#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.

#CKX6: On Social R&D

The Social R&D Fellowship was involved in the early scoping of the McConnell – Community Foundations of Canada – Community Fund for Canada’s 150th’s initiative to support social change experiments and early stage R&D, and Jason has been supporting CKX’s animation of the participating organizations and groups. Given Jason’s experience in this space, we asked him to share six tips, tools or resources that might be useful for someone undertaking social R&D.



The Social R&D Fellowship is an ongoing effort to seed an ecosystem of public good R&D in Canada. I was lucky to be exposed to this work, and welcomed into the peer community supporting it, early into my role at Natural Resources Canada (NRCan).

Being part of the social R&D community exposed me to the latest thinking on shifting culture in established organizations, introduced me to non-profit professionals applying cutting-edge tools and techniques in complex issue areas, and demonstrated the many different ways organizations could test what’s possible in seemingly immovable environments – it really made a huge impact on how we pursued our mandate of increasing our department’s level of awareness and comfort with novel policy tools. On a personal note, having a community to lean on was of enormous personal value as it’s isolating working in a way that is radically different from the norm.

As our mandate was winding down at NRCan, I was invited to join the Fellowship to help build out additional peer-learning supports for social R&D practitioners.

So why is social R&D important, even urgent, in some domain areas? Well Canada spends close to $420 billion on social outcomes and wellbeing per year. Despite this, solutions are not keeping up with the pace at which social and environmental challenges are evolving. For example:

  • The suicide rate among Canadian girls has increased by 38% over the past decade
  • Food insecurity prevalence rose to 46% in Canada’s north – the highest rate since 2004
  • Hospital admissions for opioid poisonings have jumped 53% in the last decade, with 40% of that increase occurring in the last three years
  • Half (50%) of monitored wildlife species are in decline in Canada, from 1970 to 2014

It often feels like we have a problem with how we solve problems, which is why I find social R&D so intriguing – it helps us systematically explore and develop responses to complex social and environmental challenges.  

Thankfully, there are a growing number of social mission organizations doing R&D well.

Organizations like Kudoz (an award winning learning platform for people with cognitive disabilities created by a partnership between service agencies and a social mission organization), The Winnipeg Boldness Project (a community driven social lab transforming early childhood development policy and services in Manitoba), MyCompass (a cloud-based platform with tools to help people with disabilities plan together with their supports), Exeko (a charity that developed Intellectual Mediation, a new model for increasing social inclusion inspired by practices in art, philosophy and social work), and Roots of Empathy (a celebrated program, now delivered around the world, proven to boost empathy and interrupt intergenerational cycles of conflict and poor parenting).

So what does Social R&D look like in practice? Establishing a hunch then testing it, conducting research and/or seeking out the latest evidence, prototyping and testing ways to improve or transform programs and/or services, testing the utility of new tools and/or approaches, creating an organizational environment where insights from research and testing influence strategy, etc. – if you are continuously mixing these kinds of habits and practices together, you’re likely practicing R&D.

SiG’s Getting to Moonshot report was the first effort to capture the R&D habits of social mission organizations in Canada. See this report for inspiration on how to pursue social R&D within your organization.

After a few years working in this space, here are my six thoughts, ideas and reflections on Social R&D:


Remember: You’re not alone.


Our working definition of Social R&D is the art and science of applying research and experimental processes on the frontline to generate new knowledge and new innovations that transform lives.

This is happening across different issue domains, tool or method preferences, and organizational size and structure. Though our contexts and focus areas may differ, social R&D practitioners are beginning to come together for community, to compare notes, and to be exposed to new tools, research and methods. Alone, the practice of social R&D was invisible, but together, we’re starting to legitimize this kind of work in the sector.

Want to be connected? Here are three easy ways: SlackEmailTwitter.



R&D is as much about organizational culture as it is about research, tools and methods.


If you’re organization is just getting into this space, starting small to show what’s possible is probably a good way to go, but eventually you’ll need to make time to help create an organizational environment that is capable of continuously generating AND integrating new knowledge, insights and experiences.

Not solving for culture – specifically, an organization that values and invests in R&D, and is able to absorb the insights from it – will mean that the impact of your R&D portfolio will be clipped.

This was what I spent most of my time at NRCan attempting to do.





Connect what you’re learning to your organization, but also find ways to connect to other players, including the public sector, to transform systems.


While R&D can help social mission organizations achieve incremental improvements (i.e. be more efficient and effective) or develop radically improved programs and services, it can also provide essential insights that point to options for transforming systems.

To create an R&D program that enhances programs and services AND works towards system change share what you’re learning broadly and often, and invest time to find and connect with curious government officials and those in other established institutions. Making insights from the field visible to these folks (e.g. what’s working/not working, what are the cutting edge tools and evidence) can help drive more thoughtful policy, program and service design.



There are common challenges that all social R&D practitioners are grappling with – let’s work on them together.


Did I mention that this work is hard? Regardless of the issue domain – be it legal services, social services, or environmental conservation – it’s clear that certain conditions and infrastructure would make it easier to do social R&D well. Whether it’s dedicated funding for early stage research, a place to share data, or supports for staffing specialized skills like data science, ethnography, agile and experimental design, there isn’t a whole lot currently available to support R&D in charities and non-profits. R&D is simply not something that the sector is supposed to do.


Figure 1: From Renuka Kher’s (the Founder of Tipping Point Community’s T Lab) international keynote for the 2017 Social R&D Practice Gathering. Renuka described key difference in how money is allocated between for-profit and non-profit entities: the sector is rewarded for incremental improvements to accepted solutions, overhead is seen as a sign of inefficiency or lavishness to be minimized, and R&D isn’t something that the sector has the time or resources to do.

Figure 1: From Renuka Kher’s (the Founder of Tipping Point Community’s T Lab) international keynote for the 2017 Social R&D Practice Gathering. Renuka described key difference in how money is allocated between for-profit and non-profit entities: the sector is rewarded for incremental improvements to accepted solutions, overhead is seen as a sign of inefficiency or lavishness to be minimized, and R&D isn’t something that the sector has the time or resources to do.


Despite all of that, we’ve seen movement over the last few years – this joint funding initiative between the McConnell Foundation and Community Foundations of Canada is a great example. This shift in expectation and supports is being driven by a few things: practitioners making their work visible, the community advocating for change as a unit, and practitioners supporting each other when there is no other help in sight.



Find time to reflect and imagine.


Heading into the SPARK! Social Innovation Exchange last November, I asked Ashley Good of Fail Forward to reflect on some blind-spots for the social R&D community – she’s been involved for a number of years. She made a convincing argument for us to look up from our laptops:

Huge ambitions mean our time and resources will never be enough. One risk I see for this group is we get so busy we end up implementing all the time. It’s so easy to get caught up in the doing/operational mindset because there is always so much to get done.

Pausing to take care of one’s mental and physical well-being is important to maintain the stamina needed for this work, but it will also give you the mental space to discover non-obvious possibilities and opportunities.



Remember that R&D is not introducing a new program or service
and then doing a thorough evaluation.


R&D is a deliberate exercise to fill knowledge gaps and test new possibilities with appropriate levels of rigor. The outcomes from R&D will influence the design and delivery of new or modified products, programs, or services – essentially ironing out the kinks and maximizing effectiveness before bringing something new online.

If you’ve introduced a fully formed product, program or service and you expect it to work without doing the up-front R&D, you’ll probably miss the mark. If you’re updating a product, program, or service solely based on a previous evaluation – you’re likely at a higher risk of improving a solution to the wrong problem, or of spending precious capital on something that has become suboptimal due to changing conditions.

Summative evaluations are important, but they’re not a replacement for thoughtful R&D.


Resource List:

Develop & Deliver: Making the Case for Social R&D Infrastructure 

Start small – no more all or nothing experiments

Top 10 resources on experimentation that will help you with implementation

Lessons on embedding an experimental mindset

Key R&D behaviours for non-profits

Key principles for having an experimental mindset

Making evaluation more impactful


Jason is a SiG Fellow for Social R&D at the McConnell Foundation. Prior to taking a leave from government to pursue the Fellowship, Jason led ADAPT, a policy innovation & program experimentation team at Natural Resources Canada. Over its two year mandate, ADAPT developed a departmental framework for Policy & Program Experimentation, created the Policy Innovation Portal, scoped and co-organised the inaugural Policy Community Conference, and helped NRCan programs big and small explore how to leverage new policy tools like blockchain, hubs/labs, and open policymaking. Jason is also a co-founder of Impact HUB Ottawa and Future of Good.


