ABCD Roundtable at Under Western Skies

This recap was written by ABCD Research Assistant Geoff Salomons, a 3rd year PhD student from the Department of Political Science at the University of Alberta.

If you are want maximum turnout for a conference panel, don’t schedule it during an unprecedented beginning of September snowfall. Four ABCD researchers presented at the Under the Western Skies Conference in Calgary on September 10, 2014, under just these conditions. Nevertheless, those who managed to get through the snow and traffic had a thoughtful and engaging discussion about deliberation on climate change in Alberta.

Several themes stood out.

First, the relationship between facts and values in deliberative settings. On the one hand, deliberative democracy argues that talk-based collective decision making allows participants to be more informed about complex issues than aggregative models. However, the complexity of an issue like climate change and the short duration of the deliberative mini-publics conducted by ABCD meant that we had to rely quite strongly on expert presentations. This may have compromised our inclusion of alternative perspectives (this alongside the fact that the Edmonton Citizens’ Panel deliberately recruited participants for attitudinal diversity). The framing of some information presented to participants as “fact” depoliticized the value systems that give those facts meaning and authority.

A second major theme concerned realistic expectations of deliberative mini-publics. Kristjana’s presentation highlighted the fact that many participants didn’t alter their own positions, especially those convinced that more advocacy and protest was needed to address the climate challenge. Lorelei admitted she was skeptical of these processes. Geoff then said he remains a “deliberative optimist” but that the expectations of deliberative processes, especially mini-publics with a short duration, should be evaluated with realistic expectations. In particular, deliberative processes should be evaluated against a specific alternative – typically aggregative electoral democracy marked by the strong influence from special interests. Deliberative mini-publics might help us move a step closer to solving the climate challenge compared with the status quo, but it is unlikely to overcome all of the various complex and systemic political dynamics that go into such a “wicked problem”.

UWS Panel 2
The ABCD panelists remained to listen to that morning’s keynote address by Patty Limerick, Faculty Director of the Center of the American West at the University of Colorado. She began her talk by presenting a thesis: that we get further with collaboration than we do with advocacy. Her talk then traced her work in the state of Colorado dealing with public engagement processes around the contentious issue of fracking. After concluding our own panel on a somewhat skeptical note, Patty Limerick’s talk reignited our own interest and optimism for the work that ABCD is doing. Our hope is to now turn that experience into a book chapter for an Under the Western Skies conference volume.

“Water In A Changing Climate” Video

On Feb 22, 2014, 33 diverse participants gathered at the University of Lethbridge to deliberate about climate change and water resources, and make recommendations to the Oldman Watershed Council.

The project was led by ABCD member Gwendolyn Blue at the University of Calgary, with design and facilitation by Jacquie Dale. The Panel was a partnership between Alberta Climate Dialogue and the Oldman Watershed Council.

“Citizens as Climate Leaders” Video

On April 22, 2014, Alberta Climate Dialogue hosted a panel on “Citizens as Climate Leaders,” featuring Eriel Deranger, Ian Mauro, and David Suzuki. Here’s the video:

Thanks for all who attended the event, to all of the volunteers who supported it, to Grand Chief Makinaw of Treaty 6 and the elders who offered remarks, to our partners at City of Edmonton and the University of Alberta Office of Sustainability, and to Angelica Quesada, who led on event logistics.

Water In a Changing Climate: Initial Reflections on an Experimental Deliberative Process

This reflections was written by ABCD Researcher Dr. Gwendolyn Blue of the University of Calgary and Jacquie Dale

Water in a Changing Climate was the third installment in Alberta Climate Dialogue’s community deliberations.

In partnership with the Oldman Watershed Council, ABCD designed and convened a one-day citizen deliberation on climate change and water. The event was held on February 22, 2014, at the University of Lethbridge. This facilitated deliberation consisted of a diverse group of 33 invited participants who, following an application process, were selected on the basis of gender, age, occupation, location of residence as well as views on climate change. The selection process ensured a diversity of backgrounds and perspectives in the room. All participants lived in the watershed.

The deliberation was designed and facilitated by Jacquie Dale. Five small group facilitators coordinated break out groups. A half-day training session (supported by a training manual) was provided for facilitators and note takers the day before the deliberation.  To support an informed discussion, participants got a handbook in advance of the deliberation. At the event, two speakers gave background on climate change in the region and on the current state of the watershed.

The community sponsor was the Oldman Watershed Council (OWC), a grassroots community group of citizens, municipalities, businesses, provincial government and non-governmental organizations who want to protect, restore, and enhance the local watershed where they live, work and play. The OWC serves an advisory role to the provincial government in developing its water management strategy.

The deliberation aimed to support participants to

  • Have an informed dialogue about the projected impacts of climate change on water;
  • Identify the concerns, hopes and values that resonate most on this issue, and where there is common ground;
  • Identify key areas that need more community involvement and policy development, including recommendations for consideration by the Oldman Watershed Council.

For researchers and practitioners, this deliberation was an opportunity to experiment with two design elements: testing how deep we could go with deliberation on a complex issue in just one day and reframing the public debate on climate change.

