Ascentum Welcomes Software Developer & Web Publisher Miriam Goldman
Wednesday, August 8th, 2012

Ascentum recently welcomed Miriam Goldman, who joined our tech team as Software Developer and Web Publisher. Miriam is a graduate of the Web Development program at CDI College in Ottawa. Before joining Ascentum in May, she worked for four years as a web developer and editor in the federal government, specializing in coding HTML pages and Web 2.0 tools. I got a chance to sit down with Miriam to ask her some questions about her past and where she sees things moving into the future.

1. You’ve obviously been a witness to a massive evolution, having ridden the shifting tide of web development for the past seven years. What’s been the most important lesson you’ve learned with keeping ahead of the game?

I would say the most important lesson I’ve learned is to not discount anything, and to keep an open mind. While there might be a trend that seems ridiculous at first, it could very well catch on with the general public.

2. How do you think the current platform of web standards are evolving? Can you distinguish a theme developing in terms of what’s popular?

It’s definitely moving more towards an emphasis on accessibility for mobile and tablet devices. And I can definitely see an incorporation of social media.

3. What do you think websites will look like five years from now? What would make them better and why?

Graphically, they will probably be similar to today. I’ve been seeing a trend to keeping things “sleek and simple”, which is definitely an advantage to the user.  In terms of the “back-end”, the building blocks, per say, there will definitely be full integration of social media, such as Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.  As to what would make them better – simplicity and a focus on user experience.

4. As you know, at Ascentum we employ a wide range of online tools to help people engage; from idea forums to Choicebooks. With this in mind, what aspect do you think takes more priority in the development of a website that aims to engage? Look and feel or accessibility? And why?

They are both equally important in my mind. You need a good look and feel to capture the initial audience – people will not click through a site that looks ugly. Conversely, once you have your audience, you need to focus on accessibility, to reach as many people as you can. For example, if you do not choose your color scheme properly, those who are colour-blind would not be able to navigate, and thus would not participate in the online engagement process.

5. At this point, there are more mobile users than desktop users. In what ways do you think we can accommodate mobile users and focus on mobile interface when developing an idea forum or Choicebook for an engagement project?

It comes down to simplicity and navigability. In developing a mobile theme for online tools, it’s important to reduce, and even eliminate, clutter. If you provide a clean experience, making it clear what to click, and where to navigate to, you’ll capture that audience well.

6. In an article about the future of web design, I read, ‘long gone are the early days of monolithic, cumbersome websites, which are quickly being replaced by simple but beautifully and thoughtfully designed user experiences.” I can’t help but wonder, with this new “simple, slick and clean” renovation of websites, how will communication between people change? Will our language also become quick, clean, and precise? Will in-depth ideas suddenly be limited by 140 characters? Will this inhibit true dialogue?

I can definitely see the trend towards clean and precise language. But I don’t think it is limiting. While avenues such as Twitter are great to express initial thoughts, places such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Ascentum’s engagement tools, even email still exist to dive more in-depth. I don’t believe true dialogue will be inhibited – I think it will become more focused and precise. Perhaps ideas will become clearer with this evolution.

-Holly Clark –

Stakeholder Engagement: A Few Things to Keep in Mind
Friday, July 27th, 2012

Ascentum has worked with a number of stakeholder relations departments, from which we have worked to integrate a focus on stakeholders across an organization.  As a ‘cross-cutting theme’ that needs to be incorporated across an organization’s diverse functions and priorities, stakeholder engagement may be sidelined, misunderstood, or resented. But when handled well, integrating stakeholder engagement can transform an organization’s public face, and greatly strengthen the quality of its decisions and actions. So we thought we’d share a few thoughts on where we start when we work with a stakeholder relations division or team to optimize its effectiveness within an organization.

A typical progression inside an organization might include the following phases:

  • Ad hoc engagement with stakeholders;
  • An increasing commitment to building stakeholder engagement into more and more organizational activities;
  • In a larger organization, growing awareness of the need to coordinate stakeholder engagement events and to share content gained;
  • Emerging desire to systematize the approach to stakeholder engagement for consistency, and to ensure quality;
  • Creation of a stakeholder relations team to serve the organization, often under a communications or corporate affairs umbrella; and,
  • Efforts to incorporate stakeholder relations across the organization in an integrated way.

One key to success in integrating stakeholder relations across the organization is to remember that we may and must engage stakeholders at various points throughout our work, not just in the final stages of a decision. For one project, it might be most important to have stakeholders involved throughout the implementation; for another, it might be critical to have that input before the project itself is conceived, when you’re still trying to understand the problem. For another, it might be most useful to have stakeholders participate in the evaluation and refinement of a project.

With this in mind, there are some important questions a stakeholder engagement team can ask itself when it seeks to integrate stakeholder considerations across the organization.

1. What are the organizational processes that already exist, and how can we build a focus on stakeholders into those processes?

 Creating new processes is seldom popular, and these are less likely to be adopted. A small section on an existing form or checklist may do more to integrate stakeholder considerations in the organizational mindset than a comprehensive stakeholder binder.

 To build stakeholder relations in where it’s appropriate, consider activities in which the organization develops its priorities, planning processes, project or policy design stages, implementation phases, and evaluation mechanisms

2. What services can we offer to support the inclusion of stakeholder considerations in those processes?

 A stakeholder engagement team within an organization is a valuable resource for:

  • Identifying stakeholders who may be affected by, or have an impact on, an issue – here it can be helpful to use key questions, triggers, reminders, and checklists built into planning processes as noted above.
  • Support for engaging stakeholdershelping staff design an appropriate form of consultation, partnership, or other mechanism for stakeholders to be involved.
  • Local learning – helping staff to understand, interpret and utilize the input from stakeholders, as well as to evaluate their own engagement practices.
  • Training – sharing best practices, concepts, and frameworks to broaden the understanding of stakeholder engagement, encourage innovation, and strengthen the organization’s relationships with stakeholders.
  • Knowledge sharing – disseminating the messages gathered from stakeholders so that the whole organization can respond to those concerns and suggestions in a consistent way.

Every organization has its particular challenges, aspirations, and structures when it comes to bringing stakeholder input into its every day work. Let us know if we can help you tackle yours!

-Faith Mansfield-

Citizen Engagement in Health Casebook: CIHR documents successes and lessons
Friday, June 15th, 2012

CIHR’s (Canadian Institutes of Health Research) Citizen Engagement in Health Casebook offers succinct examples of diverse national and provincial initiatives spanning an array of health-related policy issues. There is profound value in engaging the public to share their values and opinions on health care challenges – this Casebook is a useful reference for both practitioners and decision-makers wanting to know more about how to do this well.  Please click here for your own copy!

The Casebook’s 14 stories were selected from 40 submissions by a team of leading health professionals, academics and CE practitioners (Carolyn Lukensmeyer, America Speaks; Roger Chafe, Memorial University; Wendy Levinson, University of Toronto; Andreas Laupacis, St. Michael’s Hospital; Karen Born, St. Michael’s Hospital). The team notes that while each case offers a unique perspective, collectively they identify the following shared conclusions and lessons learned:

  • Citizen engagement impacts policy decisions;
  • Citizen engagement can bridge divides;
  • The importance of communication and knowledge translation; and,
  • Employing multiple methods of engagement allows for more diversity.

At Ascentum, we’ve gained extensive experience in health care policy and planning over the past 9 years. We are happy to have been involved in four of the 14 cases selected for the Casebook, which are described below. Three of our staff members – Mary Pat MacKinnon, Nicole Pollack, and Tristan Eclarin – co-authored two of the case studies!

  1. Mental Health Commission of Canada’s (MHCC) Creating a Mental Health Strategy for Canada – This national public and stakeholder engagement initiative featured a series of regional and focused stakeholder dialogues across the country, with online public consultations as a complementary channel for citizen engagement. The process engaged participants in a deliberative dialogue on the goals outlined in the MHCC’s draft mental health strategy framework document. All of the valuable feedback gained from this process helped inform Canada’s first-ever national mental health strategy, which was announced last month!
  2. New Brunswick Health Council’s (NBHC) Our Health. Our Perspectives. Our Solutions – This provincial citizen engagement initiative asked what people value most in the provincial health system, how it can be strengthened, and what can be done to improve provincial health outcomes overall. Through a series of deliberative dialogues, the feedback gathered from citizens and stakeholders helped establish a common vision for a citizen-centred health system in New Brunswick. The key findings enlightened the NBHC’s 2011 recommendations to the Minister of Health.
  3. Canadian Blood Services’ (CBS) Improving Organ and Tissue Donation in Canada – This public and stakeholder engagement process gathered perspectives from health professionals, patients, and the public on designing a more integrated organ and tissue donation system to improve service efficiencies and patient outcomes across Canada. The results of the dialogue informed CBS’s recommendations to Canada’s health ministers.
  4. North West Local Health Integration Network’s (LHIN) Share Your Story. Shape Your Care – This project used a suite of online tools to engage citizens and stakeholders in setting priorities for the region’s Integrated Health Services Plan (IHSP). In 2009, this project was awarded the International Association for Public Participation’s (IAP2) Core Values Award of the Year for “Innovative Use of Technology.” It’s also  similar to our current work with the South East LHIN!

We want to thank the CIHR for profiling all 14 cases. We would also like to acknowledge the contributions of Howard Chodos from the MHCC and Shirley Smallwood from the NBHC for their collaboration in reflecting on successes and lessons learned. And of course we must thank our clients – the MHCC, the NBHC, CBS and the North West LHIN.  Without their commitment and vision, we would have missed the opportunity to do this meaningful work, which places citizens at the centre of the health care system – where they belong.

-Mary Pat MacKinnon & Tristan Eclarin-

Ascentum @ IAP2-North America
Wednesday, May 30th, 2012

We were quite excited to learn this week that Joseph Peters will be presenting at the upcoming IAP2-North America conference, Sept. 30-Oct.2 2012 in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He will be sharing our experience working on the successful Our Health Our Future project (a national dialogue on childhood obesity).

Joe’s presentation will be one of 29, voted on by 150 people from 58 proposed sessions.

We’re looking forward to seeing you in Halifax!