#CKX6: On Swimming Against the Current

Over the last year, the Carold Institute has made it possible for me to enjoy a sabbatical as the 2017 Alan Thomas Fellow. After 25 years of activism, largely in Quebec’s feminist movement, I was definitely ready for a break. 


You see, like many of you, I had been swimming against the current for a long time. My body and mind were tired, injured to be more precise. I had spent the last six years front and centre in some of society’s most divisive debates: rape culture, the Quebec Charter of Values and anti-muslim racism, austerity and neoliberal policy, to name just a few. And I paid the price for refusing to toe the party line. Faced with ridicule, insults, threats to my life, scapegoating, pigeon holing and gaslighting, I withstood the pressures for quite some time, but eventually I cracked.

The fellowship timing was perfect. I needed a different pace, away from the pushes and pulls of everyday activism. Most of my time was spent writing a book (Les angles morts: Perspectives sur le Québec actuel) about the blind spots facing Quebec and Canadian society, regarding feminism, relations with indigenous people, systemic racism, violence against women and rising inequalities.

It was time to take a step back in order to better understand the violence that often comes with breaking the rules. One of the challenges we have is to sustain healthy social movements, able to withstand the pressures associated with swimming against the current, without people burning out. This requires a high degree of thoughtful practice on the part of activists and shift disturbers.

Looking back on my experience both as a career activist and with the benefit of a year of reflection, here is my list of six ways to develop a sustainable culture of rebelliousness:

1. Recognize that you are dealing with deeply entrenched power dynamics

People and organizations will defend their power, their place in the world and their worldview. If you are involved in a movement that gets in the way of a government agenda, be prepared to feel the effects of its power. If you are challenging something that has become normalized in the culture or the economy, you will get a push back. If you are attacking a deeply held belief system, expect resistance, denial, unfair tactics, marginalization, and more nastiness. We can’t afford to be naive.

2. Acknowledge that working surrounded by a lot of opposition can be draining

Burn-out is not the result of individual weakness or failure. It is a result of unhealthy, sustained levels of stress, feelings of powerlessness and overwork. Factor in rest and renewal into the planning of the movement, the campaign or the controversial work. Make sure people take turns taking the hits. Find ways to work consciously with the cycle of life, with its ebbs and flows, births, deaths and renewals. In the spirit of working with these cycles, honour the work of those that have come before you as a way to get perspective and to feed into timeless energy.

3. Develop and sustain a culture of bravery

Many people are afraid to speak truth to power. That’s totally understandable because we are taught very young to conform to authority. We learn to pipe down, to avoid confrontation, to be nice. We are afraid of being punished, excluded or hurt. In order to be able to share the role of shift disturber in hostile climates, we need more people to be ready and able to speak up and take risks in the name of struggles for justice and self-determination. If piping down is a learned behaviour, then so is speaking up. Factor this into your education and awareness work. Encourage people in your movements to practice speaking truth to power even inside your organization and to foster the openness required to hear when we are also challenged to see power dynamics at play.

4. Deepen solidarity

As a shift disturber, know when to ask for help from people and organizations around you. They tend not to offer help and support by themselves. They are too busy to notice that you might need them. Make sure to ask. Be ready to return the favour. In fact, make practices of solidarity a priority. Plan for it. Think about who might need it. Think about which voices are most marginalized and why when making this choice. Take initiative. Decide which struggles you want to pay attention to and which networks you will stay in close touch with.

5. Imagine what a better world looks like and be ready to name it

Many social change actors focus on resisting the unjust or the dangerous. And rightly so. We need to stop terrible things from happening to the environment, to indigenous communities, to public services, to refugees facing deportation. Resistance, disturbing the status quo, strikes and demonstrations, direct action are extremely important forms of action for change makers. The challenge lies in avoiding getting stuck in a defensive position, constantly trying to just avoid the worst. It’s important to make sure to eek out space for imagining and working towards a better future. What is it we want? Let’s name it and work towards it. This is especially important for those seeking a radical reimagining of power and society.

6. Never underestimate the power of social change work

It is highly likely that what we are defending is legitimate and relevant even when the media and key actors don’t take you seriously or even ridicule you. Sometimes, it takes years for what gets held as the truth to get shaken up. The current frame of thought will define what is worth knowing. I have been told so many times that I exaggerated. Now I know that I’m onto something when this happens. You never know when people are ready for a shift in awareness. Keep that in focus when it appears as though we are not gaining ground.

