Citizen Action Monitor

Samara’s “Facilitation Guide” for its Democracy Talks program

No 1071 Posted by fw, June 10, 2014

Following up on yesterday’s post, Will a program designed to get Canadians “talking politics” inspire more active citizenship in Canada? below is a copy of a Facilitation Guide that Samara has designed to help discussion leaders to structure Democracy Talks sessions.

To access this guide, click on the following linked title —



Democracy Talks (DT) is a series of discussions designed to engage citizens in politics. Delivered in partnership with community groups across Canada, DT offers a structured and accessible space in which people can share their ideas and aspirations for the Canadian political system, and the role they’d like to play within it.


  •  An opportunity to share views and ideas about politics in Canada
  •  An increased ability to connect their issues of concern to politics
  •  A chance to learn how to take political action on an issue of concern to them
  •  An opportunity to meet and work with interesting people
  •  A chance to be part of a national project on political engagement


This facilitated discussion lasts approximately 1.5 to 2 hours and can include between 8 and 10 participants.


  •  Pre-DT questionnaire (completed in advance)
  •  Consent form/Parental consent form
  •  Flipchart or white board, pens and markers
  •  “Key take-aways’ form
  •  “Representative Democracy Is…” handout
  •  “Making your Move” handout
  •  Citizens‟ Panel sign-up sheet
  •  Post-DT questionnaire


  1. Introduction
  2. Issues and Active Citizenship
  3. An Ideal Democracy Is…
  4. Partner Questions or “Making your Move”
  5. Debrief and Conclusion

Section 1 – Introduction (15 minutes)

Facilitator introduces him/herself, Samara‟s Democracy Talks program and the community partner involved and explains how the discussion will work. The facilitator should clearly explain that the purpose and expected outcomes of the DT session are to:

  •  Create space for participants to discuss politics
  •  Generate ideas to improve political engagement
  •  Discuss how ideas can be applied to real-life/local issues

The facilitator should also highlight the following points before beginning the discussion:

  •  Emphasize that the discussion is part of a national project – not just a one-off.
  •  Establish ground rules for dialogue-type discussion (eg. listen, even if you disagree; pass if

you’re not comfortable responding; facilitator’s role to ensure everyone can speak, etc.).

  •  Be explicit that the general discussion will culminate an action-oriented activity.

Question                                                                                                                          Facilitator Guide

  1. What is your name and what are you hoping to gain from today’s discussion?
Roundtable of introductions and responses

Section 2 – Issues and Active Citizenship (20 minutes)

This section invites participants to identify an issue of concern in their day-to-day lives and consider how they might address it through a political process. The goal is to help participants draw the connection between the personal and the political, and identify ways they can approach their concern.

Question                                                                                                                          Facilitator Guide

  1. Turn to the person next to you, and for the next 2 to 3 minutes, brainstorm: what does an “active citizen” look like to you, and do you consider yourselves active citizens?
Regroup to share responses from each pair.
  1. In terms of your day-to-day life, what’s an example of an issue that you care about or are concerned with?
Keep general; see what they say and whether a connection to politics is made. Note concerns on board.
  1. What’s an action or a decision you’ve taken to try and address this concern? Why did you choose to pursue it in the way that you did? What happened? Alternative question: Have you taken any action to address this concern, why or why not?
  1. How could the government or political leaders/politicians help you to take action or respond to this issue?
Note suggestions on board

Section 3 – An Ideal Democracy Is… (20 minutes)

This section encourages participants to brainstorm their definition of a healthy political system and to consider their role within that system. Questions explore the general theme: what does an ideal democracy look like to you?

  1. Thinking of the concerns just discussed, what are the aspects of Canadian democracy that could better support/improve your experience/efforts?
Take note of ideas
  1. Looking at your “Representative Democracy Is…” handout, what three qualities do you think are most important in an ideal healthy democracy? Circle the three.
  1. Now, from those three, choose the one attribute/aspect that you feel is the MOST important. Going around the table, tell us which one you picked and why it was most important to you. Probing: How does this list compare to that made from suggestions in question 5? What do you think of the differences/similarities between your top choices?
Ask participants to put a star, “#1”, or other distinguishing mark next to the single attribute they feel is MOST important.
  1. Thinking of this attribute, and thinking back to your idea of an “active citizen,” how would you describe YOUR role in this ideal democracy? Probing: What/who is needed to facilitate this?
Note barriers that emerge in this discussion

Section 4 – Option 1: Partner Questions (20 minutes)

For this section, community partners are invited to contribute questions that will help generate context-specific insight around a particular issue, program, policy or election-related goal. These can take the form of open-ended questions, or may follow the guided activity outlined below.

Community partners are asked to make their choice and submit their questions one week in advance of the Democracy Talks session.

