Once you've gotten involved or started a ward advocacy group, it's important to define your focus and stay on track. This webpage includes guidance and tips on how to be an effective ward advocate.
We want to build a network of ward advocacy groups. This is inspired by the “snowflake model” of organizing, which allows self-sustaining groups to take on leadership and responsibility in their local context, while connecting them to other groups across the city. The model encourages multiple channels of communication, responsability, accountability, and emphasizes collective effort more than a pyramid model of centralized power. This can amplify our voice, and grow our organization so that we can take on campaigns at a greater scale.
Simple leadership structure
Complex leadership structure
Adopting more structure in your ward group can be beneficial. When the roles and responsibilities are more clearly defined, work can be shared, communication can be improved within the group, as well as between wards. Improved coordination can increase the professionalism of each ward outreach and advocacy efforts. Most importantly, each group is more likely to achieve their goals, elevating the impact of Cycle Toronto’s work across the City
In addition to specifying volunteer coordinator roles, ward groups may benefit from assigning project managers to specific areas of interest. Assigning one person per project can help ensure that there is oversight for the consultation, design, and construction phases of cycling infrastructure. This is also a good way to help divide the workload so that no one volunteer is taking on too much work.
Being a ward advocate can be incredibly rewarding but it can also take a lot of work. Making sure that you don't get burned out is important to protect your energy so that you can continue to advocate for safer transportation options for many years. Many city projects can take years to get off the ground and following the progress from proposal to plan, consultation, design, and construction can take a lot of time and energy! Here are some tips to make sure that you don't get burnt out:
- Create goals: every ward advocacy group should set goals for what the group can accomplish and then re-evaluate them each year. Assess whether your strategies are working and if not, try to figre out what can change. Know when to pick up or pause projects if they stall. Define your goals and then stick to them. Pick achievable goals and a mix of short-, medium-, and long-term projects to ensure that you aren't always rushing from one short-term project to the next!
- Knew when to support and when to lead: for local, neighbourhood projects, a ward advocacy group may lead the project imagining, and in other, city-wide projects, Cycle Toronto HQ may take the charge. Knowing when to support others' efforts and when to take on the organizing and leadership role will help ensure that you're not always trying to build a new campaign from the ground up. Check Cycle Toronto's Advocacy page to see which projects your ward advocacy group can support.
- Set boundaries: scope creep is a real challenge for any kind of advocacy. Once you've defined your goals, try your best to stick to them. Generally speaking, it's useful to leave some flexibility for when ad hoc advocacy initiatives pop up, but try not to let them overwhelm you. Don't lose sight of your key goals and check in on them every year.
- Stick to the scheduled time: with ward advocacy, everyone is a volunteer and everyone's time is valuable! If you schedule meetings, make sure you stick to the time. If you consistently run late, try to figure out the reason: are there too many items on the agenda that could be discussed over email? Do people want to socialize? Should an alternative social meetup be organized instead? Whatever the reason, try to be clear and consistent: stick to the agenda and end the meeting on time so that people don't have to make an awkard exit when you run late.
- Reach out if you need help: if you're mulling over a big question, try sending it over to Cycle Toronto HQ - we might be able to help or point you in the direction of some resources.
Keep the lines of communication open
At the simplest level, most ward advocates want to know Cycle Toronto’s position on an issue so that they can position themselves accordingly. Other groups are interested in sharing their position on a topic to achieve buy-in from Cycle Toronto. These two activities do not always occur in concert with one another, so ensuring that groups are bringing up their proposed positions to Cycle Toronto and vice versa is important. HQ needs to share their learnings from staff and councillor meetings with ward advocates and ward advocates need to share their local neighbourhood experience with Cycle Toronto to ensure that decisions feed into one another.
Starting a Ward Group
Thinking about starting up your own ward advocacy group? Check the Cycle Toronto Ward Advocacy webpage to see if there is an existing group in your ward. If not, proceed with the following steps:
- Contact Cycle Toronto’s Engagement Coordinator, and talk about your intentions.
- Write a friendly introductory e-mail for your ward and pick a venue. Circulate it to the Communications Manager to include in a Cycle Toronto mailing list.
- Send the email and link to a Doodle poll to help schedule the best time. Promote widely.
- Close the poll, make reservations if possible. Follow up with attendees.
Hosting your First Meeting
Tips - Meeting Killers:
- Plan the Meeting - Cycle Toronto is here to help. Decide the goal of the meeting. Decide who needs to be there. Prepare the agenda ahead of time and circulate to anyone who want’s to know.
- Set up the Meeting - Pick a central location with adequate seating and low noise. Start and finish on time. Sign in new attendees. Make everyone comfortable. Have informal time for chatting after the meet-ing.
