Greenest City Conversations seeks to reach Vancouver residents through six channels of engagement.

Greenest City Conversations Project (GCC) Research Channels

Each GCC research channel’s timeline and progress varies and is contingent on the specific characteristics of its research program.  Channels were selected from a combination of existing City of Vancouver engagement mechanisms, and mechanisms developed by the research team.  The channels cover a wide range of media and process types, all of which focus on various tools and methods of social mobilization. Each channel includes links to other forms of engagement and participation and to opportunities to learn and discuss the policies related to the GC2020 initiative, creating a multi-channel network of engagement.

Workshop Channel

Academic Lead: Dr. Stephen Sheppard, Collaborative for Advanced Landscape Planning (CALP), UBC

Channel Researchers: Jonathan Salter, PhD Candidate, (CALP), UBC; Ellen Pond, MLA, Research Scientist, (CALP), UBC

Channel Description: The workshop channel engages with Vancouver citizens around community energy planning, which is directly tied to three GC2020 goals: Climate Leadership (33% reduction in GHGs from 2007 levels), Green Buildings (new buildings carbon neutral, 20% efficiency improvement in existing stock), and Green Mobility (50% of trips by foot, bicycle or public transit). Using community energy (CE) as a cohesive frame, the broad goal for the workshops is to increase citizen engagement and knowledge, and explore shared sustainability values around community energy and GHGs, leading to more robust, collective implementation solutions for the complex sustainability challenges the City is addressing. Tools within the workshops include: spatial planning/mapping, scenarios, neighbourhood energy modeling, 3D visualizations, and information design. The CE workshops are designed to facilitate the co-production of knowledge across energy experts and community members. Workshop participants should gain a deeper understanding of the functioning of community energy as a system at neighbourhood and community scales, community energy opportunities, institutional and behavioural barriers to implementation.

Workshop development relies on a framework of key concepts:

• Using systems-thinking as a basis for building a shared understanding of community energy, and the linkages to the Greenest City goals

• Focusing on collective, rather than individual, action

• Explicitly incorporating values, not only technical data, into workshop design

• Using an interactive, deliberative process to develop a shared learning workshop.

UBC researchers in this channel will evaluate the effectiveness of the participatory workshops by mapping participant mental models about community energy. The effect of the workshop design process on the experts involved will also be evaluated using a mental models method. It is anticipated that each workshop will involve approximately 30-40 participants, with 2 pilot workshops and 3 CoV workshops for a total of 200 participants. Workshop materials will be provided to the City of Vancouver and other Advisory Panel members for on-going GC2020 Phase III work after UBC project completion.


Social Media Channel

Academic Lead: Dr. Lyn Bartram, School of Interactive Arts & Technology, SFU; Dr. John Robinson, Institute for Resources, Environment & Sustainability, UBC

Graduate Student Researchers: Susanna Haas-Lyons, MA Candidate, Institute for Resources, Environment & Sustainability, UBC; Karen Fung, MA Candidate, School of Community and Regional Planning

Channel Description: Social Media (Facebook, YouTube etc.) provides multiple contexts for information delivery and discussion. In the context of GCCP, social media provides a web of connectivity between other channels, helping to create traffic between channels and deepen the degree of engagement. Two key activities of this channel are (a) hosting a public engagement event within a social networking space, and, (b) tracking user-generated social media about GCCP engagement activities across face to face events and online engagement channels.  The social media public engagement project relates to three GC2020 targets (over 50% of all trips will be made on foot, bike or transit, residents will drive 20% less than in 2007, reduce community-based greenhouse gas emissions by 33% from 2007 levels) and to the upcoming Transportation Plan Update.

Almost one million people in the Vancouver area are on Facebook, making this an important location for public engagement. Over five weeks, participants will convene in Facebook for (a) small group private discussions, followed by (b) a period of public sharing and voting for the best ideas that emerged from these discussions.  This project draws on best practices in public engagement to convene a diverse group of Vancouverites in an online moderated discussion about challenging aspects of the Transportation Plan update.


Mobile Applications Channel (Mobile Muse)

Academic Lead: David Vogt, External Programs & Learning Technologies, UBC

Graduate Student Researcher: Jean Hebert, PhD Candidate, School of Communication, SFU

Channel Description: This research channel explores the development and use of mobile applications to facilitate youth-driven crowd-sourcing of sustainable behaviours via mobile-social networks.   GCC researchers in this channel explore experiential design and develop expertise in creating applications that activate an accountable digital conversation between the general public and BC Hydro, while also facilitating the meaningful involvement of sustainability stakeholders at the City.   To amplify the potential of this public engagement channel, the GCC has partnered with the Mobile Muse Network, which since 2004, has been a dynamic pioneer of mobile public engagement technologies, platforms and applications using Vancouver as a ‘living lab.’  Researchers in this channel continue to work with Mobile Muse to develop mobile applications that engage the public as an engine for change via participative, accountable, community-embedded sustainability activities.  The active, willing participation of the public in these mobile applications will generate the data required for the mobile channel to fulfill its obligations to the GCC research program and project partners, including PICS, the City of Vancouver and BC Hydro.  The mobile channel will also provide a digital interactive enhancement to the City’s GC2020 hosted public events. Research results and analysis will offer clear guidance of how the City might best utilize mobile digital media in future public engagement campaigns.

This research channel is working to develop and design (in consultation with the CoV, software engineers and the public at large) a location-based mobile application that reflexively generates self- and community- awareness of environmental impact (whether on transportation, energy consumption, or another dimension/goal chosen by the application design group, ideally in direct consultation with the City).  Apart from our research activities, researchers also continue to track data on the CoV’s “talkgreentous/greenestcity” text message advertising campaign, but we are uncertain about the CoV intentions with this service (and growing database). Since August 2010 researchers in this channel have generated an extensive list of mobile phone users who have signed up for updates using this service.


Tabletop Game Channel – Futura: The Sustainable Futures Game

Academic Lead: Dr. Alissa N. Antle, Interactive Arts & Technology, SFU

Graduate student researcher: Josh Tanenbaum, PhD Candidate, Interactive Arts & Technology, SFU

Channel Description: This channel involves the design and evaluation of a digital tabletop platform and a sustainability game application that will be studied in both lab and field settings.  The field settings include public venues such as Science World; Vancouver Aquarium, and/or the Museum of Anthropology. The Futura tabletop game includes themes of housing, food production and energy production.

Progress to Date: The first and second phases of the research are complete. The methodology for the first and second phases followed a pragmatic design based research approach that contributed to the creation of an effective research instrument in terms of exploring and identifying how to design Futura to optimize the affordances of this channel. The first phase involved observational and survey field studies with Futura to explore and validate the initial design. The recently completed second phase involved a design study of the next iteration of the Futura tabletop game. This design study focused on determining if and how a visualization tool (in different interaction forms: physical and digital) enabled the kinds of interactions which supported engagement, participation and collaboration. Data collection included open and closed interview questions and structured observations. Our findings provided feedback on the visualization design and showed that the affordances of a physical tool support gestures and verbalizations around tool use, and contribute to collaboration better than to a screen based tool.

Timeline: Next major milestones include: Methods pilot lab study (June 2011); Acquisition of an MS Surface tabletop (Sept 2011); Port game to new hardware in preparation for field studies (November 2011); Field study (January 2012)


Performing Arts Channel

Academic Lead: Dr. John Robinson, Institute for Resources, Environment & Sustainability, UBC

Graduate Student Researcher: David Maggs, PhD Candidate, Institute for Resources, Environment & Sustainability, UBC

Channel Description: The Performance Art Channel will be developing and delivering 4 separate art events for the City of Vancouver in 2011– 2012. In most cases these events partner with some of the most prominent artists and organizations in the country. They are as follows:

