Municipal elections are coming up fast!

Our democracy is best served when a range of candidates, with a range of ideas, present themselves to the voters for their consideration. There's no "political class" in Banff. If you are engaged in our community, if you have ideas about how to make it better, if you are willing to put those ideas out there, you can be a candidate. Information on the technicalities of running can be found here:
http://banff.ca/index.aspx?nid=900

If you're not able to be a candidate, find a candidate or two that you can support and get behind. Encourage them, volunteer for them, help them with their campaigns.

Voting is the absolute minimum responsibility of a citizen. Take it up a notch or two!!

I've been following with interest the Calgary Southway controversy: Mayor Nenshi's decision to take public engagement for this process online, and to stop the open houses. It's unfortunate, but I can understand why the City of Calgary has made this decision. It seems that some people are unwilling to express concerns and disagreement about a project without personal attacks. I observe that sometimes people who are uncomfortable with confrontation (and there are many such people) have to work themselves into a rage just to get past their discomfort and be able to express disagreement. This leads to unproductive situations.

So here are a few hints on how to effectively provide feedback on a municipal plan or proposal with which you may disagree:

1. Make sure you have the facts. Don't try to get them from Letters to the Editor. Do your research, look at drawings, read proposals, understand applicable bylaws. If this seems daunting, do it with a group - each take a part of the research and share your results with each other. Ask questions of administration about points you don't understand from your research: "Please show me where in the bylaw this is permitted?" "Where will the four corners of this building be?" "What are the safety regulations for this playground?" "Where is the legal road allowance on the survey?"

2. Decide on what you like and what concerns you about what you've learned. Make notes on these key points. Don't bother with anything that is retroactive -- not liking something that is allowed in a bylaw won't make that bylaw inapplicable to this project. By all means, lobby to get it changed in the future, but bylaws that are in place today govern today's projects.

3. Decide what would have to change about the proposal to make it acceptable to you. Frame these concerns in the form of questions to be solved working together: "How could we mitigate the traffic flows?" "How can we ensure that litter from the site is appropriately handled?" "How can we protect view lines?"

4. Go to open houses or online feedback sessions with these questions, or contact your councillor(s) or mayor and ask them how to work together to solve the issues.

5. If, after all that, you don't get the outcome you want, don't say "They didn't listen", unless they really didn't! Perhaps they listened, but they didn't agree. That's different.

6. Take it up a level. The time to express your concerns about a development is NOT just before the shovels go into the ground. Pay attention when your community is revising its community master plan or transportation master plan or land use bylaw. Look at the sections that will affect you in the future, even the distant future, and lobby for the changes you'd like to see. Getting involved and staying involved in the planning and regulation of your community is an effective way to make sure your voice is heard.

7. Take it up two levels. If you don't see your point of view represented on your local council, then it's up to you to get it to the table. Find a candidate who is of like mind, and support him/her actively. Or BE a candidate. Being an elected decision-maker, at the council table, is THE most effective way to make sure your voice is heard.

I've had a few occasions lately to admire volunteers at work. 

A few weeks ago, I facilitated a strategic planning session for our library board.  It was a beautiful Saturday, and several attendees arrived on their bikes, dressed (rather wistfully, I think) for the day and the outdoor activity that they were sacrificing to be there.  They energetically examined the strengths and weaknesses, opportunities and threats of their organization and creatively generated strategies to respond.  They laid out timeframes and responsibilities for the near-term work.  After working hard for hours, they looked like kids let out of school when they finally escaped into what was left of the glorious day.

A couple of weeks later, I attended part of a meeting of our Development Appeal Board.  "Part", because this particular meeting dealt with a very complex hotel development issue, with several appellants and intervenors.  After two full days of public meetings, the DAB spent a further 20 hours or so crafting their decision.  Whether I agree with every word of that decision or not, I am full of admiration for the volunteer Board members, who took on work way beyond the level and time consumption normally expected.  One of the volunteers was actually at his first DAB meeting - what an introduction!

And just after that, I was thrilled when the Lake O'Hara Trails Club celebrated (along with partners Parks Canada and the Alpine Club of Canada) the opening of a new welcome kiosk at the entrance to the Lake O'Hara access road, complete with informative panels on the heritage of the area and on staying safe while hiking there.  Volunteer donors, photographers, text editors, installers all contributed to making this new park facility a reality.

In all three cases, these volunteers were not obvious to their general communities.  They weren't out there in public, wearing volunteer Tshirts - much of their work was done in meetings or in front of their computers.  But what contributions all these people are making, and what a precious gift they give when they give their time!  Our communities are richer for these people who don't say "Someone should ..." but rather say "I will ..."!

This week, I attended a "pre-organizational" meeting of the Advisory Group for the IES at Mount Royal.  I was inspired by the mandate of this institute and humbled by hearing the backgrounds of other advisory group members.  Even though Snowmaggedon was beginning outside, and I should have been worrying about how to get back to Banff, I was completely engaged by what was going on in the room and the time flew by.  I particularly like the emphasis on interdisciplinarity and on creating opportunities for undergraduates to engage actively in meaningful research.  I also like the combination of an old (for Alberta) educational institution, but a relatively new university.  I look forward to spending more time with these interesting people, and contributing to moving the Institute forward.

Read about IES activities at http://mtroyal.ca/ProgramsCourses/FacultiesSchoolsCentres/InstituteforEnvironmentalSustainability/

I'm working on a communications strategy for a local non-profit.  Doing this has reminded me of the importance and enduring usefulness of the "three key questions", questions I learned from Joan Ethier of Ethier Associates years ago, when she first asked me to assist her with presentations training for her many clients, and questions I have used over and over again, ever since.  These three key questions work for job application cover letters, political speeches, grant applications, marriage proposals, television interviews -- any communication challenge you can imagine.

Here they are:

  • What is my message?
  • Who is my audience?
  • What are their interests?

They sound so simple!  But look and listen, and see how frequently they are ignored by the people and corporations around you.  Paying attention to them will make you a more effective communicator.

What is my message?:  This question is often restated as "have an elevator speech" or "if you can't state it simply, you don't really know it yet".  Know what you want your audience to know, and keep saying "why do I want them to know that?" until you're sure you're at the root of the matter.

Who is my audience?:  Picture those people or that person as you plan, write, or speak.

What are their interests?:  This is the one most often ignored.  How often have you read a job application that tells you why the applicant would like to have the job, without telling how the applicant can make your business better?  How about the grant application that tells you how much the project needs money, without telling you how it will further the goals of the grant-giver?  Think about your audience and what they hope for, or what they're trying to protect, or what they're afraid of.  Then write or speak to those interests.

Three key questions, so simple and yet so powerful.  Thanks, Joan -- I still try to use them every time I communicate.