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.


Recently, I spent an evening at town hall with some other folks who have been around town for a while.  Our goal was to label photos from the earliest days of Banff's incorporation.  There were many shots of groups of people celebrating, giving plaques to each other, being sworn in, and so on.  Many of the people in the photos have moved to other places, and some have passed away.  We felt it was important to capture the names now, so that the pictures can go to the archives with as much information attached as possible.  In 2090, when the town celebrates its centennial, people will want to know who was there at the beginning.

Looking at those photos underlined a couple of things for me.

First, that when people tell you that you look "just the same as ever", they are being kind, but not entirely truthful!

Second, that we should all pause from time to time to remember the heady excitement of becoming a self-governing municipality and having, at last, our own elected town council.  These days, one sometimes hears people say that "council doesn't listen to the people".  Let's stop and remember that we are so lucky to have councillors, that they are our friends and neighbours, that just because they didn't agree doesn't mean they didn't listen.  Democracy is a messy thing, and it's easy to criticize those whose job it is to represent us.  It's better to offer constructive input, and to offer it calmly and courteously.

As I've mentioned in a past blog post, last fall, I was contracted to facilitate a couple of workshops attended by the people working on the Area Structure Plan (ASP) for Calgary Rangeview. 

 Rangeview will be a new area of south Calgary, covering almost 2,000 acres near the Seton Hospital complex.  Just to put that in perspective, the entire area of the town I live in is 1600 acres.  Planning for Rangeview is complex, with several landowners/developers, multiple key stakeholders such as school boards, environmental, social and economic considerations, and, to top it all off, the project is a pilot for a new, streamlined, faster process that Calgary City Council is trying out.

Last fall, the workshops I facilitated were developing concepts for how the area could be laid out.  At that time, I was hired by the planning company that is working with the landowners/developers.  Much more recently, in June, I was hired by the City to help with a process and facilitate a meeting to iron out some points in the actual draft of the ASP.

Which brings me to the point of the title of this post.  The process that Calgary is working on is not only intended to be faster and more streamlined, it is also intended to be more collaborative.  The idea is that the landowners/developers, the city planners, affected city departments and the stakeholders bring their issues, concerns and solutions to the table constantly, working together from the earliest conceptual stages right through to the wording of the document that will go to senior management and the Planning Commission.  All the people connected with Rangeview are working to create an exemplary community - walkable, transit-oriented, with sunlight, views, accessible green space, nearby jobs and neighbourhood shops and schools.  In the course of working on this plan, they have also created a smaller but very important community -- a team of talented people from all sides of the project who really hear each other's differing comments and work honestly and transparently to find the right solutions.  Getting to work with them in the fall and now in June has let me see how their sense of community has grown.  I love my job!

You can read about the Rangeview project at this link: