Engage Nova Scotia surveys show solutions will come from ordinary Bluenosers

Engage N.S.'s Danny Graham sees a groundswell that could change the province for the better

This is the final part of a five-week series between CBC's Mainstreet and Engage Nova Scotia, which will feature highlights of what Engage Nova Scotia heard when it asked 1,000 Nova Scotians about their attitudes to the province, its challenges and our openness to change.

The following is written by Danny Graham, the chief engagement officer of Engage Nova Scotia:

"Culture eats strategy for breakfast," goes a famous quotation attributed to the late business management guru Peter Drucker.

As Nova Scotians, we often hear self-defining — and sometimes self-defeating — sayings about our culture, like: "Everybody wants change, but nobody wants to change themselves."

At Engage Nova Scotia, we set about exploring whether some of these often repeated statements are accurate by polling 1,000 Nova Scotians about their beliefs. Some of what we learned surprised us:

Understanding the nuances about what we generally value and think should ground the strategies we create for change — whether economic, social or environmental.

For over 100 years, smaller groups of well-intentioned leaders have been fretting about our prospects by writing lengthy reports, passing detailed legislation and funding big opportunities — often with disappointing results.

Today, for the first time in my life, we see a groundswell of non-experts taking action to secure a better future — and not waiting to be told what to do by these leaders. This gives me real hope that we will break through whatever has held us back.

Community leaders, municipal officials, business associations, volunteers, not-for-profit organizations, the private sector and institutions are gathering in school cafeterias, fire halls and hub locations in the hopes that, together, they can find the answers to our most difficult issues.

If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. - African proverb

For two years, Now Lunenburg County has been bringing together hundreds of enthusiastic volunteers in an attempt to take action on the economic and demographic challenges facing that region of the province. Engage Inverness County, Cumberland Community Life, Pictou 2020, Engage Colchester-Truro, just to name a few citizen-led organizations, are sprouting up across the province with similar goals and a common passion.

We recently co-hosted, with the Town of Amherst, community workshops involving hundreds of Amherstonians wanting to tackle the challenges and opportunities facing that part of the province. Through these events, the residents identified six areas for action:

  • growing businesses 
  • retaining youth
  • increasing tourism
  • revitalizing the downtown
  • improving trails and recreation
  • building an age-friendly community

Each area now has a committed group of volunteers, with leaders designated to develop action plans for each topic.

When Nova Scotians have been at their best, we have worked together, across sectors and interests, in initiatives like The Antigonish Movement. Fundamentally, that undertaking was about realigning the relationship between those with authority and those without it.

Sharing authority is never easy. It takes faith in people. It takes trust in the wisdom of others. It takes a patient belief that, as the African proverb says, "If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together."

We asked Nova Scotians which group is most credible to lead change. As the graph below suggests, Nova Scotians believe that nobody can do it alone and our best chances come from all sectors working together.


Engage Nova Scotia's graph illustrates how we want to see change come.


Many smart people and well-intentioned governments have tried to "fix" our problems. It is time to get it right. This will only happen if we support those who are finding new ways to work across sectors.

As municipal leaders for the Town of Amherst recently modelled, leading change does not belong to government alone, nor should it be downloaded to citizens without support. It requires practical assessments about how a "coalition of the willing" can work together more effectively to build the vibrant, inclusive and resilient province we know is possible.

This is the final instalment in a five-part series between CBC'sMainstreet and Engage Nova Scotia about the opinions of Nova Scotians toward Nova Scotia. Please join Mainstreet and Engage Nova Scotia when we take these questions to community conversations in Digby, Sydney, Halifax and Pictou in the coming weeks.

Danny Graham is the chief engagement officer of Engage Nova Scotia, an unaffiliated, province-wide charitable organization that is working to cultivate engagement, catalyze change and support the emergence of a new Nova Scotia narrative.

Engage aspires to a future in which we better understand ourselves and our situation; we are more collaborative, inclusive and embracing of change; and where more people are stepping up with greater ability to improve our shared quality of life.

This article was originally posted on cbc.ca/news/ on May 9, 2016. Reposted with permission.


get updates