Why a Day?

Often, policy-focused citizen deliberations on complex topics are held over several days to provide participants with time to learn about and  examine the issue in depth, to work out trade-offs and to formulate robust recommendations for policy makers. As a result, deliberative processes tend to be time and cost intensive.

Given its resource-intensive nature, deliberative democracy, as it is conventionally practiced, risks being an elite process, limited to those institutions and individuals with sufficient resources.  Many institutions that might otherwise be interested in exploring alternative approaches to public engagement have limited finances and staff.

Water in a Changing Climate was an experiment in what a deliberative process can accomplish in a day. We were interested in exploring to what extent people could get into a “values-based discussion” – the heart of citizen deliberation. Could they “frame the issues” for deliberation? Could they could work through trade-offs and get to nuanced recommendations?

Reframing the debate on climate change: 

Water in a Changing Climate also explores how an alternative framing of climate change might influence social learning about this issue and about deliberative democracy.

Thus far, ABCD has concentrated its efforts on exploring the intersections between climate change and energy, with a focus on mitigation, primarily through reducing greenhouse gases.

Water in a Changing Climate tried to put global climate change discussions ‘in place’ by focusing attention on present and future effects of climate change. Water is one of the first and most immediate registers of global temperature increase. Adapting to climate change means adapting to changes in the hydrological cycle. These changes are regional and require careful attention to place. For example, in southern Alberta, climate change will contribute to prolonged periods of drought, with increased precipitation in winter and spring, leading to higher probability of floods.

As an alternate lens on climate change, water shifts the focus of discussion. First, it addresses adaptation as well as mitigation. Second, water provides a way of thinking through the immediacy of climate change, challenging the oft-held assumption that climate change is distant in time and space. Finally, given that water is essential to the well being of nonhuman as well as human organisms, it provides an opportunity to move beyond anthropocentric (human-centered) ways of responding to climate change.

Initial reflections

While we are still writing up findings, we offer some initial reflections on our experiences.

The general consensus from participants was that the dialogue provided a very positive experience. They enjoyed talking with what they perceived to be diversity of people (not the usual suspects).

Values were brought explicitly into the room early on, but we were still surprised by the ease with which participants incorporated values into the dialogue. Indeed, the topic of one small group was framed by participants around a set of values.  Getting to trade-offs and nuanced recommendations was more difficult and uneven for a variety of reasons that we will explore in another blog post. But four of the five groups clearly got to ideas and advice that they would not have walked in the room with.

One of the challenges we faced was focusing the discussion on climate change. Although background information was provided in advance and a guest speaker provided information on climate change in the region, the discussions during the day focused on existing water problems and did not address climate change per se.

This suggests that researchers and practitioners need to learn more about how to guide people to think through the complexity of climate change and the uncertain futures that it brings forth.


Citizens as Climate Leaders: A film screening and panel with David Suzuki

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Tuesday, April 22, 2014 7 to 9:30 p.m. University of Alberta, Centennial Centre for Interdisciplinary Science, Room 1-430

In the last two years ABCD has convened three major citizen deliberations in Alberta on climate change. Participants in these deliberations have heard diverse perspectives, articulated underlying values, weighed evidence and trade offs, and made recommendations to governments and other public bodies.

These citizens are climate leaders, giving their time and energy to identifying public values and the energy policies that fit these values, and advocating for their recommendations.

As part of our continuing exploration of what citizen leadership on climate change looks like, ABCD is presenting a panel featuring David Suzuki, filmmaker Ian Mauro, and Eriel Deranger of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation. These three panelists will discuss the kinds of leadership needed in an age of climate change, and how to cultivate this leadership. The event will also feature the Alberta premiere of Ian Mauro’s short film, Climate Change in Atlantic Canada.

This discussion is timely given that the Government of Alberta has just committed $35 million to establishing the Lougheed Leadership College at the University of Alberta. What might this College have to do to cultivate the leadership skills needed in the face of profound systemic challenges like climate change?

TicketsRegister to guarantee your seat. Tickets are available for a suggested contribution of $20 per person (you can alternatively choose to contribute $10 or $40). Proceeds will go to The Local Good’s Resiliency Fair and the University of Alberta’s Green Grants program. Child care will be offered at the venue; please email Saima at by April 14 to arrange this.

This event is brought to you by Alberta Climate Dialogue, Alberta Public Interest Research Group, the City of Edmonton and the University of Alberta’s Office of Sustainability.

About the panelists

David Suzuki is an award-winning scientist, environmentalist, broadcaster and co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation. He is renowned for his radio and television programs that explain the complexities of the natural sciences in a compelling, easily understood way.

Dr. Ian Mauro is an Associate Professor in the Department of Geography at the University of Winnipeg. Mauro works at the interface between the social and ecological sciences and is a pioneer of multi-media methodologies, scholarship and education.

Eriel Tchekwie Deranger is a Dene indigenous activist and member of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation of Northern Alberta. She serves as the Communication Coordinator for ACFN and earlier this year participated in the national Honour the Treaties concert tour.

To learn more about the event, click here.

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