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Middle Ground’s many projects and publications over the years form a single body of work that documents the evolution of Informed Participation, our approach to public engagement.  This section contains some examples of our most recent work in the field, as well as some key projects and publications from the past.

Recent Projects of Note

The Pan-Canadian Health Data Engagement Strategy (May 2021 – Present) The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) is leading F-P/T governments and health data partners in the development of a pan-Canadian health data strategy, which will support the creation, exchange, and use of health data across Canadian health systems. Middle Ground is part of a joint venture commissioned by PHAC to engage stakeholders and communities in a dialogue to shape the strategy around a patient-centred approach to care through:

  • Digitalization of health records
  • Setting pan-Canadian standards for interoperability
  • Effective sharing of health data including electronic health records
  • Establishing new accountability frameworks based on stewardship to support greater sharing of patient data
  • Improving digital literacy

  The process will include 20 virtual (bilingual) roundtables (each with 25 – 30 stakeholders), and six community engagement sessions (each with 40 participants). Middle Ground’s Don Lenihan is  serving as the project’s strategic advisor, lead facilitator, and the principal writer for all summaries and reports.
ASCR Stakeholder Engagement - Final Report Aug 2022

Automated Sequestering of Criminal Records (November 2021 – August 2022)

Public Safety Canada (PSC) plans to establish a fully digitalized, automated system for the suspension of criminal records. The new system will automatically remove criminal records that meet certain criteria, even without an application from the offender. Before proceeding, however, PSC wanted a better understanding of its stakeholders’ views on several key issues, including:

  • Suspension Criteria: Which criteria are appropriate for automated suspensions?

  • Interoperability: The digital infrastructure must be able to find and share information and criminal records from justice systems across the country. What policy issues does this raise?

  • Privacy: Such a system involves the use of highly sensitive information. Are there risks to personal privacy and, if so, how can they be mitigated?

  • Outreach: How can government best inform people with criminal records about the new system?

This engagement process produced a critical examination of the issues through an online engagement platform and 10 virtual stakeholder roundtables. Middle Ground’s Don Lenihan served as the strategic advisor for the roundtables, the lead facilitator, and the principal writer for all session summaries and the project’s final report.

Re-Thinking Engagement for the Ottawa Police Services Board (June 2021 – January 2022)

The Ottawa Police Services Board (OPSB) engaged Middle Ground Policy Research (Don Lenihan) and PACE Public Affairs & Community Engagement (as a joint venture) to propose ways to engage Ottawa’s racialized communities in an ongoing dialogue on community issues. The two-person team reached out to leaders from racialized communities and relevant service agencies to explore and assess the community’s expectations and aspirations on community participation in the Ottawa Police Services Board’s planning. The final report, Rethinking Engagement: Supporting the Shift from Police Force to Police Service, proposes the creation of the Public Deliberation Roundtable, a permanent body of 5 – 7 members who would lead an ongoing series of community dialogues on key issues. The OPSB members strongly endorsed the proposal and voted unanimously to act on the recommendation.

TOH Narrative

Community Engagement on the New Ottawa Hospital: (March 2017 – September 2020)

In 2018, The Ottawa Hospital (TOH) received approval to build a new campus on 50 acres of highly popular greenspace.  The site boarders on several heritage sites, including the Rideau Canal and the Experimental Farm.  However, Ottawans have deep concerns about the possible impact of development on these sites and the surrounding communities.  TOH therefore engaged Middle Ground (Don Lenihan) and PACE Public Affairs & Community Engagement (in a joint venture) to develop a community engagement strategy that would allow TOH to work closely with the community on key features of the new campus.  The 30-month project had two parts:

  • In Part I, Middle Ground (Don Lenihan) and PACE co-designed and co-facilitated a series of engagement sessions with community stakeholders, officials from TOH, and officials from other governments and bodies with an official interest in the project.  These discussions culminated in a proposal to create a  “campus engagement group” comprised of community and TOH representatives, which could engage two sides in an ongoing discussion as the new campus was being planned.  The proposal is detailed in the project’s final report, Setting the Stage, Turning the Page, co-written by Don and PACE.
  • In Part II of the project, Don and PACE established the Campus Engagement Group (CEG), then planned and facilitated a series of discussions.  Over two years, the CEG’s 24 members met 20 times to discuss key issues related to the new campus’ design.  The methodology, goals, and results of these sessions are recorded in several reports (available at:  In particular, Middle Ground/PACE’s last report – A Healthy Ottawa Planning Partnership – (INSERT LINK) defines a vision for the new campus that recognizes the importance of integrating it with the surrounding community and then using the new facility as a “hub” for a new network of community organizations that would work together to help build a healthier Ottawa.  The report was warmly received and endorsed by The Ottawa Hospital’s Board of Governors.  Don was the principle writer of the reports for Part II.


