Civic Renewal Lab

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Civic Renewal Lab

CanadaVancouver, Canada
Organization type: 
nonprofit/ngo/citizen sector
Project Stage:
< $1,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

The Civic Renewal Lab is a community space where citizens can engage with decision makers, civil society and the creative public to address civic issues.

About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

For many, the specific language of civic and cultural affairs is daunting, and spaces such as city halls, theatres, and galleries frequently feel fenced off to both underserved communities and those who are new to the political and cultural scene. Present differences in public values, work habits, age, education level, access to technology, political & religious affiliation, and economic allegiances call for a perspective shift from traditional civic engagement practices. According to Elections Canada, “political disengagement appears less a conscious decision to turn away from politics than a failure to see the importance of political participation, combined with a belief that traditional politics may not be providing effective mechanisms for translating desire into action.”

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

How can we create a culture of local citizen engagement? How can we open the doors to meaningful dialogue and participation, allowing us to collectively build the city we want to live in? The Civic Renewal Lab is a citizen-led initiative that acts as a creative interface between decision-makers and the public. It is devoted to facilitating, promoting, and supporting the use of art, design, media, and constructive dialogue for fostering better citizenship. As an alternative to traditional civic engagement processes, our goal is to shift citizens from being consumers to active shapers of policies, programs, public space, and civic services. Our goal is to: 1) Become a hub for events, public activities, and research investigating locality, infrastructure, politics, education, and creative practice as a driver for civic change; 2) Provide recommendations to City Hall and other governing bodies for how to improve and increase civic participation and public engagement tactics.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

The CRL model offers a way for citizens to tangibly contribute to civic renewal while generating creative ideas for institutional change. The CRL has four main focus areas: 1) Town Hall 2.0 are interactive forums between the public and decision makers, supported by keypad polling, networked laptop computers, social media integration, and interactive projection screens. The in-person forums are designed to build public understanding of the facts, values, interest and trade-offs driving decision making, policy analysis, and program design. 2) Creative Ideas Forum brings together impacted groups, stakeholders, experts, and policy makers with artists and designers to publicly discuss ideas, policies and projects that link emergent solutions to community needs, skills and knowledge. 3) Public Interventions: Fun-focused, community-building social gatherings and collaborative public art projects that respond to the locational identity and a communal drive to build and create. Public Interventions can be done with little or no money, and with small teams of 2 or 3 people over a weekend. 4) Service Model: The CRL service model offers consulting, facilitation, media production, and design services to governments, organizations, and companies looking to engage young adults more deeply in social issues.

Marketplace: Who else is addressing the problem outlined here? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

Partnerships and collaboration will be cornerstones of the CRL, spanning many different disciplines depending on the context and project at hand. These may include video installation, public sculpture, graphic design, architecture, engineering, industrial fabrication, project coordination, or project financing. Because we have such an open mandate for collaboration we don't see other groups as competitors, only as potential collaborators. Therefore our challenge lies in designing projects and initiatives that are "win-win" - of value and relevancy to our collaborators. Groups doing similar work whom we intend to approach include Vancouver Design Nerds, SFU Centre for Dialogue, eatART Foundation, My Loud Speaker,, SFU Public Square, Change Lab and

Founding Story

The CRL was originally inspired by the Occupy movement and the idea of informal public assembly. We built on this idea, envisioning a space where citizens could talk about civic issues they care about in creative, inclusive, and engaging ways - outside of traditional government structures. As such, we designed the CRL to engage communities in civic and cultural matters by expanding “legitimate” cultural and political language to include forms such as storytelling, music, and visual art, allowing people to find their own entry point into civic affairs.
About You
Gen Why Media
About You
First Name


Last Name


About Your Organization
Organization Name

Gen Why Media

Organization Country

, BC, Vancouver

Country where this solution is creating social impact

, BC

Region in BC where your solution creates social impact


How long has your organization been operating?

Less than a year

The information you provide here will be used to fill in any parts of your profile that have been left blank, such as interests, organization information, and website. No contact information will be made public. Please uncheck here if you do not want this to happen..

How long have you been in operation?

Still in idea phase, but looking to launch soon

Which of the following best describes the barrier(s) your solution addresses? Choose up to two

Access, Cost.

Social Impact
Please describe the goal of your initiative; outline what you are trying to achieve

Key goals:

1) Shift citizens from being consumers to active shapers of policies, programs, public space and civic services;
2) Create scalable interface between decision-makers and citizens that can be applied to different issues and scenarios;
3) Facilitate, promote and support the use of art, design, media, and constructive dialogue to foster better citizenship;
4) Provide recommendations and implementation support to Vancouver City Hall and other governing bodies to help them improve dialogue, public participation and create a culture of local citizen engagement.

What has been the impact of your solution to date?

From January 2012 to April 2012 we recruited six citizens (3 females, 3 males, between 18 and 60 years old) to help create the vision for the Civic Renewal Lab (CRL). The group met once a week for six weeks and developed a framework for a community space that would build on existing cohabitation and neighborhood house models in Vancouver. We then sought and found a non-profit partner (Vancouver Design Nerds) to help us approach the City of Vancouver in order to pilot the idea.

