Randy French Interviewed for University of Guelph Research Project
Scott Mackay and Dr. John Fitzgibbon of University of Guelph are undertaking a research project studying leadership approaches in Collaborative Environmental Management. Scott said "we interviewed a handful of influential and effective stewardship leaders working in the context of rural Ontario to determine the key roles and influences they have, and how they empower others to work together to steward water resources. Randy is such a leader and comes from a very unique perspective both in terms of his private sector role and his breadth and depth of experience. The lake planning process is an exemplary addition to the stewardship toolbox for Ontario.
Interview with Randy French, French Planning Services Inc – www.lakeplan.com
Practitioner Interview Transcript – Scott MacKay – University of Guelph
“Leadership Approaches in Collaborative Environmental Management"
Scott MacKay: Could you tell me a bit about your background as a stewardship practitioner- your education, experience, etc.
Randy French: This started back in 1999, why I got involved was because I needed something that I really wanted to do. I’d just left MNR and I was trying to find a new niche. Everybody was into development (planning) and I didn’t want to do that - I thought there should be another solution to many of the “things that ails us”, and went on a stewardship bent. And I was nervous about it, because how do you make money on stewardship? Especially dealing with cottage associations who have no money and all stick to their own cottages on a shoestring. It started with one particular need, it was a series of lakes up in Huntsville- Fairy and Peninsula- a golf course washed away in a storm, there was $150000 (damage?), DFO charges. All kinds of scientists came in and did all kinds of great reports, and the last thing in their report basically said “the thing that we’re missing here is the community action. We’ve got all the science but we need to find a way to get it into the hands of the community.” In walked me. I helped work with some of those guys and we had to transfer it over, work with Peninsula Lake (cottage association), they were one of the lakes that was impacted. They had an issue which brought them together, which is always an important thing , it was an algae outbreak…we ended up designing a process for Peninsula Lake. We pulled in all the best planning practices there are out there- resource management, parks planning, municipal planning- all the processes I’ve been involved in, all my experience, and wrapped it up into a community-based process that was to engage people.
Scott MacKay: Could you tell me a little bit more about the approaches you were taking
Randy French: The steps are all in that (lake planning) manual. I’m not certain I need to go through all that technical detail. I think some of the big things I can give you is a summation and synthesis of what’s in that manual. There’s a stepwise approach in the manual. You’ve got to have that as a backdrop, as a framework to guide people through. But I really think the successful approaches are about face-to-face engagement. You have to create situations where you’re bringing people together for a common cause. One of the key things in bringing people together of different values and different backgrounds, even including some rednecks and commercial people and development people- you look at it as a triangle. At the bottom two points of the triangle I’ve got the community and the residents and the values, and then the other points are the differing opinions. The point is to bring these people together, not talk about their differences, but it’s to find their common values. That’s the first point I always start with this process. “Where do we stand here together?” It’s finding these common threads that connect people. Once you’ve made the connection and you’ve got them working together, that’s the time when you can start to introduce “now what are the issues?”. You’ve got to start in a positive way, not in a negative way. The other key concept in the approaches is building their capacity. My common theme is “you’ve got to do this yourself. We’re not going to do it for you. We’ll be your coach, we’ll guide, we’ll fill in the gaps and do technical studies if you need them.” But it’s finding things that people are interested in doing, actually doing, not just a task. And then you engage them, if they need some education, background that kind of information, if they need a support- someone to talk to. It’s engaging them to do something. You can’t say what it is until you know who it is that you’re working with. You have to make sure that capacity is there, and if it’s not you try to build the capacity.
Scott MacKay: Drilling down to something you said a minute ago, when you talk about engagement, and the range of interests in the area- how successful do you find you’ve been in actually getting that range of interests on a regular basis?
Randy French: 99% totally successful. Because we try to stay away from the rules and the regulations, because that’s the place where people break down. The 1% was a situation where a lake moved ahead, they took all of our background work, they designed a lake plan, but the problem was the language- too strict and prescriptive and not built upon a voluntary consensus. A small group of property owners took exception to being told what to do. As a result they created a website to counter the lake’s website called “Stop the Lake Plan”. These people (the lake association and the disgruntled property owners) were not getting together to talk about it. I tried to create meetings or situations where we could pull together, and eventually they did, and eventually we ran another series of workshops providing the opportunity for everybody to wordsmith and clean up what was in it (the plan). As a result, maybe not completely, there was consensus on the final document and the actions.
Scott MacKay: So sometimes it takes some time to convene all the interests that are a little bit farther apart from each other?
Randy French: Right. One off the key things…when we started this off in 1999, I honestly thought there was going to be a huge difference between residents and commercial operators. Why? That was the feeling I’d heard from property owners. In a workshop where we brought the resort business guys in, and there’s seven of them on this lake, to meet the residents and talk about values, one guy said “well you know, all those values you’re talking about- water quality, peace and quiet, tranquility, fish and wildlife- they’re more important to me and my business. My property’s worth $20 million and it’s my livelihood- if I can’t supply those things, nobody’s going to come”. Well, there was shock on the cottagers’ faces. Once that was said and it was out in the open, we had the common base to move forward.
