A Jane’s Walk is a walking conversation, or walking lecture, or starts as lecture, ends as conversation

A feature of the Jane’s Walk phenomenon, or movement, or whatever you wish to call it, is that not everyone knows what a Jane’s Walk is. I’m in that category. I don’t know precisely what a Jane’s Walk is. That’s something that I enjoy about the Jane’s Walk experience.

This is my fourth year of organizing such walks.

When I first began co-leading such walks in Long Branch (Toronto not New Jersey) with my friend Mike James in 2012, I learned that a Jane’s Walk can be approached as a walking conversation. That was really good to know. I also learned that it’s fine if there are several Jane’s Walks in the same place on the same day, in the same neighbourhood, addressing the same theme. I much liked that concept. No turf wars. No business about: “Hey, get lost, I was here first.”

Walking conversation

By the third year, 2014, Mike James and I had figured out what the features are, of a walking conversation, and how to make it happen. It begins with good intentions, no irony implied. Intentions matter tremendously in this business, as in any other.

Mike James has been co-leading Jane's Walks with Jaan Pill since 2012. Jaan Pill photo

Mike James has been co-leading Jane’s Walks with Jaan Pill since 2012. Jaan Pill photo

I recall one of our fellow walkers, in 2014, remarked that she had attended another Jane’s Walk, or a similar walk of some other name, which had the features of what I would now characterize as a walking lecture. That’s a term that has just occurred to me recently – the walking lecture. She said the lecture format was interesting, and she had learned many new things, but she much preferred the walking conversation format that she encountered when she joined a walk led by Mike James and Jaan Pill in Long Branch in 2014.

At the outset of the walk, Mike and I would each speak for a few minutes, and people could see at once that each of us has different views about things. If Mike says one thing, I say something quite different. If I say something, Mike’s take on the matter might be quite the opposite – always politely expressed, of course.

Sometimes I would say, “Please let us know if you think some point that I make is made in error.” People would find that pretty funny, especially at the very outset of a walk – the thought that a walk leader could readily get things mixed up, or speak in error, but that quickly set the tone: Mike and I had some information to share, but we didn’t know everything, and it was fine if your own views and knowledge differed from our own, and “Yes, we’d like to hear what you have to say. For sure.”

At the outset of each walk, Mike or I would hold up the mic – we always have had a rented portable amplifier, from Long & McQuade in Mississauga, as part of our walk equipment. We would make it clear that anybody who wants to, when we make our stops along the route, can step forward and address the crowd, and share some information. Having a mic to hold ensures that we always know who the next speaker will be, and the gesture of walking up and requesting the mic indicates that we are about to hear from a new speaker.

That’s what made it fun. So many people would speak out. So much interesting information would be shared, whenever we stopped at a particular spot along the route. People remember such walks. They remember what was discussed.

Comment from Jim Tovey at April 18, 2015 meeting at Long Branch Library


At “Jane’s Walk – How To” meeting at Long Branch Library on April 18, 2015, Jim Tovey, former president of the Lakeview Ratepayers Association, outlines history of Lakeview Legacy Project. Jaan Pill photo

At a talk that we organized about what a Jane’s Walk is, at the Long Branch Library on April 18, 2015, we had the good fortune to have as our guest speaker the Ward 1 Councillor from Mississauga, Jim Tovey. Jim is leading a Jane’s Walk in Mississauga this year, and has led Jane’s Walks in Mississauga in the past. In our discussion after his presentation, we sat in a semi-circle and each person took a turn describing what each person’s understanding was, of what a Jane’s Walk is. When his turn came, Jim Tovey remarked, “Sometimes it starts as a lecture and ends up as a conversation.”

Everybody’s reflections about what a Jane’s Walk means were of interest. Among the other ways to look at what a Jane’s Walk is, I thought Jim Tovey’s remark spoke of a good way to look at things. A Jane’s Walk can be a conversation, or it can be a lecture, or it can start as a lecture and turn into a conversation.

Rhetoric and reality: What is a Jane’s Walk? What is Social Innovation?

At May 6, 2012 Jane’s Walk, Mike James speaks at Parkview School at site of Colonel Samuel Smith’s cabin, built in 1797. The shiny object in front of Mike is a Traynor TVM10 portable amplifier, rented for about $15 from Long & McQuade in Mississauga. Jaan Pill photo

I’m aware of what the rhetoric is, with regard to what a Jane’s Walk is. Given that I have a strong interest in the distinction between the rhetoric, as it is applied to anything, and the evidence or reality to which the rhetoric refers, I don’t know, deep down, exactly what a Jane’s Walk is. As well, I like to think that arriving at a clear and strong distinction of what reality is, in any given situation, requires a grasp of, or a solid foundation in, the arts of rhetoric.

It’s not just that I don’t understand with clarity what a Jane’s Walk really is. I also do not know what Social Innovation is. That’s a term that I’ve often encountered, in recent years, occasionally with reference to the Jane’s Walk phenomenon. I don’t know what Social Innovation is. Nor do I know what a Social Enterprise is, although the concept does sound appealing. I’m thinking in particular with reference to what it means as rhetoric in contrast to what it means when one assesses the available evidence.

I see this as a positive state of affairs. My own path in life has been of a nature that some of the best things I’ve done, by way in particular of community self-organizing, have occurred under conditions where I didn’t have a clue what I was getting into. The open-endedness of things, of being faced with some pressing and urgent problem, whatever it may be, and then working together with other people to address it, is a quality that appeals to me strongly.


A Dec. 29, 2014 [that is, some years back] article at opendemocracy.net is entitled: Irresistibly biased? The blind spots of social innovation.”

The subhead reads: “Social innovation has an irresistible global appeal, but is it biased towards protecting the status quo?”

A May 26, 2016 London School of Economics article is entitled: “From the Third Way to the Big Society: the rise and fall of social capital.”

Click on the photos to enlarge them. Click again to enlarge them further.


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