Delyse Sylvester reflects on ABCD’s recent workshop & the Energy Futures Lab

A few years back while at Ashoka Changemakers, I, along with representatives of 4 other organizations, was invited by Pierre Omidyar, Ebay Founder and CEO, to a boot camp. The aim was to help us to ramp up our efforts to accelerate social change in the online open-source movement. Between the caliber of the top-level executives in attendance and some of the tightest and most engaging training design imaginable, you couldn’t help but feel privileged to have been invited.

It has been a while since I felt that same attention to detail on the part of a facilitation team or such genuine intent to delve into the knowledge and experience of participants to create the groundwork for shared learning. Within the first 10 minutes at the ABCD consultation it was clear that the workshop had been designed for us. My colleague Pong Leung and I had not found ourselves at the end of a five-year process but at the beginning of something that promised to be a strong resource in pursuit of our own efforts.

Our design team at The Natural Step is preparing to launch our Energy Futures Lab (EFL). The EFL combines our own Framework for Strategic Sustainable Development (FSSD) with best practices from the social innovation lab field to shift a divisive and polarized debate to imagine the energy system that the future requires of us.

A few highlights that Pong and I are taking back – first regarding the facilitation:

  1. Each facilitator had a stake in the process. Some had dedicated over five years to the ABCD journey. Their passion was present but never overwhelmed. From the first half hour we newbies enjoyed every opportunity to profile our own work and to pitch our ideas. They were able to create a sense of ownership over the process and outcomes of the workshop in the first half hour. A key to building trust and ownership critical for collective impact.
  2. Reporters were incorporated into each exercise and key transition points were inserted to summarize the discussion highlights and provocative questions. Progress and momentum were reinforced, as was our role in shaping the process itself resulting in authentic co-creation moments throughout. You knew where you were and where you were going at all times. This is how rapid feedback loops are meant to work.
  3. The group had five years of research for us to get caught up on, yet the questions regarding ABCD were answered without ever overwhelming us or front-loading the session with information. It felt current, full of relevant lessons to enhance our own work and an evolving theory of change. There was a clear sense of how close or how far from the milestones we were, and an open question of whether ABCD had arrived – i.e. if the process will indeed impact the municipal decision-making.

As to the actual deliberate dialogue ABCD process insights, Steve Williams, Mark Cabaj and I will be shaping what we hope will be a strong public engagement strategy. The workshop surfaced a number of crucial research questions that we will explore:

  1. ABCD sifted through the many diverse deliberative Similarly we face an enormous challenge in evaluating the many models and possibilities open to us as we design our own process. How can we leverage ABCD deliberative democracy research to develop the most appropriate frameworks for our leadership cohort and public engagement strategy?
  1. With ABCD’s acumen in engaging diverse cohorts, what insights can they offer on working to connect civil society organizations, getting the eyes of the public on this work and drawing attention to the shared values being surfaced through these sessions? What is the relationship of constituency identity, held values and narrative framings? How does community identity affect narrative messaging? Can shared values between distinct constituencies provide a bridge to shared narratives?
  1. We understand that there is creative tension at the heart of our EFL design. We are exploring what is the right balance between prescriptively focusing participants vs. allowing ideas to emerge. The ABCD workshop started with one of the most diverse cohorts imaginable but arrived at 12 concrete recommendations. How can we too learn to walk the tightrope with such grace?

The timing was right for David’s invitation. Our team is hungry to hear both ABCD’s best practices and the cautionary tales. We want to avoid, where possible, being blinded by our passion for deliberative democracy. Our intent is to design in this space with humility and curiosity for the huge challenge ahead of us. And with respect for those around us who have taken on this audacious challenge of working toward creating the public engagement opportunities necessary to getting change unstuck in the energy system transition.

Thanks David and team for clearing some of the trail for the many organizations at the workshop. From our team’s perspective, we have a great deal to learn on this journey.

Delyse Sylvester is Director of Strategic Communications with The Natural Step Canada. With fellow senior change leaders with Ashoka’s Changemakers, she built an award winning open source platform to scale over 30,000 social innovations globally by leading over 60 co-branded campaigns with partners such as National Geographic, Nike, GE, G-20, Ebay, Google, and the Robert Wood Johnson, Rockefeller and Gates Foundations.

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


On Earth Day 2014 a crowd of over 400 people attended a panel on “Citizens as Climate Leaders” featuring David Suzuki, filmmaker Ian Mauro, and Eriel Deranger of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation. The event also included the Alberta premiere of Ian Mauro’s short film, Climate Change in Atlantic Canada. The film features the testimony of local residents about the changing conditions and increasing severity of climate change related weather phenomena in Atlantic Canada.

All three panelist discussed the kinds of leadership needed to address climate change, and how citizens can be supported in stepping up to this leadership. In his opening remarks, David Kahane profiled the work of the Citizens’ Panel on Edmonton’s Energy and Climate Challenges, and Suzuki urged that we “protect future generations by taking back democracy”.


