I told you I’d get round to writing this up… here it is!
Just over a week ago I took part in a series of workshops, discussions and deliberations at the University of Edmonton in the province of Alberta, Canada. I was one of a handful of ‘deliberation/participation people’ who were there to have input into how the diverse group of Albertans present might best set up a successful, province-wide deliberative process on climate change issues.
The event was participated in by an impressively varied group of individuals – representing a significant range of viewpoints including; energy industry representatives, radical environmentalists, political activists and government officials. The thing that all parties had in common was a genuine, and strong desire to move forward on the issue of climate change in Alberta. (They even gave up their weekend and worked 12hour days for free to be part of the deliberation – so I can testify to their commitment!)
So, what were we actually doing?
We wanted to put together a basis for how a public discussion on climate change in Alberta might best work – and help to move forward from polarised debate on climate change into more useful dialogue and action across the province.
Alberta is a focal point for climate change discussion as the Canadian economy has greatly benefited from the energy industry located there, including the booming Athabascan oil sands near Fort McMurray. This industry has been strongly criticised by environmental campaigners and scientists for its impact on the environment. Alberta embodies many of the environmental and economic debates taking place globally.
A key part of how myself and others present felt that progress could be made on these tough issues was through using deliberative techniques to bring people together in a more constructive and positive way than through debate and conflict.
How did you go about it?
Two main groups were involved in the design process over about four days:
One was a smaller group of around 15 and consisted both of Albertans and of visitors interested in assisting with the deliberation and public participation aspects. This group was present throughout the entirety of the process every day.
The second group was a larger group of around 50 Albertans who were present at key points in the design process to act as a ‘sounding board’ for the ideas that the smaller group had been discussing and formulating together during the day.
This format worked well in that ownership of the process and its aims began to be built from the outset amongst a very varied group of individuals, and the rapid response and interaction between the smaller and larger group helped to refine ideas very quickly over a short period of time.
By the end of the five days we worked together to uncover the bare bones of a process that could work for Albertans, wandered across a suprising amount of common ground and found several leverage points for instigating action. As we walked out of the room on the final day, an interim steering group had been set in place and action points had been established for moving forward… so watch this space.
The experience made me feel very positive about what can be acheived through using more deliberative approach to difficult issues like action on climate change - not a form of consensus building, but rather a way of better understanding one another and identifying areas for beneficial progress.