Scott MacKay: Have you run into a lot of situations where there is a past history of antagonism between the various stakeholders?
Randy French: I would say the only time that really happens is when you get into the rules and regulations, OMB hearings, development. We never start a planning process in the middle of that. People have come to me and said “we want to fight this. We need to do a lake plan”. I said “nope, can’t help you. A lake plan is not designed to fight anything. It’s designed to bring everybody together to figure out what you want to do and your actions”. If development is an issue (for the lake plan), you’ve got to work with the OP and within that system. But it’s not to say “we’re developed, can’t have anything more”. Not unless there’s the science like lake trout or provincially significant wetlands. That’s part of it.
Scott MacKay: One last subquestion under this line. When you talk about capacity-building, you talk about compiling knowledge and making it more accessible to people and getting people to figure out what kind of projects are really of interest to them. Is there anything else you’d add under capacity building?
Randy French: Education, communication, understanding what people know, and building on that. It’s not a matter of taking an individual with no capabilities. It’s finding the people with some capacity and then building on that.
Scott MacKay: What do you see the main factors or ingredients that make lake plans successful?
Randy French: Common values, face-to-face social interaction. What’s the thread that binds us not separates us? Then once you’ve got that, then you can move forward. It’s also setting parameters and limitations on discussion or on project scope. So- if I’ve got a group that’s really concerned and there’s a lot of action going on about development, then what I will do- I’ll get the lake plan approved on some washy words that “we’re going to go back in and look at these issues in more detail”. The concept is to get the consensus done and the plan in place, and then work out some of the thorny issues. Then we’ve got the building blocks in place. We’ve already established the relationships, and a desire to talk.
Scott MacKay: This is all within the realm of the planning process. Is that typically where your involvement ends is once the plan is done?
Randy French: The process is more important than the product. I say this 100 times and it’s throughout the document (lake planning handbook) and it’s so incredibly true. The end product is important, but you’re not talking about a static document that’s once it’s done it’s done. This is a lifelong commitment! We’re setting up a seed that’s going to grow for 100 years- more.
Scott MacKay: Why is the process more important, what happens there?
Randy French: It’s the interaction, and the relationships that are established. It’s the finding out what the issues are, the concerns are and what the values are. It’s a people process, it’s a community-based process. Without the community working together then you’ve got nothing. It’s the process that provides you with that. The process also provides time to get the converts in right away and find ways to bring the non-converts in. I’ve been going to Baptiste Lake for five years now…first meeting we had four people, next meeting we had twelve, then we had a workshop we had 40, then it was 80. Well this year it was back to 40 because it was on a really nice sunny day and nobody wanted to come. When we said “who’s new?”, out of the 40 people, 10 new people showed up…and six of those new people volunteered to do some work on the plan. That’s the other part that’s important to this process- people and burnout. And the process provides an evolution of new people coming in. So when the product’s done, you need new people in to start doing these things, and the process continually brings in these new people. It’s not just a workshop, you’ve got to look at all different ways to bring people in.
Scott MacKay: Could you talk about those other kinds of ways?
Randy French: One of the most important ways is getting the ask, you’ve got to actually ask people. One of the wrong ways of doing something is to send out a letter or e-mail and website where you’re not getting a commitment. I practice a lot of social marketing principles. It’s all about getting a commitment in a public setting from people. One way is to knock on people’s doors and bring a flyer along and put a face to the project, and speaking to people- actually asking them to get involved.
Scott MacKay: What about going out and doing projects and using that as a team-building activity as well?
Randy French: Of course. As we’re going through the process, not everybody wants to do planning. Not everybody is theoretical or a scientist. During the process what you often have to do is create individual-specific projects- e.g. monitoring water quality- getting people involved in a specific kind of action. The lake plans produce a whole bunch of actions, but we can jump to some conclusions that would work on a lake right at the beginning of the process. As you’re collecting information, working on a plan, you can do things that are actually implementing the plan ahead of schedule. Water quality- getting people tied into the lake partner program- boating and navigation- doing boating cards with a map of the lake with courtesy zones and speed limits and courtesy rules. So people are seeing something tangible, and are not thinking “oh, they’re planning and I don’t want to get involved in that” When they start to see some of these actions rolling out that people want to see, then they want to join on. Also, I can’t underestimate the value of social elements- not just meetings and workshops- it’s actually having fun. Regattas, BBQs. It’s also important to celebrate your successes. You don’t just wait two or three years until you get to the end of developing one of these plans to have a big party. There’s certain points along the way such as at an AGM where you give congratulations and recognize individuals, continually celebrating what it is that you’re doing.
Scott MacKay: What do you see as your roles in the process. You’ve mentioned coach and facilitator- are there others?
Randy French: That’s the key thing. Facilitator, coach, role model, I’m not a teller- I can’t tell people. When you say the word facilitator it means so much. The concept is to facilitate them. An idea generator, a supporter, building their confidence, a publisher, a writer, a researcher, a fill in the gapper, a financial consultant - coordination and administration.
Scott MacKay: What do you see as the role or roles of other participants in the process= landowners or agency people- particularly where leadership is shown but also just in general what makes them an important part of the process.