Driving Dialogue and Debate (April 2020 – July 2020)

The Institute on Governance launched a series of workshops to explore options for responding to polarization and fragmentation in Canada’s public dialogues and debates. The project included four two-part, web-based events, each hosting about 40 participants from government and civil society and focused on a different topic, including: Immigration (session #1), Climate change (session #2), Western Alienation (session #3), A Polarized Electorate (session #4). Don served as the strategic advisor and principal subject-matter expert on the project team. He was also the principal writer and public debater and a co-facilitator for the sessions. In advance of each session, Don prepared a four-page discussion paper that analyzed how the session topic was currently being discussed in the public arena. The discussion papers were circulated to the participants in advance of the meeting. Part 1 of the event featured a 90-minute debate between Don and another subject-matter expert, based on the discussion paper. In Part 2 of the session, Don co-facilitated a plenary session based on the paper and the debate. The final report, written by Don and the two other members of the project team, can be found here: Driving Dialogue and Debate – Institute on Governance (

Stronger Voices, Better Care in Nunavut (August – November 2017)

The Ottawa Hospital (TOH) serves a large Inuit community in Ottawa and an even larger one from the Territory of Nunavut. In 2017, the Hospital wanted to learn more about how it could advance patient-centred care by responding more effectively to the community’s distinctive cultural needs to improve treatment and healing. Middle Ground’s Don Lenihan was engaged to reach out to the Inuit community – both in Ottawa and Nunavut: (1) to identify ways to engage the Inuit community in the discussion around patient-centred care; and (2) to propose ways to ensure that TOH’s services are more responsive to the community’s cultural needs. The project had four main phases:

  • Phase I: Don conferred with TOH staff who have strong relationships with Indigenous communities in Nunavut and the Champlain region.

  • Phase II: Don conducted interviews and facilitated group meetings with community representatives and other parties in the Ottawa region.

  • Phase III: Don travelled to Iqaluit to conduct three days of interviews and group meetings with patients and their families, community spokespersons, appropriate health-care stakeholders, and TOH officials.

  • Phase IV: Don prepared a final report from these investigations, Stronger Voices, Better Care, which provides TOH with strategic guidance on how to engage these Inuit communities on patient-centred care; and which offers a series of practical recommendations to immediately improve patient services.


The open government movement aims at making government and governance more effective, responsive, transparent, and accountable by encouraging governments to make data and information more accessible, and to involve citizens and stakeholders more meaningfully in planning and decision-making that impacts directly on them. Don has been an active and engaged member of the Open Government movement for almost two decades.

The OGP Practice Group On Dialogue and Deliberation (September 2017 – March 2021)

The Open Government Partnership (OGP) is an international organization of 77 national governments (including Canada) and 106 local and subnational governments (including Ontario), who are working together to promote open government. Don co-founded and co-chaired the OGP’s Practice Group on Dialogue and Deliberation, along with a representative of the Australian government (see This international team of eight practitioners has produced four major research papers on public deliberation:




  • Volume IV, The Role of Narrative Building in Public Deliberation, uses three case studies to illustrate key techniques and challenges in building “shared narratives,” that is, stories that opponents in a debate can create together to help them reframe divisive issues and find common ground.


Don was the principal writer and conceptual architect for these papers. Over three years, the Group held virtual monthly meetings to discuss and develop their views on deliberation. Together with his co-chair, Don led, planned, and facilitated the ongoing dialogue.

