SSHRC - Imagining Canada's Future - Approach

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Southern Ontario Panel on Urbanization

"Foresight is arguably the 'only plausible response' when it comes to resolving conflicts over priority-setting…. Foresight provides…a systematic mechanism for coping with complexity and interdependence as it affects long term decisions on research, in particular facilitating policy-making where integration of activities across several fields is vital.” (Martin & Irvine, 1989, 3)


The project partnership for Southern Ontario was led by:

  • OCAD University  (lead partner)
  • Ryerson University
  • UOIT - University of Ontario Institute of Technology
  • University of Windsor
  • York University

Three-part Investigation

The OCAD U-led project centred on an Expert Panel structured as a Dialogic Design (DD) Co-Laboratory to gather primary data, together with an Online Survey, a Public Workshop, and documentation of these activities on the Web.

Expert Panel

The primary event, an invited Expert Panel, was a day-long foresight workshop with 18 participants. Panellists were selected for depth in a category, cross-panel diversity, and regional base from Windsor through Toronto to Oshawa.

In Dialogic Design (DD), recruiting is governed by the systems principle, requisite variety (Ashby, 1958). In DD, panellists must be informed in the focus of inquiry, bring a variety of knowledge, demonstrate commitment to express insight on a broad array of issues, and be “stakeholders,” meeting the test of “Five I’s”: intelligence, impact, implementation, interest, and involvement. Panellists were proposed, prioritized and selected over 8 weeks by the full project partnership, considering criteria including:

  • STEEP/CI: Social, Technological, Ecological, Economic, Political, Cultural/Intellectual
  • Five I's: intelligence, impact, implementation, interest, and involvement
  • Sector: public, academic, not-for-profit, private, for benefit
  • Students
  • Aboriginal/First Nations/Metis
  • Gender, ethnicity, age, ability, and socio-economic status

In early planning we chose the global and regional condition of increasing urbanization as a “lens” for our effort. Focusing on urbanization as a key regional and global driver of change, our research question (DD calls it the ‘Triggering Question’) was:

“In the face of increasing urbanization worldwide, what future challenges
do we anticipate for Southern Ontario, now through 2030?”


An online Survey of panellists and observers (24 in total: 18 Expert Panellists + workshop observers) was conducted to correlate workshop findings, gather references, and identify outlier challenges.

Public Workshop: Design with Dialogue

In addition we held an open, Public Workshop at OCAD University on September 12 as part of the series, Design with Dialogue (DwD).  DwD events have a dedicated mailing list of 525 Ontario former participants, and typically draw a Toronto-based crowd.

Here 25 creative professionals, graduate students and academics were engaged using variations of Dialogic Design methods. The Public Workshop was facilitated by Dr. Peter Jones and Uma Maharaj with 2 graphic recorders. This workshop shared the findings from the Expert Panel and used the same triggering question in a session that replicated and enhanced the dialogic methods employed in the morning phase of the original panel. A distinct difference was the preparation of visual scenarios by small groups, as documented in the Design with Dialogue site. The 3-hour Public Workshop employed the focus question: “As Southern Ontario faces the effects of global urbanization, what are the highest priority social and systemic challenges, now through 2030?”