It felt like history was being made at the Port Hawkesbury Civic Centre last week when, for the first time in recent memory, municipal and Mi’kmaq leaders from across Cape Breton met to talk about how they could work together towards a stronger future for all Islanders.
Five years ago, municipalities started gathering once a year to hear about initiatives relevant to the Island as a whole. This year, it was Port Hawkesbury’s turn to host, and newly elected mayor Brenda Chisholm-Beaton was ready to shake things up!
Familiar with the work Engage has done with other municipalities, she called on our team to help her think through how the format of this event could encourage the kind of in-depth, future-oriented “hallway” conversations she had found most productive in the past.
Once the scope was established, it was clear that discussions wouldn’t be complete without participation from the Island’s first people. In quick order, Mayor Chisholm-Beaton reached out to all five First Nations chiefs and they graciously accepted the invitation to attend.
Using a combination of audience participation technology (aka “clickies”) and facilitated group conversations, the Engage team led a series of sessions focused on challenges and opportunities on November 23rd and 24th.
The spirit of friendship, collaboration and shared purpose was palpable from the onset, and truly inspiring to all who attended. “Why has it taken us this long?,” was a frequent refrain, followed quickly by “When can we do this again?” and “Who else should be in the room?”
A commitment exercise at the end of the two days resulted in a strong core of leaders and supporters stepping up to make sure the momentum on identified priorities wasn’t lost.
Danny, Elizabeth, Hailey and I were the lucky Engage team members to make up the on-the-ground team for this project. We were particularly looking forward to it as an opportunity to test our theory of “radical middle space,” i.e. that our best hope for progress comes from groups finding new ways to work together, across difference, towards shared objectives.
Needless to say, we’re pretty stoked about the results this time around. And excited about what comes next.