GEORGIA BASIN INTER-REGIONAL EDUCATION INITIATIVE, A UNIQUE MECHANISM FOR LOCAL GOVERNMENT COLLABORATION: “Growing a network based on shared aspirations, and delivering results across organizational boundaries differs in every way from building an organization in any conventional sense.” – Derek Richmond, Partnership for Water Sustainability in BC


Note to Reader:

Waterbucket eNews celebrates the leadership of individuals and organizations who are guided by the Living Water Smart vision. Storylines accommodate a range of reader attention spans. Read the headline and move on, or take the time to delve deeper – it is your choice!  Downloadable versions are available at Living Water Smart in British Columbia: The Series.

The edition published on November 22, 2022 featured the Georgia Basin Inter-Regional Education Initiative. Launched in 2012, the IREI facilitates peer-based education and collective leadership among local governments located on the east coast of Vancouver and in the Lower Mainland. The IREI partners demonstrate “collaborative leadership in action”.

Georgia Basin Inter-Regional Initiative, a unique mechanism for local government collaboration

The pressing need for timely, affordable and effective solutions is the driver for local government collaboration under the banner of the Georgia Basin Inter-Regional Education Initiative (IREI). The goal of collaboration is to build local government capacity, capability, and competence to deliver on expectations.

In 2012, the Partnership asked five Regional Boards – Cowichan Valley, Nanaimo Region, Comox Valley, Capital Region, and Metro Vancouver – to support inter-governmental and inter-regional collaboration that leverages more with the same resources. And so, the IREI was launched.

Asset Management for Sustainable Service Delivery, Watershed Health, Rainwater Management – these are inter-connected and longstanding priorities for communities on the east coast of Vancouver Island and in the Lower Mainland region. An overarching message is that “green infrastructure is the pathway to water sustainability”.

KEY MESSAGE #1: Collaborative leadership delivers results across boundaries

The IREI program showcases what “collaborative leadership in action” looks like. It is about bringing the right people together in constructive ways with good information, such that they create authentic visions and strategies for addressing the shared concerns of their organizations and community.

With this edition of Waterbucket eNews, we celebrate a decade of accomplishment under the IREI banner. Look back to see ahead. That is the Partnership frame of reference. Going forward, the Partnership emphasis is on inter-generational collaboration and the passing of the baton.

KEY MESSAGE #2: Ambassadors Program is a pathway to inter-generational collaboration

Dr. Jane Wei-Skillern’s guiding principles for collaborative leadership flow from her groundbreaking research into organizational behaviour when she was an Assistant Professor at Harvard Business School at Harvard University. Derek Richmond, chair of the Partnership’s ambassadors program,  explains why Dr. Jane is a valued advisor to the Partnership:

“Dr. Jane Wei-Skillern always acts as a great sounding board about the concepts underpinning our network approach in general and our Ambassadors Program in particular. Earlier in November, we touched bases with Dr. Jane to seek her insight into how we ensure the succession, sustainability and credibility of the partnership network.”

“She validated that we have been doing things right with the IREI and Ambassadors programs. We knew that intuitively but it helps when a ‘neutral’ party reaffirms that. For me, the biggest takeaway from our conversation with Dr. Jane concerns the what, how and who’ as the current leadership of the Partnership looks ahead to pass the baton.”

“The Ambassadors Program complements the IREI Program and is emerging as a foundation piece for inter-generational collaboration. Using it as the example of WHAT; – this was the breakthrough to articulate our need for succession planning and sustainability of the network. The WHO now becomes obvious as the ambassadors themselves.”

“The HOW is now clear too, by looking back at what we were successful with in the past. As we look back to see ahead, it is clear in our minds that the Ambassadors Program is a pathway to inter-generational collaboration,” concludes Derek Richmond.



“The Partnership for Water Sustainability is a legal entity. Operationally, however, we function as the hub for a network that is guided by the collaborative leadership model. This approach reflects our genesis, first as a technical committee and then as a roundtable,” stated Kim Stephens, Waterbucket eNews Editor and Partnership Executive Director.

“We are growing the network. We are not building a conventional organization. Collaborative leadership uses the power of influence rather than positional authority to engage and align individuals and organizations within a network; and delivers results across organizational boundaries.”

Network holds key to intergenerational collaboration

“The network is how we build bridges of understanding and pass the baton from the past to the present and future. In this way, the network is a foundation piece for succession planning.”

“For the Partnership for Water Sustainability to be successful in facilitating changes in practice over the long-term, the work on the ground must be done by our partners. This means our efforts must be aligned with and support their organizational aspirations and objectives. This is a guiding principle!”

Emerging example of how to pass the baton

“The Partnership’s approach to mainstreaming EAP, the Ecological Accounting Process  establishes a precedent for passing the baton. Over a 3-year period, the Partnership is embedding the EAP program in the Mount Arrowsmith Biosphere Region Research Institute (MABRRI) at Vancouver Island University.”

“The embedding process is a collaboration with three willing local government partners. They foresee the value of operationalizing EAP within their planning and decision processes while investing in development of young talent. The goal is that everyone understands the context for the methodology and asks the right questions.”

