Harnessing collective creativity to shape the future of Catholic education across Ontario

Harnessing collective creativity to shape the future of Catholic education
across Ontario


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The Institute for Catholic Education (ICE) works with seven partner organizations that together share responsibility for English Catholic education in Ontario. Together, they provide support for 29 districts and 1.5 million families throughout the 1 million-square-kilometre (386,102-square-mile) province.

Through ICE, the Assembly of Catholic Bishops of Ontario provides guidance that helps establish direction for Catholic education in the province. About two years ago, the bishops asked ICE to plan a two-day symposium that would bring together 700 representatives from across the province to talk about future directions in Catholic education.

“It was essentially an exercise in strategic planning,” says ICE Executive Director, Mike Pautler. “There was a need for us to look at our current environment; to understand the burning challenges for the day. And there’s a need for us to start collectively generating creative ways to respond to the opportunities each of these challenges present.”

Pautler and his team wanted to gather broad feedback from as many community members as possible in every district to inform the face-to-face conversation. Combined with the eight francophone Catholic school districts from ICE’s sister organization, OPÉCO, the engagement involved 37 school districts and two languages.

“Thoughtexchange seemed to be a viable and realistic way to manage the logistics of an engagement on this scale,” Pautler explains.

Listening is the key

“Thoughtexchange worked beautifully for us in terms of really trying to understand what it was we wanted to achieve and how their team could support us,” adds Tamara Nugent, Director of Education at Wellington Catholic District School Board. “What made all the difference was the working relationship we had with the Thoughtexchange team. I felt they were invested in the work we were doing and committed to our collective success.”

“Thoughtexchange brought the expertise to the conversation to help us ask the right questions, and they did that simply by listening to us,” adds Nugent.

The ICE/OPÉCO team launched an interactive online discussion (an “exchange”) using Thoughtexchange software that gave staff, families and their partners in Catholic education, throughout the 37 districts, a chance to share thoughts and rate those shared by others. The rich data from their exchange delivered some surprising insights.

“The data pool was coming to us in a format that allowed us to both draw broad trends at a high level and drill down into a more detailed analysis where we needed to understand things that were surprising us,” says Pautler.

“From a district and provincial level, it was really important to understand what those special interest groups were and to start thinking about what that means for us in terms of our collective work,” Nugent adds.

After hearing from people across the province, each of the school boards launched a second exchange that helped shape the symposium. Finally, the ICE/OPÉCO team launched two more exchanges to help facilitate the dialogue at the event.

“Thoughtexchange brought the expertise to the conversation to help us ask the right questions, and they did that simply by listening to us.”Tamara Nugent - Director of Education,
Wellington Catholic School District

A grassroots initiative

The goal of the symposium was naming and understanding key challenges, identifying opportunities, and building consensus around appropriate responses. These responses would help school districts across the province develop their own direction-setting documents that prioritize shared goals and common interests.

A key outcome of the process will be a pastoral letter from the Assembly of Catholic Bishops of Ontario that will inspire and encourage the mission and vision for Catholic education in the province.

“It’s really important for those kinds of high-level direction-setting documents to sound like they’ve grown out of a context: out of people’s lived realities, the challenges of running faith-based schools in a society that’s clearly not faith-based,” explains Pautler.

He notes that in the past, they have never been able to bring together such a large collective voice, but with Thoughtexchange they’ve been able to get a “snapshot” of the provincial voice and then come together to effectively discuss what they heard.

“There’s a tremendous sense that this has been a grassroots initiative,” says Pautler. “And certainly the hope and my instinct would be that when the bishops’ letter does come out, it will be well-received and will carry a fair amount of weight and gravitas because it will be seen as emerging out of a very comprehensive process.”



Thoughtexchange provides software solutions that bring people together, build trust and make progress on important topics. Whether it’s employees, customers or whole communities, our solutions effortlessly connect you to your stakeholders. People can confidentially and independently share their thoughts, appreciate other points of view and understand how their perspectives are connected to decisions. Our patent-pending data analysis gives you the insights to make informed decisions and take action.



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