The Evolution of Informed Participation

Don Lenihan’s many projects and publications over the years form a single body of work that tracks the evolution of Informed Participation. The following is a brief chronology of this work. Most of the publications can be downloaded on our Access Publications page.

Some Recent Projects and Papers

April 2017 – October 2020: Don was a principal advisor to The Ottawa Hospital on community engagement for The New Campus Project, a multi-year undertaking to support and inform the design of a world-class site for the new facility. The new hospital will be built on 50 acres of scenic greenspace in Ottawa, bordering on famous national heritage sites, such as the Rideau Canal and the Experimental Farm. The project engaged community representatives in a deliberative exercise to help the hospital design a 21st century health-care facility that is fully integrated with the communities it serves. Several reports from the project are available at:


September 2017 – Present: Don and a representative from the Australian government co-chair The Open Government Partnership’s Practice Group on Dialogue and Deliberation. Don is also the project’s principal writer. The group’s members come from various countries and are tasked by the OGP with providing thought-leadership on public deliberation. The group has now produced four major papers on the subject, including Volume II, Informed Participation: A Guide to Designing Public Deliberation Processes, which is a step-by-step guide to designing these processes. Together, this collection of papers provides a highly readable and comprehensive account of public deliberation, from its conceptual underpinnings to practical considerations around designing and delivering a process. The papers contain cases, examples, and illustrations to help the reader. Further volumes are currently being planned.

March 2019 to October 2019: The Institute on Governance’s Civil Society Dialogues explored ways to strengthen the relationship between government and civil society. The process included four half-day sessions with 30 – 40 representatives from the two sectors. The IOG Working Group on Civil Society formed a second dialogue stream within the process, where Don led eight government and civil society representatives in a deeper examination of the government/civil society relationship. Don was also the lead writer on a report/think piece based on these discussions.

May 2019 – May 2021: The City of Ottawa developed a 15-year Official Plan – a policy framework to guide the city’s physical development to the year 2031. Don was a principal advisor on community engagement to support development of the OP. The process aimed at promoting equity and inclusion through a Community Ambassadors Group.

Recent Past – Projects and Major Papers

September 2016 – June 2017: Canada 2020’s series, The Open Government Papers, included two major papers by Don:

  • What Is “Open Dialogue” and Is It the Answer to “Post-Fact” Populism? (June 2017), explores changing trends in engagement from a pan-Canadian perspective. The paper is based on roundtable meetings in nine capital cities across Canada, involving senior and elected officials, as well as representatives from academia, civil society, and the private sector.
  • The Rise of Civil Analytics: How Big Data is About to Explode Policymaking as We Know It (April 2017) was co-authored with Tom Pitfield and describes the historic opportunity Big Data creates for a new era of evidence-based policymaking.

November 2016 – May 2017: Don completed a seven-month assignment with the Bank of Canada in which he developed an external stakeholder engagement framework (and implementation strategy) to manage the Currency department’s many stakeholders in a more principled, systematic, and effective way.

May – September 2016: Don designed and led a series of roundtable discussions with key stakeholders from New Brunswick’s health, education, crime prevention, social inclusion, and business sectors. The project concluded with renewal of the province’s sport and recreation policy, repositioning it as a multi-purpose tool that can be accessed and leveraged by these stakeholders to help them achieve goals in their respective fields.

Working with the Province of Ontario – Open Government

The Province of Ontario joined the Open Government Partnership (OGP) in 2016 as part of the first cohort of subnational governments. Don was closely involved in Ontario’s program from the start:

  • Between October 2013 – May 2014, Don served as Chair of Ontario’s Open Government Engagement Team, a panel of nine distinguished experts who, at the invitation of Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, traveled the province to develop recommendations “to make Ontario the most open and transparent government in the country.”
  • The Team’s final report, Open by Default, called on the government to establish a new level of rigor and clarity in the design and delivery of engagement processes by creating a public engagement framework, based on a new typology of processes.
  • From July 2015 – April 2016, Ontario’s Open Government Office engaged Don to develop this framework, which was adopted by the government to guide future use of engagement processes in the Ontario Public Service.
  • In December 2015, Don attended the OGP Summit in Paris as part of the Ontario delegation.

Working with International Bodies- Citizen Engagement and the UN 2015 Development Agenda

May 2014 – October 2014

In the summer of 2014, Don led an Expert Group process for the UN Department of Education and Social Affairs and the OECD on public engagement models to support the post-2015 UN agenda on sustainable development. The two-day meeting in Paris involved an international delegation of 25 experts on public engagement. Don prepared the background paper, facilitated the session and wrote the final report on the proceedings.