“This approach ensures that knowledge of EAP is maintained, evolved and passed on to the next generations of planners and municipal staff. The program goal is to continue evolving EAP to meet the needs of local governments in achieving affordable and effective solution.”


STORY BEHIND THE STORY: Georgia Basin Inter-Regional Initiative, a unique mechanism for local government collaboration

There is no formal mechanism to enable or facilitate inter-regional collaboration in British Columbia. For the past decade, the Partnership has filled this gap in the southwest corner of the province, where 75% of the population lives, through the Georgia Basin Inter-Regional Education Initiative.

The IREI facilitates peer-based education and collective leadership among local governments located on the east coast of Vancouver and in the Lower Mainland. A goal of inter-governmental and inter-regional collaboration is to leverage more with the same resources.

In 2012, the Partnership for Water Sustainability asked five Regional Boards – Cowichan Valley, Nanaimo Region, Comox Valley, Capital Region, and Metro Vancouver – to formally collaborate under the IREI umbrella. The five passed Board Resolutions affirming their support. And so, the IREI was launched.

Board Resolutions enabled the transition from the successful ‘proof of approach’ on Vancouver Island, during the period 2006 through 2011 (i.e. under the CAVI-Convening for Action on Vancouver Island banner), to full-scale IREI implementation by 2014.

In 2016, the five Regional Boards recommitted to inter-regional collaboration when the Partnership launched the EAP initiative (where EAP is the acronym for the Ecological Accounting Process).

In 2023, the Partnership for Water Sustainability will be asking the newly elected Regional Boards to recommit once more.

PART ONE – Focus on Context, Intent and Results

The IREI is nested within the Water Sustainability Action Plan which, in turn, is nested within Living Water Smart, British Columbia’s Water Plan. Cascading is the reverse way to think about this nesting concept. Each successive layer in the cascade adds depth and detail to enable the move from awareness to implementation – that is, ACTION.

Watershed Health, Rainwater Management and Asset Management for Sustainable Service Delivery have been related priorities for communities on the east coast of Vancouver Island and in the Metro Vancouver region for the best part of two decades, and in some cases longer.

Furthermore, local governments have for years been struggling with the question of how best to move forward on these priorities, particularly in light of a changing climate and community expectations to provide higher levels-of-service at reduced levels-of-cost.

The ‘implementation challenge’ is the driver for collaboration under the IREI umbrella. Collaboration at all levels would help everyone better deliver on policy goals and regulatory requirements. Inter-regional collaboration helps the champions in each region understand what other regions are doing, what works, and what does not.

‘Mind Map’ for Collaboration:

The implementation spotlight is on what does the Watershed Health Goal mean in practice, and how will it be translated it into action on the ground. Collaborating regions view Watershed Health Goal through complementary lenses. Together, these lenses form a complete picture. This is illustrated in the image below.

PART TWO – What inter-regional collaboration looks like

In 2012, each region hosted a ‘sharing and learning’ event to initiate the IREI program. Year 1 constituted the ‘proof-of-approach’ for aligning efforts and leveraging more with the same resources. 25 local governments participated.

In 2013, a group of local government champions representing the five geographic regions convened as an “inter-regional leadership team” and committed to working together to achieve this goal: Restore and/or protect stream and watershed health. Alignment with provincial policies was deemed to be a critical success factor.

In 2014, the partner regions hosted a series of Inter-Regional Collaboration Sessions. This process aligned with each region’s priorities and individual work plans. Regions shared with, and learned from, each other. Beyond the Guidebook 2015 was the deliverable.

Since 2016, the IREI spotlight has been on the 6-year program of applied research to test, refine and mainstream the methodology and metrics for EAP, the Ecological Accounting Process. EAP provides local governments with a path forward to address the Riparian Deficit. This is the environmental equivalent of the Infrastructure Funding Gap. It is game-changing.

Guiding principles for successful collaboration: 

Systemic change is possible, even in the complicated sphere of planning for use and conservation of land. It requires understanding and pursuit of holistic outcomes. Partnership experience is synthesized as the set of 10 guiding principles for success (as listed in the image below).

The IREI process involves drilling down from the vision and goals of a regional plan and exploring the ‘how-to’ details of implementation and integration. One can have “implementation” without “integration”; but implementation will likely be ineffective without integration.Integration means a holistic approach to use and conservation of land and water. It encompasses physical infrastructure, the built environment (land use, development and building design) and the ecosystems within which we work and recreate. And it includes all practitioners whose profession, work, volunteer role or responsibility as a landowner affects land and water sustainability


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About the Partnership for Water Sustainability in BC

Technical knowledge alone is not enough to resolve water challenges facing BC. Making things happen in the real world requires an appreciation and understanding of human behaviour, combined with a knowledge of how decisions are made. It takes a career to figure this out.

The Partnership has a primary goal, to build bridges of understanding and pass the baton from the past to the present and future. To achieve the goal, the Partnership is growing a network in the local government setting. This network embraces collaborative leadership and inter-generational collaboration.