  1. Order of Canada Recipient and one of this country’s most decorated poets, Don McKay will be developing a series of works within the GCCP that will be presented as a special event at the Vancouver International Festival of Writers and Readers in October of 2011. This event will be a co-production between the GCCP and the Writers Fest and may be slated for more than one presentation.
  2. Heralded as a leading company in the Vancouver theatre scene, “Electric Company has created a dozen original productions, toured eight times (Canada, USA, Scotland), wrote and directed a feature film for CBC and Screen Siren Pictures, and won the first Alcan Performing Arts Award for Theatre in 2001 in addition to multiple Jessie Awards.” The Electric Company will be preparing an original work in collaboration with the GCCP and the Vancouver Planetarium. It will run in January of 2012.
  3. Head of Vancouver New Music, and one of the more innovative composers known for bridging digital and acoustic music, Italian composer Giorgio Magnanensi will be developing a musical work for the GCCP that will be performed by a group TBA. It has been scheduled for the 2012 Season of the Vancouver Symphony (April) but there remains some doubt as to whether this is the appropriate ensemble for this work.
  4. Bing Tom Architect and accomplished visual artist Derek Kaplan will be developing an “immersive installation” that will be presented at a venue TBA during the winter of 2012. This project has yet to find a home and requires a space approximately 30′ x 30′ with relative control over sound (ie not a noisy thoroughfare) and light.

Progress to date: David Maggs is currently working with the artists on venue selection and event scheduling.  In addition, David conducted the first round of interviews for this research in early summer 2011.

Match with Greenest City Focus: The Performing Arts Channel includes elements that correspond to several of the GC2020 goals but does not address them explicitly.   Rather, this research agenda seeks a symbiosis between art and environmental agendas by borrowing from the deliberative, emergent and participatory approaches increasingly applied to sustainability challenges and exploring them within artistic practices.



Academic Lead: Dr. John Robinson, Institute for Resources, Environment & Sustainability, UBC

Graduate Student Researchers: Roy Bendor, PhD Candidate, School of Communication, SFU; Karen Fung, MA Student, SCARP, UBC; Nick Sinkewicz, MA Student, CALP, UBC; 1 unnamed intern to be hired late 2011 for early 2012 engagement activities

Channel Description: GCC’s newest research channel, MetroQuest (MQ-V) is an innovative, digital decision-support tool that can be used “to educate and communicate the long-term impacts of the various policy choices to non-expert audiences, leaving them with a sense of ownership over the result” ( It generates alternative urban planning scenarios based on user choices, allowing users to dynamically evaluate the future consequences of their choices by comparing results and iteratively adjusting priorities. While the main driver for MQ-V is the transportation plan, scenarios also include elements from land-use and energy planning. User priorities and indicators reflect several of the Greenest City Goals including the reduction of GHG (“climate change leadership”), support for green buildings and green mobility, and the promotion of a “lighter footprint”.

As currently planned, MQ-V will be deployed on several platforms and in various settings, as follows:

  • 4-5 facilitated and interactive workshops for 200-250 participants each
  • 1-2 interactive kiosks expected to engage 10,000-20,000 users
  • Website application expected to engage 3,500-5,000 unique visitors
  • Personally facilitated iPad kiosks expected to engage 120-1,000 participants

The research goal of this channel is to evaluate the effectiveness and impacts of using MQ-V by observing, surveying and later interviewing users. Effectiveness in this particular context will be understood as (1) the capacity to affect user attitudes towards sustainability in general and the City’s suggested paths for growth in particular; (2) the capacity to provide users with a better understanding of the kind of decisions and tradeoffs involved in making Vancouver “the greenest city in the world” (in terms of land-use, energy and transportation); (3) providing users with a pleasurable interactive experience. Sponsorship for research in this channel was obtained from the City of Vancouver, Envision, and MITACS.

Progress to date: After a series of design workshops involving City representatives from planning, transportation and energy departments, MQ-V had its first workshop with City employees and stakeholders at the end of May.  The remainder of the workshops and Ipad engagement activities will take place in early 2012.  Research ethics were approved at both UBC and SFU for this public engagement channel in May 2011.





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