Often our best insights come from the act of conversation. We think as we talk, we talk as we think. Hopefully there’s some listening in there too. Through dialogue, we can build upon the insights of others, examine our assumptions, and deepen connections.

Dialogue is a big part of what Project Blue Thumb is all about. Structured as a social innovation Lab, we recognize that robust, sometimes tough, discussions fostered in safe spaces allow us to identify and navigate potential solutions that we may not have discovered on our own or through traditional methods. There is a special kind of magic that happens when you make space for reflection that can unleash people’s creativity.

With this in mind, we entered 2017 striving for new water conversations beyond the Lab space we worked in over the past two years and into the wider water community.

But why? A lot has changed since the Lab began. There have been political, environmental, technological, and economic changes. We’ve seen a few Lab members come and go, and are also in the process of shifting into a new Lab phase. We think it is time to update our perspective on the water community and water system in Alberta, and to engage a broader group of people. We invited several people outside of the Lab and active in the water sphere to share their thoughts.

Between February and April, the Project Blue Thumb Secretariat met with thirteen thought leaders across southern and central Alberta to ask some provocative questions about the future of Alberta’s water system. We reached out to those who are working directly or indirectly on water from various disciplines, knowing that water quality affects us all. These conversations will help inform the strategic action focus Lab participants are asking for. Thank you to those who shared their thoughts with us!

Hilary Young - Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation InitiativeLaura Lynes, The Rockies Institute

Stephen Legault & Hilary Young, Yellowstone to Yukon

Bill Snow, Stoney Tribal Administration

Dr. Nick Ashbolt, University of Alberta School of Public Health

Brett Purdy, Alberta Innovates

Kim Sturgess, Alberta WaterSMART Solutions Ltd.

Rachel de Vos, Alberta Urban Municipalities Association

Keith Ryder, Red Deer River Municipal Users Group

Shannon Frank, Oldman Watershed Council

Lisa Maria Fox, Sustainability Resources Ltd.

Dr. Mary-Ellen Tyler, University of Calgary Faculty of Environmental Design

Dr. Vic Adamowicz, University of Alberta Faculty of Agricultural, Life & Environmental Sciences

Thank you to our dedicated Lab members, Larry Wright and Jean Bota, who participated and assisted in the interview process.  Over the coming weeks, we will be sharing insights from these interviews in a series of blog posts through the Alberta WaterPortal.

What have we learned through this process? That water issues in Alberta are viewed through various lenses – such as social justice, cultural identity, and value – among others. We’ve heard that water issues and First Nations rights are massively intertwined and poised to play a bigger role in the conversation.  We’ve learned that crisis, security, and resilience are top of mind for many Albertans. Also, that people value the work that Project Blue Thumb is doing, and we’ve still got a lot of important work ahead of us.

Insights from this interview series guided the development of six Action Pathways, designed to provide a strategic direction to our work without losing the magic of emergent spaces and ideas. The action pathways build off of work done within the lab space over the last two years. Our next step is to refine these action pathways with the core lab team again. What needs to be modified or changed?  What do we want to focus on first? Where do we see the greatest need for innovation? Where are the most strategic interventions? There is a lot of fuel here to energize our work.

Also, be sure to follow the interview series as we post every two weeks through the Alberta WaterPortal blog

Article 1: Water & Headwaters as Cultural Identity: Stephen Legault, Hilary Young, and Kim Sturgess on cultural identity.

Article 2: New Water Paradigms: Interviews with Dr. Nick Ashbolt and Shannon Frank. 

Article 3: Water Worth: Dr. Vic Adamowicz, Brett Purdy, and Laura Lynes on valuing water.

Article 4: Active Reconciliation: Bill Snow illuminates an Indigenous water context.

Article 5: Municipalities: Keith Ryder, Sofie Forsström, and Dr. Mary-Ellen Tyler on challenges for municipalities.

Article 6: Reflections on Water for Life: Lisa Maria Fox and Brett Purdy reflecting on Alberta’s Water for Life framework.

You can find us on Twitter @BlueThumbLab and join the conversation at #ABwater.

Amy Spark

Amy Spark is an Environmental Program Coordinator with Alberta Ecotrust supporting Project Blue Thumb, a social lab initiative co-convened by Alberta Ecotrust and the Red Deer River Watershed Alliance. Amy has an MSc in Environment, Culture & Society from the University of Edinburgh where she researched ecological grief in the Ghost River Valley of Alberta. It is this intersection between ecological and mental health which drives her work. She has developed youth workshops on food justice and worked for various environmental education programs including Green Calgary and the Telus Spark Science Centre. Her most recent endeavour is Refugia Retreats, a collaborative effort committed to creating safe alternative spaces that allow communities to question the ways we live upon the earth. Amy loves interacting with the natural world through movement: by bicycle, hiking boots, or skis, and is a lover of all things X-files.

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