From the conference program:

Public participation is evolving, with technological advancements, with new delivery channels, and broad, affordable access to participants. Imagine a dynamic initiative that in one week is engaging Aboriginal communities in the Arctic, youth on Facebook, stakeholder organizations online. Imagine that the week before events were in Vancouver with caregivers, and health professionals in Montreal. Imagine no more. Instead learn all about it, through an interactive presentation. This was the Our Health, Our Future
initiative on childhood obesity.

Changing Ontario’s healthcare system by engaging seniors & caregivers
Friday, May 25th, 2012

“Seniors and caregivers don’t want the moon; they don’t necessarily even want more. Their most frequent calls for change revolve around coordination and communication: how primary care providers and specialists collaborate and talk to each other – and to patients and caregivers; how patient health information is coordinated and shared; how health facilities transfer or move patients; how seniors and caregivers are informed – or not – about care options; and how they can be more involved in the decision-making.”

Here at Ascentum, we believe that building the right health care system means listening to and involving patients, their family members, health workers, and members of the broader communities they serve.

Last year, we partnered with The Change Foundation on a groundbreaking project to engage seniors with chronic health conditions, and their family or friend caregivers, to learn more about problems they have experienced moving from one part of the health system to another.  Often called “transitions,” these moves can involve referrals from a family doctor to a specialist, visits to a hospital or from a hospital back home with home care services.

The Change Foundation is a non-profit “think tank that does” and is one of Canada’s leaders in engaging people in its research activities.

We used a blended in-person and online process design to reach hundreds of seniors and caregivers from across Ontario – all the way from Dryden and Timmins up north, to the Regent Park neighbourhood in Toronto.

The Foundation has just released a final report on what we heard, along with a creative microsite with videos, participant stories and feedback mechanisms.  Here’s a snapshot of the top 5 themes heard from participants:

  1. The primacy – and problems – of primary care: Stop the dead ends and make people’s primary care providers accountable for positive transition experiences.
  2. The importance of connections and clarity about next steps: Connect all health workers and make sure people understand what’s happening next I their care journeys.
  3. The communication deficit: Health workers should communicate early and often with each other, and with patients and their caregivers.
  4. The inclusion factor – hey what about us?  Include patients, families and caregivers in decisions that affect their lives and health.
  5. Issues of equity: Don’t let people who are facing barriers fall behind.

From a public involvement perspective, the project shows the power of people’s real-life stories as levers for change.

It was a privilege to work with the team at The Change Foundation; people who are passionate both about improving health care, and doing so by engaging people who see the problems up-close – patients and their families.

I’d encourage you to visit the Foundation’s microsite for the report, at

– Ellis Westwood –

Recap: Ann Fuller on Social Media and Health Care Reform
Friday, May 18th, 2012

In the era of health care reform, social media can help hospitals improve patient care, patient support, health research, education, training, advocacy and more.

I recently heard Ann Fuller (Public Relations Director at CHEO – the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario) talk about current and potential uses for social media in health care, as well as some of the related risks and opportunities.

Fuller emphasized the potential of social media to reach beyond the walls of hospitals to educate the public, involve patients in their health and recovery using new tools and prevent hospital visits through health promotion. Fuller thinks social media can be used to improve access to health care specialists, improve the quality of health care, and decrease costs. She described some interesting examples of current and possible social media uses in health care:

  • filmpossible: a video contest to bring visibility to disability;
  • Community building around different health issues, for example “Totally ADD” and the Mood Disorders Society of Canada forum;
  • Using social media to improve health outcomes, through a smoking cessation program like “qwitter” or a mobile app to monitor irritable bowel disease in real time called “myIBD”;
  • Using Twitter status updates in emergency rooms to increase patient understanding:
  • Livetweeting surgery to educate the public; and,
  • text4baby: A free service that provides information via text message to expectant mothers.

Fuller identified a few challenges that come with using social media for communications:

  • How to respond to vocal patient groups who take to social media to present their case for controversial treatments (e.g. liberation therapy for MS patients)?
  • Privatization of health information (e.g. Facebook users can now indicate to their friends that they are organ donors. Could Facebook sell this information if organ donation is one day privatized?)
  • Liability: If a patient on a hospital Facebook page suggests using a poisonous herb to treat an ailment on a hospital Facebook, is the hospital liable? If a psychiatrist “friends” a patient, and fails to notice erratic behaviour which leads to death, is the psychiatrist liable?
  • Privacy concerns: Parents could inadvertently “out” their children with mental illnesses by thanking a hospital team on a hospital Facebook page
  • Barriers to using social media: age and language

One element of health care that Fuller overlooks, however, is using social media as a tool to involve patients, community members and employees in the discussions about how the system should be changed. As a few of our recent projects have demonstrated, (like this one) there is great potential to use social media to solicit ideas on tackling health care issues, engage citizens in priority setting, and have the public weigh the pros and cons of possible solutions.

-Stephan Telka –

“You’re asking ME to Cut Down the Red Tape?” – Part II
Friday, April 20th, 2012

In a previous blog, I wrote about the U.K. Government’s Red Tape Challenge (RTC), a national crowdsourcing initiative aimed at reducing the overall burden of regulations for businesses and individuals. I want to outline a few of the public involvement best practices that the RTC follows.

  1. Demonstrate support from senior leadership: It’s useful for participants to see real decision-makers standing behind an engagement process, as it can help reinforce the significance of the whole thing. In this case, the RTC is actively supported by the most senior leadership in the UK government. Check out this intro video, where Prime Minister David Cameron speaks rather candidly about why citizens should participate in this initiative (i.e. we need to reduce regulations “that frankly, treat all of you like idiots”). He remarks on  how the RTC will succeed “where so many other governments have failed” by focusing on “changing the default setting” for regulations. This means a shift towards regulations being scrapped “unless someone has a good reason for them to stay” (rather than the other way around). He also explains how pressure will be applied at the ministerial level, which reflects his own rationale for seeking citizen input. He says, “If ministerscome back with arguments for keeping red tape that we really ought to scrap, I need the evidence on my side Evidence from the real world.” Very well said!
  2.  Be transparent about the impact of participant feedback: Participants want to know why their contributions matter and that their time and efforts haven’t been wasted. However, in a lot of cases this isn’t done – sometimes participants never hear back after they’ve contributed! Fortunately, the RTC outlines how feedback will be used to inform decisions, how long the consultation process will take, and how ‘high’ the feedback will go. It also closes the ‘feedback loop’ by announcing any regulatory proposals/ decisions that have been made.
  3. Make connections to related initiatives/ processes: Participants should know how the initiative fits into the ‘bigger picture,’ which will make it seem less of an isolated, one-off process. The RTC makes a specific reference to the related Focus on Enforcement initiative, which is less about any specific regulations and more about the “inconsistent or inappropriate enforcement” of them (which could be the more significant issue in some cases). The RTC is also placed within the parameters of a broader, long term Government commitment, which “signifies a dramatic shift in the culture of Whitehall, as we work together collaboratively to turn the regulatory default on its head.”

 It’s great to see meaningful public engagement initiatives like this being carried out across the pond!

-Tristan Eclarin-

Ascentum’s 9th Anniversary – Interview with Joseph Peters
Monday, April 16th, 2012

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.

Video Transcription

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.

-Holly Clark-

Twitter: The Medium Doesn’t Have to be the Message….
Tuesday, April 3rd, 2012

This week, New Democratic Party Member of Parliament Charlie Angus, an inveterate tweeter, bid adieu to the Twitterverse. He acknowledges being a big fan/user of social media but fears that Twitter is “morphing into a bully pulpit for trolls. It is a technology that favours the flash mob.” He goes on to say “that the digital mob is no different from a street mob. It can be excitable, good-natured or vicious, but don’t ever mistake the mob for democracy.”

Angus laments receiving hate filled and ignorant tweets about Attawapiskat, and fears that Twitter is undermining “fact finding and verification.”  Commenting on recent tweet attacks on his singing ability and other mindless ad hominem volleys, he expresses his disenchantment – “Being on Twitter is like being badgered by a drunk on a 24-hour bus ride.’ (and as a northern Ontario boy he knows of what he speaks!).

While Angus raises valid and serious concerns, the object of his criticism is off.  There is no doubt that social media in general and Twitter in particular, are influencing how we engage with each other and how we process information and we all should be more mindful about how we use this powerful technology. However, it is erroneous to place the blame on the technology itself.  The technology is neutral –it is all about how we use that technology – for good (and as Angus himself notes that during the Attawapiskat crisis the positive tweets far outnumbered the negative), for evil or simply for inane purposes. Human behaviour and motivation is the real culprit, not the technology. On Twitter, you’ll find the good, the bad, the useful, the useless, the beautiful and the ugly!

The poverty of political talk, trivial and banal remarks, uninformed and mindless commentary, knee-jerk responses, deliberately misleading quotes etc in Twitterverse are not a reflection of Twitter but rather symptoms of our impoverished public discourse.  As Pogo says ……”We have met the enemy… and he is us”.  If we want a better Twitterverse, we need to create it. Come on back Charlie Angus.

At Ascentum we strive to use social media and online engagement to elevate not degrade public discourse.

-Mary Pat MacKinnon-

@ascentum tweets of the week
Friday, March 16th, 2012

Here are just some of the Twitter posts and links that we’d like to pass on from this week. You can find us on Twitter at

-Stephan Telka-

5 Canadian Public Policy Issues That Could Be Crowdsourced
Friday, March 9th, 2012

On February 13 the Honourable Tony Clement, President of the Treasury Board, spoke at Third Tuesday Ottawa, a monthly gathering of innovators with an aim to “explore new developments in social media and online community building”. Minister Clement, known in Canadian social media circles for being one of the prolific House of Commons Twitter users, spoke about the government’s new Web 2.0 guidelines, open government, and using crowdsourcing to develop public policy.

Based on the success of the government’s first foray into crowdsourcing with Industry Canada’s “Digital Economy Strategy” project (proudly developed and led by Ascentum), Minister Clement shared that the government would like to see more government policy sourced from the crowds. He then challenged those in the audience to suggest public policy issues that could be crowdsourced.