The Ontario Open Dialogue Project (July 2015 – April 2016)

A key recommendation of the Ontario Open Government Engagement Team (see above)) was for the government to develop a made-in-Ontario “public engagement framework” that would make public engagement in the Ontario Public service far more rigorous, principled, and systematic.  The Open Government Office in the Treasury Board Secretariat of the Government of Ontario engaged Middle Ground (Don) to act as its principal advisor, researcher, and writer on the project.  First, Don worked with the Open Government Office to identify five “demonstration projects” from five partner ministries.  These projects were to serve as “laboratories” in which to test and apply new methods of public engagement — placing Don at the centre for a lively interdepartmental dialogue with a wide cross-section of government officials and stakeholders.  Don used the learning from these projects to develop the Ontario Public Engagement Framework, which was subsequently adopted by the government and made available to the Ontario Public Service through the TBS website at

Ontario’s Open Government Engagement Team (October 2013 – May 2014)

At the invitation of Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, Don served as Chair of the Open Government Engagement Team for the Government of Ontario. The nine-member panel was composed of distinguished Ontarians, including several experts in the field. Under Don’s direction, the Team developed and executed a two-stage plan. In the first phase of the project, the Team worked to develop an Open Government framework, based on three key goals: Open Data, Open Information, and Open Dialogue. The Team then held province-wide consultations, exploring these three aspects of the framework with experts and citizens. The Team then used the findings to prepared a final report, Open by Default, which provided a set of recommendations to the Minister of Government Services that were aimed at making Ontario Canada’s leader in the field of Open Government. The government subsequently moved to act on all the report’s recommendations.

2014 open-by-default-2

 Open Government – A Pan-Canadian Perspective (September 2016 – June 2017)

Following the Open Government project for Ontario, Don secured the support of 10 F-P/T governments to participate in a pan-Canadian dialogue on Open Government. Each government agreed to host a one-day roundtable meeting in its capital city. Each session involved about 25 participants, including senior and elected officials, as well as representatives from academia, civil society, and the private sector. Don planned and facilitated these sessions. His report from this process, What Is “Open Dialogue” and Is It the Answer to “Post-Fact” Populism? was published by Canada 2020 (June 2017). This report provided a cross-country snapshot of each government’s plans and achievements on Open Data, Open Information, and Open Dialogue.


Citizen Engagement for the UN’s Post 2015 Development Agenda (May 2014 – October 2014)

In the summer of 2014, Middle Ground’s Don Lenihan led an Expert Group process for the UN Department of Education and Social Affairs and the OECD on public engagement models to support the post-2015 UN agenda on sustainable development. The two-day meeting in Paris involved an international delegation of 25 experts on public engagement. Don prepared the background paper, facilitated the session, and wrote the final report on the proceedings.


Rescuing Policy:  The Case for Public Engagement (2008 – 2012)

Between 2008 and 2012, Don led several ground-breaking public engagement projects and, in addition, conducted over 50 workshops on public engagement across Canada, Australia and in other parts of the world. The learning from this work was then captured in his book, Rescuing Policy:  The Case for Public Engagement which is an informed and accessible introduction to the field of public engagement, as well as a methodology for public engagement, and a sustained argument for the need to rethink the public policy process. Since its release in February 2012, over 10,000 copies have been distributed across Canada and abroad. Rescuing Policy was, in effect, the final report from Building-Capacity Together, a four-year project led by Don that involved nine federal, provincial, and territorial governments, and the Government of Australia. The project involved a series of milestone projects in the development of Middle Ground’s knowledge, skills, and capacity for public engagement, including:

The Renewal of the Ontario Condominium Act (May 2012 – January 2014)

In the spring of 2012, the Ontario government engaged Don to design, lead, manage and facilitate an 18-month public engagement process to renew Ontario’s Condominium Act. The process included three main stages, engaged several thousand people, and produced some 200 recommendations, which were then drafted into legislation and passed into law in the fall of 2015. Don’s two main reports from the process are: the Stage One Findings Report and the Stage Two Solutions Report. Don also wrote: A Case Study of Ontario’s Condominium Act Review, which describes the process and identifies lessons learned.

Poverty Reduction in Nunavut (February 2011 – February 2012)

When the Territorial government decided to develop a poverty reduction strategy, it engaged Don to design a process that would give the Inuit population a clear say in the results, while ensuring coherent and workable solutions. The three-stage process began with dialogues in 26 communities. In Stage 2, policy experts met at six regional roundtables to review the findings and develop policy proposals from them. Stage 3 culminated in a two-day summit, led by Premier Eva Aariak, with over 60 representatives and observers from all sectors and regions of the territory. Together, the summit participants produced The Makimaniq Plan: A Shared Approach to Poverty Reduction. Don’s final report on the project is: Healing Through Collaboration: A Case Study of the Nunavut Poverty Reduction Process.

