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Strengthening Canadian Democracy Initiative

May 12, 2020

Dr. Jennifer Wolowic from the Strengthening Canadian Democracy Initiative at SFU Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue discusses the links between disruption, resilience and thoughtful action.

Tell us about Strengthening Canadian Democracy. How would you describe its purpose and what makes it unique?

The Simon Fraser University Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue’s Strengthening Canadian Democracy Initiative is a catalyst for creating a more resilient democratic culture across all communities in Canada.The Centre is researching what is driving views of democracy and what is shaping our democratic culture for better or for worse. We develop collaborations with institutions, practitioners, and citizens. We then evaluate the results of these collaborations to identify what works, when, and how to improve democracy.

We are all navigating the global pandemic in different ways. What’s a key insight from how Strengthening Canadian Democracy is responding to the crisis?

During times of crisis, the cracks in our business-as-usual patterns become more visible. Disruptions can either cause these cracks to grow or be catalysts for change. As you know, this is a moment when many groups– established and brand new– are embracing a “think tank” mentality and proposing new ideas. It’s an energy that is needed and is helping the government quickly respond and revise policy to address a complex crisis.

During this time, we’ve embraced the role of “do tank.” Our Democracy Team has taken a leadership role within Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue’s Covid-19 response and recovery efforts. We’ve been busy creating projects large and small to help ease anxieties such as crowdsourcing public questions to guide authorities, creating resources for youth, and restructuring our democracy pilots.We are focusing our energy on strengthening democracy by reinforcing the social infrastructure of our communities and creating greater resilience and equity in these shifting times.

What’s one big challenge you see Canada’s democracy facing? How are you working on this challenge, what solutions do you propose?

There are opportunities to grow the collaborations across the democracy sector in Canada. We see the Open Democracy Fellow as a part of our work to bolster the sector and create stronger pan-Canadian collaborations.

Could you share an idea or initiative related to increasing civic engagement or democratic participation that inspires you? This could be related to your work or something you see happening in the sector.

One of our pilots to identify effective interventions is a partnership with CityHive. Their City Shapers program is a cohort-based, civic education program that brings together 18 to 30 year olds from across Metro Vancouver to learn about civic engagement and how cities work. Together, they explore both formal and informal ways of getting involved and collectively shaping the future of our communities, from activism to online dialogues to running for political office. The second of three cohorts is launching in May and will be looking at resilient communities. Participants will be exploring how resilience is created and what it means for communities and cities in crisis.

Tell us about how Strengthening Canadian Democracy is making its work more inclusive and building engagement with different communities. Any tips or lessons to share with others in the sector about decreasing barriers to participation?

Our Democracy Spark Grant program has invited public libraries across British Columbia to apply for funding to support programming exploring the role of libraries in democratic engagement in three thematic areas: climate change, social isolation, and local solutions. Eighteen different libraries across BC are taking advantage of the opportunity. The grants support costs related to designing programming or making programming more accessible for underserved communities. The grants also support libraries to administer and submit back evaluation data to the SFU Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue. Results will be compiled and shared publicly to increase awareness and support for diverse democratic engagement opportunities.

Are there specific asks Strengthening Canadian Democracy has for the broader sector – things you need help with, problems you’re trying to solve or wishes you have?

We want to see the sector to keep talking to each other. Keep looking for alignment and complimentary programming. Together we are key to the resilience of Canada’s democratic culture.

SFU’s Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue creates real-world impact for society’s most pressing challenges by using dialogue and engagement to co-create solutions, exchange knowledge, support community-engaged learning, and to build the capacity of others in the knowledge and practice of dialogue. Follow @SFUDialogue.


This is an unprecedented moment for democracy in Canada so we created Sector Spotlight to learn about how leading practitioners are responding to it. Have ideas for our next Sector Spotlight? Get in touch!

Jennifer Wolowic

Project Manager, Strengthening Canadian Democracy Initiative

Dr. Jennifer Wolowic is an anthropologist with over 15 years of experience working with diverse groups, including visible minorities, First Nations, LGBTQ, and youth. A self-described Renaissance woman, Dr. Wolowic is an applied researcher, media producer, behavior change expert, and proponent of federalism. Upon joining the Centre for Dialogue, she has helped elevate research evaluation approaches and built new collaborations. She has also emphasized a communication strategy that centers democratic culture and values as a means to re-engage all Canadians with their democracy. Reach her at