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Ann Svendsen & Myriam Laberge

Simon Fraser University
Vancouver, BC, Canada

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Stakeholder "Management" Mindset
A Co-Creative Mindset
Case Study: BC Coastal Old Growth Forest Controversy

Linda Coady's Story: Lessons From BC Old Growth Forest Case
Room to Think Differently
Capacity for Inquiry, learning & Innovation
Conditions for Collaborative Learning
Point of Intersect with Power to Bind
Recognition of interdependence for Results
Getting to Multi-Sectoral Innovation
Obtaining Internal Commitment to Innovate

Analysis of the Case: Emergence of a Co-Creative Mindset
Engaging Stakeholder Networks: Outreach, Learning and Innovation
Network Outreach is the Starting Point
The Journey is About Learning
Innovation is the Prize

"What would intelligence look like if we took holism seriously? Tom Atlee

We’re in a mess. Economic globalization, environmental degradation, over-population, resource depletion, species extinction, urbanization, and poverty - to name just a few of the complex “messes” we face, represent interdependent, cross-boundary systems of problems that no one organization, sector (and often, nation) can address unilaterally. Scientific advancements such as bio-technology, genetics, genome sequencing, nano-technology, cloning, artificial intelligence, robotics, and computerization - far from solving these problems - are adding a whole new layer of complexity to an already challenging reality.

We’re in a mess because we’re trying to go it alone. When there were fewer of us on the planet, when our technology was less potent, and when the pace of change was slower, the earth and our human institutions seemed relatively resilient, capable of adapting and responding to new challenges and opportunities. The impact of unilateral decisions by business, government, civic society or nations seemed either minimal or were at least tolerable by others. Today’s reality is vastly different. The world we live in is smaller, more interconnected, and fragile. Decisions and actions in any sector can potentially affect the well-being of whole communities and ecological systems. We no longer have the luxury to go it alone.

Finding a way out of the mess requires tapping the collective intelligence of the whole.

We are witnessing a shift in the way corporations, governments, and civic society organizations engage to tackle complex, controversial issues. Over the past two decades, we have seen a demise of one-way ‘public relations’ campaigns and the rise of consultation and more recently multi-stakeholder dialogue. On the horizon is a new form of interaction whereby networks of stakeholders come together to learn and innovate at a systems level.  Often the focus is on the sustainability of bio-regions or communities. While stakeholder network engagement is still relatively rare, it is based on a principle of co-creative power which allows diverse groups to solve complex, cross boundary problems or “messes”.

We must learn how to learn & innovate - together. Such a shift requires business, civic society and government to be able and willing to work together if we are going to restore and create healthier, more sustainable communities. Dissimilar and even adversarial groups of stakeholders must learn how to learn together, and how to tap the collective intelligence of the whole for system-wide innovation. Success in doing so requires a paradigm shift from a self-centered (or organization-centric) mindset to a co-creative mindset.

Engaging stakeholder networks for learning and innovation represents a new level of human capacity. While there is a growing body of knowledge about consensus building and conflict resolution, we know little about fostering and supporting inquiry, learning and innovation in diverse multi-stakeholder groups. Collective learning and whole system innovation depend on members of multi-stakeholder groups thinking and acting on behalf of the larger system or community. If diverse communities of people are going to envision a more sustainable future and then co-create viable and innovative strategies for getting there, they must first see themselves as being inextricable connected to one another and to the natural environment. Only from this significant shift in mindset will they be willing to take responsibility for what lies outside their immediate ”self” - family or organization.

In this paper, Ann Svendsen and Myriam Laberge address the social application of collective intelligence as it relates to learning and innovation in multi-stakeholder groups. Their findings illuminate the necessity of tapping into collective intelligence when the seemingly polar objectives of diverse stakeholders would naturally lead to conflict or unsatisfactory compromises. You will read about a decade-long case involving networks of environmentalists, corporate executives, First Nations leaders and citizens who developed highly innovative, sustainable solutions to an entrenched conflict surrounding the logging of old growth forests on the West Coast of Canada. You will also experience the process through the eyes of Linda Coady, a senior executive with the forest company. At the conclusion of the paper, an overview is provided of the emerging mindset and practices suggested by the case for co-creation in stakeholder networks.