We’d like to take Minister Clement up on his offer, and humbly suggest five topics:

  1. How can the government help celebrate the 150th Anniversary of Canadian Confederation in 2017 (Heritage Canada)
  2. Which e-services should the federal government be providing, that aren’t yet available? (Service Canada)
  3. How can the government increase productivity? (Industry Canada, Human Resources & Skills Development Canada)
  4.  How can we improve trade, security and cultural ties with our largest trade partner, the US? (Public Safety, Industry, Foreign Affairs & International Trade, Citizenship)
  5. How can the federal government make better use of diasporas, including Canadians abroad and those with foreign links in Canada, to improve trade, economic and cultural links? (Foreign Affairs & International Trade, Citizenship)

Here’s hoping Minister Clement is listening!

-Stephan Telka-

From the Water Cooler to the Web- Embracing Social Media in the Workplace
Friday, March 2nd, 2012

Here at Ascentum, we use social media in a variety of ways. Not only do we help our clients engage their stakeholders through various social media platforms, but we are also constantly tapped into these outlets, publishing weekly blog posts, posting hourly twitter updates and moderating topical Facebook conversations.

Brought up using social media tools to interact with friends and family, I would expect these tools to be put to use in the workplace to engage with colleagues.  However, the reality is that many places have ignored the social revolution. This makes me think, how valuable is social media to an organization?

I recently read an interview with Peter Williams, CEO of Deloitte Digital and one of Australia’s leaders in the digital world. As an advocate for social innovation, Williams believes that this Cultural Revolution generates a compelling chance for companies. He says though it may be scary, “if you don’t embrace change, and understand how you can leverage it, you will just fall behind”.

Williams also expresses frustration at the managers who use the clichéd idea that “our staff is our greatest asset” but then block their staff from using social media at work. He says that a truly enlightened leader encourages communication and the wholesale sharing of ideas within their organization.

This concept of social media participation in the workplace has given birth to a handy little tool known as Yammer, a free social network for the workplace. Access to an organization’s Yammer network is determined by a user’s Internet Domain, so only those with the same email addresses may join their respective networks. It’s like moving the conversation from the water cooler to the web – but throwing in the popularly used Facebook “like” function and the option to create fun, informative surveys.

When asked how Yammer got started in his company, Williams recalls kicking ideas around in the innovation team, when someone simply said, ‘why don’t we give this a go.’  “I think that is the first lesson about adoption of social media,” he says. And he’s right. It’s worth a try. Why? Because it’s free, designed to be simple, and you have nothing to lose.

In early February, Ascentum started using Yammer, and it seems to have taken off naturally. Many have commented on how convenient it is to know what others are working on, and to feel “in touch” with colleagues even amidst the busy work hours when chats by the water cooler are infrequent and cut short. It fulfills the same purpose all social media aims to achieve – an extra branch of communication that keeps the conversation going.

While Yammer has been a hit, Williams says that companies who use these tools are still in a minority. He noticed that the default position of most organizations is to resist the use of social media in the workplace, at the fear of misbalancing hierarchy. But he digresses, “Anyone wanting a highly rigid hierarchy or to be in a controlling position will find himself increasingly under threat from active social networks.”

What’s the bottom line here? Well I can say that it feels good to work in an environment that has not only embraced the social revolution, but has manipulated it into a strategic tool for engagement. I think it’s clear that whatever your organization does, you should be exploring the ways you could leverage these new tools. Social media is not frivolous, and it is not a fad. It’s an opportunity. As Williams so accurately puts it “Leaders either see the light – or feel the heat”.

-Holly Clark-

@ascentum tweets of the week
Friday, February 10th, 2012

Here are just some of the Twitter posts and links that we’d like to pass on from this week. You can find us on Twitter at

  • Quote: “The 21st Century is a lousy time to be a control freak” Perhaps the sound byte of the day #openpolicy (Retweet from @SBTaskForce, during a conference on open policy development and collaboration that Ascentum attended at the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs & International Trade)

-Stephan Telka-

Chancellor Merkel crowdsources Germany’s future
Wednesday, February 1st, 2012

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is going online to engage Germans on the future of their country. On February 1 the Chancellor’s office launched a “Dialogue about Germany’s Future”, a project that combines an online crowdsourcing website and a series of in-person, “US-style” town hall meetings. It marks the first time the Chancellor is going directly to citizens using an online tool to engage them in decision making.

Over the next two months, Germans will have a chance to share their views on the Germany they’d like to see in the next 5-10 years, answering three main consultation questions:

  1. How do we want to live together? What holds society together? How can we produce more children and be more family friendly? How can society and government enhance security? How can we engage citizens better?
  2. How do we want to sustain ourselves? What are Germany’s strengths on the world market? How can we stay curious and innovative while making money? What can employers, employees and government do to make employment more secure and appealing?
  3. How do we want to learn? What do practical values look like? How can we all learn to do better – at work and at home? What role does the internet play? How can we improve professional development? Can the society as a whole learn?

Taking Ideas Seriously…and Uncharted Territory

In a weekend interview with the Bild am Sonntag, Merkel emphasized that all suggestions would be taken seriously: “They won’t land in the thin air of the internet. Rather, each one will receive an answer, and the best have the chance to be acted upon”. Pushed further, Merkel explained how ideas could be acted upon, while acknowledging the novelty of the initiative:

I can’t promise anyone that we will immediately implement everything, but I also won’t say what won’t work. Reasonable ideas could be turned into a research project or model project. Examples of best practices, on topics such as “better working conditions for the elderly” or “the city of the future” could achieve more than current political discourse. We will also send good ideas to the responsible ministries. What’s clear to me is this: With this online “Dialogue of the Future” we’re entering new territory. We don’t know 100% how exactly this will work, and how many people will actually take part.

Merkel explained that her team of “120 experts” would be pouring over the results after the online tool closes in April, releasing a book in June, and presenting the most useful ideas in September.

In-person vs. Online

When asked why the main thrust of the project was online, Merkel answered simply, “there’s no other way to reach so many people”.

After the crowdsourcing site has been closed, authors of the ten top-voted ideas will have a chance to meet with Merkel in her office.

The online process is also being complemented by 3 in-person “US-style” town hall meetings in the cities of Erfurt, Heidelberg and Bielefeld with 100 participants each, as well as sessions for children and youth.

So what?

The project has only been live for a few hours, so I can only make general observations. It’s clear that the project has lots of potential. It has buy-in from Merkel herself, who has committed her government to respond to and act upon all “reasonable” ideas within a strict timeline (the timeline below, which appears on every page, explains the process. Click to view larger image). It shows that the federal government in Germany is interested in using novel ways to engage citizens, including both crowdsourcing and “town hall” meetings.

Potential challenges include how to deal with popular suggestions that are beyond the scope of the federal government. A “Citizen’s Forum” project last year in the country, for example, brought together 3,000 interested citizens who suggested that education systems (a state responsibility) be harmonized across the country. The idea was pretty much dead on arrival, as states have clung to that responsibility vehemently. Critical to the collection of useful ideas will be communicating to participants the scope of ideas being solicited (what is up for discussion, and what is not). Another essential step for the Chancellor’s office will be to ensure enough resources to wade through the ideas (6 hours after launching, a total of 123 have been posted).

Stay tuned for further updates as we track this exciting project.

All translations are my own.

-Stephan Telka-

Open_policy@DFAIT Conference
Wednesday, February 1st, 2012

February 9, 2012, Ottawa Ascentum is excited to be participating in the open_policy@DFAIT (Collaborer@MAECI) event at the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) next week. Up to 200 officials from DFAIT and other federal departments will be exposed to new tools, new partners and new approaches to collaboration.  The purpose of the event is to promote “open policy development” by adapting the private sector’s open innovation model to the public sector’s policy process. We will be sharing Ascentum’s unique approach, and how our digital tools facilitate collaboration. Contact Joseph Peters ( for more information on this event

Working Lunch Seminar Series – Crowdsourcing & Employee Engagement
Thursday, January 26th, 2012

Working Lunch Seminar Series – Public Participation
Tuesday, January 24th, 2012

Working Lunch Seminar Series – Social Media Strategies
Thursday, January 19th, 2012

View more PowerPoint from Ascentum

Top 10 Ascentum Blog Posts of 2011
Friday, January 6th, 2012

It’s been a busy year on the Ascentum blog, a space for us to share interesting developments in public engagement, useful tools and resources, and news on the goings on of our dynamic team.  Our top most viewed blogs deal with topics vast and varied, from the history of crowdsourcing to the demise of RIM, from Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi to the use of NVivo to analyze qualitative feedback in engagement processes.

Here are the top 10 blog posts (by page views) of 2011:

  1. Gmail and GSA – one giant step forward for government (Friday June 17) – Joseph Peters  402 views
  2. Why RIM Fails – The Kindle Fire (Thursday September 29) – Joseph Peters 289 views
  3. Shaw’s Customer Conversations on Data Use. Great, but what about online tools…? (Tuesday March 1) – Ellis Westwood 246 views
  4. Using NVivo to Truly Understand Participants’ Views and Ideas (Monday June 13) – Stephan Telka 98 views
  5. Announcement – Mary Pat is becoming a Partner at Ascentum! (Monday September 19) – Holly Clark 82 views
  6. A Short History of Crowdsourcing (Friday June 24) – Ellis Westwood 68 views
  7. Social Media tackling obesity one picture at a time (Thursday April 14) – Cassandra Tavares 64 views
  8. Inspiration and Iron Fists (Thursday September 22) – Joseph Peters 63 views
  9. In Conversation with Ellis Westwood, Ascentum’s new Director of Project Innovation (Monday December 5) – Holly Clark 63 views
  10. Kathleen Petty and Fostering Dialogue in Canadian Media (Tuesday July 12) – Stephan Telka 61 views

Looking forward to more great posts and conversations throughout 2012!

-Stephan Telka-

The Possibilities for Citizen-Led, Community-Level Change… in Canada?
Thursday, December 22nd, 2011

In an effort to follow new and interesting practices in engaement, I’ve spent some time looking into the work of Everyday Democracy – a non-profit organization that works closely with communities across the U.S. to address complex, local level issues through public involvement (PI). Its work seems to reflect a much larger trend around PI, which is the rise of community-based initiatives, particularly in the U.S.

To help demonstrate the type of impact that PI can have on the local level, let’s look at Portsmouth Listens, a collaborative effort between the city of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and its citizens to impact important local issues through increased PI. According to Matt Leighninger, “Portsmouth Listens shows that public engagement processes do not have to be ‘owned’ by government – that they in fact may be more effective and sustainable when they are jointly owned… it harks back to a time in New England when public life was as much a function of community as politics.”

