Overview of the Process
Eight workshops were held with the Community Outcomes Team from June 2008 to March 2009:
Table of Contents
1. Scenario Planning: Brainstorming Session (June 2008)
2. Scenario Planning: Identifying Scenarios (August 2008)
3. Scenario Planning: Reviewing Scenarios and Exploring Implications (October 2008)
4. Describing our Desired Future (November 2008)
5. Identifying Outcomes (December 2008)
6. Identifying Outcomes (January 2009)
7. Drafting Outcome Statements (February 2009)
8. Drafting Outcome Statements (March 2009)
Eleven (11) Government of Alberta ministries provided support to the East Central Alberta Cumulative Effects Project. In preparation for the first workshop, each ministry was asked to develop topic area briefs, which are short two-page summaries about topics they thought could be relevant when thinking about future growth and development in East Central Alberta. After the first workshop, the ministries responded to the information needs of the Community Outcomes Team by preparing focus papers based on specific requests for information.
Twenty-six (26) topic area briefs for workshop #1 were prepared in advance. Members of the Community Outcomes Team were asked to review the briefs prior to attending the first workshop.
About Scenario Planning - An Approach to Systems Thinking
Scenario planning is a structured, disciplined approach used to engage participants in creative dialogue about the future. It is a systems approach that requires participants to consider the complex interrelationships between environmental, economic and social factors, and the forces that drive change.
Scenario planning was first used by the military as a strategic planning exercise. Soldiers’ lives depended on their leaders’ ability to think about the unthinkable, and to plan accordingly. Systems thinking helps strategists prepare for the unexpected by revealing the interrelationships between factors, and how change in one area can drive change in another.
In the 1980s, scenario planning was adapted by business leaders to bring systems thinking into their strategic planning and management practices. It is used to develop a more comprehensive understanding of the complex interrelationships of the forces that drive change, some of which can be controlled (such as the price of goods sold), as well as market and geopolitical forces that are outside their control. Over the last three decades, Royal Dutch Shell Company is best known for the global scenarios they develop every five years to cast light on the context in which their group of companies operate.
Scenarios are stories of possible futures. They are designed to challenge, rather than reinforce, entrenched views of how we think the future will unfold. Each scenario describes a world based on structurally different forces and provides an effective way to consider alternatives and to examine the implications of our decisions, including risks and rewards.
From June to October 2008, members of the Community Outcomes Team engaged in scenario planning and developed four scenarios describing very different visions of the future in East Central Alberta. These stories do not represent the desired future, but instead provide a common framework for discussion, helping us to imagine the potential impacts on our communities and environment of radically different paths taken regarding growth and development in the region.
Workshop #1: Scenario Planning - Brainstorming Session (June 2008)
The Community Outcomes Team first identified the Focus Question of the scenario planning exercise:
How do we guide growth and development in East Central Alberta over the next two generations (25 and 50 years into the future) in order to achieve our desired outcomes for our communities and our environment?
The Team then identified six major factors in the East Central Alberta region that need to be considered in any story about the future:
1. Energy Future
2. Economic Sustainability
3. Nature of Community
4. Environmental Sustainability
5. Water Quality and Quantity
6. Governance and Accountability
The next task was to identify as many agents of change (forces and drivers) under each factor they could think of, and then to identify different possible outcomes. For example, the price of oil was identified as one driver of change, with a high price and a low price leading to different possible outcomes. Team members identified over 200 forces and drivers of change and possible outcomes for all six factors. The purpose here was to push the Team to think outside of their comfort zones, and about possible outcomes they may have preferred not to think about.
Discussion then focused on the interrelationship between factors and how change in one factor can lead to change in the others. Understanding these interrelationships/interdependencies, and how chains of events can impact all six factors, is key to working within a systems perspective.
At the end of the first workshop, the Community Outcomes Team asked the Government of Alberta to prepare nine (9) focus papers for workshop #2 on topics they felt they needed to know more about.