Randy French: Community champion is the word that was on my mind. The whole concept of finding a leader is the name in the picture and the contact. It’s finding someone people can look up to and respect, and someone who plays an active role. Sometimes that’s a difficult thing to find all those characteristics in people. Leadership- government….you’re not trying to find a leader for the process in government. It’s important that the leader of the community-based process is someone from the community. A financer, a funder, a supporter, a researcher- can be government. If government is a leader of this, it’s too convenient and then your community groups slack off, they don’t take on as much. And I’m finding this with Conservation Authorities and other groups who are doing this.
Scott MacKay: If there are some good characteristics that make a government person a good leader- maybe enabler is a better term- what would they be?
Randy French: A listener not a teller, someone who can lead by facilitating and engaging, not by telling.
Scott MacKay: In your processes in general, what kinds of things do governments tend to contribute to the process?
Randy French: When we started off, we used to hold workshops with the separate stakeholder groups including residents, commercial operators, and governments. The role of the governments as a supporter is as a peer review- that at the end we have to put the government’s stamp of approval on this. MNR, MOE, and the CA where they apply.
Scott MacKay: Do you ever engage them in getting in the room in the workshop settings with the landowners?
Randy French: Yes, we run roundtables. But there are so many of these lake plan processes going on now that government staff are spread too thinly and we’re not getting as much participation. If they’re not showing up at the workshops we go to them. The community people will go and sit at the offices and talk with them. In some cases to get background information, we go into MNR and they allow us to go through all their files and we pull in all the information applicable to the lake.
Scott MacKay: Can you talk more about the role of community members?
Randy French: I could probably pull out on every lake one individual who is the key instigator. These are people with a wide range of skills, with a vision, a desire to do something. What makes them successful is they are a people person.
Scott MacKay: What functions do they perform in the procesa- getting people to the meetings, doing some of the coordinating work…
Randy French: It’s a mix. A lot of it’s delegating, organizing, project management skills. Making sure that the process is continually run and on time.
Scott MacKay: If you were to list a number of “best practices”….
Randy French: Facilitation- it’s the key one. Also communications and identifying barriers. Don’t drive the process too fast- it is what it is. Take time to get established- if you’re running the process and you haven’t got the right people bought into it or the scope of it clearly defined you’ll run into problems down the road. Prepare a framework and a picture of what you want- sometimes these things get too big so you have to be able to scope it so that it’s a doable project. You have to recognize that it’s a living plan, that you don’t have to have every bit of information before you write the plan. You write the plan based on what you know and put the actions in place to gather information. Initiate community-based actions in the process- things aren’t necessarily writing the plan but that defines a common thread and gets people engaged. Social activities. Websites, communications, e-mail listings, newsletters, updates. Identifying barriers (in the social marketing sense)- barriers to why won’t these actions work, why aren’t these people getting together and trying to find out what the solutions are.
Scott MacKay: What about outcomes?
Randy French: We have failed if we write the plan, we gather the knowledge, and we haven’t educated anybody. You need to find people to take charge and actually do it. If I walk out at the end of the day and they have their plan but I have all the knowledge…it’s about moving it forward by getting others to do it. We want six experts on the lake- one on water quality- that’s the lake partner. One who’s doing communications, etc.
Scott MacKay: So it’s that capacity building thing again..
Randy French: Yes.
Scott MacKay: Have you seen any of the ”hard” outcomes?
Randy French: Not yet, this is ten years in the making. You know you can’t measure environmental change over a ten year period and say we’ve got a success. What we are doing now- the hard products which are rolling out- there’s now OP policy in many municipalities that bring forward the values that are in the lake plan. We’ve got one that said no aggregate resource extraction within a kilometre of the lake. We’ve been to the OMB on another aggregate operation and the board used the information in the management plan even though it’s not a legal document. It’s only if it gets into the OP as a continuing process. Some communities like Stoney, Clear, and White Lakes have identified an issue and a value about wetlands. Jasmine has now spent two summers out there identifying PSWs. We used to wait for government to do the evaluation. Now we’re telling people “no, don’t wait anymore. You get the money and we’ll go out and do it”. Now we’re handing all this information to MNR and they’re saying it’s fantastic. There’s the individual activities that are coming out as hard outcomes.
Scott MacKay: The adoption of lake plans into OPS-: are there any municipalities who are trying to get a lake plan process going proactively as part of an OP update?
Randy French: The municipality is not doing these things and should not be doing them. But many municipalities now have policies in their plans encouraging lake associations to do them. And they say what should be in it. Some municipalities have given lake associations $1-2K as seed money. Now we have about five lakes that have moved on from the lake plan and have produced official plan policy. A lake plan itself isn’t adopted into an OP. It’s got too much content that is outside their jurisdiction. All they want it four or five policies on the lake that their OP doesn’t already say. What we have to do is add new policies that aren’t in the OP that provide further guidance. A character statement- a remote feeling, the fact that it’s low density, the fact that this is a residential lake because there’s no commercial operations. We’ve written probably three OPAs and municipalities have adopted them…(tells a story about the 4-Mile Lake OPA and getting the aggregate setback adopted).