It all started in 1999 with the issue of bullying in the city’s middle school. In an attempt to address the situation, the school invited students, teachers, parents and neighbours (e.g. homeowners, shop owners and individuals from a nearby senior’s housing complex) to participate in a dialogue.

Some of the most notable ideas came from students themselves, which included moving the school’s bike rack to another area that has more traffic and is less isolated, and increase lighting in certain areas around the school grounds. A year later, the town council used this process as the foundation for gathering public input on school redistricting, which can be a ‘hot’ issue in any community. With a significant enrollment imbalance between Portsmouth’s three elementary schools, rotating dialogues were held in each one. This process helped increase comfort levels, as parents were given the opportunity to get a feel for all the schools, thereby decreasing the antagonism around “moving my kid from their school.”

These types of participative initiatives continue to be used in Portsmouth today. For example, residents can review the city’s Master Plan, which outlines the framework for the community’s planning and land use decisions. In one review, citizens came up with a unique idea that wasn’t in the Plan – to convert an old soap factory to an art colony, which could also attract tourists to the city. For more information, please visit this link for Everyday Democracy’s two-part orientation video (scroll down).

All of this leads me to ask three questions:

  • Are these types of community-level initiatives emerging to the same extent here in Canada? (I would argue that they aren’t, or are not as well publicized)
  • How is the potential for community-level change affected by the fact that our municipalities are “creatures of the provinces,” which provide less funding sources and regulatory levers in relations to their American counterparts?
  • What actions we can take as citizens, so as not to limit the possibilities for citizen-led, community-level change here in Canada?

-Tristan Eclarin-

Choicebook™ Demo – “Speak Up For Change!”
Monday, December 12th, 2011

One online engagement tool that we put to use on a regular basis is something called a “Choicebook”, an innovative public participation tool that provides participants with the key facts, perspectives and arguments needed to make an informed choice about a given issue. With the necessary information at the tips of their fingers, participants are guided through a series of scenarios, and are asked to provide their ideas, perspectives and priorities, through a combination of open- and close-ended questions.

Our Choicebook™ tool can be hosted on a stand-alone consultation website, or launched from an invitation e-mail. We can even embed the tool within Facebook, to take engagement where possible participants are already converging on social media.

One Choicebook that we’re particularly proud of us was part of a project that we recently profiled on our website. Back in the summer of 2009, when climate change was on the top of Canadians’ minds in the run-up to the Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, Ascentum partnered with Apathy is Boring, a Montreal-based non-profit with a mission to use art and technology to educate youth about democracy, to engage Canadian youth on the issues of energy use and climate change.  This partnership brought “Speak up for Change!” to life.

The Speak Up! Choicebook™ created for this website was embedded into Facebook, allowing for an ongoing dialogue to take place on the ‘wall’ of the project page. It included flash animation and audio prompts to create an innovative and engaging consultation experience.

Click here to visit the “Speak Up for Change!” Choicebook

Contact us to discuss whether a Choicebook is the right tool for you and your organization’s needs.

-Stephan Telka-

In Conversation with Ellis Westwood, Ascentum’s new Director of Project Innovation
Monday, December 5th, 2011

Holly Clark recently had a chance to sit down with Ellis Westwood, Ascentum’s new Director of Project Innovation, to explore his new role, and learn more about his views on the future of public engagement.

1. You have recently been promoted to “Director, Project Innovation”, with Ascentum. Can you give us some context on what this title entails? How is this new position different from your last? What new responsibilities/duties do you have?

The first thing people say when they hear my title is that they’ve never heard anything like it before! For me the new role is about always trying to be creative. It’s about building on tried and tested engagement approaches, but not being afraid to try new techniques or tools. I think the new role reflects my growth at Ascentum over the last five years. It’s an amazing place to learn, work, and have fun. As a Director, I’ll be working directly with clients and delivering projects, while coaching and supporting our really talented staff at Ascentum.

2. What are the highlights of your year, and what do you hope to accomplish in the next year with Ascentum’s clients?

Over the last year, I’ve been involved in some very interesting projects, working with adventurous, creative and smart clients.

One of our recent engagement projects was “Our Health Our Future”, Canada’s first national dialogue on childhood obesity. We used a blend of in-person, online and social media tools to foster conversations across Canada on healthy weights and about how we can all work together to address the growing health problem of childhood obesity. As part of our creative approach, I used social media to foster conversations on Facebook and Twitter about childhood obesity. We engaged hundreds of caregivers, youth and stakeholders across Canada and to hear how childhood obesity affected them and their ideas for making our kids healthier.

So that’s where I’ve come from over the last year. Where do I want to go? Well, I’d like to continue to use social media, to complement the engagement work that we do through in-person and online channels.

3. Why do you think public engagement is important?

I think public engagement is important because it helps organizations make more “sustainable decisions”. These are decisions that are durable and sustainable into the future, developed by involving the people and perspectives that are affected and need to be involved.

At the beginning of my career, when I worked for the federal government, I worked alongside people that were smart and passionate, but at the same time they didn’t have all the answers. For me, engaging the public means providing government and decision makers with those additional perspectives, ideas and experiences from those outside government. It’s these additional sources of evidence that organizations need to make more sustainable decisions on important public policy challenges.

4. You are well known at Ascentum for being very well-versed in social media and new technologies. How do you think we can continue to capitalize on these tools to perform better public engagement?

For me, social media is all a conversation. It’s about people sharing points of view, information and ideas. It’s tools that people can use to co-collaborate and co-create.

So, social media is a natural addition to many public engagement projects. Depending on the project objectives and target communities, social media may not always be suitable for every engagement project. But when it is, we tap into and join the conversations that are already happening or foster new ones aligned with the topics we’re engaging on. These can act as natural complements to other streams of communications we might be doing, such as online deliberation or dialogues.

Social media also allows us to broaden the scope of our engagement. By using social networking tools like Facebook, which has 17 million Canadian subscribers, we can help our clients reach more people, hear more stories, gather more ideas, and ultimately make more sustainable decisions.

5. Based on your experience of social media and its progress thus far, what do you see for the future of public engagement in relation to these new technologies?

I’m really excited about the possible application of social games in public engagement. Imagine if you could use an interactive tool to actually re-design your community park or your neighborhood services on an engagement website? You could choose the design and size of your local community centre. You could redesign the public transit routes that serve your neighborhood.

This idea reminds me of that popular computer game from the 1990s, Sim City. In the future, online engagement could take a similar form. The only difference is that it would be more interactive, more social and you could collaborate with others to co-design solutions to the problems we face in our communities, cities or our country.

6. What’s the most important thing you’ve learned in your experiences? How do you think this will see you through your future?

I’ve learned a lot over the past five years! But the most important thing is that, to help my clients get the insights they’re looking for, it’s my job to help them ask the right questions.

In planning projects, I always like to start working backwards from the end. I ask my clients, what would success look like? What do you want to know from the people you are engaging? And also, what information do we need to give to participants to make it deliberative, so that they can give you their informed perspectives?

If organizations don’t ask the right questions of the people they are trying to engage, they won’t be able to gather the experiences or ideas they’re looking for, as well as their broader engagement objectives.

Some final thoughts…

It has been and continues to be an amazing experience at Ascentum. Every day, I get to work with really smart people who are passionate about public involvement. I get to work with all kinds of neat clients on interesting and important issues. All of that makes it easy to get up in the mornings and come to work, and I’m looking forward to the upcoming year and the future beyond that.


-Holly Clark-

Engaging with Google Plus: An Introduction
Friday, November 11th, 2011

Earlier this week, Google announced support for business and organization pages on Google+,  the latest social network from Google.  We’ve been following Google+ for several months and we thought it would be a good idea to review opportunities to get engaged on Google+.

Google+ is the latest social network from Google and offers the tightest integration with other Google services like Gmail and Search.   Google combines the functionality of popular social networks like Facebook and Twitter into its own unique experience.

The first thing you’ll notice on Google is the very clean interface and the following + things.  This is a combination of the Facebook “like” button and the Twitter re-tweet.  Users can + links or photos that they like in their feed or on external websites.  The + can also be used to address a user like +Ascentum, which is similar to Twitter’s @Ascentum system.

Adding the Plus

The easiest option for businesses and websites is to add the Google+ button to their site content.  The integration is very similar to the Facebook Like button and allows users to quickly + content they find interesting on your website, many users also use this as a bookmarking system that they can refer to later.

The other major importance of adding the Google+ is impact on search.  Google has indicated that the content with more pluses will receive higher search ranking.   It would be a good opportunity to add this functionality now to help building your site’s prominence in the future.

Joining the Plus

Now that Google has added business pages it’s a great opportunity to add your business .   Unlike Facebook or Twitter, Google+ doesn’t currently have the ability for multiple people to update an organization page.   This functionality may be available soon but until then, we recommend creating a new Google User account specifically for your business page.  Use this account exclusively to manage your Google+ Page.

Once you have your Google Account created, you can create your Google+ organization page here:

The  page setup is very simple but you’ll need a square image with your organization’s logo and some details to describe it concisely.  Most of the Google+ Page fields will accept HTML links so you can link to your website for more information.

You will probably need to promote your new Google+ organization page on your webpage and other social networks to connect with users.  One interesting benefit that Google has added to search is you can use +Ascentum to quickly find your companies Google+ Page.

As more users add your organization page you may want to develop some “Circles” of users to help group them into different categories.  You can use these circles to communicate different information. For example, employees, volunteers and regular users can all get their own circle and receive different communication.  Whenever you post something to your page you can choose which circle(s) should see the update.

Hanging Out…

One thing that makes Google+ unique is the the Hangout functionality.  This lets you have a live video/chat with a fairly small number of users.  This could be a great way to engage employees or volunteers without the time or expense of organizing personal meetings.

While Google+ is still fairly new it does offer some unique possibilities for engaging users and like all the networks before, it’s free to setup and experiment with.

-Colin Smilie-

Starbucks CEO and Public Engagement: “Wake Up!”
Friday, October 28th, 2011

Over the summer, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz began a crusade to end what he, and many others, are calling the political gridlock in Washington. In August, Schultz sent out an e-mail to all of his employees, as well as a number of business leaders, stating that he was finding himself “growing more and more frustrated at the lack of cooperation and irresponsibility among elected officials as they have put partisan agendas before the people’s agenda.” Weeks later, Schultz urged CEOs across the country to withold their political contributions until a “transparent, comprehensive, bipartisan debt-and-deficit package is reached that honestly, and fairly, sets America on a path to long-term financial health and security.” CEOs from many top companies, including those from AOL, Pepsi and Walt Disney, heeded his call and took the pledge. Following this, Schultz sought to broaden his call for action through public engagement.

