Over the past 14 months, a diverse (and growing) team of individuals from across sectors has been gathering regularly to design, test, and implement solutions to water challenges in Central Alberta through Project Blue Thumb: Action on Water Quality Issues. In this post, Josée Méthot, the RDRWA’s Watershed Planning Manager, provides an update on the 5th lab workshop held this past May.

Project Blue Thumb is about connecting people who care about water and helping them to make a meaningful difference in the watershed. Since launching in spring 2015, the lab has brought together over 30 committed individuals from government, industry, the non-profit sector, and the public to explore solutions to shared water quality challenges.

From May 17 and 19th, lab team members met for the 5th time over 2.5 days for a “special edition” lab meeting that saw them embark on Learning Journeys in the Red Deer area, Edmonton, Calgary and Siksika First Nation.

Learning Journeys are about seeing the big picture, about engaging with “unusual suspects” to learn more about the world within which we operate. They help us to identify new possibilities and ways of thinking, and can expose some of our blind spots. While the Project Blue Thumb team is focused on finding ways to improve water quality in the Red Deer River watershed, there is much to learn from leaders in other organizations – their successes, failures, novel approaches to the work, key lessons learned, etc.

We set up 12 Learning Journeys across Alberta, each one hosted by an individual or organization doing inspirational and impactful work. Four teams of lab participants were then sent to one of four locations.

Learning Journey Host Organizations:

Red Deer Calgary Siksika First Nation & Calgary Edmonton

· Farm On Foundation

· Agri-Trend

· Central Alberta Poverty Reduction Alliance

·  AdFarm

·  Loose Moose Theatre Company

·  Calgary Regional Partnership

·  Siksika Source Water Protection Plan Committee

· Beakerhead

· Winsport

· Alberta Co-Lab

· Situ Strategy

·  Navigator

 

We met with Olympic coaches to learn about how to create high-performing teams (hint: find a training rhythm) and with a leading advertising firm to learn about how to make messaging that sticks (free beer helps). We talked about the future of technology in farming (precision agriculture), and also about how to engage young farmers (online please). We met with leading science communicators, land use planners, political strategists, and systems thinkers – all of whom helped spark new ideas for our work in watershed management.

Personally, I was pleased to learn about how Siksika First Nation is leading the way on source water protection planning. Extending a warm welcome, their Source Water Protection Planning committee highlighted how important it is to bring different people – treatment plant operators, land managers, health workers, etc. – together when dealing with water issues and to prioritize and sequence key management actions.

I’m also told that several of our more courageous lab members tried improv comedy at Loose Moose Theatre – home of members of the Kids in the Hall. Results were mixed and wonderfully awkward. It seems our newest lab team members – from ATCO Electric, Access Prosperity, the Town of Olds, Legacy Land Trust, and Alberta Agriculture & Forestry – were introduced head first into the lab through these learning journeys. Their voices are a great addition to the team.

The meeting also included other activities to advance the lab’s work. The Farm On Foundation team joined us to facilitate an exercise about how to reach an audience through targeted messaging. This was an eye opener for many of us as we began to see where our messaging tends to fall short. Hopefully some of the lessons learned from this session will influence future communications.

All of this exploration made the lab team hungry for some action. The final day of the meeting was spent continuing to work on “prototype” initiatives aimed at maintaining and improving water quality. Some teams worked on existing prototypes (and showed some amazing progress), while others formed new teams to work on new ideas. From policy, to technology in industry, to water literacy, and beyond: the lab team is busy cooking up many interesting prototypes. Importantly, we finally formed a communications team to better share the lab’s work. We now have a website (www.projectbluethumb.com), a Twitter account (@BlueThumbLab; #ProjectBlueThumb), and will be releasing regular blogs in the future. Stay tuned for a photo book from the Learning Journeys and updates about the specific lab prototypes.

All in all, we are very thankful for the people who took the time to meet with the Project Blue Thumb team. We asked some hard (and sometimes personal) questions and everyone was so open to helping the lab team. It is often said but bears repeating in this context: water is a great unifier. We are already looking forward to the next lab meeting in Fall 2016.

 

 

Josée Methot

Josée is one part environmental scientist, one part process designer, and one part strategist. Her passion lies in approaching complex problems in the water-food-energy nexus from more than one angle. Josée is currently working as a watershed planner while also leading a social innovation lab to advance collaborative efforts to improve water quality in Central Alberta. She has an MSc. in Natural Resource Sciences from McGill University, and has worked on issues including climate change, food security, and place-making in local and international contexts. After moving back to Alberta in 2014, Josée is now focused on accelerating social innovation in the water sector to support long-term watershed health.

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