Green infrastructure has been an Our Living Waters Network priority issue for the past several years. In response, the Our Living Waters 2030 Fund has provided ongoing funding to a team that works to advance local action on green infrastructure.
Green infrastructure has been an Our Living Waters Network priority issue for the past several years. In response, the Our Living Waters 2030 Fund has provided ongoing funding to a strategy team that works to advance local action on green infrastructure.
Canadian Freshwater Alliance, with support from Green Communities Canada, has hosted this strategy team—or, as we call ourselves, a Community of Practice. We are a group of organizations and individuals across the country who are motivated by a shared vision: that cities and towns across Canada transform how they manage stormwater with green infrastructure. Our goal has been to support each other to sharpen our skills, knowledge, and practices that push green infrastructure (GI) into the mainstream in each of our communities.
Although the many benefits of green infrastructure have been detailed and documented for years, the number of municipalities in Canada with transformative green infrastructure programs remains at zero. Many municipalities have pilot projects peppered throughout the cityscape, but GI is not fully integrated into the way municipalities plan and develop cities.
The Green Infrastructure Community of Practice has been working to change that.
In the early days of the Community of Practice, members took training on stormwater and GI. Later, they developed action plans for moving their communities from a “pilot” stage of GI to a place where GI transforms the landscape. Then, with support from a funder, a number of groups implemented action projects as a first step in achieving those plans.
Although our progress was exciting, there remained a problem: we were all working in geographic siloes, chipping away at action plans off-the-sides-of-our-desks. We wanted to be able to generate more capacity and work collectively to scale up change beyond any one community.
We spent a day exploring this problem together at the Living Waters Rally in Moncton, NB. We addressed questions like: how could we most effectively collaborate to “turn the curve” on green infrastructure in each of our communities and at a broader scale? What were the key barriers and opportunities for our group to influence change? We identified several barriers to mainstreaming GI during the session, but focussed in on two that we felt we were best positioned to address:
- Poor public understanding of green infrastructure and its benefits;
- A lack of political will (or political mandate) among local leaders to advance GI.
We recognized that addressing these barriers were very much in our collective wheelhouses, and that it was something that all our groups could work on together. From this session, the idea for the Living Cities campaign was born.
Our solution was no small order, but it is an exciting one: working together to design and deliver a campaign to build a groundswell of support for GI communities across the country. By using community organizing and marketing strategies that can be applied in cities across the country, the campaign could build the public support needed to shift how local decision-makers plan and build cities. We envisioned a network of Living Cities across the country: communities where green infrastructure and green spaces are abundant, thriving, and equitably distributed.
Following the session in Moncton we sought project funding, but were unsuccessful. Living Cities was put on the back burner while the Community of Practice continued to meet bimonthly to share ideas and insights on the GI work we were doing in our communities. Attendance waned in these months. Although many still found it useful to have space for exchange among green infrastructure practitioners, it became clear there was more enthusiasm and commitment to the Community of Practice when we had a clear, shared purpose.
So, this year, our Community of Practice recentered around the purpose of a Living Cities campaign. We have ten regional organizations from across the country who want to roll out the campaign in their communities, and three other partners who are on board to support different aspects of the project’s scoping and implementation. All the partners are invigorated about the project and keen to start moving forward together. Everyone we have spoken to about the project so far is incredibly supportive, as they see the need and potential of it to shift the figurative and actual landscape of green infrastructure.
After nearly four years of coming together as a Community of Practice, we have recognized two key components that focussed our work and made us more effective at driving change:
- Community of Practices work best when there is practice. Hosting space for discussion and learning is valuable, but is not enough to keep people committed over the long term. Our team has been most effective when we have an explicit and clear purpose with shared goals that we work toward together.
- Community of Practice outcomes take time and sustained resources. Without ongoing funding support and consistent coordination, we would not have been able to keep this work moving forward on a collaborative scale. Most of our work together is off the sides of our desks, or squeezed in between the many other funded programs we manage at our individual organizations. Collaborative work requires time for relationship-building, for creating a shared understanding about the big-picture issues, and for ensuring our actions come together in ways that catalyze change. The Our Living Waters 2030 Fund recognizes that if we value the transformative impacts of collaborative work, the people and processes involved need to be compensated for their time.
The overarching lesson of the past four years is that change is deeper and more meaningful when we work together. Social and environmental change organizations are increasingly recognizing this. Funders also need to recognize the transformative potential of collaborative work and be ready to support it.