Roundtable 8: Community Empowerment


  • Community empowerment is the process of enabling communities to increase control over the decisions affecting their own lives. It is about power and access to resources.
  • What role does the City have in enabling community empowerment? What about other stakeholders?
  • What current initiatives and partnerships can be built on to empower communities
  • How are the distinctions between engagement and empowerment relevant to A City for All?
  • What would empowerment in the context of reconciliation look like?
  • In the context of equity, which communities need different kinds of support and what does that look like?
  • What are the policy barriers that need to be addressed to support community empowerment in Vancouver?

Roundtable Discussion

There were 9 participants at the table, mainly representing community groups, neighbourhood houses and groups, and Indigenous enterprises, as well as the table lead Mark Friessen and notetaker Majka Hahn. The discussion mainly focused on how to build meaningful representation and community engagement and how to move from engagement to agreement, especially when there are numerous immovable voices that cannot cooperate.

The roundtable made the distinction between engagement and empowerment – questioning whether a person can be empowered unless they are also engaged. They questioned how to build trust between city residents and municipal power-holders, and be able to shift attitudes so that residents are seen as contributors rather than problems or complications.

Meaningful Indigenous consultation was also a major topic, and participants touched on the connection between empowerment and reconciliation, and the need to be clear on how engagement protocols can be shared, understood, and co-created in the early stages of inclusive decision-making.

Summit group discussion, photo by Marnie Tamaki

Key Findings

Several themes were identified as part of the key findings discussion, including:

  • Recognizing the importance of inclusiveness.
  • Social infrastructure = Building trusting networks – Relationships.
  • Capacity Building – support communities to participate through:
    • Permanence
    • Sustainability
    • Education
  • Effective outreach outside of organization.
    • Co-creating:
    • No predetermined outcome
    • Agreement on the goals
    • Protocols for engagement, i.e. an agreed set of principles used to engage in discussion and decision-making must be determined before further deliberation
  • Must have respect for inherent cultural history and connection.
  • Recognize the importance of identifying fears and needs.
  • Different solutions for different communities and issues.
  • Equitable access to resources.
  • Trust – in and between all levels.
  • Accountability and responsibility.
  • What is currently working for community empowerment?
    • Sanitation
    • Participatory budget
    • Giving creative control to community accountable individuals
    • Delegated process control
    • Raycam community center model
    • Provincial ombudsperson


  • Establish an Office of Neighborhood in each of Vancouver’s 27 neighbourhoods.
  • Provide more resources for commissions and advisory boards to increase their permanence and support:
    • Participatory decision making
    • Incorporating Indigenous consultation and decision-making processes into Neighbourhood Offices
  • Indigenous planning department: one person cannot provide all the services. Indigenous knowledge needs to be incorporated into all the departments. Suggested first steps for departments:
    • Consultation audit (e.g. use of policy implementation matrix or accountability scorecard)
    • Mandatory cultural competency training
  • Structure using existing organizations:
    • Equitable and adequate community infrastructure

Related Initiatives

ALIVE (Aboriginal Life in Vancouver Enhancement) is one of the agencies behind the Youth Matters initiative which seeks to address service gaps faced by the disproportionate number of Indigenous youth in government care and all vulnerable families in the Downtown Eastside. It is based on the Our Place (Promoting Local Access and Community Empowerment) model which brings together a table of practitioners and organizations committed to support youth in the inner city in a holistic and systematic way. It meets four times a year at Britannia Community Centre to share their work and look for opportunities to collaborate. The most recent meeting examined innovative interventions by pediatricians to address the opioid crisis.

The Suzuki Elders are a voluntary association of elders concerned about the environment working with and through the David Suzuki Foundation. They help each other and the wider community build emotional resilience through small conversation circles on topics such as plastic, youth about climate change, fast fashion. Elder storytelling is popular with youth. They work on teaching/practicing creative conversation to counteract the toxic discourse prevalent in the media and politics.

Evergreen is a national charity and international thought-leader that works to provoke bold action to build flourishing, sustainable cities. At the core of our work is the belief that involving people directly in the process of restoring their environments and their communities positively affects the attitudes and behaviours that lie at the core of the sustainable city. Through the Green Bloc Neighbourhoods Project, Evergreen has empowered residents in 7 Vancouver neighbourhoods to take action on climate change by reducing their ecological footprint. Our newest project, Climate Risks – Engaging Vulnerable Populations, is focused on gathering grassroots input from DTES residents and seniors in order to understand and reduce their vulnerability to climate change impacts.

SFU Public Square is a community engagement initiative out of SFU that hosts 70 events a year and holds an annual community summit. Topics cover the issues of the day such as democracy, feelings about each other, climate change. This year the focus is on the manipulation of information and its impact on society.

Frog Hollow Neighborhood House’s Older Adults’ Program has 15 projects on the go, including the engaging abundance community project, mental health awareness, training senior volunteers to be wellness connectors, community walks, caregiver support group, and digital storytelling.

Sky Spirit Consulting is a consulting and design practice dedicated to utilizing Indigenous design methodologies to combine qualitative and quantitative data with oral history and Indigenous law to develop meaningful action plans to further reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Canada and internationally.

The Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods is an umbrella organization composed of 24 Vancouver Neighbourhood Residents Associations and provides a collective voice for its members on issues of interest and impact. CVN’s (2018) Principles and Goals for Collaborative Neighbourhood-based Planning in the City of Vancouver is a dynamic framework for City Planning. CVN advocates for an inclusive, vibrant, and fair process that ensures the voices of all Vancouver citizens through their neighbourhoods are heard. CVN regularly presents to City Council on current neighbourhood issues.

Grandview Woodlands Area Council participated in a well-run community engagement process leading to a community plan developed by the City that encapsulated most of what had been talked about, but added a plan for towers that had never been discussed. This radicalised the GWAC, and they created a citizen’s assembly which garnered public support to oppose the plan.

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