Ever throw a party and then wonder if anyone will show up? That was us when the invitation to the first ever We Should Know City Hall went out last fall. Sure, we thought it was a pretty cool idea to offer the citizens of Calgary the tools and opportunity to better connect with City Council but we live and breathe this stuff. “What if it’s just us?” we wondered. Turns out there was nothing to worry about.
The RSVP list filled up right away with Calgarians eager to join us for an afternoon at City Hall. And in spite of glitches like City Council finishing their regular meeting several hours earlier than anticipated that day – leaving us scrambling to re-jig the program while our audience contemplated a row of empty chairs in Council chambers – the reviews were favourable and we vowed to do it again.
So when it came time for We Should Know City Hall – The Reprise, City Clerks office dove in once more with relish. We threw in some videos here and shortened presentations there. We added interactive activities to kickstart conversations about our municipal government and demystify the workings of Council. And just for good measure we revisited our contingency plan to deal with the fickle foibles of Council meetings. The invitation went out. The spaces were snapped up in record time, the waitlist filled up. And as fast as we could adjust our plans to make more space, that space filled up, too.
We Should Know City Hall – The Reprise had hit the civic engagement motherlode.
The afternoon started at Historic City Hall with a round of Is It Municipal – a game we’ll be sharing with you in a future blog post – and a chance to watch Council proceedings on the big screen via live webcast. Enthusiastic staff from City Clerks gave an overview of Council and its Committees and the laws and processes that govern their work.
From Historic City Hall we trooped over to the Atrium of the Municipal Building. Our plan was to slip discretely into Council Chambers to watch the Council meeting in progress. Let’s just say that one or two people can “slip discretely” but a group of more than 50 citizens can’t help but make an entrance. At Council’s supper break we were joined by several Councilors, City Manager Owen Tobert and Mayor Nenshi for an informal chat about the value of citizen input at Council and Committee meetings.
After a brief interlude to check out the view from the podium (where citizens speak when participating in a Council Public Hearing), last stop of the day was the room where Council Committees convene. There we heard a citizen perspective on making formal presentations to members of Council and some insider tips on how to avoid pitfalls and come well prepared to own the podium.
So now it’s on to gathering more feedback, of course, and a bit more tinkering and tweaking, no doubt, but we’re already talking about doing it all again. Based on the enthusiastic response from citizens when we throw out the invitations and the thoughtful feedback we get back at the end of the day, We Should Know City Hall is hopefully on its way to becoming a fixture on the municipal calendar. Who knows? Maybe one day we’ll even see We Should Know City Hall – or a variation of it – go on the road but that’s a subject for another blog post.