Suzuki and Deranger both talked about the pitfalls of treating land as an economic opportunity without developing an understanding and attachment to that land. Kahane quoted Wendell Berry to the effect that we need to connect our actions with the past that created our situation and the future generations that will inherit it: in Berry’s words, we need to “stop somewhere and begin the 1000 year long process of getting to know that place.” Deranger encouraged the climate leaders in attendance “to give a voice to all of those people who are experiencing climate change impacts”

Suzuki reminded participants that the economy is a human creation and not a force of nature; where it isn’t supporting our flourishing we need to work to change it. And all panelists emphasized the need for citizens to learn about climate change through civic involvement. In Kahane’s words, “the challenge with climate change is not communication but collaboration. We must work together.” Suzuki elaborated, saying “you can achieve anything you want, as long as you don’t care who gets credit. Be part of the movement.”


David Suzuki, the other panelist and the audience members were pumped about the film premiere and especially the panel. The event was hosted The Alberta Climate Dialogue, the University of Alberta Office of Sustainability, the City of Edmonton, and the Alberta Public Interest Research Group. A particular thanks to ABCD employee Angelica Quesada for her great organizing work.

Interactive Workshop and Lecture with Paul Hawken

Alberta Climate Dialogue is co-sponsoring a visit to Edmonton by Paul Hawken (in partnership with City of Edmonton and the UAlberta Office of Sustainability). Hawken is the author of Blessed Unrest and many other environmental works; his focus as an author and activist is now squarely on carbon and climate issues.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

11:00 AM to 12:30 PM (MST)

Edmonton, AB

Paul Hawken is an environmentalist, entrepreneur, and author. His work includes starting ecological businesses, writing about the impact of commerce on living systems, and consulting with heads of state and CEOs on economic development, industrial ecology, and environmental policy.

The Ecology of Commerce was voted in 1998 as the #1 college text on business and the environment by professors in 67 business schools.Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution, co-authored with Amory Lovins, has been read and referred to by several heads of state including President Bill Clinton who called it one of the five most important books in the world today. Growing a Business became the basis of a 17-part PBS series on socially responsive companies, which Mr. Hawken hosted and produced.

Paul has founded several companies including some of the first natural food companies in the U.S. that relied solely on sustainable agricultural methods. He founded OneSun, an energy company focused on ultra low-cost solar based on green chemistry and biomimicry. Paul also founded the Natural Capital Institute, a research organization whose main project is the creation of the first open source platform for global social change, WiserEarth.

The Sustainability Speaker Series gives people the opportunity to be exposed to new ideas, promote understanding about the diversity of topics involved in sustainability and expand the dialogue on campus sustainability. For more information, see

The registration link — and further info about Hawken — are at

In the workshop we will invite Hawken to reflect on three questions, after which there’ll be small group discussion of the questions, then a plenary session. The questions:

  1. What kinds of actions on climate change are minimally adequate (for individuals, for institutions like universities, and for governments) if our aim is to help to avert severe climate impacts?
  2. If there is a gap between that minimally adequate level of action and how we’re currently defining ‘sustainability’, how do we explain our acceptance of that gap?
  3. What forms of citizen involvement and collaborative action can help us to lessen this gap, and make real change, on a timeline that is adequate to  the scale of the problem we face?

Short Videos on the Benefits of Deliberative Democracy

This was originally posted on Engagingly by ABCD Steering Committee member, Susanna Haas Lyons.

The Alberta Climate Dialogue just released a series of short videosexploring the benefits of deliberative democracy, featuring well known practitioners such as Matt Leighninger (DDC), Janette Hartz-Karp (Curtin University), Edward Andersson (Involve UK) and others. These insightful snapshots of public engagement knowledge and case studies are a valuable resource for communicating deliberative democracy ideas to others:

These presentations were timely contributions to the City of Edmonton’s explorations on how public engagement can contribute to the City’s strategic environmental plan, The Way We Green. Watch these presentations by an elected official and senior administrator:

Finally, here are some introductory and summary remarks for the presentations:

ABCD 2011 Annual Workshop

From September 23rd to 25th, forty ABCD members from Australia, the U.K., the U.S., and all across Canada came together to discuss a wide range of approaches and possibilities for our future deliberations and supporting work. Highlights included having the opportunity to reconnect with a majority of the team, and having access to their collective brainpower!

On day one, presenters engaged ABCD members and guests from the City of Edmonton with group exercises and guided discussions; the goal being to include citizen deliberations in the City’s implementation plan for The Way We Green.

The remaining two days of activities included getting up to speed with established Action Teams and fostering emerging themes. On-going projects were reinforced with new members and ideas and new ABCD working groups formed that will have a chance to submit proposals for approval. A special addition to this year’s workshop was having graphic facilitator, Avril Orloff, join us to visually map our workshop discussions and collective goals in her unique style (see photos).

Coming away from the workshop we will now direct our energy into building deliberations in partnership with the City of Edmonton and the Centre for Public Involvement and take what is learned from this process to build our future deliberations. The incredible contributions made by all of our workshop participants will certainly lead to innovative research results in this field.

The Executive Committee is very thankful to all the workshop participants. We feel energized and excited to continue working on our upcoming ABCD deliberations and supporting projects.

Graphic recording by Avril Orloff-