Democracy Talks: A new partnership with Simon Fraser University

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Monday, January 21, 2013 View Count = 4847

Democracy Talks: A new partnership with Simon Fraser University

Writing last week in the Globe and Mail, Simon Fraser University (SFU) President and Vice-Chancellor Andrew Petter makes the case that today’s universities must play a leading role in increasing citizen engagement in politics.

Drawing on his speech delivered to the World Universities Forum in Vancouver, Petter writes that in addition to educating and informing citizens about the political process, universities are uniquely positioned to facilitate citizens’ active involvement in it.

“To support the development of strong democracies, universities need to position themselves less as ivory towers and more as public squares,” Petter writes, citing SFU’s own approach to integrating education, research and community engagement for a more democratic model of learning.

Petter’s profile of his university’s activities offers a timely opportunity for Samara to announce a new chapter in our Democracy Talks (DT) program: a partnership with SFU Public Square in British Columbia.

Starting today and through to the spring, we’ll be working with SFU Public Square to organize a series of community-based discussions in BC exploring ways to meaningfully reconnect citizens to politics. This work builds on the successful pilot of the program, launched this past fall in Ontario with a grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation, where Samara spoke with groups of new Canadians and youth between 18 to 25 about their experiences of politics and recommendations for making the system more relevant, responsive and accessible.

In addition to providing participants with an opportunity to consider their relationship to Canadian politics – a question that many of our participants had never previously been asked but were eager to respond to—Democracy Talks takes an approach to knowledge generation and engagement in line with that described by Petter:

“To be consistent with democratic values, such research must be community-based and collaborative. It must be done with rather than for communities, involving community members as partners in, rather than subjects of, enquiry.” These words echo the succinct advice that one young DT participant offered to elected officials: “If it’s about us, include us.”

Samara's public outreach work to date has underscored the important role that community and civil society organizations play in bridging the gap between citizens and politics. As trusted and familiar intermediaries with established ties to communities, these groups –and the universities that engage them—can provide the stepping stone that many Canadians need and want in order to become more informed about and engaged in political life.

We’re thrilled to add SFU Public Square to our list of inspirational partners, and through the continuation of Democracy Talks in BC and elsewhere we look forward to seeing how community groups, universities, Members of Parliament and parties can, as Petter describes, help “arrest the decline of democracy.” 

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