Developing the Canadian Sport Policy  2012 (October 2009 – August 2011)

In April 2012, federal, provincial, and territorial ministers met in Iqaluit to endorse the Canadian Sport Policy. The two-year process leading up to this event included a complex set of engagement processes across the country, involving all three orders of government, sport organizations, and other stakeholders. The project’s steering committee engaged Don early on to serve as a key advisor on the project. Don’s book above, Rescuing Policy, contains a chapter on this process.

Community Engagement in Australia to Align and Co-Design Services (January 2011 – February 2012)

The Australian Government’s Department of Human Services engaged Don to help design and deliver a process using “community dialogue tables” to align services in nine communities. The project involved, Human Services, the State of Victoria, the Municipal Association of Victoria, and local officials, community service providers and residents from the nine municipalities. Don served as senior project advisor, facilitated many sessions, conducted interviews with the participants and officials involved, and wrote Building a Strategic Design Capacity with Community, which evaluated the project.


The New Brunswick Public Engagement Initiative (April 2007 – March 2008) In March of 2007, Don released Progressive Governance for Canadians: What you need to know, which is the final report from the Crossing Boundaries project (see the project description in the next section) and develops some of the key ideas that have become basic to his approach to public engagement. In April 2007, after reading the book, New Brunswick Premier Shawn Graham invited Don to spend a year in the province and serve as the government’s Advisor on Public Engagement. In his role, Don developed and led five pilot projects on public engagement to help the government strengthen governance through better public engagement. Each project involved a series of in-person events with officials, stakeholders, and/or members of the public, where Don facilitated discussions ranging from Town Hall exchanges to strategic planning sessions. One project also used and online dialogue – a major innovation for the times. The five projects included:
  1. Skills Development – Reckoning with the New Economy: This project drew together stakeholders to work more closely with government on preparing New Brunswick’s workforce for the future. The process took 18 months. It involved 35 stakeholder groups in five deliberative roundtables, an online dialogue, one-on-one interviews, and meetings with the planning committee. It concluded in a Skills Development Summit involving the 35 stakeholders along with an additional 30 representatives from other groups. The entire project was conceived, designed, and managed by Don.
  1. The Climate Change Action Plan Initiative: Premier Shawn Graham led the Opinion Leaders Forum on Climate Change. The group included some 25 provincial “opinion leaders” in a dialogue about the public’s role in reducing greenhouse gases. The goal was to use this group to create a citizens’ voice on climate change issues. Don planned and oversaw the process and served as its facilitator. (April 2007 – September 2008)
  1. Sustainable Communities in a Self-Sufficient Province: Planning Our Future Together: This project engaged a group of 40 stakeholders from the Greater Saint John Region in a dialogue to build on an earlier effort between the five communities in the region to transform it into a single sustainable community. Don worked with provincial officials to plan the project and facilitated discussions between the province and municipal governments and stakeholders in the region.
  1. Imagining Miramichi 10 Years Out: In the spring of 2007, the last remaining pulp mill in the region the City of Miramichi suddenly closed. Don convened and facilitated several town hall meetings to explore options for a community-based approach to planning the region’s future. These discussions culminated in four community meetings around the region to develop an action plan, which was then presented to citizens at an open house, where it was discussed, modified, and adopted and, finally, presented to the premier.
  1. Wellness: The wellness project engaged ordinary residents and community stakeholders in a dialogue about their readiness to take a more active role in promoting wellness activities within their families and communities.

Final report from the Public Engagement Initiative, It’s More than Talk: Listen, Learn and Act, contained 12 recommendations to strengthen governance in the Province of New Brunswick by giving stakeholders and communities a greater say in policymaking and service delivery though public engagement. All 12 recommendations were implemented by the government. The report was released at a national conference in Fredericton in April 2008, which was sponsored by the Government of New Brunswick and planned and organized by Don.
It is More than Talk Cover


