Ascentum recently celebrated its 9th anniversary! To mark this exciting occasion, Holly Clark sat down with Ascentum co-founder Joseph Peters to reflect, reminisce and discuss plans for the future of public participation.
Holly: Joe, what was the biggest adjustment that Ascentum has had to make? How did we overcome this challenge? And what did we learn from it?
Joe: One of the biggest challenges that we’ve had to deal with over the past nine years is really adapting to new technologies. The software we used nine years ago and the software that we’re using today are fundamentally different. I think that’s where we’ve had to adapt and I think that’s where we’ve adapted very well.
Holly: In the past nine years, what would you describe as Ascentum’s biggest success? Or most exciting moment?
Joe: That’s a tough question. It’s pretty funny to think about that and all the things that we’ve accomplished over these past nine years. But one of my favorite memories, and I’ll never forget, is the party that we had for employees and clients when we first moved into our offices at 30 Rosemount. It really was a fantastic event. Put down a marker in all of our experiences to say that we had arrived, we were an organization, we were a firm, we had our fancy offices with the giant Ascentum logo on the wall. I’ll never forget that day.
Holly: What was your most interesting project?
Joe: I’ve been involved in over 100 projects, maybe even closer to 150 in the last 9-10 years so asking me which is my favourite project or which is the most interesting project is very difficult. They’re all like little children to me in a way that you start out with them, you build them, you grow them, and you watch them leave you when you’ve wrapped up the project. All of them are near and dear to my heart. One of the most interesting and most challenging initiatives was one I was involved with on the last year on Childhood Obesity. Both professionally and personally, it was an outstanding initiative. I learned a lot, I got to meet some fantastic Canadians all across the country from Vancouver to St. John’s to Aklavik in the Northwest Territories. It was fantastic to hear the different perspectives and hope that the outputs of this initiative could really help affect change and make a difference, because childhood obesity is an issue that affects so many Canadians and sets them up for their health outcomes for the rest of their life.
Holly: How do you think the world of public participation has evolved in the past nine years? How do you think Ascentum has adjusted to this evolution?
Joe: This is an easy one to answer. When I look at how public participation has transformed over the last nine years, the factor that has had the greatest influence on this has to be is social media. We used to spend a lot of time and effort trying to get people to come to you, to come to your website, to come to your event. With Facebook and Twitter now, we can go to where people are. That’s fundamentally transformed that relationship in terms of a pull to people, or a push out to people. That’s been the biggest difference and I think we’re just beginning to see the influence that social media can have on public participation, and it will continue to transform in the years to come.
Holly: What do you see for the future of public participation?
Joe: I don’t have a crystal ball, but I can tell you for sure that social media is going to have an influence on it. The way that we’re using technology today and how we’re going to use it in ten years from now is going to be different. I think that we probably have more virtual meetings. We’re beginning to see webinars, web-conferencing, video conferencing really coming into their own and being effective channels for engagement. I only hope that in nine or ten years, we start to see improvements in that area, and really an online supported technology can make public participation online seem closer to what we experience in a face to face meeting. Hopefully we will see that change in the next nine years.
Holly: What do you hope to achieve in the next nine years at Ascentum?
Joe: Well it’d be really nice if I had a crystal ball that would let me know where we would be in 9 years from now. What I can tell you is that what we’d like to achieve over the next nine years is investigating new markets. We’ve got our finger on the pulse of some emerging areas that we’d like to be involved in as we look to new markets, and it’d be also interesting to have some different Ascentum offices. We have our small office in Toronto and our virtual presences in California and Washington, but it would be nice to have another small office across the pond in the EU. It’d be great to do some work there. So I think in the next nine years, I see only good things for Ascentum. Only continued growth. It’ll be great to have new people on board. We know we’ll have to deal with change; change is a part of life. But I look forward to the next nine years. It’s been an outstanding first nine, and I only hope that the next nine are as rewarding as our first nine years.
Holly: Thanks for tuning in, and make sure to follow us @ascentum on Twitter.