Finding better ways to sustain our movements is a collective, not just personal responsibility. It is also a question of gender justice for, when we neglect to share this work, it befalls far too often on women who pick up the slack at the expense of their own well-being. The politics of care and of self-care have been developed by Black and Indigenous feminist thinkers who know only too well how to sustain life in the face of death and destruction. Most of what I have learned has been by paying attention to the indigenous and Black feminist activists with whom I’ve worked but there are also some important texts that connect issues, organizing and experience.

Here is a small sample of important resources to get started:

  • bell hooks: Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism, Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom, Teaching Community: A Pedagogy of Hope, All about Love.
  • Audre Lorde: Your Silence Will Not Protect You: Essays and Poems
  • Devon Abbott Mihesuah: Indigenous American Women: Decolonization, Empowerment, Activism
  • Winona LaDuke: Recovering the Sacred: The Power of Naming and Claiming


Curated by the CKX Team and awesome contributors-at-large (Read: YOU), #CKX6 is a recurring series that shares six great resources, tools or insights on a particular topic, trend or issue related to our shared pursuit of social change.

#CKX6: On Evaluating Advocacy

How do your social change efforts measure up?

Policy advocacy takes place in complex fields with many actors. The time frame is usually years if not decades. At the same time, the context for an advocacy effort can shift in the blink of an eye, an election, an industry downturn, a public tragedy, or a scientific discovery. How, then, can an organization or grant-maker know a strategy is on track?

It isn’t easy. Most of us working in nonprofit advocacy value strategic learning, but we face considerable time and resource constraints. We can also be daunted by the challenge of measuring something as amorphous and vast as systems change. The practice of advocacy evaluation has grown fantastically over the last decade. Here are six of the most inspiring and useful resources I have come across from this ever-widening pool.

1. Tanya Beer – Center for Evaluation Innovation

For an excellent framing of advocacy evaluation, especially for funders, check out this 20-minute talkrecorded at Philanthropic Foundations Canada’s 2015 symposium. Tanya Beer with the the Center for Evaluation Innovation in Washington D.C. is one of the leaders in the field of evaluation in North America. My favourite soundbite from her talk: “I can think of exactly zero examples of policy change in which the timeframe matched a grantmaking timeframe.”



2. Innovation Network survey

Full disclosure: I ♡ surveys. Sometimes survey results confirm my hunches built through nonprofit practice. Sometimes they surprise and debunk myths. This survey of 211 U.S. nonprofits does both. Only one in four organizations, all of whom were engaged to some extent in advocacy, had undertaken evaluation of their advocacy work. Policy influence is rarely the primary focus on a nonprofit; the majority of respondents combine it with other activities such as direct service delivery. The overwhelming reason why advocacy evaluation was thought to be useful was to fuel learning and strategy refinement.


3. The Advocacy Strategy Framework

Because advocacy is usually undertaken at many levels at the same time by many actors, it is helpful to have a roadmap to make sense of all the strategies and their hoped-for results. This diagram is the best one I’ve come across. It is the basis for The Advocacy Strategy Framework, a refreshingly concise guide that assists organizations to create theories of change without forcing linear thinking. The guide helps you identify which medium-term changes your advocacy effort could achieve, vitally important mid-points in the long game of policy change.




 4. The Advocacy Progress Planner

This online tool offered by the Aspen Institute walks you through several steps to build an advocacy strategy and evaluation. Often we already have answers to the types of questions the APP asks (“Inputs: What do you have? What do you need?; Context: What else is going on?”). The genius of this tool is that it organizes our responses into a format that is clear and shareable, as well as revealing what elements we have yet to figure out. APP is free but you need to create a login in order to start making advocacy plan magic.


5. Data gathering methods from Spark Policy Institute

Care for an “intense period debrief”? How about some “champion tracking”? These are some of the evaluation methods developed specifically for a policy change context. Spark Policy Institute has compiled many of the most useful evaluation tools in this resource. They’ve even managed to make them sound fun. When it comes time to figure out how to measure what you want to measure, this is an excellent place to start.


6. What’s your part in the change? Contribution analysis

How do you know your work, or that of a grantee partner, actually played a role in effecting change? In complex fields, few shifts in policy or public opinion can be attributed to just one organization. Contribution analysis is a systemic approach that has been developed to draw plausible lines of causality between an organization’s actions and the results of advocacy. As systematic as it is, the method boils down to storytelling: going back and forth between evidence gathering and story refinement until you arrive at a narrative that a “reasonable person” could agree with. 


