January 20, 2020

Building resilience through collaborative leadership and decision-making in Calgary


A more Resilient Calgary is more than a ‘smart’ approach to city building

Last year, the City of Calgary set out to create a strategy that looked at the city holistically for ways it could withstand future shocks and stresses, whether they be economic, environmental or social. The result, Resilient Calgary, a comprehensive plan outlining four pillars, 13 outcomes, 29 actions and 39 success metrics. The four pillars focused on Economic Resilience, Infrastructure Resilience, Environmental Resilience, and Inclusive Leadership & Decision Making.

Diving into the fourth pillar, it was clear that to ensure that leadership and decision-making was truly inclusive to all community members and their living experiences, a new and deeper level of collaboration would be required. This is how the Inclusive Collaboration Circles came to be.

Collaboration Circles and Why Inclusive Leadership and Decision Making Matters

Bringing together 60 community members with different cultural, ethnic, racial, socio-economic backgrounds and experiences, the Inclusive Collaboration Circles prompted discussion of what is needed to have trusting and informed relationships between institutions and equity-seeking communities. These Collaboration Circles constituted of community members with varying living experiences, including youth and seniors, immigrants, Indigenous groups, members of the LGBTQ community, as well as people living with disabilities, in racialized communities or in low-income neighbourhoods. To avoid misrepresentation and tokenism, these Circles included at least two or three individuals who could speak to each of these living experiences.

Further widening the circle to represent more community members, the City of Calgary brought in institutions, such as Alberta Housing Services and the Calgary Board of Education, as well as private companies and not-for-profit organizations. All of these were, in one way or another, already working with or making decisions that had an impact on equity-seeking communities.

Then, to gain insight into the past and to learn the priorities for Indigenous groups of the area, the City of Calgary worked closely with the Blackfoot Confederacy, notably, 13 Blackfoot Elders. These leaders shared that, for their community, the priority is to revitalise their language and culture. They also strongly informed the approach to take to be inclusive in decision-making, and what the true role is of institutions in supporting equity-seeking communities as they strive to accomplish their priorities.

These conversations shone a light on the differential lived experience between the dominant, mainstream community and equity-seeking communities, and the current lack of trust and information that institutions have with equity-seeking communities. This finding is reinforced by the absence of equity-seeking community members involved in decision-making and in positions of leadership in institutions. If institutions trusted members of these communities – decisions would be informed, and made by them.

With this knowledge, the City of Calgary is, and encourages individuals and institutions alike, to reflect on their social location, on their expertise and on their role in making decisions on behalf of, and that impact these communities to be real allies. Does this decision-making and leadership exemplify inclusivity and trust of equity-seeking community members? Is this action one of a well-intending ally, or that of a real, trusting ally?

What’s next

Moving forward, the team working on the fourth pillar of Resilient Calgary aims to understand three prominent and important questions: How do we diversify public and not-for-profit boards? How do we understand and value a diverse governance paradigm? How do we transform theory into process to become allies?

These conversations were rich in information and the insight gained brings Calgary many steps closer to their vision of resiliency and inclusivity.

For more information on the work that is being undertaken by the City of Calgary related the fourth Pillar of Resilient Calgary, Inclusive Leadership and Decision Making, please visit the Resilient Calgary webpage.

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