“We are living through one of the most fundamental shifts in history – a change in the actual belief structure of Western society. No economic, political, or military power can compare with the power of a change of mind. By deliberately changing their images of reality, people are changing the world.”   Willis Harman

Our beliefs and perceptions about the world, our worldview or mindset, determine our actions. This is as true for organizations as it is for individuals. A view of the external context as dangerous will lead a company, for example, to adopt a defensive strategy to protect itself against potential competitors or “enemies”. A “survival of the fittest” or “win-lose” mindset will prevail. Another organization, say a company in the same industry, may see other actors in the external environment, whether customers, suppliers, competitors, community groups, or environmental stakeholders, as potential sources of creativity and new knowledge. Such companies will willingly enter into relationships with a diversity of partners, in the pursuit of innovative solutions to the challenges of the day.

Stakeholder “Management” Mindset

Most organizations today engage with their stakeholders in response to “push” factors: the need to comply with regulation, solve operational problems, and respond to public pressures for greater social responsibility and accountability. A stakeholder management mindset is based on a mechanistic paradigm where the organization perceives itself as a closed system capable of autonomous action independent of the external context. One-way communication, bilateral consultation, transactional partnerships, and negotiation are the hallmarks of stakeholder management.

A stakeholder management mindset pervades most stakeholder processes today, for example, governments and companies involve stakeholders in a discussion about ways to resolve concerns about a specific policy or activities. The stakes, interests and power among players in such situations are not equal, and processes are usually designed and managed by the proponent for instrumental reasons (e.g. to help them reach their own goals).

A Co-Creative Mindset

Engagement of a stakeholder network differs significantly from the traditional approaches to stakeholder management. Stakeholder network engagement is not organization-centric. It focuses on issues, problems, and opportunities that go far beyond one organization. This form of engagement focuses and involves the whole network, or “system”, and is informed by a “co-creative” mindset that has regard for the whole as well as the members or “parts” of the system.

Learning and innovation are the hallmarks of stakeholder network engagement. Generally such networks are self-organizing in the sense that no one is in charge.

Groups such as the Joint Solutions Project, and the Nechako Watershed Council are examples of multi-stakeholder groups who have reached this level of stakeholder network engagement[1]. They have come together to address highly complex and entrenched conflicts over the use of common resources such as forests, fish, and water. Over time and through a process of learning, they have developed a base of knowledge about the problems they face and the systemic nature of those problems. They have shared stories about their lives, their fears, and their dreams. Out of this learning has come shared values and meaning. They have built a solid foundation of trust and mutual understanding – something that allows them not only to develop solutions to the conflict but also to create new opportunities that could not have been imagined at the beginning. By grappling with all the diverse interests, they have reached integrative, innovative solutions to highly complex problems.


Case Study: BC Coastal Old Growth Forest Controversy

Between 1993 and 2002, environmental groups, forest companies, First Nations, and local communities on BC’s west coast came together to eventually learn and innovate their way out of the mess.

Advertising Campaign “Forests Forever” Fails to Sway Public

In the early 1980’s MacMillan Bloedel (MB), one of Canada’s largest forest companies launched a major television and newspaper advertising campaign called “Forests Forever”. The campaign was in response to growing criticism by local environmental groups who were opposed to MB’s logging practises. The ads suggested that the company’s harvesting and replanting efforts were the best in the industry – and further, that the forests would not be depleted as a result of the company’s practices. The campaign failed to change the opinions of environmental groups or the BC public who remained either hostile or sceptical (Pinfield and Berner 1992).

Government Led Consultation Failed to Resolve Conflict Over Logging in Clayoquot Sound (1980 – 1993)

As the dispute over logging flared, the provincial government of BC set up a series of task forces and committees to develop a land use plan that would be acceptable to all parties.  None succeeded.  Environmentalists walked away from the table, saying they were tired of a policy of “talk and log”.

Finally, in April 1993, the government stepped in to resolve the matter by issuing a new set of policies, called the Clayoquot Land Use Decision.  The new policy would protect one-third of the Sound from logging.  The rest of the land could be logged, but operations would be subject to new rules requiring industry to consider wildlife, recreational, and scenic values.

All sides were unhappy with the land use decision.  MacMillan Bloedel felt its rights to log had been constrained, unions complained about the loss of jobs, environmentalists were dissatisfied with the amount of land protected, and the First Nations felt they had been excluded from decisions affecting their traditional territory. 

