This is a new original series from Ashleigh Weeden, and yes, Ashleigh is from Canada. But no, she is not a Nickelback groupie. Ashleigh is playing in the same sandbox as the rest of us who are looking to making a difference through our work in the public sector. In this column, she will highlight best practices for community engagement in Canada, answer your questions, and hopefully, educate us on pop culture in Canada. The one rule that we gave Ashleigh? No mentions of the Canadian Football League (CFL). With that, we turn over the “hot mic bathed in maple syrup” to Ashleigh.
Southwest Economic Alliance/Grey County, Civic Innovator
In a unique partnership between Grey County and the Southwest Economic Alliance, Ashleigh is serving in a blended community engagement role as the Community Engagement & Benchmarking Liaison. Previously, she worked as the Communications Officer & Accessibility Coordinator for the County of Grey.
Asheligh graduated from the University of Guelph with a B.A. (Honours), International Development, Political Economy and Administrative Change and from the University of Victoria with a MPA, Public Administration.
Hello from Canada: True North, Strong and Friendly
by Ashleigh Weeden, July 17, 2014
Hello from north of the 49th parallel – and the country that brought you Ryan Gosling, the Ceasar, and basketball (as well as insulin, the Canadarm, the Wonderbra, and a bunch of other amazing things you’d be lost without).
I’m pumped to be here at ELGL as a somewhat nerdier version of Samantha Bee as your new Canadian Correspondent.
This column came about as all good things seem to do these days: mutual meme and GIF sharing between myself and @ELGL50. I genuinely dig the voodoo that you do at ELGL and I’m grateful that ELGL has graciously invited me to contribute to the conversation.
The plan is that, together, we’ll talk about trends in local government in Canada, the social and cultural context for some of our major opportunities and challenges, and (hopefully) debunk a few of the myths you might believe about Canadians. I’m looking forward to learning more about how things work down there in the land of the stars and stripes, too.
Keeping with your Knope-ian theme, think of me as some awesome maple-syrup to add to your waffles. But really, I just want to be the Robin to your Marshall-Lily-Barney-and-Ted gang.
Who Am I? Why Am Here?
So who am I and where do I come from? Why do I want to play in the ELGL sandbox?
Well: personally and professionally, I’m interested in open government, community engagement, and public sector renewal. In another life, I might have become a Planner – I’ve always been drawn to the ideas of community capacity building and place-making. I’m also a bit of a closet geek and, although I’m no programmer, I’m instantly drawn to ideas for using new technologies to help support public service innovation and engagement.
Like a lot of folks in this space, I kind of fell into this stuff. The ideas of “turning outward” and advocating for greater cross-departmental collaboration and increased citizen participation in decision-making have always been fundamental underpinnings of my professional principles, but it was only through a series of “aha!” moments in the last few years that I’ve come to really find a niche that feels like home. Even better: the deeper I explore, the more I discover entire legions of amazing people both inside and outside government (at all levels) who are working to increase democratic participation and strengthen civil society by leveraging technology and interesting, fun approaches to community outreach to rethink public service delivery.
I believe that the best thing we can do to make sure we make good decisions and maintain the trust and support of our communities is to make sure we involve citizens as much as possible in developing, implementing, and evaluating government initiatives. Simply put, we owe it to ourselves and our communities to restore and re-imagine the relationship between citizens and City Hall.
And Why Local Government?
Well, I’ve been a bit of a public-service Goldilocks; I’ve spent time working in a provincial policy shop (in British Columbia), managing a non-profit organization based out of a University campus, coordinating organizational standards for a regional public health authority (in Ontario), and even had a short stint as a music instructor (bagpipes) in the Canadian Department of National Defence’s Cadet Training Program (a life in “combats” just wasn’t for me – but I sure learned a lot!). After trying everything on for size, my experience has been that working in local government allows me to see and feel the tangible impacts of my work in a satisfying, almost immediate kind of way. There’s a reason that people have been so drawn to local-food and buy-local movements – it’s awesome to feel a direct connection to your friends and neighbours and see your actions make a difference in the place you call home.
I truly believe that the work we do as local government professionals matters. And while our legislative contexts might be different on either side of our border, we’re all in the business of public service, so as far as I’m concerned, we’re all bozos on the same bus when it comes to figuring out how we can build and maintain viable, vibrant communities.
As we get to know each other, I’d love it if you connected with me over on Twitter. It’s where I explore what it means to be a modern municipal public servant in real time (and also where I make a lot of bad puns, share a lot of interesting ephemera and dole out virtual high fives like they ain’t no thang). I’d also love it if you shared your ideas for columns. What do you want to know about local government in Canada? What would you like to see in this space? Send me a tweet or leave a comment here with your ideas.
Let’s talk, eh?