The Community Knowledge Exchange is Born in Toronto

Each of us has a part to play in building a better future. Credit: Lambton College Digital Photography
Each of us has a part to play in building a better future. Credit: Lambton College Digital Photography

Toronto’s inaugural Community Knowledge Exchange summit dug up some unexpected perspectives on how to cultivate collective action and achieve social good.

By Caitlin Boros, MPC 2014

Entering the Community Knowledge Exchange (CKX) summit, each attendee was handed a “passport” to complete throughout the inaugural two-day conference at the TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto. I flipped through the bright pink pages and came across three statements to guide self-reflection during the event:

  1. Share what you’ve got
  2. Stop waiting for perfection
  3. Have the courage to follow someone else’s lead

While the first of these seemed to be straightforward, the other two struck me as problematic in conjunction with the theme of the summit: community knowledge sharing for social good. How could imperfection and not assuming a leadership role foster the kind of proactive approach needed to achieve social good? However, after each session, the significance of these tenets became clear.

Share what you’ve got

One of the primary themes of the summit was the idea of collective action, where multiple players join together, combining resources and talents to create real change. This sounds great in theory, but in speaking with fellow attendees many of us questioned exactly what we and our organizations could bring to the table to effect real change on large social issues.

The first keynote speaker, Joeri van den Steenhoven, Director of the MaRS Solutions Lab, asked: “How do we make new solutions the new standard?” This got us all thinking. Perhaps the small pieces each of us had to offer, no matter how seemingly inconsequential, could actually contribute to new and lasting solutions through collective action.

Joeri van den Steenhoven keynote.” Credit Lambton College Digital Photography
Joeri van den Steenhoven keynote. Credit: Lambton College Digital Photography

Stop waiting for perfection

For anyone working within an established organizational structure, this phrase seems almost comical. Through series’ of revisions, approvals, tweaks and re-dos, perfection seems to be an ideal that many organizations are beholden to.

In a session titled “Beyond the Ivory Tower and Into the Streets,” Susan Edey from Concordia University introduced Street Café, a forum for public conversation. The common question was how these conversations – mainly about issues affecting the local community – were being translated into effective action. Over and over again, Edey shared the same answer: the purpose of a public conversation was simply that, to have a conversation. It wasn’t a perfect solution, but at the very least it started a dialog. Perhaps that dialog would lead to something more, or perhaps it wouldn’t.

Edey encouraged everyone to get comfortable with this idea, because perfection should not be the goal.

Don Tapscott keynote. Credit: Lambton College Digital Photography
Don Tapscott keynote. Credit: Lambton College Digital Photography

Have the courage to follow someone else’s lead

Many at the summit identified as leaders in their organization, so this final tenet was the most challenging for a large majority of attendees.

In “The City as Platform: Opening Up the City for Prosperity, Sustainability and Well-Being,” Dan Tapscott shared with the audience his ideas for using data transparency to re-shape cities in a way that would promote social good.

Using Toronto as his example, he argued that in opening up data, citizens would be more engaged, businesses would be more profitable, transportation would be less congested, and government would be more effective. He identified the city as a platform to be built upon with collective and open knowledge, as opposed to a static, isolated system benefitting few.

Tapscott ended his presentation with this challenge: “The future is not something to be predicted, it’s something to be achieved.” Tapscott’s presentation was met with a standing ovation and that sensation of witnessing something great.

It seemed an audience of leaders had been persuaded to take an alternative perspective: When wisdom presents itself in another person, challenge yourself to courageously follow.