, perspectives together

we are the same

with busy heads

we choose

to listen

life will be ok

we do need each other

we do need perspectives

to discern

to appreciate

to hear it out

to think through, checking reality

to think through what it will take

to survive

threat by threat

experience by experience

difference by difference

reinforcing appreciation

and flow forward


each doing one thing deeply

to work on it all


_____ _____ _____


A poem caught as participants noticed what they learned after a day of Collaborating in Complexity – Navigating the Systems of Community, my advanced training session delivered with Marilyn Hamilton, at FCM’ Sustainable Communities Conference in Charlottetown, February 11, 2014.