Workshop #2: Scenario Planning - Identifying Scenarios (August 2008)
Working with the information developed in the first workshop, the Community Outcomes Team focused on identifying scenarios (storylines) they would like to explore. The Team first identified three overarching themes arising from the list of Forces and Drivers of Change and Possible Outcomes:
* Impact of Growth on our Communities and Environment
For each theme, the Team then imagined two opposite storylines (opposing logics) that would lead to the development of radically different futures. They were also asked to come up with a title to capture the essence of each logic:
Energy: Logic #1: Where alternative energy is used (Towards Carbon Free)
Energy: Logic #2: Where fossil fuels continues to be used (Carbon Rich)
Agriculture: Logic #1: Where crops are produced for export markets (Global Scale)
Agriculture: Logic #2: Where crops are produced for local markets (Many is Beautiful)
Communities and Environment: Logic #1: Where growth is controlled (Controlled Growth)
Communities and Environment: Logic #2: Where growth is uncontrolled (Uncontrolled Growth)
A matrix of these six story lines creates eight possible scenarios. Of the eight possible combinations, the Team was asked to select four scenarios they would like to develop, and to give a title to each of these story lines. When selecting the scenarios, the Team was reminded that the purpose of these stories is not to describe what we want to see happen, nor to predict what we think will happen. It is, however, important to select scenarios that are plausible, in order to develop stories about the future that are believable and that, for better or for worse, could happen.
The Community Outcomes Team selected the following four scenarios to develop:
* A Stewardship Ethic: Towards carbon free, Many is beautiful, Controlled growth
* Big Green: Towards carbon free, Global scale, Controlled growth
* Full Speed Ahead: Carbon rich, Global scale, Uncontrolled growth
* Surface Tension: Carbon rich, Global scale AND Many is beautiful, Controlled growth
The consultants took the key assumptions underlying each of the four stories identified by the Community Outcomes Teams and developed a Chart of Assumptions for each one. The charts establish the connection between the forces and drivers of change, storyline assumptions, other plausible outcomes from their list of forces and drivers of change and possible outcomes and information from the Topic Area Briefs and Focus Papers that could support each storyline. The scenario writer used these charts when constructing the scenarios. To view the Charts of Assumptions for each story go to Scenarios - Stories of Possible Futures.
Based on discussions arising from the second workshop, the Community Outcomes Team asked the Government of Alberta to prepare nine (9) more focus papers for workshop #3 on important topics they felt they needed to know more about. It was noted that as requests for information became more focused on locally-specific information, such as local demographic trends and land ownership, the less likely this information would be available from provincial sources. As part of the ongoing process of building a knowledge base for the study area, the Team was asked to play a larger role in identifying, gathering and sharing locally-specific information. For the next series of focus papers, the North Saskatchewan Watershed Alliance provided information clarifying water use and allocation in the North Saskatchewan River. The Battle River School Division #31 provided school enrollment statistics (1995-2008), which helped identify demographic trends specific to the study area.
Workshop #3: Reviewing Scenarios and Exploring Implications (October 2008)
When this workshop convened, members of the Community Outcomes Team commented on how dramatically the world economy had changed from the last workshop in mid-August to this one at the end of October, and wondered how that might affect their view of the scenarios they developed last time they met. The Team listened to the stories and considered again the assumptions underlying each one. They were amazed at how well the stories captured their views about the future, how plausible each story seemed, and how they could imagine any one of the futures described unfolding. The calamity affecting the global economy seemed to only reinforce the plausibility of each scenario.
The workshop facilitators suggested that the stories seemed so plausible because the underlying structure for each story was carefully constructed based on all the work the Team had done in the last two workshops, which was supported by the information provided by the Government of Alberta and other sources in the Topic Area Briefs and Focus Papers. Together, all this information formed a solid foundation for writing stories that would resonate with those listening, and seem plausible based on currently available information and data.
The Team then considered each of the stories in light of the opportunities and challenged presented, as well as possible strategies to either promote or mitigate impacts on the economy, the environment and the community presented in each scenario.
With the scenarios now complete, the Community Outcomes Team was introduced to the Cumulative Effects Management System. Alberta Environment introduced the consultant hired to develop a cumulative effects model that would be used to support the knowledge-base required for such a management system. The consultant explained that they were contracted to:
* Support the identification of outcomes and measurable indicators.
* Develop spatial and non-spatial models using identified indicators.
* Evaluate existing conditions and identify the impacts described by the desired future.
The consultant noted that his firm would need to work closely with the Community Outcomes Team, as one of the key criterion for identifying outcomes and indicators is their relevance to stakeholder values and goals. Models will then be developed to help both the government and community leaders assess the impacts of the desired future on the landscape. Spatial models will use maps and images to help visualize the current state of the landscape and the potential impacts of proposed developments or changes in land management policies and practices described in teh desired future. Non-spatial models will be used to analyze current socio-economic conditions and the potential impact of future developments, policies and practices proposed in the desired future.