CBNC Cit Cent Federalism Cover
Crossing Boundaries:  The Rise of E-Government (July 1999 – March 2007) Crossing Boundaries (CB) was a Canada-wide, multi-stakeholder research initiative that lasted eight years and went through four major iterations. In that time, CB involved many hundreds of elected and public officials, Indigenous organizations, stakeholders, journalists, and academics from across the country in a national dialogue on e-government. These were the early days of online services and governments were excited about the possibilities. Using a variety of engagement processes, CB generated over 40 studies and reports on issues ranging from e-democracy to online service delivery to privacy in the information economy. (To view some CB publications, go to Changing Governance or Policy, Politics and Governance Series.) Don co-founded and co-led CB, first as a co-chair, then as CEO. In these roles, he planned and facilitated many of the events and projects, oversaw the preparation of materials for them, and was the principal writer of many of the published reports.
  • Crossing Boundaries I (July 1999 – December 1999): The project began as a series of roundtables held in the Parliament of Canada and co-chaired by Don and Reg Alcock, a Member of Parliament. The goal was to examine the impact of information and communications technologies on government and democracy in Canada and to consider what would be included in a viable model of “e-government.” About 30 MPs attended the sessions and, as is clear from the final report, Crossing Boundaries: Privacy, Policy and Information Technology, the discussions were lively and the prospects promising.
  • Crossing Boundaries II (April 2000 – April 2001): In the spring of 2000, a second series of roundtables was held on Parliament Hill to build on the findings from the first round. While the project was co-chaired by Alcock and Don, this time the participants were not only MPs, but senior public servants, journalists, academics, and representatives of public-interest organizations. There was general agreement that the new technologies were fundamentally changing government and governance. With the support of several federal departments, Alcock and Don used the summer to visit all 10 provincial capitals to report on the “e-government” sessions in Ottawa, and to discuss ways that Ottawa could cooperate with the provinces on the issues. They met with over 250 senior provincial and municipal officials and elected members of the legislatures. The co-chairs then published their findings in Opening the E-Government File, a widely circulated discussion paper on e-government, which then became the impetus for a national conference on e-government in Ottawa from March 28-30, 2001. Over 400 people attended. This was the concluding event for CB II.
  • Crossing Boundaries III (May 2001 – December 2003): Following the conference, a growing group of federal departments agreed to fund a third round of Crossing Boundaries, co-chaired by Alcock and Don. The process began with a second cross-country trip, this time to invite other governments to join CB III. Eight provincial and territorial governments agreed, along with an impressive list of private sector sponsors. As a result, the two co-chairs went onto conduct a series of international consultations, host several parliamentary working sessions, organize over a dozen Ottawa-based and regional forums, and concluded the project with a second national conference in Ottawa in 2003. This phase of CB also included the development of a CB website, two national surveys, and five major publications. In the summer of 2003, Reg Alcock left CB and was replaced by the Hon. Tony Valeri, House Leader in the Paul Martin Government.

  • Crossing Boundaries IV – The National Council (2004 – 2007): At the conclusion of CB III, Don drafted a proposal to make Crossing Boundaries a permanent entity – a “National Council” that would provide ongoing leadership on e-government issues. Within a few months, eight federal departments and all 13 P/T governments had agreed to join the new organization. The Crossing Boundaries National Council was incorporated in January 2004 with some 40 members, including senior public servants and elected representatives from each of the provinces and territories and the federal government, as well as representatives from territorial and municipal governments and Indigenous peoples. The Council was co-chaired by a federal minister – Tony Valeri – and a provincial deputy minister – Dan Bader, Deputy Minister of Municipal Affairs from the Government of Alberta. Don was named President and CEO of the Council. Along with his existing responsibilities, his new duties included planning meetings of the National Council, overseeing the development and implementation of its projects, updating its members on the Council’s work, and soliciting feedback on its progress.

Getting to Ground CBNC Vol 4 Cover
During fiscal years 2004–05 and 2005–06, the National Council’s budget was nearly $2 million. At the end of this period, the Council had completed 11 major projects, which included over 40 roundtable sessions across the country and directly engaged some 1200 members of the public policy community on e-government issues. The new Council also released about 20 publications. (To view many of the CB publications, click here.) Unfortunately, the momentum was cut short by events. Following the defeat of Paul Martin’s Liberal government in January 2006, Minister Valeri resigned as co-chair of the CB National Council and was replaced by the Hon. Rona Ambrose, the new Conservative Minister of the Environment. However, the new Conservative government abruptly introduced changes to the rules on federal contributions that effectively prevented the Council from accessing the funds that federal departments had committed to it. The following summer, a decision was made to dissolve the Council. Between October 2006 and March 2007, Don formed a small working group to help him write Progressive Governance: What You Need to Know, a book-length study of the learning from Crossing Boundaries, which also served as the project’s final report. The document was released at a national conference in Ottawa in April 2007, jointly sponsored by Crossing Boundaries and Canada 2020. This was the concluding event for Crossing Boundaries.

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