Canadian federal electoral reform dialogue hosting guide

Congratulations on deciding to host a Canadian federal electoral reform dialogue in your community. The goal of this national initiative is to help create a safe, inclusive and respectful environment for all Canadians to come together to discuss and contribute to dialogue on Canadian federal electoral reform.

Below are some tips and considerations for facilitating your dialogue.

Physical space and room set-up

An important factor in your conversation’s success is the physical space in which you gather. Most gathering spaces are set up with all of the chairs facing a speaker at the front of the room. To have a healthy dialogue, you should try to create an environment where people can participate easily and feel connected. You may choose to:

  • Select a room/facility that is easy to access for people with a wide range of abilities. The ideal room is an open, bright, welcoming space, and allows for the space and seating to be arranged in different ways.
  • If possible, arrange chairs in a circle (or rings of circles) so that participants feel included and equal.
  • Use wall space or whiteboards, if available, to share information or capture ideas and thoughts.
  • You may wish to have separate areas for registration, refreshments or questions. Consider having these areas away from the main space so they do not create a distraction.
  • If you can, have the host or facilitator speak from the circle, not standing behind a lectern at the front of the room.
  • Encourage participants to move around the room, forming new groups for each of the questions. This encourages people to get to know each other and exposes participants to new perspectives.
  • Use a wireless microphone if you are hosting a large gathering and need to use a microphone. This will allow you to move around the room and go to the person who wishes to speak. Some participants may find it intimidating to have to line up at a microphone in the centre of the room or aisle. This may also create a barrier for people who have accessibility concerns.

Dialogue formats

There are many ways to host a dialogue. Depending on how many people are participating and how much time you have, you may choose to have people gather in a variety of ways to ensure everyone gets the opportunity to contribute. Be sure to check out the sample event agenda and facilitator guide for an idea of what this might look like.

Lecture style

This common communication style is very useful to share information, and as a host you will likely use this technique to welcome participants, review the reasons you have come together and provide direction. You may want to limit the time one person is speaking to the whole group as the purpose of the dialogue is to give everyone a chance to share their ideas.

Whole group

Engaging a whole group in dialogue can be challenging for a number of reasons, particularly if the group is large. For example, some participants may not get a chance to speak if the group is very large, or there may be a few voices that dominate the discussion. If you have more than 10 participants, you may want to break into smaller groups to encourage meaningful dialogue.

Small group

Breaking the larger group into smaller groups of five or six is a good way to encourage participants to speak. Other potential dialogue formats include:

  • Groups of three - A group of three works well for exploring a particular question because it gives participants more opportunity to both share their own and listen to others’ opinions.
  • Pairs - Pairing participants together gives them the opportunity to have closer dialogues and explore topics in greater depth.


After the allotted time for dialogue, consider building in time for groups and/or individuals to share their thoughts with the whole group. For example, you could have one person from each smaller group briefly share the ideas and thoughts that came up.

Note: when the total number of participants is really high, it may be difficult to allow reflections from all of the smaller groups on all of the questions. You may wish to take four or five comments, totalling 10 minutes, per question. You can make sure all groups have the chance to contribute by working your way through different parts of the room for each question.

Dialogue agreements

You can set the tone of the gathering by establishing a set of dialogue agreements. These clarify how everyone should conduct themselves. You can also remind participants of the agreements if the dialogue gets away from its original intention.

If time allows, you could do a group activity to develop your own list, or you may want to use the following list as a starting point and ask participants to contribute any additional ideas:

  • Listen carefully and with respect.
  • Give everyone the opportunity to speak.
  • Speak for yourself and participate as equals.
  • Respect others’ opinions.
  • Agree to disagree—with ideas, not people.
  • Silence cell phones.

General facilitation tips

  • As best you can, know your audience and work to create an environment that is welcoming and supportive.
  • Design your agenda and questions to generate ideas and capture peoples’ thoughts.
  • Set the tone.
  • Before someone speaks, have them identify themselves by name.
  • Acknowledge speakers by name if possible.
  • Thank each person for their contribution.
  • Encourage people who do not know each other to sit together.

Accessibility and inclusiveness considerations for your Canadian federal electoral reform event

Before the event

  • If possible, include a diverse group of community members in your planning process who may be able to advise you on the differing needs of your participants.
  • Try to think about the needs and schedules of your participants when selecting a date and time. Does the date or time provide potential conflict for members of your community (e.g. religious holidays, school exams)?
  • Be aware that the choice of venue may influence the level of comfort of community members. Think about who may feel more or less welcome depending on the choice of venue (e.g. bars, places of worship).
  • If you plan to ask participants to register ahead of time, consider asking them to mention any special accommodations they may require, such as dietary restrictions or accessibility needs. This can help you plan a more inclusive, welcoming event for all participants.
  • While it is ideal to use only fully accessible venues, you may need to host an event in a building that has some limitations in terms of accessibility. If this is the case, you may wish to post information publicly about the venue’s accessibility ahead of time to help participants decide whether or not to attend. For example, are there stairs required? Are elevators or ramps available? Will participants need to stand? Are washrooms available to those with limited mobility?
  • Think about the different barriers that participants might face in attending or participating in your event. For example, offering transit passes or on-site childcare may enable more participants to join in your event.

During the event

  • If your event is taking place in a venue that is located on traditional territory or treaty lands of Indigenous peoples, as a sign of respect, open your event by acknowledging this.
  • If possible, consider having a sign-language interpreter available during the event for participants who are deaf or hard-of-hearing. For videos, consider showing subtitles and/or closed captioning.
  • If possible, you may want to produce print materials with larger format text and/or Braille for participants.
  • Do your best to have your event start and end on time to accommodate participants with stricter schedules.
  • Provide breaks throughout the event, particularly for longer events.

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