The Community Outcomes Team asked that one (1) focus paper for workshop #4 be developed on Ecological Goods and Services. Ducks Unlimited Canada contributed to the information presented in this paper.
Workshop #4: Our Desired Future (November 2008)
Together, the four scenarios developed by the Community Outcomes Team define the outer edges of plausibility. For example, the stories A Stewardship Ethic and Big Green demonstrate how much the future can vary between the two extremes of small, community-oriented green lifestyles versus a future driven by corporate-controlled, global green energy. The stories Full Speed Ahead and Big Green demonstrate the extremes between different industry-defined and controlled energy supplies, while Surface Tension examines the difficulty of trying to balance competing interests and land uses between numerous big and small users. Together, the stories describe the the planning field within which the future will most likely unfold, with perhaps one or two elements from each of the stories playing some role.
With this full spectrum of possibilities in mind, the Community Outcomes Team considered the future they hoped would unfold in their region. Called the Desired Future, it will be this scenario that the consultants will compare relative to the current situation in the study area.
To identify the key assumptions underlying the Desired Future, the two environmental factors (Water Quality and Quantity and Environmental Sustainability) were combined into one. The Community Outcomes Team then identified the key assumptions underlying their desired future environment, communities, economy and governance. It was suggested that the last factor, Energy Future, and the type of energy mix required to support their Desired Future would become clearer once the other four factors had been fully described.
The Team was also asked to begin considering the implications of the key assumptions they were identifying for their Desired Future. For example, if they envisioned “green space” as a defining characteristic in East Central Alberta, how did the Team imagine working with privately owned land? If they envisioned an economic development strategy based on industrial diversification, what impact might this have on water supply? Other topics discussed included farm size and how it is defined, community development patterns (country residential versus a denser municipal footprint), and the advantages/disadvantages of provincial authority versus local autonomy.
As a result of this discussion, two (2) focus papers for workshop #5 were requested to provide clarification around the issues raised concerning farm size and municipal governance and planning structures.
Workshop #5: Identifying Outcomes (December 2008)
About Outcome Statements
Outcome statements translate the description of the Desired Future into strategic guidance for future development and action. Outcome statements are far more complex than generally stated goals we hope to achieve some time in the future. Outcome statements serve three purposes. They are used to:
1. Develop a shared understanding and commitment to a vision for the future.
2. Identify indicators to measure and monitor our progress and determine thresholds to guide future growth and development.
3. Help analyze and assess risk based on our understanding of current conditions and human pressures from proposed developments and policies on our environment, communities and economy (using a modeling process).
Role of a Cumulative Effects Model
The principles of an outcome-based cumulative effects management system require that it be collaborative, adaptive and responsive to an ever-growing knowledge base. It also requires us to be open to using a range of regulatory and non-regulatory tools to respond to the challenges of managing the impacts of growth and development on our communities and our environment.
A cumulative effects model links the outcome statements to the knowledge base, which is composed of information on the state of the environment, economy and communities, levels of human activity and projections of activities, and analysis of future impacts and risks. The development of the model is informed by the outcome statements. The outcome statements point to indicators that will be used to monitor progress. The model is used to assess the impacts of proposed developments, policies and practices that will lead to changes on the landscape.
Developing Outcome Statements
The consulting firm responsible for developing the cumulative effects model analyzed the assumptions underlying the Desired Future identified by the Community Outcome Team, as well as the Charts of Assumptions developed to support the construction of each scenario. He pointed out the interrelationship between outcomes.
For example, green space is connected to biodiversity, and both of them are influenced by farm size and residential development patterns and vice versa. So, while each of these subjects may be individually described by an outcome statement, it is important to keep in mind that they are all interrelated, and that the outcome describing one subject will influence the ability to achieve the outcomes described for others. This is where an understanding of trade-offs takes place.
In this workshop, the modeling consultants proposed some important terminology to capture key concepts identified by the Community Outcomes Team in the Desired Future. For example:
Green network - includes large patches of natural vegetation, riparian corridors, and wetlands. This captures the notion of green space, but emphasizes the importance of connectivity. Connectivity among the different elements of a green network is particularly relevant in the East Central Alberta sub-region because it is mostly productive agricultural land that has been highly modified and is privately owned. Connectivity may therefore require a collaborative sub-regional strategy that focuses on identifying important landscape features that need to be retained, and proposes policies and practices to support their retention. An outcome statement supporting biodiversity was also discussed within the context of the green network.
