David McDine came to Edmonton in 2013, fresh from finishing a master’s degree in public policy from Carleton. While in Ottawa, he completed a research project on how cities engage their citizens on day-to-day decision making. So it was only natural that when his job here, as a self-proclaimed “research nerd” at NAIT, took him somewhat away from the world of engagement, David started looking into what the City of Edmonton was up to in that regard — and eventually found himself in the Tools, Techniques and Practices Working Group.
One of the projects David oversees at NAIT is a survey that gives the school rare insight into students’ experiences on campus. “There aren’t a lot of ways in which we can understand what students actually go through on a daily basis,” he says. “[The survey] allows us to course correct if something is off.” That something might be a larger issue or something as simple as a lack of water fountains in a study area. “Part of my work is to filter those responses and make sure the people who are responsible for those decisions hear that feedback.”
When it comes to engagement, David takes inspiration from the Danish social-innovation group MindLab, and its notion of co-creation. Basically, co-creation says that when a government and its citizens create policy together, the benefits are twofold: People get to exercise their right to shape their surroundings, and the end results tend to be stronger.
It beats the alternative, anyway. “When citizens aren’t given that opportunity to give feedback in a structured way, they provide feedback in unstructured and less helpful ways, like on social media,” David says. “They feel like the City is putting something upon them. Whereas engagement is an opportunity to provide buy-in on initiatives that aren’t easy sellers right away.”