Interviews

Camping, TVO Style

TVO's AgendaCamp is coming to Hamilton. TVO producer Michael Lehan explains how AgendaCamp works and what Hamiltonians an expect.

By Kevin Somers
Published March 22, 2011

Voter apathy, of course, goes beyond poor turnout on Election Day. In an effort to better engage Ontarians in the entire governmental process, TVO is hosting a series of AgendaCamps around the province. There's one in Hamilton this weekend.

AgendaCamp is an interesting concept designed to allow anyone to participate more vigorously in setting priorities at Queen's Park.

As a bonus, two participants from the AgendaCamp will join on-air discussions on The Agenda with Steve Paikin, the next night.

Interview

In an email interview, Michael Lehan, a producer at TVO.org and Civics 101, discussed the event.

Kevin Somers, Raise the Hammer (RTH): What is AgendaCamp?

Michael Lehan, TVO: It's a day-long public workshop centered around discussing issues affecting citizens - issues they think should be the center of debate during the provincial elections in October. It's a bit difficult getting people to think about an election this far in advance, but it's easy getting them to discuss what's affecting them now.

Energy, Social Services, and (surprisingly) Electoral Reform were the big issues discussed in Ottawa. It'll be interesting to compare that to Hamilton's priorities.

The AgendaCamps, Ontario Politics and the election are all being covered at this site.

We've also set up a wiki for participants to post information about the issues they've discussed - an aggregation of facts, data and a summary of what was discussed at the camp.http://wiki.theagenda.tvo.org/

RTH: What is an AgendaCamp like?

TVO: We always struggle to describe the AgendaCamps; it's such a unique event. When planning we throw around jargon like 'un-conference' and 'public workshop' but none of that really explains what's happening.

It's basically a group of concerned Ontario residents and citizens getting together to discuss the issues that affect them in a loosely moderated format.

This year our focus is on issues that should debated ahead of the Provincial Elections this fall (October 6, mark your calendars!). By forming a list of questions that every political candidate should answer, we're aiming to build a 'Citizens' Agenda' for the fall vote.

Participation starts before the camp. We've created a Wiki site where anyone can offer questions or propose topics they think should be discussed at the camp.

The format is really cool. It's based loosely on the World Cafe format of conference. It was developed by the AgendaCamp moderator, Mark Kuznicki. He's great at keeping the debate going.

The day starts with every participant writing a question that they want answered on a large sticky. They post those stickies on a giant board at the front of the hall, and the TVO staff organizes them into groups.

The participants break off and discuss the issue over several sessions. At the end of each session, they summarize the results on camera.

Everyone has the opportunity to visit other tables and listen.

At then end of the day, each group decides on a final, focused question. In Ottawa, Steve Paikin gave a informative presentation on what a good question entails.

Each group presents the question to the entire camp and posts it on the whiteboard that started the day.

The final act is something called dotmocracy - we give everyone five little red dots they can stick on each question. Based on those dots we determine which issues were considered the most important of the day.

The results of the day are carried on both on The Agenda and online. The Agenda does a show the following night based around the topics discussed at the Camp.

The online portion is great fun and interactive, too. Each issue has a discussion page on the wiki - we've posted all the video presentations from the Camp there - and anyone can add information or debate the issues discussed at the camp.

Everything that's produced ends up at Yourvote2011.ca where we're blogging, posting video, polls and hosting live chats between the Camps.

RTH: What about registration and participation?

TVO: It's definitely not too late to register! Everything you need to know about registering is at this page.

AgendaCamp Hamilton takes place on Sunday March 27 at McMaster Innovation Park, 175 Longwood Road South, Hamilton, ON, L8P 0A1.

And The Agenda on the Road' broadcast in Hamilton on Monday, March 28th at Liuna Station, 360 James N, Hamilton, ON, L8L 1H7.

RTH: What has been the reaction / response from the other camps?

TVO: We had a really great turnout in Ottawa. It's a politics-focused town, of course, so people were informed and prepared.

Hamilton has equally engaged citizens and probably a different perspective on what their priorities are. I would like to see some competition between the AgendaCamp cities. Why should one region in this province set the agenda for debate this fall?

The results from Ottawa were interesting. The three biggest issues identified by the Campers were Energy, Electoral Reform and Social Services.

I'm not surprised by Energy. It's a pocketbook issue, and we're all feeling the pinch right now. I have no doubt the major players in the election will be climbing over each other to appease taxpayers over this.

But, I was pleasantly surprised to see social services so highly rated. There was a real concern in Ottawa over the signs of rising poverty, the lack of available jobs, and the poor access to health and education services at-risk people have in their communities.

If I was surprised by social services, I was flabbergasted to see Electoral Reform so hotly debated. I hadn't given it much though since the referendum in 2007. As important as it was, I guessed there was no interest in revisiting that failed movement. But, I was happy to see it. I'm not entirely certain the population understands how our 'First Past the Post' system affects their representation at Queen's Park. Especially urban dwellers whose vote is diluted in more populated ridings.

Here's a blog post I wrote responding to the AgendaCamp Ottawa debate.