Complete community - describes the nature of the communities the Team would like to see develop, and which could guide future growth and development decisions, particularly in relation to community development patterns.A focus paper on Resilient Communities was developed by Alberta Environment to provide additional information on a model for community development that is gaining wide acceptance.
Farm Size - There was much debate around farm size, and whether it was useful as an indicator. While farm size is spatially useful for mapping purposes, the Team found it difficult to agree on a single definition of the term “farm”, and size was more related to revenue generated than physical size.
As a result of this discussion, two (2) focus papers for workshop #6 were requested to provide clarification around the issues raised.
Workshop #6 - Identifying Outcome (January 2009)
In this workshop, the Community Outcomes Team reviewed and clarified key terms and concepts that would be important in drafting place-specific outcomes for the study area:
Ecological Goods and Services: Team members suggested that this concept was not yet on the public’s radar, and is not something that is well understood. There is general agreement that this concept is an important one, and that as a management strategy, its importance would increase over time. The question was raised whether Ecological Goods and Services is, in itself, an outcome, or if it is a management tool that could be used to achieve many different outcomes, which could be environmental, economic or social.
Green Network and private land: Discussion again raised the question of private land ownership, and the types of policy tools and/or management practices that could be used to encourage the development of a green network. It was suggested by some that governance at the local level was best suited to dealing with this issue, either through the municipalities or through inter-municipal planning. Others, however, suggested that some policy tools, such as tax credits, may be best managed at the provincial level. Provincial oversight may also help manage larger scale trade offs, such as allowing development in one area of the province by contributing land to a green network in another region of the province.
Complementary governance was identified as the most appropriate governance model, where efforts at the local level complemented policy and practices at the provincial level, and vice versa, where provincial level policies supported the desired practices occurring at the municipal level.
Water Quality and Supply: Discussion focused on whether it was enough to “maintain” aquatic ecosystem function, or whether the outcome needed to include “improve” or “restore” aquatic ecosystem function where it is unhealthy or has been impaired. The issue of piping water into the study area from the North Saskatchewan River was raised. The question was raised whether the inter-basin transfer of water was acceptable. Some Team members wondered why not, if water was available in other rivers. Others were skeptical, considering the possibility of water shortages in many areas of the province due to climate change. This item was flagged for further discussion. A focus paper on water management and allocation policy was requested to provide some further clarification on the matter.
Workshop # 7 – Developing Outcomes (February 2009)
Based on the Desired Future described by the Community Outcomes Team in workshop #4, the consultants drafted example statements (straw dogs) to describe how the Team would like to guide growth and development over the next 30 years. In this workshop, the Team reviewed and discussed the suite of seven straw dog statements drafted to describe Economic Sustainability.
The Team also identified the need to consider the Energy Future for the region, and requested the consultants to provide a focus paper for workshop # 8 on Alternative Energy and policy options adopted by countries such as Germany and Norway, which are known to be aggressively supporting the development of alternative energy.
Workshop # 8 – Developing Outcomes (March 2009)
In this workshop, the Community Outcomes Team developed the assumption underlying the Desired Energy Future for East Central Alberta, and developed draft outcomes statements. The Team also reviewed the suite of outcome statements developed for Environmental Sustainability (including Water Quality and Quantity), the suite of outcome statements developed to describe the Nature of Community, and those developed for Governance and Accountability.
Recognizing the lack of locally-relevant social indictors, The Team also considered the type of indicators that could be developed to measure concepts such as access to services and community spirit.
The Team suggested several indicators that would be meaningful to them, where data could be easily identified and collected at the local level:
1. Travel time to essential services – as a measure of access to a regional network of services.
2. Service organizations and clubs (such as Lions Clubs, churches, Scouts, etc.) – numbers of clubs and members as a measure of community engagement, which could be collected through local/regional census.
3. Maintenance and upkeep of buildings and grounds - as a measure of community spirit. Indicators could include: local bylaws addressing this issue; number of vacant buildings; natural assets developed on properties and integrated into green network as part of the community/recreation/aesthetic complex.
4. Number of community pride days (sweep-up downtown; communities in bloom; adopt a highway, park or block, etc.).