Overcoming Fear and Doubt to Implement Changes in Infrastructure Standards


Note to Reader:

In 2007, the University of British Columbia (UBC) led a national initiative that was intended to create a network of experts that collaborate and share their experiences related to rainwater management. Funded by the Canadian Water Network, the kick-off event was held at UBC from June 20 through 22, 2007 and comprised a pre-conference workshop, conference and field tour.

The UBC event was followed by an event in Calgary later in 2007, with the third event held in Toronto in early 2008. To learn more about the UBC conference program, click on Canadian Water Network Launches Pan-Canadian Initiative at University of British Columbia Conference.

The conference day concluded with this question being posed to a panel of practitioners: Obstacles to innovations; how to introduce changes into stormwater management? Kim Stephens provided historical context.


Learning from Case Study Experience

Kim stephens (120pixels)In responding to the  challenge posed by this question, Kim Stephens (Program Coordinator, Water Sustainability Action Plan for British Columbia) stated: “Actually, in British Columbia we have moved beyond that question. It symbolizes where our mind-set was during the 2000-2001 period when we literally had to overcome fear and doubt in order to move ahead with projects such as the East Clayton Sustainable Community in Surrey, and UniverCity on Burnaby Mountain.”

“In 2000 and 2001, we were literally hanging on by our fingernails,” explained Stephens. “At the time, it was Patrick Condon who said…“if we fail, it will be aPatrick condon (60pixels) generation before anyone will even have the opportunity to try again; so we must not fail”…Well, we did not fail! And because we succeeded with East Clayton and UniverCity, those hard-fought successes have ultimately made it possible to hold this conference and talk about current successes.”

UniverCity aerial (200pixels)Kim Stephens was Project Manager for development of the precedent-setting rainwater management and watercourse protection plan for UniverCity on Burnaby Mountain. He was also on the East Clayton Advisory Committee and participated in a series of ‘negotiation charrettes’ that resolved various implementation issues during the period of fear and doubt.

In 2000, translating high expectations for UniverCity into practical design guidelines meant revisiting accepted drainage engineering practice. The UniverCity experience, and in particular the Water Balance Methodology developed by Kim Stephens, later became the heart of Stormwater Planning: A Guidebook for British Columbia. This then triggered development of the Water Balance Model for British Columbia, which in turn led to formation of the Green Infrastructure Partnership.

Building Consensus and Implementing Change

 1_from Awareness to Action

Stephens then referenced Chapter 11 from the Guidebook to elaborate on what is involved in overcoming barriers and accomplishing institutional change. Stephens noted that risk aversion is usually given as the reason that governments are reluctant to embrace innovation and integrated solutions.  However, he pointed out, the #1 organizational factor that results in failure to move from awareness to action is the lack of a decision process.  Understanding this reality leads to these three principles or phases of change:

  • Principle #1: Melt the Opposition – Obtain commitment from key stakeholders to support change (i.e. new values and beliefs).
  • Principle #2: Implement the Change – A good idea is immediate, but preparation for implementation can take 5 to 10 years.  Change will then take place quickly (e.g. within 6 months).
  • Principle #3: Re-Freeze – Reinforce new values and institutionalize the change.

Stephens told the audience that: “We are well into the second phase, which is implementing change. The innovation that has occurred in the past three years is absolutely outstanding. Every municipality is doing something. We used to go down to Washington State to see what they are doing. Now they come up here to see what we are doing. It is the scale at which we are implementing rainwater management and green infrastructure that distinguishes British Columbia. We are very close to being in the third phase, which is to ‘re-freeze’ the new institutional values.”

Turning Challenges into Opportunities

Drawing on the Guidebook, Stephens then reviewed the seven primary barriers that can stymie the paradigm-shift from awareness to action. For each bullet, he turned a negative into a positive. “Champions have emerged throughout British Columbia, we have recognized the need to change, and we are increasingly confident as to how to move forward,” he noted.


“People do care and they are saying we must change,” Stephens continued. “We are forming partnerships to get things done, local governments are now starting to share lessons learned and network through programs such as the Showcasing Green Infrastructure Innovation Series. And we are providing practitioners with the tools and experience to develop land differently.”

Bringing About Voluntary Change

Next, Stephens reviewed the six steps that will result in voluntary change by local government. “Circa 2001, we were saying ‘this is what we need to do to gain political commitment’. Six years later, we can place a tick mark beside each step because we have been systematically moving our way down the list,” stated Stephens.

Slide3_Building Consensus

“By 2002, we had developed the original spreadsheet version of the Water Balance Model, for example, and we were able to demonstrate to elected officials the need for early action AND show that over a 50-year time horizon local governments could make a material difference in protecting stream health by implementing alternative land development standards,” continued Stephens.

“That set in motion a chain of events. We consciously made the effort to integrate perspectives. Through partnerships, we began to align roles and responsibilities to achieve a shared vision,” Stephens added. “For the Water Balance Model, for example, we developed an outreach and continuing education. We took our traveling road show to a range of stakeholder groups; and through that process we developed a common vocabulary so that everyone would understand the message.”

Convening for Action: Now What!

After providing the foregoing historical perspective, Stephens briefly described the Convening for Action process that is the hallmark of the Water Sustainability Action Plan for British Columbia. “Collectively, we are very good at talking about problems and saying what we should do. We are not very good at actually bridging the gap between talk and action. When we convene for action, we challenge our audiences by asking Now What…now what are you going to do differently when you leave the room?”

Slide4_CFA elements

Stephens concluded his remarks by again making reference to the Showcasing Green Infrastructure Innovation Series: “The concept is simple – bring people together so that they can network. We find that it is the casual conversations on the bus that are the most valuable to participants.”

UBC conference - guidebook cover (240pixels)To learn more about practical experience and lessons learned in Developing a Shared Vision, Overcoming Barriers to Implementation, Moving from Planning to Action, and Translating a Shared Vision into Action….click on this link to Guidebook Chapter 11 – Building Consensus and Implementing Change.

 Green Infrastructure Partnership_Connecting-People_Sep2007