On September 6, 2011, Schultz worked with the non-profit organization No Labels to conduct a “town hall meeting” in New York, where people could call in to share their perpective on what’s causing the “crisis of confidence” in America. Branded as a “Conversation with America,” Schultz sought outreach through online advertising, mass e-mailing, and by running ads in the New York Times and USA Today, urging “Americans to participate in the forum and insist politicians to end their hyper-partisan behaviour.” Schultz said he was inspired to hold the town hall meeting after receiving hundreds of e-mails and letters from citizens who are struggling in the current U.S. economy.

Now for some points on what went down during the town hall meeting:

Where was it held? The venue was Cooper Union, a prestigious private college in Manhattan. However, it was slightly repurposed to look like your local Starbucks, complete with eager-looking young people in the background, sipping on their Starbucks drinks and typing away on their Macbooks. The whole thing was streamed online.

Who was there? An impressive group of individuals hosted the meeting, including a senior political columnist for Newsweek and CNN contributor; the President of the Grady Health Foundation in Atlanta; a Professor of Management from the Harvard Business School; and the President of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.

What happened? Over a 90-minute time period, the panel discussed the issues at hand and took questions from call-in viewers. However, the broader focus seemed to be on encouraging people to take the pledge to withhold campaign contributions.


So what should we make of this? From a process perspective, “A Conversation with America” does not represent the most robust public engagement initiative for a number of reasons. The hosts of the meeting were not unbiased and promoted a clear agenda, many of the questions that were asked were very similar and seemed to be a bit leading in nature, and there was corporate branding everywhere. However, I’m assuming that Mr. Schultz is placing more focus on the message rather than the process.

Political ideologies aside, I think this is an inspiring example of high-profile business leaders, particularly those from companies with popular consumer brands, taking a stand and using (some form of) public engagement to get citizens to “wake up”!

-Tristan Eclarin-

Ascentum community engagement project for South East LHIN a “resounding success”
Friday, October 21st, 2011

Earlier this year, Ascentum was hired by the South East Local Health Integration Network (LHIN) to engage community members across southeastern Ontario and gather public input on new health care plans for the region.

We worked closely with staff from the South East LHIN, as well as physicians and other clinical experts, to design a series of deliberative workbooks that local residents could complete online to have their say.

Here’s an excerpt from a recent press release that looked back on what we achieved.  According to the South East LHIN’s CEO, Paul Huras:

The fact that we heard from 867 participants who took the time to complete a total of 1775 detailed workbooks is a solid indication that this engagement worked very well,” said Huras. “Each of these participants took the time to learn, understand and comment on workplans that were detailed and complex. The process provided a great deal of quantitative and qualitative feedback that has helped our Clinical Leads and their teams to adjust and fine tune these plans,” he added.

We appreciated the opportunity to work with the LHIN and their partners on this project.  From our perspective, they were truly committed to gathering input from their communities and using it to help guide their decision-making.

In fact, you can read the full public report of what we heard during the engagement here.  And here’s a link to the full press release.


In support of LHINs

Recently, some people have questioned the value of LHINs.  These critics say that LHINs are too costly, or take money away from front line care.

From my perspective, the right question about what LHINs do should be framed differently.  Who best understands the health care needs of local communities across Ontario?  Local residents and health system planners, or those in a head office thousands of kilometers away?

We have done work for several LHINs, including Share Your Story, Shape Your Care for which the North West LHIN won the International Association for Public Participation (IAP2)’s Innovation of the Year award for 2009.

We’ve always found LHIN staff to be dedicated, hard-working local residents driven by a desire to coordinate health services in a way that reflects local priorities, needs and values.  We think their work is important and hope they are able to continue building on the progress already made.

To end, a local MPP for the region once told me “When you get the public involved, you get way better results.  When you leave it up to a politician, it takes too much money; it takes too long; and they’ll probably get it wrong!”

– Ellis Westwood –

Learning from Stakeholder Engagement at Canadian Blood Services
Friday, October 14th, 2011

I just arrived back from a term position at Canadian Blood Services (CBS), where I was on loan from Ascentum for a little over five months. Submerged in the world of blood and blood products, not only did I learn a great deal about the organization, but I became further versed in the realm of stakeholder relations, one of Ascentum’s main service offerings.

CBS is a prime example of how an organization can use stakeholder engagement to further advance its goals, while ensuring that all players are involved in the decision-making process. Designated as a Stakeholder Relations / Communications Specialist, my role included managing the various committees CBS has for gaining input on the blood system. The two main committee groups I helped oversee were the seven Regional Liaison Committees (RLCs) and the National Liaison Committee (NLC). (more…)

Simple Facts About Information Privacy Online
Friday, October 7th, 2011

I had the good fortune of attending MESH 2011 in Toronto back in May this year. Since Information privacy is something we take very seriously at Ascentum, one of the presentations that I chose to attend was on Information Privacy by Dominic Jaar where he highlighted some key facts about online privacy. Below I’ve summarized his key messages, and wrote how we try to overcome some of these challenges at Ascentum.

Privacy statements are usually hidden and are changed frequently

Almost all sites insist on making their registration process quick and simple. Therefore, they prefer to keep users from spending time on privacy statements. Here at Ascentum, we try to find a balance – between simplicity and ensuring that engagement website users take the time to read through and understand the fine print. Exposing users to our privacy statements is one of the key steps during registration. (more…)

An alternative view of Alberta: Edmonton, energy, climate change and citizen deliberation
Friday, September 30th, 2011

The brouhaha against the Keystone XL pipeline once again shines a harsh light on Alberta and its oil sands industry. And the National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy’s latest report on the costs of climate change to Canada sharpens the debate.

What flies under the radar in the rest of Canada is the fact that Edmonton City Council recently passed a comprehensive and far reaching environmental strategy called The Way We Green (TWWG). Its goals and policy directions, including on climate change and energy, are nothing if not forward looking and very ambitious. (more…)

Why RIM Fails – The Kindle Fire
Thursday, September 29th, 2011

I remember how excited I was when I got my first blackberry.  It was thick, black with a monochrome screen, but it was beautiful.  Finally I could get emails, contacts, and a phone all in one.  Goodbye abandoned and gently used palm pilots, and hello thumbs.

The first few blackberries I had were fantastic.  They did what they were supposed to do really well.  The other bells and whistles were slightly useful, like mobile web browsing or the music player, but they could be ignored.  Then something happened that changed mobile phones, arguably forever – the iPhone.  It did a lot of things really well.  It did the basics (phone, email, calendar), and it also made mobile browsing functional.  What changed it all was consolidation of media (songs, videos) that people already had and the already legendary app store. (more…)

@ascentum tweets of the week
Thursday, September 29th, 2011

Here are some of the Twitter posts and links that we’d like to pass on from this week. You can find us on Twitter at (more…)

Public Engagement in Singapore: Preventing Religious & Racial Conflict
Monday, September 26th, 2011

On September 21st, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean attended the International Conference on Community Engagement in Singapore. The Conference was specifically aimed to discuss, “Countering Extremism and Building Social Resilience through Community Engagement”.

At the conference, Mr. Teo applauded the success of the Community Engagement Program (CEP) which was launched in 2006 in Singapore to enhance racial and religious harmony. This program was created to strengthen the understanding and ties between people of different races and religions, and build up Singapore’s skills and knowledge in coping with emergencies. Through the program, the community is involved in response plans that are activated when a crisis occurs, and ensures that Singaporeans will work together to cope with them. (more…)

Announcement – Mary Pat is becoming a Partner at Ascentum!
Monday, September 19th, 2011

As the warm air subsides and the seasons shift, the Ascentum team is also feeling some major changes in the atmosphere. It has recently been announced that Ascentum’s Director, Mary Pat Mackinnon, will be promoted to Partner at Ascentum! In her position as Director, Mary Pat has led public and stakeholder engagement initiatives and is integral to the strategic planning work Ascentum does for its clients. (more…)

Moving Forward Together: Process for Selecting a Site for Canada’s Deep Geological Repository for Used Nuclear Fuel – Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO)
Sunday, September 18th, 2011



NWMO LogoThe Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO) was established as a requirement of the Nuclear Waste Fuel Act to develop a long-term management strategy for used nuclear fuel in Canada. (more…)

Canada uses social media to engage China’s new tech-savvy generation
Friday, September 16th, 2011

In early August, it was reported that the Canadian Embassy in Beijing had used the popular Twitter-style social networking site Sina Weibo to post the entire Federal Court decision in the legal battle that led to the deportation of businessman Lai Changxing.

While governments in Canada are starting to use social media to engage Canadians in dialogue,  the creation of a Weibo account makes the embassy the first Canadian diplomatic outpost to use social media to speak directly to local citizens in another country. (more…)

On the Government of India’s ‘Framework and Guidelines for Use of Social Media’
Friday, September 9th, 2011

In the spirit of the “back to school” season, I’d like to share an example of a social media strategy that we can learn a few things from. Recently, the Government of India’s Department of Information Technology (DIT) released a draft of the “Framework and Guidelines for Use of Social Media by Government Organizations.” What’s even more interesting is that this document has been circulated for public consultation. The opportunity to provide feedback is open until the end of this month. (more…)

Social Media and Democracy (and One Really Interesting Example)
Friday, July 22nd, 2011

In a recent article entitled “Are Facebook, Twitter Fostering Civic Engagement?”, Emily Badger provides a useful narrative of the debate on whether social media strengthens or weakens democracy. To narrow her scope, she focuses on the impact in countries that are already considered democratic, like Canada and the U.S.

Those who suggest that social media hinders democracy often point to a phenomena that has been termed “slacktivism” (“slacker” + “activism”). This results in minimal, “feel good” measures of support for an issue/ cause for the purpose of personal satisfaction and social capital. (more…)

Kathleen Petty and Fostering Dialogue in Canadian Media
Tuesday, July 12th, 2011

At the end of June, one of the most familiar voices in political circles signed off as the host of Canada’s longest running political program, The House. Kathleen Petty, a veteran CBC reporter, is known for creating a space where personal attacks, guests talking over one another, and reading unchallenged from talking points were not tolerated.