As Linda Coady[2] (Coady 1999), then VP of Environment for MacMillan Bloedel noted:

“A zero sum game is a game in which the only acceptable outcome is for one side to win at the expense of the other. By the mid 1990’s, the environmental movement and the BC forest industry were nose-to-nose in a zero-sum game.”

Blockades and Civil Disobedience (1993 – 1995)

In the summer of 1993, the battle in Clayoquot Sound escalated.  Environmental groups organized a Clayoquot Sound Peace Camp, which attracted protesters from throughout North America and Europe.  At least 9,000 people participated in demonstrations against clear-cut logging. More than 800 people were arrested in the largest act of civil disobedience in Canadian history when protesters massed to block logging roads and climbed trees to protect them from cutting. Suddenly, Clayoquot Sound was in the headlines around the world.

In October 1993, the government responded by initiating the Scientific Panel for Sustainable Forest Practices in Clayoquot Sound, an independent panel of First Nations and scientific experts. The Panel’s mandate was to develop world-class standards for sustainable forest management by combining traditional and scientific knowledge.  Two years later, the Panel’s report recommended that clear cutting be replaced by variable retention forestry, an approach that would leave some trees standing in each area to protect the health of the forest ecosystem.

At the same time that the panel was developing its recommendations, the provincial government was engaged in negotiations with the First Nations to resolve their land claims. A joint resource management process was established with the First Nations of Clayoquot. Even as these initiatives were moving forward, however, environmentalists were escalating their campaigns against clear-cut logging in the rest of the province.

Markets Campaign by Environmental Groups Goes Global (1997)

In 1997, Greenpeace launched a consumer boycott of BC’s forest products in Europe and the United States, promoting their cause with demonstrations and direct mail. As a result of the campaign, three major British home supply chains agreed to stop buying from MacMillan Bloedel and other companies engaging in clear-cut logging in B.C. In the U.S., Xerox, 3M, FedEx and several other companies followed suit. The boycott deeply concerned MacMillan Bloedel’s board of directors.

That summer, the environmental movement returned to Clayoquot Sound with another round of demonstrations on King Island, where logging had begun. Greenpeace ships sailed into Vancouver harbour. Timber workers, angered by the protests, surrounded the ships with a chain of logs, preventing their movement. The workers’ union sued Greenpeace, demanding compensation for wages lost because of the King Island protests.

Clayoquot First Nations Create Opportunities for a New Conversation (1996 - 1998)

Between 1996 and 1998, First Nations leaders from Clayoquot Sound convened a series of meetings between MacMillan Bloedel managers and the environmental group leaders. Some of the meetings also included loggers and community representatives. A few of the meetings were held around the fire in longhouses in remote First Nations communities.

As Linda Coady explains:

“With a modern day Treaty process having begun in earnest in BC, the aboriginal peoples of Clayoquot Sound found themselves with the moral authority to cast the swing vote in the whole controversy. They had the effective political power to either discredit Greenpeace’s international market campaign or blow MB’s defences to smithereens. What this led to was a journey in which both MB and the environmental groups were like two convicts escaped from the chain gang manacled together. Like it or not, [we] had to work out a solution both could live with.”

With the interventions by the First Nations, the dynamics of the conversation between the company and environmental groups changed. Both the company representatives and environmental group leaders were forced to communicate directly with each other and to listen to understand rather than defend.

New Joint Venture Company Created (1997)

In late 1997, MB announced its intention to establish a new commercial joint venture sustainable logging company. It was called Iisaak (meaning “respect” in the Nuu-Chah-Nulth language) Forest Resources. MacMillan Bloedel transferred a portion of its logging rights in Clayoquot Sound to Iisaak, which was 49 percent owned by MacMillan Bloedel and 51 percent by the Nuu-Chah-Nulth First Nations. Iisaak was committed to traditional aboriginal values and respect for the environment. It promised to practice variable retention logging and to seek third-party certification of its timber, with the intention of seeking markets for its premium-priced products among environmentally aware customers.

The Forest Project (1998)

In late 1997, MacMillan Bloedel’s board appointed a new CEO, Tom Stephens. Stephens was convinced that MB needed to change the way it operated in order to regain its ‘social licence to operate’ in BC. In a highly unusual move, Stephens invited leaders of the most critical environmental groups to his home to discuss their concerns about clear cutting. During the meeting, Stephens announced his intention to launch The Forest Project, a one million dollar project to develop an economically feasible plan to end clear-cutting.

