The Collaborative Engagement Canvas

Bryce Colenbrander
2 min readMay 24, 2017

At PubliVate, we regularly work with clients that have ambitions to more effectively engage broad groups of stakeholders. These clients are often from the public service, and are subject to extremely complex environments with interdependencies and competing priorities that are difficult to fully capture and design around.

The opportunity to thoroughly engage citizens and stakeholders in planning and decision making (i.e.- Open Dialogue) is massive, and is one of the key concepts of the Canadian government’s approach to Open Government (for good reason). But, intentions aside, planning any specific, and meaningful public engagement can pose a wicked problem.

Each engagement is subject to unique challenges and context: A time frame. A place. Ministerial availability. A website that someone thought looked slick. A communications team’s sudden enthusiasm for infographics. A hot-button issue. Personalities. Consultation fatigue. A budget.

Oh, and organizational culture.

The list goes on. It does not end.

And, the better this context can be understood, the better the approach that can be designed.

When faced with an important and complex problem, consider design thinking, the process of strategizing creatively while making decisions. When the problem suits, sometimes hybrid tools are the right approach. At PubliVate, we help people collaborate online, so we’ve created a tool to help:

We developed the Collaborative Engagement Canvas [PDF] to guide early discussions with clients. By using the canvas, we hope to capture strategic and operational aspects of the budding engagement in a way that:

  • Is as comprehensive as is practical
  • Is shared, understood, and agreed upon by all participants
  • References different stages of the process to enable holistic planning

Higher-level strategic considerations are on the left, and the more practical aspects are towards the right. Stakeholders are, of course, at the centre. Typically, one would progress on the canvas from the left to the right, but it’s not required. If something occurs to someone, capture it.

Embracing the Collaborative Engagement Canvas early in an engagement establishes collaboration as a foundational value of a planning process. The canvas also becomes an enduring artifact, which can be used to test ideas and proposed approaches.

No solution will work for all problems, but you have to start somewhere. For PubliVate, The Collaborative Engagement Canvas has become a sweet spot in guiding discussions with clients. Download the PDF and give it a try.

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Bryce Colenbrander

Bryce is a consultant and design strategist focused on helping clients understand programs and services in ways that helps them make more informed decisions.