The Wood Buffalo Environmental Association (WBEA) plays an important role in north-eastern Alberta. The organization monitors the environment of the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, which is the second largest municipality in the province, and home to Alberta’s oil sands.
The area is rich in natural resources, which comes with many opportunities and environmental pressures. The WBEA brings together communities, environmental groups, industry, government and Indigenous stakeholders to address some of those challenges.
The 25-year-old organization recently tackled a new five-year strategic plan. Recognizing the complexities of working with 40 members – all with different perspectives, and during a global pandemic – the WBEA engaged Parsons Dialogue to guide the process.
“We were looking for a different level of input and engagement,” said Sanjay Prasad, WBEA Executive Director. “It can sometimes be difficult to find alignment among the diverse stakeholders that all have different priorities.”
With extensive experience in multi-stakeholder collaboration, Parsons Dialogue designed a series of virtual workshops, bringing members together to build alignment around the strategic plan. The fifth “P” was a crucial element of the workshops.
“We spent the most time on perspective building,” said Robin Parsons of Parsons Dialogue. “While everybody comes to the table with an interest, our process helps uncover the shared interests that drive the entire group. While we are often really good at talking about the factors that separate us, we aren’t always as good at talking about what we have in common.”
Parsons says the WBEA started in a good place. The organization has spent nearly three decades working to build dynamic practices and policies - an overall climate that fosters successful multi-stakeholder collaboration.
Despite a healthy level of engagement from members, the WBEA says it can be difficult to engage such a large group in virtual meetings. The participants were appreciative of the interactive tools, activities and skilled facilitation Robin brought to the sessions, which drew the participants into the conversation.
“The process moved along smoothly, and we had engagement and support throughout,” said Emilie Briggs, WBEA Operations Manager. “We wouldn’t have accomplished it without Parsons Dialogue, and it would have taken much longer.”
The result is the WBEA 2022-2026 Strategic Plan, which lays out a practical vision for organization for the next five years, identifies obstacles, establishes and prioritizes strategic initiatives and identifies milestones to operationalize the strategy.
“We looked at the organization’s value system and made some minor tweaks to really clarify the commitment to multi-stakeholder collaboration,” said Parsons. “When an organization is powerfully committed to this work, they have to walk those value systems every step of the way. We saw the WBEA do that.”
And the work continues. The WBEA has now engaged Parsons Dialogue for a complex project involving its air quality monitoring network. The team is pleased to be in good hands, and highly recommends engaging a third party when embarking on significant projects that involve working with a diverse group of stakeholders.
“If you’re considering facilitation or think it might be helpful, try it,” said Briggs. “We didn’t know what we were missing until we hired Parsons Dialogue and saw them in action.”
This is the second of three blogs in our series about multi-stakeholder collaboration. Next month, we’ll share our work with an organization that is tackling challenges related to Alberta’s labour shortage.