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The Complete Streets team at graduation, from left: Laura, Aileen, Juan Pablo, Alan, Andria, Marlene, Rob and Winn. Photo provided by Synapcity.

Civics Boot Camp: Tools to change a community

By Apartment613 on April 5, 2017

Aileen Duncan is a Policy Analyst and avid volunteer in the arts and culture community. She took part in the Fall 2016 Civics Boot Camp workshop and shares her experience below. Is the course a good fit for you?

Ottawa is a strange and beautiful place.

In being the nation’s capital, we sometimes forget we are a city in our own right. Between changing demographics and the resurgence of the high-tech industry, our identity is changing – both in terms of how we perceive ourselves, and how we are perceived by the world.

The Complete Streets team at graduation, from left: Laura, Aileen, Juan Pablo, Alan, Andria, Marlene, Rob and Winn. Photo provided by Synapcity.

The Complete Streets team at graduation, from left: Laura, Aileen, Juan Pablo, Alan, Andria, Marlene, Rob and Winn. Photo provided by Synapcity.

2017 promises to be distinct with respect to signature events and tourism. But creating a sense of place is about more than government intervention. Fortunately, there are passionate people around Ottawa working to make our city a better place to live in the next 150 years. Their ideas are seen in the impact of tireless organizations, in the creative output of an artist or chef, in the “side hustle” of a retiree or government employee, and in everyday human interactions.

The beautiful thing about nourishing an idea is that it improves the collective intelligence of our entire community. Yet, it can be hard to find a way to turn an idea to action.

That’s where Synapcity comes in.

Synapcity is a local organization that supports passionate people in advancing their ideas to improve life in Ottawa. They believe that decisions and actions are the basis of a city, and that every individual has a role in making our city and its residents happier, healthier, smarter and safer.

Civics Boot Camp teams meet with community thought leaders. The Complete Streets group is sitting with Rob Barnes from Ecology Ottawa and Kornel Mucsi from the City. Photo provided by Synapcity.

Civics Boot Camp teams meet with community thought leaders. The Complete Streets group is sitting with Rob Barnes from Ecology Ottawa and Kornel Mucsi from the City. Photo provided by Synapcity.

To encourage the capacity of residents to influence change in their neighbourhoods, Synapcity runs a course that shares knowledge, facilitates connections, and provides encouragement. “Civics Boot Camp” is offered twice per year, and the course is delivered through a facilitated session once a week for six weeks.

The personal dynamic in the course is informed by the people participating and the energy they bring to their learning. This means that every cohort has a unique experience, but one constant is that diverse people come, learn from each other, and contribute to a broader conversation about issues in the city. I found the participants were a good picture of the city’s demographics, representing different ages, cultural heritage, and even neighbourhoods throughout the city.

Synapcity encourages different styles of learning, recognizing that everyone has their own way of absorbing information. Sessions included:

  • panel discussions with a range of intelligent people
  • group activities where we would learn tools to help us in our work, and practice using them
  • a practicum where we worked on a project in small teams
  • learning from the other people in the room, and
  • personal reflection

We also had access to an online course where we were provided with curated and easily accessible information about the city. Key areas of focus included the political context and decision-making process, demographic trends of the city, municipal budget consultations, and potential funding sources aside from governments.

Closing Activity. Photo provided by Synapcity.

Closing Activity. Photo provided by Synapcity.

Worth the energy? I think so.

Following the boot camp, I have a better understanding of how decisions are made in Ottawa, and pressures the municipal government is facing. I am more confident in assessing a situation. Equally important, I met some genuine and interesting people along the way.


Civics Boot Camp is happening Tuesday evenings from April 25 to May 30 at the new Innovation Centre at Bayview Yards (7 Bayview Rd) . Sessions begin at 5:30 with a light dinner and run to 9pm. Applications are due on April 9. Thanks to the Ontario Trillium Foundation, Civics Boot Camp is a no cost commitment. Seat are limited.