#CKX6: On Public Participation

First, a bit about myself: I first got involved in open data and open government in 2010 by joining a local citizen’s group that was lobbying the local government to embrace the idea of open data.

 In 2011, I founded Open North, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to enable citizens to influence government decisions in Canada. I stepped down from Open North in September, but I continue to work in this space.

There are a lot of things that I wish I knew, or that I wish existed, when I first started my journey in public participation and social innovation. Here are six resources that have been valuable to my work.

1. Participedia

Participedia collects ways for governments to engage, consult and collaborate with the public in democratic decisions. As a social innovator, there will come a point where you need to work with the government to take part in your innovation. When proposing new ways for the government to engage residents on whatever issue you care about, you don’t need to reinvent the wheel; there’s a lot of evidence for what methods work in what contexts. For example, citizens’ juries are an increasingly popular method, used to promote healthier eating in Australia and prioritize health issues in the UK. Participedia offers filters to help narrow down your search for an appropriate method.


2. Civic Patterns

Civic tech is “the use of technology for the public good.” Civic technologists create tools that provide services and information, help governments and institutions become more open, and engage residents in issues and decisions that affect them. Over the last decade, they have learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t. Civic Patterns is relevant to anyone using technology in their work for social change. Whether you’re a civic tech veteran, or your only technology is your organization’s website, the lessons here are relevant.




Some lessons I learned early on – and that I see a lot of first-time project leads struggle with – are “Have a Business Model” and “All Citizens.” If you want your project to last, you need to think hard about how it will sustain itself; Alex Howard made a good round-up of different options. If you want your project to have impact, you need to be super clear about who your audience is; Laurenellen McCann’s Build With, Not For is a great guide to get there.


3. Open Technology Fund’s list of funders

A major challenge for any social innovator is finding funding, especially in the early stages when your innovation isn’t yet proven and you need to experiment, iterate and explore options. In Canada, funding civic tech projects is a challenge. Civic tech is unlikely to qualify for charitable status, which eliminates many funders. Few Canadian foundations have a history of funding technology. If you’re looking to fund work in civic tech, digital democracy, internet privacy, digital rights or similar, then use this list. It would have saved me many hours scouring organizations’ websites for funding announcements in the early days.


4. Friedrich Lindenberg’s list of investigative tools

If you aren’t a programmer, working with data is challenging. A lot of tools exist, but they’re hard to discover and evaluate. Thankfully, there are several resources that collect, describe and evaluate these tools. This resource – intended for journalists but useful to a broader audience – introduces you to many of the best tools for finding, collecting, extracting, filtering, and visualizing data.



I picked Friedrich’s list because it’s the most concise; Source’s list is more comprehensive. I still refer to this list when looking for a tool to serve a specific need.


5 and 6. Required CanCon on Social Innovation






Canada is host to some of the best researchers in social innovation, including Frances Westley, Sean Geobey and Darcy Riddell. Thanks to the social innovation learning program organized by the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation (an Open North funder), I was exposed to this research, which informed Open North’s strategy. The two books I recommend are Getting to Maybe by Frances Westley, Brenda Zimmerman and Michael Patton and Impact: Six Patterns to Spread Your Social Innovation by Al Etmanski. Impact dedicates 15-20 pages to each pattern. It’s a quick read that will improve your understanding of social innovation and give you ideas of what changes you can make in your work to achieve a greater impact.

So there you have my #CKX6 on public participation. I hope that something on the list sparked your interest or got you thinking about enhancing public participation.


Curated by the CKX Team and awesome contributors-at-large (Read: YOU), #CKX6 is a recurring series that shares six great resources, materials and insights on a particular topic, trend or issue related to our shared pursuit of social change. Think of it as a super-charged social change must read/watch/share/steal list!

This #CKX6 on public participation comes from our friend James McKinney, founder of Open North.