Emergent Dialogue, Municipal Climate Change, and Imaginary Worlds: Exploring Climate Change Innovation and Engagement Processes at the Community Scale

Joint Seminar Hosted by the Department of Geography and School of the Environment

Wednesday, 19 November
4.10 pm
Earth Sciences Building, ES 149 (basement), 5 Bancroft Avenue

The locus of innovation and much activity on climate change and sustainability has strongly shifted to the municipal or community level around the world. Yet we still have much to learn about how best to engage communities and citizens in exploring sustainable futures. This paper reports on two streams of work. The first is recent and ongoing work on community scale climate innovation in British Columbia, Canada and elsewhere. A recently completed study has developed 11 case studies of community climate leadership in British Columbia (BC), Canada and implemented a number of processes of peer-to-peer learning and information exchange.  Lessons from the case studies and our attempts to involve local governments in such exchanges will be discussed. More recently, three related projects have been funded: the development of additional BC case studies and more processes of community engagement; a study of the emerging eco-districts movement around the world; and a study of climate change governance with particular reference to small and medium sized businesses. Each will be described. The second stream of work focusses on various processes of engaging citizens on climate change and sustainability issues. In particular, the paper will summarize the results of several decades of work in BC on using landscape visualization and participatory backcasting techniques for such engagement, focusing on recent work on multi-channel (landscape visualization workshops, scenario tools, social media, tabletop games, art, mobile apps, computer games) engagement processes. The “Sustainability in an Imaginary World” project, which will combine art and scenario analysis in an attempt to destabilize conventional views of sustainability and human-nature relations, will also be described. A theme running throughout the paper is the desirability of moving away from engagement tools and processes focused on what might be called ‘persuasive communication’ approaches intended to create pre-determined understandings or behaviour changes, and towards tools and processes based on ’emergent dialogue’ approaches where the understandings and desirable behaviours must be co-produced by the participants and researchers. It is argued that this approach is particularly important when considering larger questions (e.g. the desired future for a community), the answers to which are still very much up in the air.

John Robinson is Professor of Geography and Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability, University of British Columbia

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