So there you have it – my #CKX6 on evaluating advocacy. How are you measuring your own work in this space? Have you come across any other tools or resources that have been invaluable to you? Feel free to share them in the comments below.

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 Juniper Glass. Juniper has been active in the nonprofit sector for two decades, working to improve strategy, operations, research and external communications at organizations addressing violence against girls, youth leadership, affordable housing, forest preservation and food security. She holds a Master of Philanthropy and Nonprofit Leadership and is principal of Lumiere Consulting.

#CKX6: On Shared City Making

Cities are the economic and innovation centres in our country. More than 80% of Canadians live in cities. Migration nationally and internationally often happens to cities, not countries, as people vote with their feet. And yet, cities are stretched to be able to provide a fertile environment for people and places to reach their individual and collective potential.




Much is being said on what characteristics make a city livable, vibrant, or resilient. But livable cities don’t happen by accident. A city is the range and multitude of decisions and actions taken by its people to make themselves and their neighbours happier, healthier, smarter and safer.

Imagine what would happen if we began to see our city as a commons where neighbourhoods and communities awaken and enhance a sense of aliveness that recognizes people’s needs and identity as well as the health of the eco-systems supporting the individual and the collective. By doing so, we discover that people are the city and the vibrancy of the commons gives rise to all of us learning, connecting, creating, prototyping, inventing, and making together by whole-heartedly engaging our minds and our hearts in taking action.

Here are six ingredients to making a vibrant and resilient city, together.

1. Busting Silos & Sharing Power

The complexity of issues facing cities requires us to break down the silos between departments, organizations, sectors, governments, civil society, and citizens. The interconnectedness of issues requires shared responsibility. This shared responsibility requires greater trust and connectivity between all the actors. And perhaps the most revolutionary shift that’s required is for the national government to entrust cities with more revenue and powers to assure health and happiness for everyone.


2. Citizens as Co-producers not Clients or Consumers

Citizen perspectives are required in shaping our future. Too often policy and programs are developed for citizens by “experts”. These policies and programs may have served us well in the past, but in a fast paced global environment where migration and knowledge are key drivers, we need to tap into diverse, representative groups of citizens to co-create timely and sustainable solutions. A city is it’s people and thus we need to think about citizen-centred democracy. It doesn’t mean governments don’t play an important role, it just means they aren’t the central focus.


3. A Responsive Capable Citizenry

Too often we hear that people don’t care, are lazy, and have great apathy about government. That’s just not true. People may feel disconnected from government and power (both formal and personal), but that doesn’t mean they don’t care. Lack of knowledge, lack of confidence about issues and process, past negative experience with participation, and physical and financial barriers are just some of the challenges to participating. Thus, if we want citizens to act for the public good, we need to support them in understanding their role and responsibility as citizens in everyday actions and critical moments such as consultations and elections. More importantly, we need to provide opportunities for successful participation that builds a culture of belonging, impact, responsibility, and ownership.


4. Public Institutions Embrace Citizen Participation

The thought of engaging with citizens often provokes much fear: the same people always show up; anger and blame will fuel the conversation; results will be inadequate; costs are high; and creating an expectation to deliver and/or promise on outcomes. Most public institutions refer to the Spectrum of Participation, a conceptual framework for community consultation, especially in government.




Citizens want to know what they are being engaged for, how their participation will make a difference, and when can they expect feedback on next steps. Moving towards higher levels of participation takes time and money, but the outcomes would be more sustainable and supported by the community. Building a culture of learning and listening (both informally and formally) and developing internal institutional capacity to engage would revolutionize and revitalize engagement to the 21st century.

A project that has recently captured our attention is the Wyndham City Listening Post.


5. Failing is an Option!

Innovation requires failing, iteration, and prototyping. If we are to innovate for our cities so that we live our collective potential, we need to accept that together, government, not-for profit, and businesses will fail. Failure is certainly gaining acceptance, but more so in business, less so in not-for-profit, and rarely in government. To create policies and programs that allow people and places to thrive in cities, we need to embrace governments and not-for-profits to take risk with public funds.


