What are the barriers preventing participation in public engagement activities, and what do we, as a society, lose when specific voices go unheard?
When Lorri Weaver embarked on her Master of Education, a global pandemic wasn’t a consideration. Her focus was to find ways for organizations to complete meaningful public engagement activities that are informative and collaborative. Little did she know that COVID-19 would make her research incredibly timely.
Inclusion essential for collaborative solutions
“With community engagement, there are a lot of barriers that prevent people from showing up,” she says, including transportation or access for those with physical disabilities.
Weaver, who successfully defended her MEd thesis on Nov. 25, says race, visible disability and the fear of judgement all come into play to limit participation, and when specific demographics are missing from a conversation, the whole community suffers.
“You end up not only losing individual voices, but you lose representation from whole sections of society. If you don’t accommodate for day care, you are essentially losing single parents, for example.”
Software helps, but more support is needed
With the pandemic halting public gatherings, various tools for enriched online engagement sessions became more commonplace. But organizations still don’t have support in the development of effective engagement strategies.
“Often what is missing are the real collaborative components. If I, as a citizen, am just involved by answering a survey, I may not understand other people’s stances. But if I am involved in the development of the solution with other people, I can see how my perspective is being included, and I can also watch as things collaboratively come together,” she says.
Listening, collaborating key to engagement
Prior to embarking on her graduate degree, Weaver spent 20 years in the Canadian military, most recently in instructional design and teaching.
“In the military as a leader, it is drilled into us from very early stages that what is really important is listening to perspectives from people, and really taking those perspectives into account,” she says.
“When you come up with a collaborative solution, it tends to be very, very strong. I really believe in allowing people to come together and contribute. Coming together and allowing space for rich discussion — people learn best when they are creating meaning for themselves.”
Weaver is now working with her thesis supervisors, Drs. Carol Rees and Michelle Harrison, to publish the research which explores how using the community of inquiry framework can facilitate collaborative community engagement online.
Danna Bach, Research Communications