- Running the Meeting - Do introductions and icebreakers. Get early feedback on the Agenda. Establish ground rules. Stay on track. Watch the time, and try to keep it to 1 hour. Set the details of the next meeting. Consider setting up a monthly or bi-monthly standing meeting time so that you don't have to go through picking it after each meeting.
- After the Meeting - Gather any feedback. Follow-up with new members, and with action items. Summarize the meeting, and circulate to the ward.
Now that you know how to establish your ward group, your next step is to begin organizing and advocating! Below is a list of basic tips for effective advocacy. You can find more detailed information on each point throughout the remainder of this guide.
Goals should be:
Establish Goals - What are the issues that you want to address? Do they involve infastructure, maintenance, safety or ridership? Talk to neighbours and reach out the the broader community to identify the issues. Try not to create goals in isolation, so that you can gather support. It is also wise to limit the number of projects undertaken. It’s better to do fewer things more thoroughly, rather than do more things poorly.
Understand the Process - Learn how the City is organized and get to know the chain of command. This is helpful when you’re looking for allies. If you know the chain of command, it will be easier to escalate your issue.
Identify Decision Makers, Allies and Obsacles - Develop an understanding of potential allies and adversaries. You should work with other groups that support your goals. Try to appreciate the point of view of potential opponents and work to understand and resolve objections when possible.
Understand Timing - Understand the timeline of the political process, such as when elections are held, and when council and committees meet. You have to know when opportunities will arise, and time your efforts accordingly.
Build Constituency - Politicians react to constituent interests. If you generate a network of people who support your goals, you will be much more successful than if you acted alone, no matter how worthy your project may be.
There are a number of ways in which ward advocacy groups can tackle projects. A few examples include:
Writing submissions - Collaborating with Cycle Toronto or other organizations on submissions to the city on neighbourhood projects or taking the lead. Ward advocacy groups are encouraged to share their local, firsthand experiences and how it shapes their response to city-led consultations.
Focus on representation - An important element to ward advocacy groups is attending consultations, sitting on external committees, and acting as liaisons to resident's associations or BIAs. Aim to be a conduit for information: answer questions and share how cycling can support a range of initiatives, such as: safer streets for children walking to school, creating mobility options for low-income residents who may be unable to afford to buy a car or take transit, make roads easier to navigate when driving, and support local businesses by making it easier for people to bike and shop at stores.
Campaigns - Cycle Toronto maintains a number of multi-year, long-term advocacy initiatives on key roads called campaigns. If there is a campaign in your area, ward groups can participate by volunteering for local tasks, such as: providing input to Cycle Toronto on local opportinities, postering, door knocking, and more. You can also designate someone as a liaison between the campaign working group and the ward advocacy group. Get in touch with the Campaigns Manager if you'd like to participate.
Sharing your Message
The way advocates talk about cycling can have a huge impact on their effectiveness. Particularly in the suburbs, messaging should show cycling as one of many transportation options and seek to diversify the discussion away from infrastructure alone. However, no matter where you’re located, effective messaging should always include:
- Show cycling as one of many forms of mobility, which includes electric assist bicycles to cover larger distances, and as a way of improving accessibility for people with mobility impairments,
- Use “people biking” rather than “cyclists” in your messaging and try to avoid describing someone who rides a bike as just “a bike” (e.g., “a route for bikes” should be avoided since bicycles are not sentient, self-propelled machines!),
- Use “people driving” and “people walking and rolling” rather than drivers and pedestrians to reinforce that people get around the city using different modes,
- Show cycling as a complementary form of transportation, such as making it easier to bike to transit, including by using bike sharing for the first and last mile of the trip,
- Focus on choice: describe cycling infrastructure as a way to create more transportation options so that people are not required to only get around in one way (e.g., only driving or taking public transit),
- Don't make cycling an all or nothing option; people may still need to commute to work by car, but they can complete local trips, such as shopping trips, by bicycle in their neighbourhood,
- Don’t shame: focus on asking people what they want to do or what they wish they could do (e.g., they might wish they could bike from home to school, but are too scared or live too far) and working from there, not telling them what they should do,
- Show the health benefits to cycling as a way of getting exercise and getting around
- Position cycling as an affordable alternative mode of transportation to driving
- Focus on safety and tie it to Vision Zero goals: talk about how the city must make the streets safe for people of all ages and abilities and highlight the need for safe routes to schools,
- Show cycling as a part of a coalition that works with walking, accessibility, environmental, and city- building advocates, and
- Work with residents' associations and business improvement areas to get buy-in from interested parties who don’t bear the ‘cycling’ name.