In 2006, Mayors and Chairs Focus Group yielded insights about HOW to lead and implement “green infrastructure change” in BC
Note to Readers:
The following story is extracted from Chapter 5 of Beyond the Guidebook 2010, released in June 2010. This water-centric guidance document tells the stories of how change is being implemented on the ground in British Columbia. To download a PDF version of the 4-page excerpt, click on OCEP: Showcasing Green Infrastructure Innovation — Mayors and Chairs Focus Group.
Convening for Action Consultation Workshops were Transformational
During the period May 2004 through June 2007, four consultation workshops were organized under the Convening for Action in British Columbia umbrella: two were held in Metro Vancouver; and the other two on Vancouver Island.
2005 REAC Workshop
In May 2005, the Green Infrastructure Partnership organized (and the City of Surrey hosted) a workshop that was designed to engage the Metro Vancouver Regional Engineers Advisory Committee. It was branded as the ‘REAC Workshop’.
“The 2005 workshop truly was a dynamic and transformational event; and inspired a complete revamping of our ‘convening for action’ approach and work plan. This influenced everything that has followed, including the work to date by the CAVI Leadership Team on Vancouver Island,” recalls Raymond Fung, Chair.
“A pivotal outcome of the 2005 workshop was our decision to consult with a number of Mayors and Chairs from the Okanagan, Metro Vancouver and Vancouver Island. We formed an ad hoc focus group to help us.”
“We made the decision to consolidate our efforts in the Okanagan because of the synergies with the Convening for Action in the South Okanagan pilot program, initiated in October 2005. Interviews were conducted in the first half of 2006.”
Mayors and Chairs Focus Group
“We had it in our minds to write a Communication Guide for Elected Officials. We saw this filling a gap because what has been lacking is this – written information on green infrastructure from the perspective of elected officials, for elected officials. So we conducted one-on-one interviews,” continues Ray Fung.
“Before we could write a Communication Guide, we needed to understand what elected officials already knew plus what they would like to know about green infrastructure. Only then could we judge what level of information would be useful to them.”
“A distinguishing feature of the focus group was that everyone had thought about how to achieve environmental, economic and social objectives through a community’s infrastructure choices.”
A ‘conversation template’ guided the one-on-one interviews with elected officials. It comprised a set of five questions that drilled down from high level to ground level. The questions were open-ended. The answers influenced the line of follow-on questions.
The one-on-one interviews yielded consistent insights. A unifying theme was the issue of leading and implementing change; also, emphasis was placed on the importance of mobilizing political will to achieve settlement change in balance with ecology.
To gain an appreciation for the cascading nature of the five questions, click on Conversation Template for Interviews with Mayors & Chairs Focus Group
The interviews with elected officials were conducted on behalf of the Green Infrastructure Partnership by Kim Stephens, Program Coordinator for the Water Sustainability Action Plan. “Green infrastructure is not fully understood, but is seen as water-centric,” he observed in 2006. “In the Okanagan, green infrastructure is associated with the use of water and sustainability of supply; whereas in the Greater Vancouver region and on Vancouver Island, it is associated with control of water that runs off the land and sustainability of aquatic habitat.”
“Looking back, connecting the dots in this way proved to be a light-bulb moment. We are indebted to the Mayors and Chairs Focus Group,” states Stephens in 2010. “They helped us redefine how practitioners view water sustainability. Green infrastructure has become the common language of practitioners in the local government setting. This enabled us to be more effective in shining the spotlight on land development policies and practices, and the need to do business differently.”
“Regardless of whether one is on the coast or in the interior, implementation of the same ‘green’ standards can achieve the full range of desired outcomes – from sustainability of supply to sustainability of aquatic habitat.”
A common theme in the Focus Group interviews was their high expectations for systemic change as an outcome of the November 2005 local government elections. In this regard, key messages arising from the conversations with the Focus Group are synthesized in a 2006 summary report and are listed below.
- Time is of the essence.
- To create a legacy, there must first be a shared vision.
- Trumpet small successes.
- Encourage innovation.
- Federal/provincial infrastructure programs will ultimately drive changes to infrastructure standards and practices.
- Leaders can create the ‘buzz’, the interest and the energy to imagine what the future could look like and then make it happen.
- The position of mayor provides a leader with the credibility and authority necessary to translate a community vision into action.
- Mayoral collaboration will be a powerful force for change when there is a shared regional vision for the Built Environment.
“What we learned was not unexpected. Rather, it was more a case of validation. The findings and key messages are standing the test of time,” concludes Ray Fung.
A Focus Group Perspective
“Since I have been advocating for improvements to our watersheds I have witnessed many groups in the Okanagan working together in developing a clear plan for water sustainability,” stated Kelowna Mayor Sharon Shepherd in providing her perspective on Beyond the Guidebook 2010.
“It is essential that we continue to promote the efficient use of water using the best conservation techniques and at the same time strengthen local and provincial environment policy that would protect the very important watersheds that are under constant pressure for other uses.”
To Learn More:
To download the report about the focus group interviews, click on Water – Choosing Sustainability for Life & Livelihoods: Convening for Action in British Columbia
The starting point for interviews was the premise that “we can create our future”, and the decisions that elected officials make today ripple through time. Those decisions can result in either cumulative impacts or cumulative benefits. These conversations yielded insights that have shaped implementation of Convening for Action in British Columbia.
Click on UBCM Annual Convention provides platform for rollout of ‘Beyond the Guidebook 2010’ — “We will use this coming together of BC’s local leaders to share and learn from each other’s experiences, and gain ideas to move our own communities forward,” states Harry Nyce, President of the Union of BC Municipalities.