6. Citizen Spaces

We need to be human together. Cities need to create spaces where people connect to make sense together. There are several different processes used to develop shared spaces: human-centred design, participatory development, lean start-ups, systems thinking etc. All of these invoke a unique perspective, but in the end, they all value the need for diverse perspectives and experiences to come together to learn, appreciate, understand, have empathy, and move towards possibility. A citizen space could be a community commons where citizens have the tools and resources to create together or it could be spaces created by institutions and professionals to ensure that the heart and mind shifts that are required for generative thinking and systemic change can happen.

A livable, vibrant and resilient city is an invitation for people from all walks of life to engage, connect, and make a shared future together. When a city moves closer to reaching its full potential, it’s people come closer to reaching theirs. The two are inseparable because a city is its people.


Curated by the CKX Team and awesome contributors-at-large (Read: YOU), #CKX6 is a recurring series that shares six great resources, tools or 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 shared city making comes from our friend Manjit Basi with Citizens Academy.

#CKX6: On Language and Social Change

How often do you think about the language you use in your quest for social change? Unless you’re in the communications department of your organization, you may not consider it. Yet language is a tool so powerful it can influence our perception of reality.


Plain language is easy to read, understand, and use. It avoids convoluted language and jargon. This is so important that it’s the law for the American public service. — the Plain Writing Act of 2010 requires “clear Government communication the public can understand and use.” (Canada doesn’t have legislation, but does have its own plain language handbook.) Inclusive language is free from words or phrases that reflect prejudiced views of people or groups. Using plain and inclusive language helps you clearly and powerfully communicate your ideas.




Here are the six resources, tools, and articles that have helped to make my language clearer and more inclusive.

1. Great Mission, Bad Statement – SSIR

In this article, Erica Mills argues many nonprofit organizations have a big problem: they use language no one can understand. She gives practical advice to use when refreshing the wording of your mission statement or writing copy for your website. The money quote: “But if you tell someone everything, they generally remember nothing. Less is more.”


2. George Orwell’s 5 Rules for Effective Writing

“Modern English, especially written English, is full of bad habits which spread by imitation and which can be avoided if one is willing to take the necessary trouble.”

This sentence is as true now as when it was written 70 years ago. George Orwell’s entire essay Politics and the English Language is excellent. Its five rules for effective writing are essential for social change communicators to communicate effectively. Following rule number 3 alone – If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out – will make your writing much clearer.


3. A Progressive’s Style Guide

“Language is a key ingredient in a winning theory of change. Language can build bridges and change minds,” declares the introduction of A Progressive’s Style GuideIts four central principles – people-first language, self-identification, active voice, and proper nouns – ensure clear writing, and also writing that acknowledges the humanity and autonomy of the people you are writing about.

This style guide will also challenge the beliefs and assumptions that underpin the language you use. You’ll come away with a more critical lens on the language you use, and how it is perceived by others. A must-read.



"But if you tell someone everything, they generally remember nothing. Less is more."


4. This Surprising Reading Level Analysis Will Change the Way You Write

Did you know the New York Times writes at a grade-nine reading level?

This article by Shane Snow will show you why using complex language (a tendency of many nonprofits) to sound sophisticated and intelligent can be counter-productive. As Snow writes, “The other lesson from this study is that we should aim to reduce complexity in our writing as much as possible. We won’t lose credibility by doing so. Our readers will comprehend and retain our ideas more reliably. And we’ll have a higher likelihood of reaching more people.”


5. Hemingway App

Hemingway App makes your writing bold and clear by highlighting long, complex sentences and errors. It also tells you what the readability level of your text is. Hemingway would approve, I’m sure.

(And yes, I used this app to edit this post and make it stronger.)


6. The Wordifier

Nothing spruces up copy like replacing tired, over-used words and phrases with fresh language. The Wordifier is a tool for making your language pop with words not used by 95% of other social change organizations out there.


So there you have my #CKX6 on language and social change. Remember that your cause is unique, and using fresh and memorable words will make it stand out from the crowd. I hope that something on the list sparked your interest or got you thinking about enhancing public participation. If there’s something you’d like to add to the list, please feel free to comment below.


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Curated by the CKX Team and awesome contributors-at-large, #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 language and social change comes from our friend Allison Jane Smith
a writer and communications consultant who has worked with charities and businesses both in Canada and internationally. She has written on charities and international development for The Guardian, ONE, and TakePart World among others.