The City of Vancouver was receptive and agreed to collaborate on a pilot event held on June 15, 2012. As a collaboration between the City of Vancouver, Gen Why Media and the Vancouver Design Nerds, the re:THINK HOUSING JAM was designed to help the Mayor’s Task Force on Housing Affordability set out its goals and priorities for the future of housing in Vancouver.

Once the pilot is over we will re-approach the city about building on the Civic Renewal Lab as a partner in broader public participation efforts.

What is your projected impact over the next five years?

Within a five year time period, the CRL will impact Vancouver in two distinct ways: firstly, a dynamic and inclusive community will emerge. Through frequent local events and initiatives, it will build a comprehensive network of individuals from diverse ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds, across age gaps, and connect them directly to decision-making bodies in a non-threatening, low-barrier, and stimulating manner. Secondly, the community will manifest into a tangible space. This space will be a physical gathering point for citizens to brainstorm, discuss, debate, organize, and develop creative and progressive solutions to problems facing their city. These solutions will emerge through fresh avenues such as art, music, story-telling, poetry and collaborative participation.

What barriers might hinder the success of your project? How do you plan to overcome them?

The most prevalent barrier opposing the success of our project is the natural, human resistance to change. Understandably, the idea of providing a portion of the idea-generation and decision-making process to such a diverse community of citizens can be an unsettling idea for governing bodies and political leaders. Financial support necessary to pilot such a progressive idea towards reality will also be an obstacle for our team. However, by appealing to citizen-focused, public-friendly organizations like Vancity Credit Union and the Vancouver Foundation, we will be able to build our credibility with the City and hopefully secure preliminary capital for investing in pilot events like the upcoming re:THINK HOUSING JAM.

Winning entries present a strong plan for how they will achieve and track growth. Identify your six-month milestone for growing your impact

Create a community-building plan.

Identify three major tasks you will have to complete to reach your six-month milestone
Task 1

Engage with key stakeholders in order to gain strong community support.

Task 2

Identify key Decision Makers for a commitment to participate and take into consideration recommendation from the CRL.

Task 3

Design a phased process that positions the CRL to expand into a community hub for civic renewal

Now think bigger! Identify your 12-month impact milestone

Build and maintain an engagement-focused, civic community.

Identify three major tasks you will have to complete to reach your 12-month milestone
Task 1

Develop a communication strategy (online and offline) for knowledge sharing and community building.

Task 2

Solicit support from funders in order build the process infrastructure.

Task 3

Establish key partnership with academic institutions in order to provide sound recommendation to governing bodies

Tell us about your partnerships

The Vancouver Design Nerds Society (est. 2003) is a non-profit collective and the main partner in the CRL project. The VDNS seeks to create space for interdisciplinary collaboration and dialogue, frequently undertaking projects that engage community and public space. Comprised of a board of directors, steering committee and over 750 inter-disciplinary members, VDNS hosts ‘Design Nerd Jams’ for organizations such as City of Vancouver, City Studio, Architecture for Humanity, Biomimicry Group, Design Thinking Unconference, Cascadia Region Green Building Council and Ethical Bean, to name a few.

Are you currently targeting other specific populations, locations, or markets for your solution? If so, where and why?

Along with citizens, the CRL will target three broad yet overlapping societal groups:

1) “Decision Makers”: Government, Industry representatives, Business leaders;
2) Creative Community: anyone whose work function is to produce new ideas, new technology and/or new creative content, includes people in engineering and science, architecture and design, education, music, arts, and entertainment;
3) Civil Society (or social sector): community-based organizations, foundations, educational institutions, philanthropic agencies, neighborhood groups, non-profits, charities, etc.

What type of operating environment and internal organizational factors make your innovation successful?

An open, inclusive, youth-driven, casual, yet efficient operating environment is what we will be striving for with the CRL. Due to the very nature of the CRL, our internal organization will be directed for openness and equality, allowing equal opportunity for parties of all stripes to hold stake. As a youth-focused innovation, our modi operandi will encourage the adage of education from mistakes in order to build experience in the work that we do. We will strive to continuously reflect upon the values and operations of our organization to ensure that we stay true to our mandate and address any weaknesses or communication challenges in a timely manner.

Please elaborate on any needs or offers you have mentioned above and/or suggest categories of support that aren't specified within the list

As an idea that is fairly wide in scope, including both a physical manifestation and an innovative service model, the resources that we are seeking can be comparable to those necessary for incorporating and maintaining a successful mid-sized business. However, our service model allows us to utilize early community investment to provide equally valuable services in the long-run.


Amanda Armstrong's picture

Great idea! You should check out the Canadian organization - Apathy is Boring. The founder, Ilona, is an Ashoka Fellow who you may be interested in connecting with!

By deliberately moving civic and cultural engagement out of established spaces, and by expanding “legitimate” cultural and political language to include forms such as storytelling, music, and visual art, the Civic Renewal Lab allows people to find their own entry point into civic affairs. Website SEO

Sarah Mintz's picture

Hi Tara, would you explain how Gen Why Media and Civic Renewal Lab are different / and how they might be interrelated?

Tara Mahoney's picture

Hi Sarah,

Gen Why Media is a social enterprise, meaning we do contract work (video and events) for organizations looking for engage Generation Y in social issues.

Civic Renewal Lab is being formed as a non-profit in collaboration with other groups and individuals to be a hub for civic innovation.