Samara Canada Salon

I went to Samara Canada Salon last night, held in a beautiful Annex home-turned-business-space. Co-Founder and Executive Director (and past moderator for the Women in Toronto Politics panel series) Alison Loat explained Samara’s purpose and findings in their latest study.

Samara Canada (samara is the technical term for maple keys) looks at political engagement. The pitiful rates of voter turnout in recent years shows how disengaged large swaths of the Canadian population are from politics, and these numbers are getting worse.  As they explain on their website

Samara is a charitable organization that works to improve political and civic engagement in Canada. Samara believes engaged citizens make our country vibrant, resilient and strong. Despite Canadians’ belief in the importance of democracy, more and more people say they feel disconnected from politics. They don’t feel their voices are heard. And they’re giving up.

Samara Canada’s research helps to identify the causes for disengagement, and help provide ways to re-invigorate democracy in Canada. By creating the Samara Index, we’ll be able to analyze and chart the performance of Canada’s democracy.

The main reasons for political disengagement ranged from journalistic coverage being too focused on the political horse race, to the lack of information, to the news being too negative. Using parameters and analytic tools I would have had to take advanced courses in statistics in order to comprehend, Samara Canada pulled very clear results from thousands of media voices (newspapers, television channels, and tweets) to show how validated these sentiments were.

While I could summarize the report for you here, the original itself is written in a clear and accessible manner, with lovely pie charts that are easy to understand (more on that later). Occupiers & Legislators: A Snapshot of Political Media Coverage (the main topic of the night) and Samara Canada’s other two reports are available here.

Afterwards the presentation (not news to me, but Alison Loat is a wonderful speaker, and she, Co-Founder and Chair Michael MacMillan and Research Manager Wayne Chu fielded questions with expertise) the room was full of conversation. There I was, talking politics and democracy with strangers just like those cool people you read about in 19th century French books. I had some thrilling conversation afterwards with other guests and Wayne Chu. As we discussed what data could be mined, how it could be looked at, and what the results could imply, I learned Samara Canada intends to make its data public and available for anyone else to use. Freedom of information, fancy that! Another guest made a perfect analogy: Samara Canada is working on a wiki, not a stone tablet. With their limited staff Samara Canada has been able to produce some very interesting findings. It will be terrific to see what others will be able to derive from the statistical content too.

Before signing off, I’d like to repeat my kudos to Wayne Chu, who is not only a wizard with numbers but a dab hand at design. With reports or presentations that are lackluster or worse in their design, there isn’t any thought given to the user experience. It’s like the speaker doesn’t actually care if the audience enjoys their side of the interaction. As a designer myself, it was refreshing to see such clean and easy-on-the-eyes design not only in the slides but in the report, and the infographics.

You think this stuff doesn’t matter? All else being equal, whatever is easiest to digest visually will get the better reception, is the more accessible. How do you think I earned my keep in business school? By reformatting charts and financial analysis so they looked gorgeous, and far removed from directly copy/pasting an Excel table or graph (as most other students did).

I strongly encourage you to learn more about Samara Canada. Like all good things, they can be found on twitter, and of course at their website.


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