New papers on the Edmonton Citizens’ Panel and on Worldwide Views on Global Warming

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A series of Working Papers have just been published by the Centre for International Sustainable Development Law (CISDL), the Governance, Environment & Markets Initiative at Yale University (GEM), and the Northern Institute for Environmental and Minority Law (NIEM) of the Arctic Centre (University of Lapland).

Two papers in the series are by ABCD researchers:

Check them out!

Energy Transition Strategy before Edmonton City Council March 18: What impact will the Citizens’ Panel have? (with update)

This Wednesday, March 18, Edmonton City Council will have a ‘facilitated session’ about the new Energy Transition Strategy coming forward from City Administration. You can read the agenda item, the full Strategy, and stakeholder feedback.

This long-awaited Strategy is the City’s response to the recommendations of the Citizens’ Panel on Edmonton’s Energy and Climate Challenges, which met for six full days in late 2012 and presented a Final Report to Executive Committee of City Council in April 2013.

The following document lays out the City’s commitments to give the Panel’s recommendations uptake, the hopes of Panelists for influence, and some outcomes of Wednesday that will indicate whether the Panel is in fact influencing events.

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Fingers crossed!

UPDATE, March 21:

There was spirited questioning and debate at the Council meeting on March 18 — we heard general agreement with the need for action on energy transition, but also challenges from a number of Councillors to incentives and other market transformation approaches core to the Strategy.

There was substantial discussion of the Citizens’ Panel process that fed into the development of the Strategy, including a sophisticated articulation by Councillor Henderson of the value of deliberative citizen involvement relative to polling or deference to current market choices. A number of Councillors expressed their appreciation for the balance and sophistication of the Panel methodology.

Because discussion was extensive, a decision was made to carry over discussion and voting to a second session, which is still to be scheduled.

Deliberative democracy and systems change: reflections from a Montreal workshop

In the months leading up to our big ABCD workshop in Edmonton (covered by a number of recent blog posts) we held two ‘Satellite Workshops’: one in London with Involve and the other in Montreal. Here are some reflections on the Montreal workshop (with apologies for the delay — we’ve been busy here!)

The Montreal workshop, held on July 20 2014, piggybacked on participants’ travel to an excellent two-day IPSA workshop. Our own half-day workshop was hosted by David Kahane and attended by Simon Burall, Jason Chilvers, Jacquie Dale, Genevieve Fuji Johnson, Carolyn LukensmeyerMary Pat MacKinnon, and Daniel Weinstock. Our engagement with questions of deliberative democracy and systems change was based on two more specific questions. Jacquie and Mary Pat helped to harvest the following notes:

What are we learning about deliberative processes on climate change?

  • Framing around climate change is environmental, but the impact is economic. As Simon noted, citizens have a hard time connecting with environmental framings; energy or transportation seems more accessible; moreover, climate change can be the wrong frame for policy holders. Jason pointed to the unusual dominance, in the climate domain, of scientific framing; he pointed to Mike Hulme’s work on the need to reframe to include human dimensions, but also to challenges of the multi-scalar quality of the issue.
  • Carolyn added that in the experience of AmericaSpeaks, climate advocacy groups did not see citizen deliberation as valuable to their work, which made it difficult to secure funding for climate deliberation projects.
  • Jason noted that we need to look at the “ecology for deliberation” – what’s going on in the full system, not just in the invited processes led by governments. These ecologies can be mapped, showing how different groups, including citizens, see the issue and ways forward; overlaying maps shows areas of congruence/divergence. This process was used in Europe to look at geo-engineering responses to climate change.
  • Carolyn suggested that we need both thick and thin deliberation: usually that means start with thick and use it to inspire the thin. She cited the ‘Creating Community Solutions‘ mental health dialogue as an example of this trajectory.

What are our observations on the determinants of political influence?

  • Jason suggested that we need to look at influence within a systems perspective that includes both inside and outside processes, e.g. invited processes that feed directly into policy process and ‘uninvited’ or DIY processes that contribute to community building, awareness and mobilization.
  • Daniel spoke to the need to get beyond citizen-only processes, connecting citizen dialogue strategically to other forces in the community and other processes. In Jason’s terms, we need to strategically join up plurality. David pointed in particular to the need to connect ‘stakeholder’ and ‘citizen’ processes, as discussed in a recent article.
  • As Jason remarked, a critical factor is how well institutions listen, which, as Genevieve noted, is often politically motivated. Simon talked about work Involve is doing to identify institutional readiness to engage with deliberation processes and outcomes — a kind of ‘Myers-Briggs’ for institutions.
  • There was a lively debate about what dialogue and deliberation results matter most to policy-makers and most influence them — their interest can be in understanding citizen values and how citizens apply them; understanding citizen perspectives on key trade offs; seeing whether citizens are willing to bear greater costs associated with the policies they favour; and so on.

A number of points about deliberative democracy and systems change emerged, including the following:

  1. Carolyn affirmed that we need an accurate analysis of the real political (systemic) forces on an issue, and the existing organization infrastructure that can be brought into play. (She mentioned the last chapter of her recent book as laying out seven key preconditions for deliberative democratic work.)
  2. Genevieve remarked on the turn from comprehensive accounts like Habermas’ to a decreased focus on the normative and a preoccupation with one-off events. We need to turn back to systems thinking.
  3. Simon noted that we live with real world funding realities and other constraints. We need to be practical and look for the available levers that can have most impact.
  4. Finally, Carolyn and others reminded us that deliberative democracy as a field of theory and practice is only 30 years old. We need to value the practice and learning that has been built — engaging critically, but being reasonable in expectations of systemic impact that we load onto ourselves.

Here are two short YouTube videos with further reflection on the workshop from Carolyn Lukensmeyer and Simon Burall.

The Montreal satellite workshop set up themes that became key at October’s Edmonton workshop. These are being carried forward in ABCD, including in a project being planned by David Kahane and Matt Leighninger. Moreover, these themes are strikingly present in the work of the Energy Futures Lab, an emerging project represented at the Edmonton workshop by Pong Leung and Delyse Sylvester of The Natural Step, who are connecting their work with ABCD’s learning.

David Kahane is Project Director of Alberta Climate Dialogue and a Professor of Political Science at the University of Alberta.

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.