What's the Big Idea: Better Democracy Big and Small

April 14, 2020

“Meaningful ways to boost participation in democracy often come from initiatives in smaller communities,” says author DaveMeslin.

Meslin, who recently joined Armstrong Strategy Group as Senior Associate, Democratic Innovation, spoke about improving democracies at a What’s the Big Idea event hosted by ASG and Henry of Pelham Winery with guest panelist Liz Benneian, Director with Better Niagara.

Dave is a renowned Toronto-based urbanist, community organizer, and author of the best-selling book Teardown: Rebuilding Democracy from the Ground Up.

What’s theBig Idea, launched last year, is a moderated salon discussion, with a diverse line-up of guest speakers and topics meant to spark spirited debate and new ideas. In his recent talk, Meslin reflected on poor municipal voter turnout, disengagement, and the seeming systemic bias against ordinary citizens.

Vibrant public engagement is a challenge in an age of social-media cynicism where many feel they have no influence in a system that’s unwelcoming and inaccessible. But Meslin offered a slew of ways civic engagement could be made easier and more friendly. Local governments need to be demystified and made more approachable, he said, with attendance-friendly public meetings, understandable agendas, and information for those gatherings publicized in ways to reach and attract more people.

Often hearing the refrain that governments should act more like a business, Meslin takes that concept and turns it toward attracting customers. “Businesses spend millions of dollars attracting customers. Governments should make the same kind of effort to get people involved and engaged.”

To see excepts of Meslin’s remarks visit the What’s the BigIdea Facebook page at  or better yet, get a copy of his book at

Watch Videos From the Event:

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