Our Book

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Nicole Swerhun, founding principal of Swerhun Inc., began her work in community engagement in Toronto as the city contemplated removing the Gardiner Expressway East, an aging piece of elevated waterfront highway. She continued in Bosnia as communities came together to rebuild immediately after the signing of the Dayton Peace Accord. She also organized processes for the rebuilding of a devastated neighbourhood in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

In the course of these diverse and often conflict-ridden processes, Nicole found that the mechanics of the processes were critical to success. Building on the experience and work of others in the field, she developed a set of working principles, techniques and tools that could be useful in a wide range of situations.

With her co-author, Vanessa AvRuskin, Nicole has synthesized these experiences and principles in this easy-to-use manual. Together, they describe these methods and their potential uses to provide a unique and pivotal contribution to the evolving art of community engagement.


Consultation, dialogue, and discussion are of course basic to effective public engagement. The techniques, processes and dynamics by which they are successfully employed however are too often not well understood and good opportunities are missed. This new manual by Nicole Swerhun and Vanessa AvRuskin is an absolute must for practitioners and novices alike. They know what they are talking about. I know because I’ve worked with Nicole on a number of projects over the years and greatly admire her work.
— David Crombie, Mayor of Toronto 1972 - 1978
Swerhun and AvRuskin fulfill the transparency that their processes encourage by exposing both the science and the art of consultation as a decision making tool. The portability of their principles and the efficacy of their methodology can be attested by their transformative impact in a very different setting from those of the examples offered – a developing country driven by divisive social issues. The clean structure of the maual makes it easy to use and offers the new practitioner precise guidelines on how to construct, conduct, and consolidate a process of consultation for any public circumstance where democratic decision making is critical to long-term social well-being.
— Lawrence D. Carrington, Emeritus Professor, Former Vice-Chancellor, University of Guyana
This book is jammed full of useful and practical methodology. Written for public sector engagement, it can equally be used in any organizational context where those responsible for change are committed to stakeholder input and feedback. The “What is it/Why does it matter/Example of how it matters” format is clear and to the point. Nicole Swerhun has provided a well-tested blueprint for moving communities beyond conflicting interests to collective decision making.
— KMorris, Amazon Reviewer
Community development in post-Katrina New Orleans was laced with critical housing needs, high unemployement, financial hurdles, and personal heartfelt emotions. The sheer size of the disaster and the subsequent rebuilding needs had never before been experienced in our country. True professional community engagement was essential. To b successful, residents, neighbourhoods, developers, funders/financiers, electred officials all had to have an equal – and respect – voice at the table. Not just in the beginning but throughout the process – and, of course, long into the future of the $4 billion dollars of planned development. Without Nicole and her team, the redevelopment of Lafitte and Treme never would have gotten off the ground…
— Hames R. Kelly, Former President, Providence Community Housing