Linda Coady describes the dynamics of the Forest Project:

“Looking back now, it is clear to those of us who participated in the Forest Project, that it was essentially an exercise in adaptive management and organisational learning. The most significant result is not so much the particular changes we came up with. Rather it is the fact we learned some new ways to learn.”

In June 1998, MB publicly announced it was phasing out clear-cutting in favour of variable retention logging on all of its private and public timberlands in BC, thus becoming the first company to break what some environmentalists called the “clear-cutting cartel”.

Memorandum of Understanding with Environmental Groups (1999)

After a period of intense dialogue, an agreement was signed with four of the five most vocal and critical environmental organizations. The environmentalists agreed to call off all blockades and boycotts directed at MB in exchange for the company’s commitment to sustainable harvesting, respect for aboriginal values, and an acknowledgement of the value of eco-tourism. This was also a pivotal and highly unusual turn of events.

Linda Coady described the interaction between all the stakeholders that led to these remarkable agreements.

“At some point, we all began to put more time and energy into achieving a shared goal. The shared outcome didn’t belong to either side when the dispute began. Nor would it likely have ever been foreseen as a viable option by either side when the dispute began. So it wasn’t really a product of consensus or compromise. Instead, it was an outcome of continual interaction and constant redefinition of the situation and the options for dealing with it.”

Conflict Shifted to the Central and North Coast (1998 - 2000)

In 1998, conflict shifted from Clayoquot to the Central and North Coast of BC (see Note 2). A larger coalition of environmental groups launched the “Great Bear Rainforest” campaign to promote the preservation of forests on the coast. The campaign targeted a number of companies operating in the region, but not MB.

During this period, the environmental groups and companies faced considerable pressure from First Nations, government, international purchasers of wood products, and local communities to resolve their differences. In August 1999, Home Depot, a lumber retailer, announced it would phase out products made from “endangered forests”. German pulp and publishing companies also threatened to cancel contracts with the forest companies.

Ceasefire on the Coast (2000)

Following months of dialogue and negotiation, the companies and ENGOs agreed to a  “ceasefire” in April 2000. They agreed to a “conflict free” period to allow planning processes to proceed. One participant described it as “a safe place to go to think, to talk, to air things.”

Linda Coady explains how necessary, but difficult, this agreement was to reach:

“A conflict free period is very necessary, and the Catch-22 is, resolving the conflict cannot be a precondition to creating the conflict free period.”

“As companies, we had to create a safe place where we could go to examine alternatives to the status quo. Getting the license to do this within our own organizations was hard enough, let alone doing so with groups with whom we were in a highly adversarial conflict.”

New Organizations Formed to Find Solutions (2000)

A new multi-stakeholder group called The Joint Solutions Project (JSP) was created in August 2000 to act as a catalyst for change in the region. JSP members included many of the same environmental groups leaders who had been active in Clayoquot Sound but also had participation from a broader cross-section of forest companies.

Another change agent, The Turning Point Initiative was established to address environmental and economic issues of importance to First Nations and to ensure that government and other parties were mindful of the rights and interests of First Nations.

Individuals and groups withdrew from the process and rejoined at various points along the way. The industry and environmental caucuses struggled to clarify their own agendas before they could participate in the JSP. First Nations groups on the coast struggled to agree on their common agenda before joining with the David Suzuki Foundation to form Turning Point.

Loggers, government agencies, and local communities also had to make their voices and interests heard in what was initially a dialogue mainly between environmental groups and companies (Hamilton 2000)

Innovative Agreement for the Coast (2001)

Over the next 18 months the JSP and Turning Point met a number of times to discuss new ideas around ecosystem planning, impact mitigation, community economic development and aboriginal rights. The dialogue was intense and focused on learning and innovation. As Linda Coady explains:

“This exercise is really about collaborative inquiry and learning. It is not about stakeholder negotiations on social license issues, but the next generation model where we ask, “How do we learn together? How do we innovate together despite the fact that occasionally we hate each other and we can’t get along?”

During this process, stakeholder leaders also had to maintain the fragile support of their organizations. The backlash from industry and the environmental groups was strong. Company representatives were criticized inside their own organizations for “selling out” to the environmentalists.

After a long and often contentious process, the groups jointly developed a plan for moving forward. On April 4, 2001 a landmark agreement on land use on the Central Coast was announced by the government of BC, along with a new protocol between coastal First Nations and the Province on interim measures and planning. 