As she reflected back recently on her five years as host, Petty shared some interesting insights on the kind of conversation she was trying to foster (emphasis my own): (more…)

A short history of crowdsourcing
Friday, June 24th, 2011

You’ve probably heard of “crowdsourcing” – a way for organizations to solve tough challenges by tapping-into the knowledge of their broad communities.While social media and web technologies provide governments, businesses and other organizations with tools to crowdsource more rapidly and collaboratively, crowdsourcing itself isn’t new.

In a great blog, DesignCrowd researched some of the most well known examples of crowdsourcing.  They think the first case could date all the way back to 1714 in England.  And, of all the examples they describe, it’s this one – the invention of the Marine Pocket Clock – that I find the most interesting.  Here’s the story. (more…)

Gmail and GSA – one giant step forward for government
Friday, June 17th, 2011

I am a big fan of the Government Services Agency or GSA in the US.  Canada’s equivalent is Public Works.  GSA have been early adopters and supporters of social media with but now are on the brink of a giant step forward for government.  They are moving to Gmail.  Think of the cost savings, the collaboration options, the bottomless in-box (for all intents), but also a recognition that web based makes sense.

Contrast GSA’s innovation with government departments here in Canada that use antiquated browsers (IE 6) and Lotus Notes as a major email platform.  I know, Lotus Notes.  GSA’s decision is one to be commended.   (more…)

Using NVivo to truly understand participants’ views and ideas
Monday, June 13th, 2011

One of Ascentum’s pubic involvement tools is the Choicebook – a deliberative experience where participants learn about issues, tough questions, and recommend options or choices. These are built into larger engagement processes that may include in-person events and other online tools, like crowdsourcing. Depending on the engagement objectives, participants can be asked a variety of open- and close-ended questions, in a Choicebook resulting in the collection of reams of quantitative and qualitative data for analysis.

While we use SPSS to analyze our quantitative results, the thousands of words of text that we collect through open-ended questions is analyzed using a specialized tool called NVivo. As an analyst, I use both tools to help dissect and understand the views of the publics we engage. During a recent project, I was responsible for reading through 85,335 words of comments (about the same length as the second Harry Potter book, “Chamber of Secrets”), contributed by over 850 participants. Deploying software like NVivo allows me to ensure that participant feedback can be analyzed and presented in a systematic way. (more…)

@ascentum tweets of the week
Friday, June 3rd, 2011

Here are just some the Twitter posts and links that we’d like to pass on from this week.  You can find us on Twitter at

  • Quote: Calgary Mayor @nenshi “we make better decisions when we involve people in our decision making”
  • Retweet: @Healthy_Weights After a break for #elxn41, Canada’s first national dialogue on childhood obesity is back! #healthyweights
  • News: We agree. Now’s a great time to engage Canadians in a public dialogue on the Senate & ways to make it more effective.
  • @ascentum blog: How to produce same-day reports for in-person dialogues that will seem, to participants, like magic!

How to produce same-day reports for in-person dialogues that will seem, to participants, like magic!
Friday, May 27th, 2011

It’s always important, at key points in a public involvement process, to produce written reports for participants on what the sponsor has heard and how their input will be used.  This presents a clear “return on participation” to those involved – or, in other words, why it’s been worth their time and effort to take part.

These reports can be different in style, content and format, depending on their purpose.  Sometimes, they will be analytic and will only be available several weeks or months afterwards, once data collected has been carefully reviewed and assessed.

Other times, “what was heard” descriptive summaries are all that is required and these can be produced in shorter periods of time.

For some in-person dialogues, it’s possible to produce a written report for participants even before they even leave the event at the end of the day.  This can really provide them with tangible evidence of what has been accomplished.

Here’s how: (more…)

Twitter, Dialogue and #elxn41
Friday, May 13th, 2011

Here at Ascentum, we’re really interested in how people are using social media to connect, get involved, and engage in dialogue on issues that matter to them.

That’s why I volunteered to be part of a small team led by digital guru Mark Blevis (@MarkBlevis) that looked at how people were using Twitter on the night of Canada’s 2011 federal election.

In space provided by The Canadian Press (thanks @CdnPress_Ott!) we spent a fun evening together following the posts, unfolding events and the stream on Twitter related to the election. (more…)

How we can all practice engagement to make what we do better
Monday, May 2nd, 2011

Throughout our busy project season here at Ascentum, I’ve also been working on the capstone report for my MPA degree. Through my research, I’ve learned about a wide range of policies and practices that government departments and agencies have adopted to help them build the organizational capacity needed to effectively integrate public involvement at the federal level.

However, in this blog I want to focus more on public and stakeholder involvement occurring at more local and personal levels. The reason is simple: we often see public involvement as a large-scale process that is managed at the higher levels of government. However, it can also be a sustained effort coming citizens themselves, who can use it to their own benefit to improve their everyday work and activities. (more…)

Social media tackling obesity one picture at a time
Thursday, April 14th, 2011

Studies and studies time and again report that we as a society are growing – and it’s not just in numbers I am talking about. A joint study between Statistics Canada and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conducted between 2007 and 2009 concluded that approximately 1 in every 4 Canadians are obese, compared with nearly 1 in every 3 Americans.

Now I know that life’s stresses can get in the way of eating healthy – but what if I told you that a new social media tool can help make it easier for you? (more…)

“When you get the public involved … you get way better results”. Strengthening Healthcare in Southeast Ontario
Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

“When you get the public involved … you get way better results.  When you leave it up to a politician … it takes too much money; it takes too long; and they’ll probably get it wrong!” (Lou Rinaldi, Ontario MPP for Northumberland-Quinte West)

When Ontario MPP Lou Rinaldi opened a media event with this tongue-in-cheek observation last week, he certainly got a good reception from the audience, ranging from nodding heads to roars of laughter.

He was in Belleville, along with staff from Ascentum, for the official launch of the Community Engagement for the South East Local Health Integration’s “Clinical Services Roadmap” initiative – a project to involve communities across the region in helping design measures for improving the way health care services are organized and delivered locally. (more…)

@ascentum tweets of the week
Friday, March 25th, 2011

Here are just some the Twitter posts and links that we’d like to pass on from this week.  You can find us on Twitter at

Shaw’s Customer Conversations on Data Use. Great, but what about online tools…?
Tuesday, March 1st, 2011

Shaw Communications has just launched a great customer consultation to hear their views on internet use and fees.  There are 35 in-person dialogues but, ironically, limited ways to take part online.  We think they can do better. (more…)

@ascentum tweets of the week
Friday, February 25th, 2011

Here are just some the Twitter posts and links that we’d like to pass on from this week.  You can find us on Twitter at

  • Study: When governments share info, people feel better about their community (via @EllnMllr)
  • Resource: If govt consultation online interests you @transportgovuk’s latest is interesting: (RT@lesteph)
  • Resource: For all you facilitators out there: The art of giving instructions (via@davidkahane)
  • @Ascentum Blog: Recovery in Haiti – Using the Power of Dialogue (by @stephantelka)
  • News: House of Commons approves Twitter, Facebook apps for MPs #Gov2.0 #OpenGov (via @mdassinger)

Recovery in Haiti – Using the Power of Dialogue
Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011

One year ago, Haiti was shattered by one of the most devastating natural disasters in its modern history. The 7.0 magnitude earthquake destroyed an already fragile country, killing 300,000 people (roughly the size of London, Ontario), leveling towns, villages and cities, including the capital Port-au-Prince, and chipping away further at the spirit of the nation. (more…)

Online deliberation – It’s all about the possibilities!
Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

What is it about the online environment that makes it such a good place for engaging citizens?

I think it’s all about the possibilities. (more…)

A Resolution and a Commitment
Wednesday, January 5th, 2011

It is never too late to make a New Year’s resolution.  We at AmericaSpeaks and Ascentum thought it might be helpful if we proposed a resolution focused on Open Government that federal managers can adopt to start the year off right: Resolve to make a specific, concrete commitment to enhance citizen participation in your agency.

(Note: Ascentum and AmericaSpeaks are partners in offering online public engagement services to agencies in the US Government in support of the White House’s Open Government Directive) (more…)

@ascentum tweets of the week
Friday, December 17th, 2010

Here are just some the Twitter posts and links that we’d like to pass on from this week.  You can find us on Twitter at

  • New Ascentum blog post: Adding the right images to your engagement website (so people don’t ignore them!)
  • Resources: Tools for the institutionalization of public engagement (PDF) #edem (Retweet from @participatory)
  • Resources: 24 ways to keep your blog interesting to you and your readers (Retweet from @GovNewMedia)
  • Resources: Nice blog! This is a nice model for #engagement sites, too. “Landing Pages: A Great Infographic” (RT @scottica)
  • @ascentum news: @elliswestwood Briefing Management at the Public Health Agency of Canada this am. Exciting online/social media #engagement on obesity to come in 2011!

Adding the right images to your engagement website (so people don’t ignore them!)
Monday, December 13th, 2010

Think generic stock images help you “jazz up” your website?  In fact, users don’t even notice them…

We’ve all seen generic or stock images on websites.  The teamwork image of joined hands; the cheerful executive pumping his or her fist while using a laptop; business people embracing each other like they’ve just won the lottery.  These types or stock or generic photos are often added to websites to “jazz them up” or make them more user friendly.  But do they actually work? (more…)

@ascentum tweets of the week
Thursday, December 2nd, 2010

Here are just some the Twitter posts and links that we’d like to pass on from this week.  You can find us on Twitter at

  • Resource: Everyone bookmark this! RT @nonlinear_tweet: RT @DoctorJones: New Canadians stats on social media usage.
  • Case Study:Local Practices in Online Engagement” from US National League of Cities #municipal #engagement
  • Fun: Demo of our voting keypads = fun analysis of icebreaker questions on people’s favourite royal couple / gender!
  • @Ascentum News: Doing a demo of our voting keypads at GoC with “Who’s your favourite Royal couple?” as an icebreaker. Interested to see results by gender!
  • Resource: Canadian Medical Ass. Journal: The Need for Public Engagement in Choosing Health Priorities

Hear the Stories, Change the Practice, Change Patient Experiences…
Friday, November 26th, 2010

The best way to improve services is to listen to people’s experiences and their ideas, then use these as inputs for change….

