An online decision-facilitation service is helping stakeholders in South Surrey and White Rock gain greater insight into making the community more “caring, resilient and connected.”
A June 25 meeting at Rotary Field House, sponsored by Surrey-White Rock MLA Gordon Hogg, was the first step in a significant local trial of the methodology of Ethelo Decisions, an organization that uses a computer algorithm to reflect diverse input on complex issues.
The service was offered pro-bono to the community by Ethelo to demonstrate the effectiveness of the model, invented by John Richardson, a mathematician and lawyer who founded the Pivot Legal Society, one of Canada’s leading human-rights organizations.
It’s proven effective in mediating conflicts, Richardson and fellow Ethelo principal Kathryn Thomson say, because the algorithm helps identify and define areas of potential consensus and innovation, leading to fairer, more balanced decision-making.
Hogg said he wanted to make sure the South Surrey meeting – first in what he sees as an ongoing series of in-person and online encounters aimed at fostering connections and encouraging initiatives to make the community a better place to live – was a good fit by inviting service recipients as well as recognized movers and shakers.
“I wanted to make it as apolitical as we could,” he said, noting the invitation list included such local social activists as Susan Keeping and Don Pitcairn (who each challenged Hogg in last year’s provincial election), as well as elected officials such as White Rock Mayor Wayne Baldwin and Coun. Helen Fathers, Surrey Coun. Judy Villeneuve and longtime Surrey school trustee Laurae McNally.
The meeting, attended by some 47 stakeholders, represented all age groups, from youth to seniors, Hogg said, noting that attendees split into subgroups to discuss and identify key issues of importance.
“There were some pretty robust discussions,” he said, concluding that the first step of the process seemed to have been successful.
“As people were leaving, more than half came to me and said that they appreciated the approach. One gentleman told me he was going to rethink what being in a community means.”
Rather than approaching issues with a specific agenda or set of assumptions, Hogg said he wanted to challenge participants to take a more fundamental approach based on a core set of values.
“How do we take care of each other?” Hogg asked. “How do we look after each other? How do we look at people not for the defects we have, but the gifts we all bring?”
Participants will continue to be contacted and the plan is to have another full meeting in the fall to discuss what the logarithm suggests about input received, he said.
“There are a lot of options that could be explored, whether they are options for government to respond to or whether they’re initiatives that people themselves can take,” the MLA said. “Research has shown that people who feel safer in their homes are those who know more of their neighbors’ names – maybe holding more block parties would be something that could be looked at.”
Hogg said that when Metro Vancouver conducted a study of issues that residents felt were most important, it was anticipated that the frontrunners would be poverty and homelessness.
“Instead, the biggest issues were people feeling isolated and alone – how do you get people engaged?”