Linda Coady’s Story: Lessons From BC Old Growth Forest Case

A key corporate player in this 20-year old story is Linda Coady, then Vice President of Environment at Macmillan Bloedel (Linda became Vice-President of Environmental Enterprise for the BC Coastal Group of Weyerhaeuser which purchased Macmillan Bloedel in 1998.)  Below are her reflections on the lessons learned from the BC Coastal Forest experience, as given in a keynote address at the New Terms of Engagement Conference in Vancouver, in April 2002. Linda carefully qualified her comments as strictly representing the corporate perspective she understood.

The BC coastal forest experience around old growth forests is an interesting case study, illustrating new approaches towards “uncontrollables”[3] and the dynamics that drive change in relationships between stakeholders. The external environment in which most business, governments, and non-government organizations operate today is so complex, that no individual organization no matter how large they are and no matter how powerful they may appear to be on paper, can adapt solely through their own actions. Increasingly all sectors are facing this reality.

This new interdependent reality requires a change in relationships to maximize cooperation and increase capacity despite the fact that the groups involved may in fact continue to have significantly different beliefs, objectives, structures and cultures. The result is “diversity”. Diversity emerges as a strategy for dealing with complexity and increasing interdependence - collaborations and clusters and chaords and accords.

So, why doesn’t everybody just work together? Because it is so difficult. It is so complex. It is so costly. And of course a key reason we don’t is because though interdependent these groups tend to see the world in fundamentally different terms.

There is a thesis that economic and social systems function in similar ways to natural systems. Natural systems survive and adapt based on diversity. This thesis suggests that maybe social and economic systems can do the same thing. The need to reconcile tension is absolutely necessary for change and innovation.

The relevance of this thesis is particularly important to “meta-messes” or “meta-problems” - many-sided issues that are very complex, such as the BC coastal forest situation. Under these types of circumstances, cultivation of inter-organizational competence between dissimilar and sometimes even adversarial group is becoming a highly valuable social and economic capacity. But how do you make it work?

The BC coastal range forests are a case study in local and global complexity. There’s a lot of complexity and history here! When we examine what happened, two change agents emerge. One is called “The Joint Solutions Project” and the other is called “Turning Point”. In essence, these are alliances between dissimilar interests to achieve change on forests and environmental and aboriginal issues on the BC coast, focused on the area called the Central and North Coast also dubbed by environmental groups as The Great Bear Rain Forest. 

What are the lessons learned from these two experiences? (I can only speak from a company perspective and not an environmental group or First Nations’ perspective.)

Room to Think Differently

The first lesson is that room must be created to think differently about the issues. As companies, we had to create a safe place where we could go to examine alternatives to the status quo. Getting the license to do this within our own organizations was hard enough, let alone doing so with groups with whom we were in a highly adversarial conflict.

A conflict free period is very necessary, and the Catch-22 is, resolving the conflict cannot be a precondition to creating the conflict free period. How do you get into that conflict free period? First of all, there needs to be a power shift. There needs to be recognition on the part of the players that this situation will not change unless “we” change. Secondly, the status quo has to no longer be acceptable to any of the players, and recognition is needed that the conflict is structural. External pressure was on all parties expressed as dissatisfaction with the status quo by the BC public, corporate customers, NGO donors and various funders.

Capacity for Inquiry, Learning & Innovation

This exercise is really about collaborative inquiry and learning. It is not about stakeholder negotiations on social license issues, but the next generation model where we ask, “How do we learn together? How do we innovate together despite the fact that occasionally we hate each other and we can’t get along?”

Text Box: How do we learn together? How do we innovate together despite the fact that occasionally we hate each other and we can’t get along?

A mediator, a trusted third party resource helps to bring some objectivity. Capacity is needed to form new types of internal alliances, even within your own caucus or sector. Capacity is needed to withstand the fact that internal caucuses can be revolving doors through which people can come and go. And as they go, some may be tempted to throw a grenade over their shoulder to try to stop the whole process. Personalities matter. Relationships matter. You’ve got to have some trust and some individuals who can build bridges. Your track record of delivery matters. If historically you’ve not delivered on a promise, the trust level necessary to engage in an exercise of this nature will likely not be there.

Recognition of the need for new capacities matters, and also of the need for new skills to create that capacity. Innovation is fundamentally what this exercise is about. When you realize this, it becomes possible to work together on some substantive issues, despite ongoing disagreements and sometimes open conflict on other issues.