We’re really pleased to be working with The Change Foundation on a new public engagement initiative. (more…)

@ascentum tweets of the week
Friday, November 19th, 2010

Here are just some the Twitter posts and links that we’d like to pass on from this week.  You can find us on Twitter at

  • Ascentum blog: “Fostering International Dialogue and Youth Engagement in Laos
  • Study: “Online public participation most effective among young people who are already online
  • Resource: For a great explanation of why #PublicEngagement is so important, read The Change Foundation’s Strategic Plan [Ascentum client]
  • Blog: “How can new media help civic engagement? (@Afine @leifutne @jdlasica)
  • Retweet: RT @INgageNetworks: Recommended: “Using Social Media Platforms to Amplify Public Health Messaging #hcsm

Fostering International Dialogue and Youth Engagement in Laos
Thursday, November 18th, 2010

Earlier in November, I had the honour of facilitating a dialogue and representing Canadian youth at the Vientiane Youth Leaders’ Forum in the Laotian capital of Vientiane, which took place on the sidelines of the First Meeting of States Parties to the Convention on Cluster Munitions (more…)

Ascentum is hiring a Social Media Developer! Does this sound like you?
Thursday, November 4th, 2010

Ascentum is an innovative professional services firm, recognized as a Canadian leader in the field of public involvement, and we are recruiting for a full-time Social Media Developer.

Ascentum employs a variety of integrated online, social media and in-person tools, techniques and technologies to apply their philosophy of informed participation to public involvement. Through our flexible, comprehensive approach to knowledge-gathering, we aim to enrich public involvement and reveal the ideas, perspectives and values that empower our clients to make sustainable decisions on complex issues.

If you are the ideal candidate, you have a structured approach to problem solving and creative mind.  You are also able to work with Web-based technology, interpret technical documentation, develop creative client solutions, and consistently deliver exceptionally high quality work.  You are a strong team player, but are also a results-oriented self-starter, capable of demonstrating initiative and working independently. You enjoy the variety and the opportunity to continuously expand your skill and knowledge base offered by project-oriented work. Finally, you passionately believe in the importance of giving people a voice in decisions that affect them.

The full job description is available here.

We’re looking forward to hearing from you…!

Creating a Framework for a Mental Health Strategy for Canada: Assessing the Engagement Process
Friday, October 22nd, 2010

The need for robust methods of evaluating the impact of public involvement on policy and participant outcomes is widely recognized. Unfortunately, the reality is that all too often evaluation receives lip service only – being treated as afterthought and/or being grossly under-resourced. So, when Ascentum’s MPA Co-op Intern Tristan Eclarin pitched the idea of assessing the Mental Health Commission of Canada’s engagement process vis-a-vis the development of a framework to guide a pan-Canadian mental health strategy, we were keen – both  because it is such a compelling public issue and because we collaborated with the Commission on the process.

His case study – Creating a Framework for a Mental Health Strategy for Canada: Assessing the Engagement Process – examines how the design, implementation and results of Regional Stakeholder Dialogues and Public Consultations impacted the Commission’s Framework – Toward Recovery and Well-Being. The paper argues for a comprehensive assessment framework that is carefully tailored to context. To learn, more including his insights about the results of this engagement process, read on……

Creating a Framework for a Mental Health Strategy for Canada
Friday, October 22nd, 2010

Assessing the Engagement Process: A Case Study

In 2008, the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) launched a twopronged public and stakeholder engagement process to inform the development of a framework for its Mental Health Strategy for Canada initiative. This case study assesses the design, implementation and effectiveness of this engagement strategy (Regional Dialogues and Online Consultation – RDOC). Additionally, this article examines how the consultation results impacted the Commission’s framework document – Toward Recovery & Well-Being: A Framework for a Mental Health Strategy for Canada. The sources for this case study include a review of selected public participation literature, key informant interviews with MHCC senior staff and the public documents associated with the MHCC consultations.

The paper was written by Tristan Eclarin as part of his University of Victoria MPA internship with Ascentum and the views expressed do not purport to represent the views of the MHCC or Ascentum.

Professional Development at Ascentum – Reflections from Washington D.C.
Friday, October 15th, 2010

While most Canadians were enjoying their turkey dinners and beautiful autumnal colours over the recent Thanksgiving Day weekend, I was hard at work in Washington, D.C. for the first in-person session of a 6-month course on Dialogue, Deliberation and Public Engagement (DDPE). The professional-practitioner distance education program is offered through Fielding Graduate University in Santa Barbara, California, and works with program participants to shape them into masters in the field. (more…)

How governments are using social media to join conversations, not just ‘broadcast’
Friday, October 8th, 2010

Federal, provincial and municipal governments across Canada are taking steps to use social media to communicate with and engage their publics.

The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), for example, uses social networking, microblogging, widgets and video sharing to provide information and participate in a dialogue on living healthily.  The City of Guelph is using social media to help local residents commute during an especially busy summer construction period, and give personalize help when users posted difficult experiences with roads or bus routes.

What do these examples have in common? They are based on an understanding that the public expects that government will join and participate in conversations taking place in social media spaces – not just use them simply as channels to broadcast. (more…)

The Value of Different Engagement Methods: Conversation Cafés
Friday, October 1st, 2010

Most people have some preconceived notion of what a public consultation may look like: a crowded room, people talking back and forth, and a person standing at the front fielding questions. However, meaningful engagement can be achieved in a wide variety of ways, and as a result, should look different depending on the situation.

In my last blog, I talked about Community Summits, one of the engagement methods I used recently in a course at the University of Victoria to conduct ‘simulation’ consultations.  This time, I’m shifting to another method, Conversation Cafés. (more…)

The Value of Different Engagement Methods: Community Summits
Friday, September 24th, 2010

Most people have some preconceived notion of what a public consultation may look like: a crowded room, people talking back and forth, and a person standing at the front fielding questions. However, meaningful engagement can be achieved in a wide variety of ways, and as a result, should look different depending on the situation.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing a few examples of different methods, which I used recently in a course at the University of Victoria to conduct ‘simulation’ consultations. (more…)

Ascentum presenting at the next Social Media for Government conference
Friday, September 17th, 2010

Ascentum’s delighted to be speaking at the next Advanced Learning Institute (ALI) Social Media for Government conference in Ottawa, September 27-30.

We’ll be presenting on a recent high profile public engagement project we were involved with – the online consultation on a Digital Economy Strategy for Canada.  We’ll be describing the process design, launch, the challenges we encountered along the way, and our principal learnings, alongside the great team from Industry Canada. (more…)

Vitalizing Democracy: Vote for the Mental Health Commission of Canada!
Tuesday, September 14th, 2010

Last year, we had the privilege of working with the Mental Health Commission of Canada as it embarked on an epic journey to develop a mental health strategy for Canada.

I say “epic” because the magnitude of this task cannot be under-estimated. Consider: the prevalence of mental illness and mental health problems in Canada (one in four Canadians will at point or another in their life struggle with mental health issues); the chronic under-funding and fragmentation of the Canadian mental health system (which is in effect a patchwork of systems held together by a mix of goodwill and duct tape); the complex constitutional context in which any reform must occur (not to mention that many social services are delivered by municipal and regional authorities) and… Well, you get the picture. (more…)

How to use Smartphones to make your next in-person dialogue awesome!
Friday, September 3rd, 2010

Smartphones bring the world into users’ hands.  Web access, Facebook, Twitter, Wikipedia and apps allow people to access, share and co-create knowledge in real time.

They are also powerful tools that can make in-person dialogues awesome – both in terms of generating shared information and giving participants a more engaging experience.   (more…)

Evaluating Your Consultation: What Constitutes “Success”?
Friday, August 20th, 2010

Has my consultation initiative been successful? Here’s one question that we are bound to confront with every project… Before you launch into the mechanics of your evaluation though, take a moment to reflect on the following three questions – and in each case, “peel back the onion” to seek the answer behind the obvious answer… (more…)

Crowdsourcing: 5 Reasons Why It’s Here to Stay
Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

From designing marketing campaigns to vetting brand ideas to solving customer service-related issues and shaping new government services, crowdsourcing is a dynamic tool being used ever increasingly by companies to solve some of their most quizzical quandaries. (more…)

The Census Debate: An Opportunity for Public Dialogue…
Friday, July 23rd, 2010

Over the past few weeks, there has been a great debate in Canada on the role of the census, and what form it should take – a short, widely-distributed version or a longer, less widely-distributed version – and whether completion should be mandatory or voluntary.


“What the?!” Whatever happened to the UK Government’s innovative crowdsourcing project, the “Spending Challenge”?
Friday, July 16th, 2010

Earlier this week, I got really excited! (You should have seen me…)

On July 12, The UK Government launched an innovative crowdsourcing project to gather public ideas for reducing the country’s serious budget deficit. The Spending Challenge used an engaging website where members of the public co u ld submit their ideas for “getting more for less” by making public services less costly and more efficient. Participants could also read each other’s ideas, as well as rate and comment on them. (more…)

Fielding Graduate University’s Dialogue, Deliberation and Public Engagement Program Enters its 7th Year!
Friday, July 9th, 2010

The DDPE Graduate Program is entering its seventh year running at Fielding Graduate University and is now working in collaboration with the University of Western Sydney, Center for Citizenship and Public Policy. (more…)

Climate change, the Gulf of Mexico and the G8/G20
Friday, June 25th, 2010

Amid the discussions about this week’s G8 and G20 , there are pressing public issues that demand leaders’ attention. (more…)

Engaging young people on their views of the future – and motivations for making a change in their communities
Friday, June 18th, 2010

Lots of people are worried about young people these days; why they vote less and appear less socially and politically engaged.

