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Synapcity's Ideas Wall. Photo by Devora Cascante.

Synapcity asks: What would an “even better” Ottawa look like?

By Sarah Baker on November 22, 2016

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Put simply, Synapcity is a space for connections between people, places, and ideas.

Formerly Citizen’s Academy, the social enterprise’s work is widely known, and recognition is growing.

In 2015 they won a rebrand competition from Stiff, an Ottawa-based communications agency, and just this year received over $600,000 from the Ontario Trillium Foundation’s Grow Grant.

Councillor Matthieu Fleury, Synapcity Executuve Director, Manjit Basi and Stiff CEO, James Hanington at the Synapcity launch event on October 11, 2016. Photo by Ula Muntean (www.ulaphotography.com).

Councillor Matthieu Fleury, Synapcity Executuve Director, Manjit Basi and Stiff CEO, James Hanington at the Synapcity launch event on October 11, 2016. Photo by Ula Muntean (www.ulaphotography.com).

Their new brand launched in October along with a campaign inviting the public to submit their ideas for a better Ottawa online. Yasir Naqvi, MPP, Ottawa Centre, announced his support for Synapcity with a call to action: “The people of Ottawa can be a part of something great with Synapcity. So put your ideas into forward motion to make our community an even better one.”

What would an “even better” Ottawa look like?

Manjit Basi, Synapcity’s Co-Founder and Executive Director, says that is up to the public, but offered her vision of “a city that truly works for its people,” by building more equitable places and creating opportunity for everyone.  “I have a love affair with this city. My hope is that we can tap into everyday people’s love for their city too: their hopes and possibilities for Ottawa.”

With Stiff’s smart messaging, and in partnership with the Social Planning Council of Ottawa, Synapcity fosters civic engagement by “plugging people in” to the knowledge and resources they need to take action on their ideas for the city.

Fall 2016 Civics Bootcamp participants engaged in group work. Photo by Devora Cascante.

Fall 2016 Civics Bootcamp participants engaged in group work. Photo by Devora Cascante.

Apartment613 met with Manjit Basi and James Hanington, CEO of Stiff, to talk about Synapcity’s rebrand and its new campaign.

Where does “Synapcity” come from ?

James:  When we met Manjit, her group was still Citizen’s Academy.  The name had an institutional feel, but we had never met a group people before who had the pulse of Ottawa like they did.

Manjit: When we met with Stiff, it was magic.  We knew that we weren’t communicating what we did well, so it was fabulous that we could apply to their competition.

James:  We started talking with Manjit about how a city isn’t just roads, neighbourhoods, parks – it’s the people. And the ideas that people have about their city create its pulse. We took that, and had this vision of collective synapses firing at the same time to create a city. We had the new neologism-  Synapcity.

Manjit: The thing is, I was saying things like this all the time, but we weren’t messaging it.  Stiff really helped bring clarity to our aspirations around connecting change makers from the city’s 108 neighbourhoods.

James: Rarely do we get to work with a local organization that’s doing such amazing stuff.  It was very important to us that they had [the quality of] a global brand.

Manjit: Working with them was amazing. They absorbed us, they took all the stuff we said and started living and breathing it with us.

James: We were really just holding up the mirror and saying, “this is who you are, this is how we see you.”

Manjit: We were like, oh ok – that’s all we needed to say!

At the Synapcity launch event. Photo by Ula Muntean (www.ulaphotography.com).

At the Synapcity launch event. Photo by Ula Muntean (www.ulaphotography.com).

Are there any other groups in Ottawa that inspired Synapcity?

James: No, actually it was the lack of crisp thinking that led to Synapcity. We’re a fantastic city, a  growing city, but there are growing pains. We wanted to launch a space for people to get involved.

Manjit: We consider ourselves makers of a neutral, safe space where people start to embrace their own concept of leadership along with the idea that nothing is too big or too small – whatever they’re inspired to do, they can do it. And there’s community of people who can work with you to do it! That’s what we believe we do well, bringing people who are not always together, to be together in new ways.

What sort of ideas and projects are coming out of Synapcity?

Manjit: A graduate from one of the bootcamps came up with the concept of creating a living museum on Laurier street – Prime Minister’s Row. They’re now speaking with Heritage Canada about it.

Another is the Gotta Go campaign, which came out of our first Civics bootcamps. It started with a group of people who felt that a good city needs a network of good, safe,  public toilets. I don’t think we would have gotten good public toilets at the major LRT stations if they hadn’t started that campaign.

We have another program called Civics Talks, [and through it] we can facilitate and support people’s [ideas for] their neighbourhood and the city. And there are other things. We want to be be working with others in the community to bridge sectors and gaps and innovate together.

Fall 2016 Civics Bootcamp participants Wynn Quon and Erik Stolpmann explain their practicum project. Photo by Devora Cascante.

Fall 2016 Civics Bootcamp participants Wynn Quon and Erik Stolpmann explain their practicum project. Photo by Devora Cascante.

Synapcity just launched a campaign where you’ve asked the public for their ideas about what would make Ottawa a smarter, safer, happier, healthier city. What does that look like, to you?

Manjit: I have a lot of personal ideas about this, but really, it’s about what the public thinks. We believe that people in Ottawa care deeply about their own communities. They know how they want to live, and they want to contribute.  

James:  The campaign is designed to have people submit what they want to say, like, “You know what’s always pissed me off?” or, “You know what would really put our city on the map”? There may be hundreds of others with that same idea. If there are hundreds of others ready to rally around that idea, then it might not be complicated to mobilize and affect change.

How can the people of Ottawa get their ideas to Synapcity? And what is Synapcity going to do with people’s ideas?

James: People can go to synapcity.ca and submit their ideas, right on the home page.

Manjit: We’ve also been posting some of the ideas to Twitter and Facebook.

James: The ideas will be published. Since we’re  all about co-creation, we’re not exactly sure about the format, but the statistics around how many people have similar ideas will be a powerful metric and show how important Synapcity is to the pulse of Ottawa.

Manjit: I think of it almost like being a listening post for Ottawa: “come on, tell us what you want!”

James: A big success for us would be to say, “Ok! Here are all of your ideas – now let’s do it.”

Synapcity’s mission is to become the collective heart and brain of our city. Without a political agenda, it runs programs that empower people to make a difference.  For more information, visit their website, or find them on Facebook or Twitter.

Stiff works with clients in Canada, the UK and around the globe to create and manage brands, develop integrated communication strategies and go to market through traditional, digital and social media. 

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