Kaslo is considering expanded community engagement through online services. Black Press file photo

Kaslo 2.0: Effort to take the village’s local government online advances

The first step if approved would be setting up a Kaslo Health Hub

by John Boivin

Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Kaslo residents may soon be going online to talk about the future of the community, take part in village-only polls and discussion groups, and get health information and other medical support.

A committee of council has recommended council adopt a plan to develop Kaslo 2.0 – an effort to bring various civic activities and community services online.

“Essentially, it’s a cloud-based entity that would allow rural, remote and First Nations communities in B.C. an opportunity to shape their own health, wellness and future,” says Randy Morse, the communications head of BC Rural Centre, a non-profit.

Morse first pitched the idea of Kaslo 2.0 at a council meeting in June, and the project’s details have been hashed out and expanded since then. The concept cleared its first hurdle about two weeks ago, when the village’s COVID-19 Recovery Committee endorsed the project and recommended council do the same.

If it says yes, Morse says the first step will be setting up a Kaslo Health Hub.

The idea for the health hub first grew out of a recent conference involving provincial health administrators, First Nations, medical practitioners, and local health committees, says Morse.

The idea is to create an online discussion forum where people can discuss health issues and gain access to resources. It’s social media without the trolls, conspiracy theories, arguments with strangers, or cat videos.

“People can share their questions, share concerns, and best of all share ideas on solutions, confident that everyone taking part in the conversation actually lives in Kaslo,” says Morse. “It’s very secure, privacy-protected environment that is the antithesis of social media like Facebook.

“The topic can be ‘how can someone who lives in a small remote place like Kaslo have better access to specialists?’ for example. Or ‘how could folks who live in a rural, remote place find doctors who are willing to take on patients, using virtually enhanced care, like tele-health?’”

The online forums can be big or small, public or private, on topics large or small.

Another big difference with social media is this platform is endorsed and supported by the health care bureaucracy, from the Minister of Health to health regions to local doctor committees, says Morse.

“It gives citizens a direct voice and a direct pathway to the folks who, at the end of the day, operationalize solutions that are funded by the Ministry of Health, a $21-billion budget,” he says.

A number of factors play into Kaslo possibly becoming the first community in B.C. to be part of a pilot project. Morse says Kaslo’s community-owned fibre-optic network provides an unprecedented opportunity to provide a secure, online, location-based service. Also, the BC Rural Centre, spearheading the project, has a presence in the community (Morse himself). Kaslo has engaged local politicians, and a very active community health committee.

It’s not known what price tag Kaslo 2.0 comes with. Morse says that depends on its final configuration, what funding is available, and the resources that are put into it. That’s all for council to decide.

But he says on the health front, there is a big payoff for the investment.

“The benefits of having a better informed, better engaged citizenry who have a better sense of how the system works, and have an opportunity to shape the health care delivery system, is going to pay off in spades,” he says.

That’s even more important in rural areas, he says, where an illness can mean leaving the community for a day, week or months for treatment in larger centres.

But Morse says the health hub is just the beginning of making Kaslo the province’s rural communications capital.

Morse says using the same discussion software — called Place-Speak — other local governments have been able to build citizen engagement on local issues. He’d like to see the same thing for Kaslo.

“The Cowichan Valley has seen upsurge in citizen engagement,” he says. “It’s easier for decision makers in that Regional District to make important decisions from local, small kinds of issues to quite big ones.

“Instead of seven or eight disgruntled people showing up for a meeting, you are getting input from hundreds of people from all walks of life, different demographics.”

With Kaslo council about to launch public consultations on a new Official Community Plan, Morse believes the time is right.

“It basically recognizes we are in the 21st century,” he says. “COVID has taught us a lot of things, and one of them is we better learn to use cloud-based technology as effectively and as efficiently as we can, and to continue to do so.”

Council is expected to decide on joining the project Aug. 11.

— From the Valley Voice

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