But, instead of just studying youth, Ascentum is part of an exciting community-level project to actively engage young people, as well as the rest of their communities, in dialogues and action about their confidence in learning and on how they want to make a difference in their neighbourhood, city, country or world. (more…)

Strengthening the Red Seal program – through stakeholder involvement
Friday, June 4th, 2010

Ascentum is excited to be working with the Canadian Council of Directors of Apprenticeship (CCDA) to develop a plan to strengthen and improve their signature “Red Seal” program, a system of common standards for the skilled trades in Canada. (more…)

Respecting Privacy, Learning from Facebook
Friday, May 28th, 2010

Facebook has been receiving a lot of attention lately as a result of their privacy settings.  In particular the default settings on new features like the Instant Personalization through the new Graph API which launched in April . Matt McKeon has a great visual illustration on how the default Facebook privacy settings have changed between 2007 and 2010. (more…)

Place à la jeunesse…
Wednesday, May 5th, 2010

La Fédération de la jeunesse canadienne-française (FJCF) est un organisme « par et pour les jeunes »  qui reconnaît le rôle important que jouent les jeunes d’expression française dans le développement et le bien-être de leurs communautés et qui met tout en œuvre afin de faire en sorte qu’ils puissent s’engager à leur façon et… en français. (more…)

Public Involvement: some parting thoughts from Ascentum’s first co-op student
Thursday, April 29th, 2010

With my current co-op semester coming to an end, it seems appropriate to reflect on my experiences here at Ascentum. As the company’s very first intern, I really didn’t know what to expect when I first began. But now, in considering what I’ve learned over the past four months, it’s challenging to figure out where to begin! (more…)

Building an organ and tissue donation and transplantation system for Canada – through public involvement
Friday, April 16th, 2010

Ascentum is proud to be working with Canadian Blood Services (CBS) to address the pressing issue of organ and tissue donation and transplantation (OTDT) (more…)

The Big Picture: Facebook vs USA
Thursday, April 15th, 2010

How does real population in the US compare to the Facebook population in the US?  There is a great infographic from Mashable that paints a very interesting picture of the differences.   At the highest level 38% of the US population has an active facebook account.  It is actually pretty much the same in Canada too (12.7 million/33.9 million). (more…)

The New Advocacy: NGOs take note…
Tuesday, March 30th, 2010

Public involvement has changed how advocacy works.

Today, civil society organizations – whether they are local nonprofits or national associations – are fostering social change through collaborative dialogue with their publics instead of “top-down” or expert-oriented campaigns.

By involving the public, who want to be engaged, these advocacy efforts are leading to more sustainable and innovative solutions to shared problems. (more…)

Our Health. Our Perspectives. Our Solutions.
Friday, March 19th, 2010

Ascentum is pleased to be assisting the New Brunswick Health Council (NBHC) in its first province-wide citizen engagement initiative, entitled ‘Our Health. Our Perspectives. Our Solutions.’ Manon and I are particularly pleased to be working on this project in our home province! ☺ (more…)

Building a Mental Health Strategy for Canada – Through Public Participation
Friday, March 12th, 2010

During the first two months of my co-op placement here at Ascentum, I’ve been writing a case study on the development of a pan-Canadian, consensus-based mental health strategy. This is a nation-wide initiative of the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC), which collaborated with Ascentum to design the in-person regional dialogues and the online consultation process. (more…)

The New Media Experiment
Friday, March 5th, 2010

There is a great series on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) called the Age of Persuasion. It is all about the business of marketing. The show is hosted by Terry O’Reilly who happens to be both compelling AND persuasive himself. (more…)

8 Principles for Public Outreach
Wednesday, February 24th, 2010

It is never too late to start an outreach campaign, as long as your public participation initiative is still open. In this document we outline eight different principles and strategies for outreach, including the dos and don’ts for each. The principles include pointers on messaging, interactivity, ambassadors, mediums, the rationale, tracking, intentions, and social media.

You can download the latest in our Open Government Directions series here: Eight Principles of Public Outreach.

Case Study Jam – A few golden rules for using social media
Friday, February 19th, 2010

I recently took part in Ottawa’s second “Case Study Jam,” ( – an open learning and dialogue event for people who work in or care about social media, whether in government, businesses or elsewhere. (more…)

Engaging with the New Facebook
Friday, February 12th, 2010

Facebook recently launched a new Home Page design and is also planning more changes for how Facebook Applications can engage users.  A fairly technical developer roadmap has been published by Facebook but we’ll try to summarize here: (more…)

“Hard Times, Hard Choices”: The power of public deliberation to solve tough problems
Thursday, February 11th, 2010

When people have access to balanced information about an issue and an opportunity to talk-through policy options with others, they are willing to make tough choices and sacrifices to serve the public interest. (more…)

Toyota, Community & Public Participation
Friday, February 5th, 2010

How the carmaker could be better engaging its community to assess and fix recent safety problems.


Ascentum and Public Participation: Impressions of Our First Co-Op Student
Friday, January 29th, 2010

My name is Tristan Eclarin, and I’m currently working towards my Masters in Public Administration at the University of Victoria. This semester, I’m working here at Ascentum as a co-op student. I’m excited about the opportunity to learn everything I can about public participation and social media, and I’d like to share some of my first impressions: (more…)

Open Government Directions Site
Wednesday, January 27th, 2010



12 myths about social media
Friday, January 22nd, 2010

The worst-culprit myths about using social media to engage the people important to your organization… (more…)

How to use Twitter to make your next in-person dialogue better
Friday, January 15th, 2010

At its core, Twitter is a community-building tool.  In this blog, we’ll share ways you can build a Twitter community around your in-person dialogue events so they are engaging, create a stock of shared knowledge and make the results more sustainable. (more…)

Online vs. face-to-face dialogues…
Friday, January 8th, 2010

A few important differences to think about

Because we facilitate both face-to-face and online dialogues here at Ascentum, people often ask us “how are they any different?” or “which works best?(more…)

Participation and Open Government Web Sites
Wednesday, December 23rd, 2009

Joe Goldman, AmericaSpeaks
Joseph Peters, Ascentum

The recently-released Open Government Directive requires all federal agencies to create an open government web site within 60 days (more…)

US Government launches the Open Government Directive
Friday, December 11th, 2009

And the next generation in government-public collaboration. (more…)

Building the Business Case For Social Media
Friday, December 4th, 2009

Social media is here.  There are 100s of millions of users worldwide and a strong majority of our population actively uses social media.  (more…)

A Government of Canada First on YouTube
Friday, November 27th, 2009

Veterans Affairs Canada launched their branded YouTube channel just in time for Remembrance Day.  They really got things started on the right foot (more…)

Facebook and Privacy: A new policy and advice to help users protect their personal information
Sunday, November 22nd, 2009

Facebook has given us the tools to protect our privacy – we just have to use them! (more…)

What Public Officials Want To Know About New Technology
Monday, November 16th, 2009

One of Ascentum’s good friends, Brad Rourke, wrote a great piece today on what public officials want to know about new technology.

You can read Brad here.

Citizens, Community And Social Media Lessons, Cases And More Lessons By Joseph Peters
Thursday, November 12th, 2009

View more presentations from Ascentum

“Citizens, Community and Social Media – Lessons, Cases and More Lessons” by Joseph Peters
Thursday, November 12th, 2009

Presentation to the National League of Cities.
San Antonio, Texas
November 12, 2009

What is social media?
How is it differrent?
How can you use social media?


Introducing Government Agencies to Web 2.0: When A Visitor Becomes A Community
Wednesday, November 11th, 2009

Joe Goldman, AmericaSpeaks
Joseph Peters, Ascentum

Social media is here to stay. For corporations, political campaigns, nonprofit organizations and government agencies, it is changing the (more…)

Open Policy Making 101: 10 Questions To Ask Before Launching Your Online Public Consultation
Wednesday, November 11th, 2009

Joe Goldman, AmericaSpeaks
Joseph Peters, Ascentum

When done right, online public consultations can be very rewarding experiences that produce significant value for everyone involved. Here (more…)

Canada: “Blogger Nation”?
Wednesday, November 11th, 2009

Nearly 60% of Canadian web users read blogs. What does this mean for dialogue and deliberation? (more…)

North West Local Health Integration Network
Wednesday, November 11th, 2009

North West Local Health Integration Network (LHIN)

Share Your Story, Shape Your Care community online dialogue (more…)

Moose FM 93.5 Interview with Joseph Peters of Ascentum
Tuesday, November 10th, 2009

Moose FM 93.5 Interview with Joseph Peters of Ascentum

Listen to the interview in an MP3 format

CBC Interview with Joseph Peters of Ascentum
Tuesday, November 10th, 2009

CBC Interview with Joseph Peters of Ascentum

Listen to the interview in an MP3 format

E-Consultation: Enabling Democracy between Elections
Tuesday, November 10th, 2009

E-Consultation: Enabling Democracy between Elections

Joseph Peters and Manon Abud, with commentaries by Kathleen McNutt and Colin McKay


Globe and Mail Article “It’s time to e-consult our citizens”
Tuesday, November 10th, 2009

Globe and Mail Logo

Globe and Mail Article “It’s time to e-consult our citizens” by Joseph Peters

Read a full version of the article here

Ascentum’s new web site in it’s final stage of development
Sunday, November 8th, 2009

Once upon a time, there was a need, which turned into an idea, which has developed into a collaborative effort to build a new company’s web site. We, the tech team, are happy to present v2.0.

Web 2.0: The Digital Quill
Tuesday, November 3rd, 2009

Blogging. Skyping. Instant messaging. Podcasting. Facebook. YouTube. RSS Feeds. Second Life. Wikipedia. Shall I go on? (more…)

Mental Health Commission of Canada
Monday, November 2nd, 2009

MHCC logoEngaging Canadians in a Dialogue to Set the Goals for a Pan-Canadian Mental Health Strategy: Stakeholder Dialogues and Online Public & Stakeholder Consultation

Public Health Agency of Canada
Monday, November 2nd, 2009

Social Media Strategy and Implementation

Public health is in the middle of a paradigm shift. (more…)

Speak Up for Change!
Sunday, November 1st, 2009


Some people think that Facebook is just a place for people to play and share silly status updates – not to achieve anything serious or productive…. (more…)

Values and Ethics: Involving Employees
Tuesday, October 27th, 2009

How do you involve employees in developing your organization’s values and ethics framework? (more…)

Public Action Technology – Micro Loans
Tuesday, October 20th, 2009

You have to take a look at this site. (more…)

How little do web users read?
Tuesday, October 13th, 2009

How do users read on the web?
They don’t. (more…)

“Sustainable” Public Involvement? You Betcha!
Tuesday, October 6th, 2009

In our world, the notion of “sustainability” might be described as the impacts of a public involvement process, and its linkages to action, over time. This is important because… (more…)