PRESIDENT’S PERSPECTIVE: Mission Possible – Implementing a New Culture for Urban Watershed Protection and Restoration in British Columbia



Tim Pringle reflects on “Creating Change on the Ground”

A decade ago, the Province of British Columbia made a conscious decision to follow an educational rather than prescriptive path to change practices for the use and conservation of land and water. Practical research and new tools are now enabling engineers, planners and other disciplines to do business differently. Case study experience demonstrates that creating change on the ground revolves around four basic ingredients:

  1. Start with a unifying concept that makes sense (e.g. ‘design with nature’ goal);
  2. Develop a science-based and pragmatic methodology for undertaking technical analyses (e.g. water balance);
  3. Create a web-based calculation tool that has a user-friendly interface and is accessible to anyone (e.g. Water Balance Model for British Columbia); and
  4. Implement a multi-audience outreach and professional development program that is defined by consistent messaging.

A fifth ingredient is patience. It takes time to incrementally change the practitioner culture in the local government setting and implement a new way of doing business.


Top Down and Bottom Up Approach

Major breakthroughs happen when decision-makers in government work with grass-roots visionaries in the community to create the future desired by all. Collaboration grows from a shared vision about the future and commitment to action:

Collectively this is what we want to incrementally achieve and, over time, this is how we will work together to get there.

This is the ‘top down and bottom up’ approach. It is about turning the whole game around to ‘design with nature’ as a consistent approach to development and redevelopment, urban infrastructure practices, and protection/restoration of stream and watershed health.


Mission Possible

Released in June 2010, Beyond the Guidebook 2010: Implementing a New Culture for Urban Watershed Protection and Restoration in British Columbia describes how a ‘convening for action’ philosophy has taken root in British Columbia. Bringing together local government practitioners in neutral forums has enabled implementers to collaborate as regional teams. Their action-oriented focus has resulted in ‘how to do it’ examples that help decision-makers visualize what ‘design with nature’ policy goals look like on the ground.

People learn through stories. Beyond the Guidebook 2010 is a ‘telling of the stories’ of how change is being implemented on the ground in British Columbia. The practitioner and community culture is changing as an outcome of collaboration, partnerships and alignment. Changing the culture requires a process. This takes time to complete. There is no short-cut.


Achieving Watershed Outcomes

Lessons learned by those who have done it can help those who want to move to a design with nature strategy:
  1. Choose to be enabled.
  2. Establish high expectations.
  3. Embrace a shared vision.
  4. Collaborate as a ‘regional team’.
  5. Align and integrate efforts.
  6. Celebrate innovation.
  7. Connect with community advocates.
  8. Develop local government talent.
  9. Promote shared responsibility.
  10. Change the land ethic for the better.

Systemic change is possible, as the case study experience in Beyond the Guidebook 2010 demonstrates, even in the complicated sphere of planning for use and conservation of land. It requires understanding and pursuit of holistic outcomes.

Posted April 2011