Conditions for Collaborative Learning

The conditions for collaborative learning are many. First, there must be willingness by the parties to develop new options rather than continue to fight around old ones. Secondly, there has to be a willingness to take responsibility for solving problems rather than defending or advancing positions. Third, there has to be a willingness to let go of certainty. Doing so is very hard for any big organization to do, but it is also not something that NGO’s do easily, and I can assure you it is not something that government does easily either! The willingness to accept new accountability and take new risks is absolutely key.

To succeed, collaborative learning may also have to incorporate the needs of interests not even directly involved in the model or the project, i.e., being accountable to groups not at the table but who will ultimately become part of the solution.

Fear of change is a basic human emotion. Another condition for learning is that the change pathways have to be very visible and inclusive. If it looks like you’re reverting back to the win-lose model, you’ll have real difficulty staying in collaborative inquiry and learning.

Equity is extremely important. Disproportionate impact is extremely important. I don’t think you can get to innovation unless these issues are addressed. On the BC coast, there is an enormous equity issue historically from previous transitions around forestry-related environmental issues where the costs were stuck to one party, and often the party least equipped to pay them.

In today’s increasingly impersonal global economy, most people understand that they do not have control over broader social and economic developments of the world. However, this does not mean they do not want to exercise personal control over what happens to their families, their communities, their workers, and their environment. Do not underestimate the power of that resistance, if people perceive that a proposed change is not respecting these needs.

Point of Intersect with Power to Bind

Here is an important point that we almost missed in the BC coastal forest situation. When dealing in these collaborative models, a point of intersection may emerge - a point where things have the power to bind. You need to know when you’re there, but sometimes you may not see it. We didn’t at first. The point of intersect is the point at which the parties involved can do things together that each party values, and recognizes they could not achieve this alone. It’s funny how you can miss that sometimes, but that’s the prize. Such points of intersection provide the glue that binds the effort, and keeps it together.

Dipping down into the BC coastal case a bit, what was the point of intersect for environmental groups? They have shared with those of us on the industry side, that for them, it was the company’s willingness to go into voluntary harvesting moratoriums beyond what the government required. It was also when industry chose not to walk away from the alliance when the going got tough, and accepting to be criticized by traditional allies like employees and shareholders.

For industry, one point of intersect was pressure from the marketplace with customers developing procurement policies around the types of forests that we were dealing with. Another key point was environmental groups prepared to put a significant amount of money into the solutions process. As a matter of fact, environmental groups were prepared to invest as much money into the solutions process as they were into the fight. Industry representatives were able to take that to their CEOs and say, “Look, the money is going to be spent. Take your choice which way you want it to be spent.” They made a self-evident choice.

Recognition of Interdependence for Results

What influences and maintains an alliance or collaboration between dissimilar interests? I mentioned one driver already: a safe place to go to think, to talk, to air things. Complexity of issues is another driver. Enhanced political strength is a third – the ability to do things that none of the players can do on their own, a shared willingness to “go where no star ship has gone before”, albeit probably not boldly!

A shared understanding of the structural issues at the root of the conflict requires a very dynamic give and take between the interested parties. In the BC coastal forest case, the companies were willing to do things on environmental issues that they had not done before. Similarly environmental groups were willing to do things on social and economic issues that they had not been willing to do before. Without that willingness, there would be no starting point.

When global meets local, political dynamics become another driver. Because of their perceived timber bias, the BC government, forest companies, and forest-dependent communities in BC did not have credibility outside of BC to unilaterally define conservation and management plans for remaining pristine areas. Environmental groups successfully challenged their license to do that by going global.

The flip side is that because of their conservation bias, environmental groups did not have credibility inside BC to unilaterally define conservation and management plans for these areas. Conservation does not address the needs of First Nations, nor of the people who live in some of these areas. When global meets local, both sides are vulnerable to having their social license challenged.

Getting to Multi-Sectoral Innovation

My usual joke is “Don’t try chaords, clusters, and multi-sectoral collaborations alone at home.” It’s not for everyone. I wouldn’t be naïve about it being the solution of choice. The hallmarks of multi-sectoral collaboration to a certain degree are controversy, higher than average risk, and non-linear, counter-intuitive behaviour. Few corporate, legal, and accounting departments understand or can relate to such new forms of alliance. But in the BC coastal forest case, neither the government nor the environmental groups had a viable alternative to doing so.