Building Capacity Together – Action Research

Fall 2008 to Spring 2012

Ontario’s engagement framework is the product of over a decade of work by Don, including many engagement projects, roundtables and workshops, studies, reports, and books.  The essence of this work is captured in his book, Rescuing Policy: The Case for Public Engagement. Since its release in February 2012, over 5000 hard copies have been distributed across the country and abroad and the book has been downloaded from the Public Policy Forum’s website over 2000 times.

Rescuing Policy was, in effect, the final report from Building-Capacity Together, a four-year project led by Don that involved nine federal, provincial, and territorial governments, and the Government of Australia. The project involved:

    • A year-long online dialogue with over 500 public servants on developing a public engagement approach;
    • A series of over 25 workshops across Canada and Australia.
    • A series of major pilot projects to build knowledge, skills, and capacity in public engagement, including:

Renewal of the Ontario Condominium Act (May 2012 – January 2014):

In the spring of 2012, the Ontario government engaged Don to design, lead, manage and facilitate an 18-month public engagement process to renew Ontario’s Condominium Act. The process included three main stages, engaged several thousand people, and produced some 200 recommendations, which were then drafted into legislation and passed into law in the fall of 2015. Don’s two main reports from the process are: the Stage One Findings Report and the Stage Two Solutions Report. Don also wrote: A Case Study of Ontario’s Condominium Act Review, which describes the process and identifies lessons learned.

  • Poverty Reduction in Nunavut (February 2011 – February 2012):

When the Territorial government decided to develop a poverty reduction strategy, it engaged Don to design a process that would give the Inuit population a clear say in the results, while ensuring coherent and workable solutions. The three-stage process began with dialogues in 26 communities. In Stage 2, policy experts met at six regional roundtables to review the findings and develop policy proposals from them. Stage 3 culminated in a two-day summit, led by Premier Eva Aariak, with over 60 representatives and observers from all sectors and regions of the territory. Together, the summit participants produced The Makimaniq Plan: A Shared Approach to Poverty Reduction. Don’s final report on the project is: Healing Through Collaboration: A Case Study of the Nunavut Poverty Reduction Process.

  • Developing the Canadian Sport Policy 2012 (October 2009 – August 2011):

In April 2012, federal, provincial, and territorial ministers met in Iqaluit to endorse the Canadian Sport Policy. The two-year process leading up to this event included a complex set of engagement processes across the country, involving all three orders of government, sport organizations, and other stakeholders. The project’s steering committee engaged Don early on to serve as a key advisor on the project. Don’s book above, Rescuing Policy, contains a chapter on this process.

  • Community Engagement in Australia to Align and Co-Design Services (January 2011 – February 2012):

The Australian Government’s Department of Human Services engaged Don to help design and deliver a process using “community dialogue tables” to align services in nine communities. The project involved, Human Services, the State of Victoria, the Municipal Association of Victoria, and local officials, community service providers and residents from the nine municipalities. Don served as senior project advisor, facilitated many sessions, conducted interviews with the participants and officials involved, and wrote Building a Strategic Design Capacity with Community, which evaluated the project.

The New Brunswick Public Engagement Initiative

April 2007 – April 2008

In March of 2007, Don released Progressive Governance for Canadians: What you need to know, which develops key ideas in his approach to public engagement. In April 2007, after reading the book, New Brunswick Premier Shawn Graham invited Don to serve as the Province’s advisor on public engagement. In that position, Don led five pilot projects on public engagement to help the government build capacity. Don’s final report, It’s More than Talk: Listen, Learn and Act, contained 12 recommendations to advance public engagement in the province, which were all implemented by the government.

Crossing Boundaries

1997 – 2007

The Crossing Boundaries project was an on-going, national, multi-stakeholder research initiative that lasted almost a decade and went through four major iterations. It began as a single set of roundtables in the Parliament of Canada, co-led by Don and Reg Alcock, a Member of Parliament, to examine the impact of information and communications technologies on government and democracy in Canada. The stream of projects that followed culminated in the creation of the Crossing Boundaries National Council in 2005. Its membership included over 40 elected officials and senior public servants from all three levels of government.

Over the years, Crossing Boundaries involved many hundreds of elected and public officials, aboriginal organizations, members of the private and third sectors, journalists, and academics from across the country in a national dialogue on e-government. Over 40 studies were produced and published on issues ranging from democracy to service delivery to privacy to the information economy. These studies were based on a wide variety of dialogue processes, including cross-country round tables, workshops and seminars, conferences, citizens’ forums, surveys and online dialogues, as well as conventional research. The goal was to find, articulate and explore the common ground between different groups on the issues raised by the emergence of the information society.

Don served as the founder and head of Crossing Boundaries, first as Chair, then as CEO. In that role, he planned and facilitated many of the events, oversaw the preparation of material for them, and was the principal writer of many of the reports. Other duties included moderating meetings of the National Council, presenting ideas and information to its members, soliciting feedback from them on the Council’s progress, and overseeing the drafting of proposals, minutes and notes from the sessions.