Recipe for collaboration

May 24, 2015

The collaborations that I have seen to be the most effective in building sustainable and smart communities follow a similar, although always unique, path:

  • Set the agenda.
  • Champion the agenda far and wide.
  • Convene a community conversation to understand what matters.
  • Connect people and ideas from across the community to promote innovation.
  • Provide resources to support change and measure results.

In 2003, I joined a group of Canadians travelling to the Netherlands to learn more about community energy planning.  I was serving as a director on my local electrical distribution company and we were interested in Guelph developing a community energy plan (CEP).

At the time, electric utilities were experiencing unprecedented regulatory change (and still are).  As part of a strategic planning exercise, the utility made the decision to become more than a “wires” company that distributed electricity to homes and businesses.  A new vision, as a provider of energy services, was born.  The development of a CEP was seen as an opportunity to inform a new business strategy.  The agenda was set.

As mayor, I was ready to champion the development of a CEP to set Guelph on a path towards becoming a smart energy community, improving energy efficiency, cutting costs, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and, what we quickly came to understand, much more.

Soon after my return from the Netherlands, I lost my re-election bid to be mayor. Undeterred, I approached local civic leaders and brought them together as a “community consortium” to continue to pursue a community energy plan. This was in 2004. We had begun to convene a conversation engaging people from across the community.

We set about connecting people and ideas.  Funding was cobbled together from a variety of sources to engage the broader community and the services of a consultant. We built consensus to strive for world class energy performance in 25 years.

Not unlike a corporate social responsibility initiative within an organization, ongoing engagement, support for innovation, measuring results and the integration of new ideas into policies and practices were essential to maintaining resources and momentum over time.