Teaching and Thinking about Public Service

Our Swerhun team works all the time to update our thinking on how best to connect public sector decision-makers to the communities they serve (and communities to decision-makers). We’ve written a handbook (Discuss. Decide. Do.) and we also do a lot of teaching, training, research and writing on what can be done to get people working together more collaboratively. We think about this from a number of angles, including how:

  • To build government’s trust in communities, and communities’ trust in government;
  • To best identify and understand the respective roles, responsibilities and powers of governments, staff, and broader civil society;
  • To ensure that engagement, participation and consultation efforts are explicit about what decisions are open for influence, and how feedback received will be considered (it does not mean that “whatever the public says goes”, but it does mean that governments clearly identify how community feedback is used, and if not, explain why not); and
  • Governments and communities can work together to develop policies and deliver projects guided by a collective effort to serve the public good.

We are members of the International Political Science Association, and have been keenly following the work of organizations like ours that play a very similar role to ours in countries around the world.
Our current teaching responsibilities include:

  • University of Toronto Scarborough, Cities Studies Workshop II (Course lead)
  • Seneca College, The Art of Public Consultation (Course lead)
  • University of Toronto, Political Science (Guest lecturer)
  • Ryerson University, Masters in Urban Planning (host intern)
  • York University, Masters in Environmental Science (host intern)

February 2016 Update

There’s a lot happening in our office as we move into February 2016.  Here a few highlights of what we’re working on these days:

  • We’re thinking about Toronto’s Downtown a lot because we’re leading City Planning’s engagement and communication work for TOcore. Our team is big, smart, and diverse – including Studio Jaywall, Maximum City, Urban Strategies, the Canadian Urban Institute, John Beaucage and many of the young people who worked with us to develop City Planning’s first Youth Engagement Strategy. We’re also working on the Parks & Public Realm component of TOcore with Public Work and Gael Architects, and on the Community Services & Facilities component with the Canadian Urban Institute and Social Planning Toronto.
  • We’re in Mississauga working on a plan for the future of Dundas (there we’re working with AECOM and SvN). The public process will be kicking off with visioning in April 2016, watch our calendar for specific meeting dates and projects links – we’ll post as they’re available.
  • We’re working with the Premier’s Special Advisor on Community Hubs (Karen Pitre) to help create and steward new ways to collaborate around the use of public assets – starting with a detailed look at Bloor and Dufferin.
  • Following up on previous electrification work we’ve completed for Metrolinx, our team is working with Morrison Hershfield and Gannett Fleming on the environmental assessment for GO system-wide electrification.

In other news, we also just heard that our proposals to CIP and OPPI have been accepted – we’re going to talk about engaging the public meaningfully in the policy development process. Looking forward to it!

Join our first ever Open Enrolment Training Session!

After 10 years and over 180 projects, our Swerhun team consistently returns to a handful of core strategies and tactics that we rely on to help guide our engagement work. In response to a number of requests, we are holding our first Open Enrolment Engagement Training session! The training session is designed to develop the perspectives and skills that will help you engage with the constituencies you serve.

Some more details:

  • Training is interactive, and includes presentation materials & discussion
  • Lunch is included, as is a copy of our handbook Discuss. Decide. Do.
  • Join us for the morning only (which focuses on engagement strategies) or stay for the full day (which focuses on implementation tactics)
  • Cost is $300 for half day and $500 for full day (half-price for community leaders and students)

For more information or to RSVP, email Yulia Pak or call us at (416) 572-4365.

Watch Last Week's Mayoral Debate on "Heritage Matters"

Last week, Nicole moderated a mayoral debate for Heritage Toronto with The Toronto Historical Association. Mayoral candidates Olivia Chow, David Socknacki, and John Tory discussed heritage preservation issues, a Toronto museum, First Nations heritage, the Ontario Municipal Board, and permit systems.

You can watch the complete debate above, or visit the Vimeo page for links to specific questions and answers.

Public Realm Master Plan for Yonge-Eglinton Area Moves Ahead!

Today, the City of Toronto's Planning and Growth Management Committee adopted Midtown in Focus, a public realm Master Plan for the Yonge Eglinton Area. Our Swerhun team worked closely with Public Work, Parsons Brinckerhoff, MetroQuest, City Staff, and many, many community members to develop this Plan, and we're happy to see it take this step forward.

We used a number of innovative consultation and communication tools in this project, including  a project-specific website, a place-based crowdsourcing platform called CrowdMap, and walking tours as public meetings (including one in sub-zero conditions)! 

Congratulations to the community members who advocated for the creation of this Plan and the City Staff that worked so hard to get it to this stage! 

New Website!


The last few years have been exciting for our firm: we've added some new people to our team, expanded the services we offer, and worked on some fantastic projects. In the midst all this excitement, we decided it was time to update our website, too! 

We had a couple of goals in mind with the update: we wanted to better tell the story of who we are and what we do, profile past and current projects, and showcase our research. We also wanted to make it a place people where could learn about upcoming meetings, events, and other related news. Finally, we wanted to give the site a new look and feel and make sure it played nice with the many devices people use.

There are a couple of the things we're particularly excited about:

  • Current project profiles. Highlights of our current work, including links to project-specific websites or other background materials.
  • Events calendarA list of all the upcoming public meetings and events we're helping to run. (It's a little sparse in the summer - but it'll fill out in the Fall)!
  • NewsThat's this page! We'll use it to share updates about our work, research, and other things we find interesting in the world of public engagement.

We have other plans for the website, too; we want it to be a place where people interested in public engagement can learn more about deliberative decision-making, use some of the resources we've developed to help us in our work, and see examples how participants in engagement processes have influenced outcomes.

We're excited to take this next step for our team, and look forward to sharing more news soon!