Sustainability planning and citizen engagement: Tools and findings from the Greenest City Conversations workshop channel

Ellen Pond and Sara Muir-Owen
September 25, 2013 - 4:30pm


Room A127, Clearihue Building, UVic Victoria , BC

This PICS talk will present the process, tools and findings of the Greenest City Conversations Project workshop channel. The workshop materials will be useful to those engaged in community planning, while the findings on participation are relevant to those working in the engagement field.

The UBC-SFU Greenest City Conversations was an innovative, interdisciplinary research project that tested multiple channels for public engagement on sustainability policies. The workshop channel engaged with Vancouver citizens around community energy and greenhouse gas emissions, tied to three Greenest City goals: Climate Leadership, Green Buildings and Green Mobility. Developed at the CIRS BC Hydro Theatre at UBC by researchers and graduate students working with City of Vancouver planners, the citizen workshops were held in two neighbourhoods in Vancouver in 2012.

Using a process that aimed to include dialogue within deliberation, the GCCP workshops worked with Vancouver citizens to investigate alternative energy futures as part of the City’s neighbourhood planning process. Systems-thinking, collective action, inclusion of values and quality of life, and an interactive, shared learning process were integral to workshop design. The workshops employed multiple learning modes, from presentations to charette-style exercises, and tools such as mapping, scenarios, 3D visualizations, and a generic neighbourhood design worksheet with interchangeable land use blocks and energy strategies.
As part of graduate research focused on expert and citizen mental models of energy at the community-scale, workshop evaluation looked to understand participants’ mental models of the energy system as well as workshop effects. This lecture will share data on participants mental models (including worldviews), and broad findings on the impacts of various workshop tools. The research has implications for energy planning specifically, and more broadly for participatory process evaluation.

The Greenest City Conversations project was funded by GRAND, PICS, BC Hydro and Mitacs, with additional support from the City of Vancouver. On-going work on the community energy workshops has been funded by the BC Real Estate Foundation as part of the Pembina Institute’s Green Building Leaders project. The workshop materials are available online at

Ellen Pond: As a senior technical and policy advisor with Pembina’s Sustainable Communities Group, Ellen specializes in the development of community-based climate change and clean energy solutions, including spatial planning, visual communications, and public process facilitation. Ellen has designed and evaluated citizen engagement strategies for energy and land use planning, recently focusing on electric vehicle infrastructure planning with several B.C. communities. In her prior work at the University of British Columbia’s Collaborative for Advanced Landscape Planning, she co-designed and facilitated engagement processes for low-carbon neighbourhood design, including BC-wide workshops for the Climate Action Secretariat’s Regional Action Forums and citizen workshops for the City of Vancouver. 

Sarah Muir-Owen: Currently working as PICS campus co-ordinator at UBC, Sara is also an award-winning planner and landscape architect who managed projects such as the City of North Vancouver's award-winning 100 year Sustainability Vision. We're very lucky to have her here presenting on the process of workshop design.