Option 2: “Making your Move” (40 minutes)

THE OBJECTIVE This group exercise will help participants think through a problem and strategize in teams on how to effectively approach it. The exercise will consider:

  •  an issue of concern in the community
  •  the qualities of a healthy democracy just discussed
  •  ways of applying concepts of citizenship to political participation

THE ISSUE TOPIC(S) will be determined:

  •  by the partner organization in advance, in coordination with Samara or the facilitator, and/or
  •  by participants during the DT at the start of Section 4

SMALL GROUPS will be formed by the facilitator once a topic or topics have been agreed upon in the larger group, and the facilitator will highlight the three main questions below to guide the breakouts:

Question                                                                                                       Facilitator Guide

10. What is the specific change/outcome you hope to achieve in regards to your concern? (ie. goals) What are the different formal and/or informal political channels available to you for contributing to this outcome? Who (locally, provincially, nationally, etc.) needs to be involved to help you get closer to your goal? (ie. your stakeholders) As an additional discussion/facilitation tool, the facilitator may propose breaking down the groups’ brainstorm into the following “steps”( see “Making your Move” handout):

  • Identify your issue
  • Define your goal
  • Your stakeholders
  • Action steps
  • Project name
These three questions will be made visible on a white board or flipchart to serve as a guide for their brainstorm. Participants are encouraged to use the markers and pads of paper to map out their ideas.

Section 5 – Debrief and Conclusion (15 minutes)

Reconvened into the larger group, participants will be asked share their action plans and discuss what worked and what didn’t. Then, the facilitator will invite participants to join the Citizens’ Panel and ask them to complete the post-discussion questionnaire or, if they completed the pre-discussion questionnaire in session, notify participants that a follow-up questionnaire will be sent by email.

11. In making this plan, what were the main challenges? What were the rewards? Is this plan something you will pursue when you leave this discussion group? Why or why not?
Appointed group member to share plan.
12. Based on today’s discussion and workshop, in just a few words, what is a change you’d like to see happen in the next five years that would make democracy in Canada stronger? Write list of answers.
13. Samara would like to invite you to join our Citizens‟ Panel, a network of past DT participants who wish to stay involved with the project by engaging in follow-up discussions, sharing feedback on the project’s findings and connecting with other participants across the country. This will not necessarily relate to the community-specific issue addressed in the workshop but the broader goal of increasing engagement. Direct participants to sign-up sheet on table.
14. What did you like best about today’s discussion? What did you learn? Any questions? Distribute follow-up questionnaires to participants and collect before thanking and saying goodbye to participants.



This section will explore how the political system can be used to address issues of concern to Canadians. How can you be a part of a solution, and who do you need to help you? By making a plan, you and your teammates will be able to identify some of the political and non-political options available.

Democracy Talks location: _______________________ Date: __________________________

Team Members: ______________________________________________________________


Identify your issue. What’s the problem you’re concerned about? Try to capture this in a single sentence, keeping in mind a few key questions: What causes the problem? What are its effects on the community? What do people affected by the problem want done?


In one sentence, write a specific and achievable goal relating to the issue at hand.


Who needs to be involved in your action and how will you reach them? Eg. School board trustee, MP, business leader, local non-profit organization, neighbours. Write the names or people or organizations in your community that could help you, and ideas for how to contact them.


What are some of the steps you can take towards your goal, and who will execute them? Eg. Jill will organize a petition, Harish will go door-to-door, Jasmine will be the spokesperson. Write down the different steps of your action plan, explaining how it will work. Then, write down who in your group will be responsible for what task.


Invent a name for your project that captures the issue and/or goal you’re working toward.



  • Representative democracy in Canada is —
  • Open/Transparent
  • Accountable
  • Representative of its citizens
  • Efficient
  • Fair
  • Inclusive of all citizens
  • Comprehensible/Understandable
  • Accessible
  • Participatory/Citizens are able to take part
  • Relevant
  • Equal



This form is to be used as a guide for Democracy Talks facilitators and note-takers to capture key take-aways and lessons from the discussion group. Partners are asked to share these findings with Samara using any combination of typed notes, photos of notes and words written on flipcharts, audio recordings and even video clips. Get creative! Please email these materials to [name provided on original PDF form available at ]

  • Democracy Talks location:
  • Facilitator:
  • Community partner:
  • Date:


  •  What were people’s reasons for attending Democracy Talks?
  •  What did they hope to get out of participating?


  •  How did participants describe active citizenship and/or their role as active citizens?
  •  What were some of the issues of concern participants described?
  •  How had participants responded to those concerns, if at all?
  •  Did they see a role for government in helping them address those concerns?


Please collect participants‟ completed words list handout and send them to Samara.

  •  What did they choose as their #1 attribute and what were the reasons for their choice?
  •  What were the trends and/or tensions between participants‟ choice of words?
  •  How did they describe their role in an ideal democracy?


  •  How did participants respond to questions posed by community partners?
  •  What were the barriers and opportunities identified in the conversation?


For this section, please submit the completed “Making your move” handouts or copies of the groups‟ worksheets to Samara.

  • What were the concerns identified?
  • What changes did people want to see?
  • What kinds of activities did they identify as necessary for achieving their goals?
  • What were the barriers and/or opportunities participants identified in the process?


Please submit the completed post-DT questionnaires to Samara.

  •  What did participants say about the discussion?
  •  What were the main challenges cited? What were the rewards?
  •  General feedback/reactions to the DT session?

FAIR USE NOTICE – Click on above tab for details


This entry was posted on June 10, 2014 by in NGO counterpower, toolkits for activists and tagged , , .
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