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Community Conversations returning to in-person meetings

Jason Stockfish | advertising@fitzhugh.ca

After surveying participants, the department of community development has decided to move its Community Conversations back to in-person meetings in the fall.

The initiative, which seeks to increase Jasperites’ opportunities to participate in local democracy by providing a structured format to discuss matters important to the community, had been forced online during COVID.

However, with the pandemic seemingly waning, the department decided to hold their meetings in person for May and June, and when surveyed after the two-month trial, three quarters of respondents voted to return to meeting face to face with the option to attend via Zoom.

For those that have not taken part in a community conversation, the department of community development explains the initiative on the municipality’s website.

“During these conversations, Jasperites share their perspective around trends impacting residents and/or (discuss) opportunities to work together,” it stated.

“Together, the group shares ideas and problem solve together to find innovative and locally-driven solutions to the challenges our community faces.”

A main intention of Community Conversations is to provide “a strong foundation for collaboration and relationship building across sectors within the community of Jasper,” the website adds. 

There are seven topics that are discussed each month, two each week, with Environmental Responsibility getting its own conversation.

The other six topics discussed at the meetings are Early Childhood, School Age Children, Seniors, Adults, Arts and Culture and Recreation.

In a quarterly report presented to council at its Aug. 23 committee of the whole meeting, Lisa Riddell, community development manager, noted some of the department’s findings from April, May and June.

Over the course of the quarter, community development held 21 meetings and 63 unique participants took part in an average of 2.4 of the conversations.

“A review of all trends and opportunities identified across all Community Conversations revealed several thematic areas under which all trends and opportunities could be grouped,” Riddell said.

Those thematic areas are Internet and Technology, Financial Stability, Communication, Diversity, Inclusion and Connection, Use and Enjoyment of Spaces, Access to Services and Supports, Education and Training, Transportation and Environmental Responsibility.

In Riddell’s report, “trends”, “Successes to date” and “further opportunities identified” are discussed for each of these thematic areas. 

The program has been successful at “promo(ting) more cross-departmental collaboration and has increased interaction between council and municipal staff and members of the public,” Riddell explained to the committee.

For those wondering if Community Conversations is for them, the municipality poses three questions: Are you caring and passionate about the Jasper community? Do you represent or have connection to any of the topics mentioned? Are you motivated to make Jasper a better place? 

If you answered “yes” to these questions, the initiative was designed and developed for you, notes the municipality’s website.

“(Community Conversations) is how we work to support the community in the direction that it wants to steer itself,” said Christopher Read, director of community development.

“This is just our method of collecting the information and collecting the actions and actors.”

Read said the municipality doesn’t do everything, and it can’t do everything.

“But we do what’s in our purview, and we invite and expose the opportunities for other groups.”

Many ideas and actions come about from Community Conversations where the municipality is not the change agent, Read added.

One significant accomplishment that came as a result of a community conversation was the creation of a working group around the Food Rescue Program in Jasper.

“All we did was collect the people in the room where they could crystallize the idea and the opportunity, (creating) a place where the ideas get exposed, and worked on, and collaboration comes from it,” Reed said.

Other successes from these conversations are $37,000 in COVID relief funding to assist with rent, utility and childcare arrears payments, the Jasper Employment and Education Centre (JEEC) acquiring funding to provide technology training, a newly-designed user-friendly website for the municipality, and the creation of a Newcomer Network that allows the municipality and the Jasper Local Immigration Partnership to gain valuable perspectives on making information more accessible for immigrants.

Community Conversations occur every Wednesday in the boardroom at 627 Patricia Street.

“It’s a great opportunity for democracy to work,” Read said.

The schedule and further information about the initiative can be found at www.jasper-alberta.com/p/community-conversations

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