On natural resource projects in Canada, industry, government and Indigenous communities all play a critical role at the table. However, these relationships can at times be fraught with tension and misalignment. All sides are seeking a better path forward.
With the Canadian government’s recently announced support for a bill that would see the full implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), the government is taking a critical step towards reconciliation with Indigenous communities across the country. Although UNDRIP is linked more broadly to universal social issues, its adoption would underscore the importance of building strong partnership models in key areas such as natural resource development.
And it’s not only the government that recognizes the need to improve the status quo. Industry and Indigenous communities strive to achieve deeper levels of partnership and better relations as well.
Strong partnerships can be difficult to achieve. In an era of UNDRIP and increasing focus on the part of companies to be not just socially and environmentally responsible, but socially and environmentally progressive, new and innovative approaches to building partnership models are required.
Current consultation processes do not lend themselves easily to the establishment of common goals and vision, to fostering trust in low trust environments or to building capacity where capacity constraints are apparent. In this environment, it is not surprising that it may prove difficult to build meaningful partnerships as parties assert their own interests in the absence of real opportunities to establish mutual interests.
As a result, additional tools may be required to supplement existing approaches and address current gaps. Encouragingly, recent examples suggest that a process of collaboratively designing a future vision between government, industry and Indigenous communities has established trust and led to accelerated agreements.
These agreements have been built on developing shared visions of the future, which not only include the benefits flowing from natural resource development, but also education, cultural preservation, health, justice, child welfare and more.
This approach is centered on addressing the following questions:
- How do we build trust and a relationship based on mutual benefit?
- What is our shared vision of the future?
- How will we achieve this shared vision together?
Disrupting the status quo
Collaborative design, or co-design, is an approach to building industry, government and Indigenous partnerships to move beyond the status quo. It’s a different approach to traditional negotiations and brings together a variety of parties, many of whom did not play roles in previous negotiation processes. It’s built to ensure that all relevant interests are at the table and equally represented.
The goal of co-design is to work together to define a shared vision of the future from which common goals and actions can be articulated. British Columbia has used collaborative design on a number of natural resource development projects and has seen successes.
Key benefits of a co-design process include:
- Acceleration: Accelerating feedback cycles and seeing meetings that used to be spread over months and years taking place over a matter of days.
- Alignment and ownership of a path forward: Going beyond a minimum level of buy-in.
- Optimization: Enabling participants to think and work differently.
- Risk mitigation: Identifying risks, issues and differences in opinions early on.
- Creativity and innovation: Fresh thinking and new expectations of human performance.
While collaborative design is not a cure-all for the challenges facing the industry-government-Indigenous relationship in Canada, it may offer an innovative approach to building trust between parties. Collaborative design’s greatest strength is that it encourages higher levels of engagement between parties.
However, without the necessary planning and follow-through on agreements, the process will not deliver its intended benefits.
Government, industry, and Indigenous communities are all calling for changing the existing way of doing things and for the development of long-lasting partnerships that deliver growth and equal opportunity. Collaborative design may be one avenue that gets us there.
CHRISTIAN KITTLESON is Indigenous lead and associate partner, Advisory and Performance improvement; Brittany Trumper is manager, Advisory and Performance Improvement; and Courtney Loftus is an associate, Climate Change and Sustainability, at EY Canada.