Since launching in early 2015, a diverse team of individuals from industry, government, and civil society have been participating in Project Blue Thumb – a social lab aimed at protecting water quality in the Red Deer River watershed. In this post, the Lab Secretariat presents three pivots in direction for Project Blue Thumb as we enter 2017 and Phase II of the lab.

“Water is life”.

These words were fixed in the headlines of major newspapers throughout 2016. It was a high-profile year for water: Standing Rock activism lifted water issues into broader public awareness, algae bloomed in some of Alberta’s best recreational lakes, whirling disease was found in the Bow River watershed, and oil spilled into the North Saskatchewan river. These headline grabbing events, among others, put water – and our human relationship to this vital resource – front and centre.

In central Alberta, a community of people are already working together to protect water. This growing group – Project Blue Thumb – came together to participate in a social lab aimed at maintaining and improving water quality in central Alberta. Since launching, we have learned more about our watershed, built new relationships, and tested ideas to protect the water. We have a lot to celebrate (our 2016 Year-in-Review report will be posted shortly) and even more to look forward to.

With 2017 now underway, we are granted the opportunity to think about goals for the year ahead. We hope 2017 will be a year of greater visibility and expanding impact for Project Blue Thumb.  As we begin Phase II of the lab, we highlight three key shifts in our work:

  1. Identifying key Action Pathways to move forward strategically

Over the past seven workshops, we talked a lot about the various drivers behind water quality issues and the key ‘leverage points’ around which we should organize our efforts. Participants asked for more focus, and the time has come to put pen to paper and put our collective vision into the world. These ‘action pathways’ will help us organize and coordinate the lab’s work moving forward, while outlining major needs in the watershed system to share with an expanding network.

We aren’t starting from scratch. Between the lab’s Theory of Change and all the discussions to date, the Lab Secretariat is busy pulling together a working draft. We will then invite feedback through lab networks. We believe articulating these pathways will help the lab in terms of focus, collective impact, and our ability to connect with key organizations and partners in Alberta. More information on our action pathways coming soon!

  1. Moving the focus on ‘prototypes’ to an ‘action toolbox’

The lab isn’t just a think tank, it is also a ‘do tank’ premised on the need for systemic and collaborative approaches to complex water issues. Since launching, we have been identifying bite-sized pieces of an issue around which we can experiment through prototyping.  We have learned the invaluable skill of letting bad ideas go and how to ‘kill our darlings’.  With our action pathways in place however, Project Blue Thumb will focus less on prototypes and more on tools for building lasting, systemic change to water quality and watershed management. We foresee new projects and initiatives linked specifically to the various action pathways.

  1. Expanding circles of engagement

The lab up to this point has placed a heavy emphasis on the internal building of our lab team. Together, we’ve built our shared knowledge, our networks, our skills, and tested key ideas through prototyping. Now we are ready to ask the question: What else is needed? Or rather, who else? In 2017, we will be encouraging lab team members to step up as convenors and catalysts in their own networks. Additionally, we will be looking to expand the circle of participation.  Currently we have the Lab members and Lab Secretariat; we will begin to expand this group to include new lab team members, guest speakers, content advisors, etc.  Please contact Josée Méthot at if you would like to get involved.


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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