RTH: What are your objectives for AgendaCamp?

TVO: Political parties have their own agendas, most of which are centered on getting elected. Often, unimportant issues that serve to discredit their competition are given more attention while bigger issues are ignored.

Representative government should always be focused on the best interests of the population, especially during election periods. By arming residents (not only citizens, there are hundreds of thousand of adults in this province who are unable to vote, but are affected by the outcomes of elections and government policy) with facts, information, and a forum to voice their opinions, I hope we manage to force politicians to be accountable for their actions and promises.

That, I think represents the essence of the public broadcasting mandate.

RTH: Is this important to you, personally?

TVO: I guess this connects to my hopes and objectives.

Too much election and politics coverage is focused on the politicking - investigating how we're governed is far more important in our lives.

Not enough attention is given to provincial politics. I guess our national identity is wrapped up in the character of our federal government, and our municipal politics (especially in Toronto) seem immanent and personality driven.

But day-to-day our lives are far more affected by the governance, bureaucracy and policies of the provincial government. Queen's Park is responsible for our schools, our public health, our hospitals, our roads, our welfare services and our energy. These are the services we use daily, what we depend on. It's no surprise then that the bulk of our taxes go to paying for theses services. Even municipally, any large public works project happens with provincial money.

We have an intimate relationship with the provincial services, but are really distanced from the political process, and largely ignorant of how our provincial government operates. The media absolutely obsesses over provincial issues, but barely covers the debate at Queen's Park.

RTH: Tell us about you and TVO and The Agenda, hosted by Hamilton's own Steve Paikin.

TVO: I should note, I'm a producer for TVO.org, not The Agenda. I produce content that falls under the Civics category for the website. This includes the AgendaCamp events.

My day-to-day interaction with Steve Paikin is limited, but we work in the same newsroom floor as the Agenda team and are frequently involved in their production. Especially at AgendaCamps, where our paths cross most often.

This is my honest take on Steve based on that interaction:

Steve is a consummate professional. It's his attention to detail that impresses me. He misses nothing in both his daily professional interactions and when he's on air. When a guest on The Agenda doesn't answer a question, Steve catches it, and takes them to task. As a viewer, I love those moments.

I'm a newcomer to the TVO team, but not new to public broadcasting. I graduated from the Ryerson graduate journalism program in 2007. Following that I worked at CBC News Online and at Zoomer Media (Classical 96.3, Vision, IdeaCity etc.)

Not tied to the expectations of following popular TV trends (Reality TV) or advertising, TVO has a great mandate. Discussions about creating content here don't start with a bottom line, but about what information Ontarians ought to know, and how we think we can best deliver it. It's great not being tied to one format either, the seamless blending of interactive web and video content allows us to experiment with new ways of delivering that information.

I think that's partly why there's a really positive atmosphere here, it's part civic duty and part freedom to explore. I like being responsible to the residents of Ontario first and foremost.

RTH: Thanks, Michael. Awesome.

Kevin Somers is a Hamilton writer.

4 Comments

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted March 22, 2011 at 10:18:47

I'm not entirely certain the population understands how our 'First Past the Post' system affects their representation at Queen's Park.

If there was any question about how well the general public understands our parliamentary electoral system, it was put to rest during the winter 2008 federal prorogation fiasco.

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By Mr. Meister (anonymous) | Posted March 22, 2011 at 14:27:12 in reply to Comment 61322

I believe that the vast majority of Canadians understand the political process quite well, about 95% of the time. It is only when we have oddball situations that the ordinary Joe gets confused. This is not unique to Canada by any means.

Strictly speaking our American neighbours do not directly vote for a president the same way they vote for a congressman or senator. They in fact vote for their states electoral college which in turn votes for President. That is why you will see much coverage about how many votes any particular state has. Most of the time everything goes as anticipated and the expected canditate gets elected but at least once the opposite happened. If I remember correctly in one election the winning president actually recieved less of the overall votes than the loser he just happened to win the important states with enough electoral college votes.

The first past the post system is not perfect but it is pretty easy to understand and it works well in most situations. Other systems are more complicated are even more easily misunderstood.

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By Borrelli (registered) | Posted March 22, 2011 at 12:31:33

Nice interview, Kevin. Megan and I will both be attending the AgendaCamp on Sunday, and look forward to it. The biggest issue not only for the next election, but for the many years ahead, is how to deal with competing intergenerational goals in this province.

As Ontario is responsible for Health AND Education, how do we maintain a fair expenditure of resources on the two issues when, the way I see it, they are in direct competition? Aging boomers are going to do everything in their power to prolong their already charmed, rich lives, and Ontario's youth are going to be fighting to make sure that rising health care costs don't come at the expense of investing in the future.

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By hammertime (registered) | Posted March 22, 2011 at 16:43:25

Ryan your out of touch, everyone understood quit well what they were voting for in 2008. The better system won and the reason we have a minority gov. which is the only way the conservatives can do well. Can you imagine the BS they would have shoved down our throats if they had a majority.. Lets hope that never happens..

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