In a situation with a history of polarization, multi-sectoral collaboration is really hard. If you start doing this, you may well be accused of selling out. This accusation may come from within your organization as well as from the public. A great deal of clarity of vision is needed to withstand that. Plus, you will not get everything you want. In fact, you could try multi-sectoral collaboration and the situation could even get worse. Peace is harder than war, and when you take responsibility for problems, it means you can’t blame others for them.

Obtaining Internal Commitment to Innovate

I have a lot more grey hair than when I first got involved in this case. The worst time, and I think it was also true for environmental groups, was receiving internal backlash and political pressure about the project because our own sectors were not prepared for being involved in this different way. There were times when it actually took more energy and resources to maintain the internal political license for a conflict free period, than it took to address the fundamental issues that lay at the core of the conflict! We may have lost eight months just to that.

The best part of being involved in multi-sectoral collaboration is to be part of something new. It’s being part of an emergence of a new capacity. Collaboration of this kind leads to a radical integration of abilities, and the capacity to do things differently. Environmental groups have the power to advance ideals and move and motivate people in a way that companies don’t, and companies have the power to make things happen on the ground in a way that environmental groups don’t.

This kind of change lives at the nexus of the tensions between business goals and social responsibility, and between global and local perspectives on sustainability and the environment. It is a different breed of change. We are talking about the development of options and goals that are not seen or endorsed by any one party at the outset, and that are not achievable by any party on their own. Finally multi-sectoral innovation is fundamentally about authentic relationships. These take commitment to work things out in good times and in bad, despite inevitable tensions, blow-ups, screw-ups, mistakes and bad behaviour, - those things won’t change.

Analysis of the Case: Emergence of A Co-Creative Mindset

At the beginning of the case, we saw MacMillan Bloedel and the environmental groups battling for media coverage in an effort to gain public and consumer support for their positions. They were both involved in adversarial communication, with each side “telling” its story as forcibly as possible to other stakeholders (consumers, government, media, world stage), with little or no listening between the two adversaries.

With the intervention of First Nations leaders, the ENGOs and MB were forced to come together to listen to each other. At the same time, a panel of scientists and First Nations leaders developed a sustainable approach to forest management that integrated social, economic, environmental and spiritual perspectives. Their report and the influence of a new CEO at MB led to an intensive period of learning among these diverse groups. That culminated in the creation of Iisaak and MB’s decision to phase out clear-cutting.

Subsequently, key players from MB, the First Nations, and the environmental groups engaged in a much deeper, more collaborative levels of learning in order to develop the operational framework and marketing plan for Iisaak. With that, they reached the prize of stakeholder network engagement - innovation.

The engagement cycle repeated itself, albeit more quickly, with a larger group of stakeholders in the Central and North Coast area. In 1998, an international markets campaign launched by the environmental groups raised the stakes in the forest conflict such that five forest companies decided to meet with the environmentalists to see if they could resolve the conflict. After an intense period of dialogue, they agreed to a moratorium on conflict.

Over the next two years, loggers, local communities, and government agencies joined the informal and self-organizing Joint Solutions Project. It focused on collaborative learning rather than the historical public communication campaigns. A number of new organizations were formed and in 2001, these disparate groups developed an innovative land use agreement and a process for implementation. They too had developed the relationships and capacities needed for innovative solutions to the highly complex and entrenched conflicts over forestry in a much larger area of BC’s coast.

When learning leads to an understanding that the problems are far bigger than the impacts of a single company, there is a realization among stakeholders of the need for new forms of engagement. It is our contention that interactions between stakeholders take on a different character and potential when there is a transition from thinking as the representative of an organization to thinking as a member of a system or network, for the benefit of the whole. We see this as a transition from a stakeholder management mindset to a co-creative or systems mindset.

Engaging Stakeholder Networks: Outreach, Learning and Innovation

The key steps we believe are involved in successful stakeholder network engagement are illustrated below – outreach or building the network, learning and innovation. Like in a set of Russian dolls, each is embedded within the previous step, and each has value in its own right. The starting point is outreach, which continues throughout. The journey is about learning, which also happens all the way through network engagement. The prize of outreach and learning is innovation, and good relationships (or social capital), are built along the way. We will describe the key features of each of these activities.













Network Outreach Is The Starting Point

The first step in engaging a stakeholder network is to define the stakeholder network and to bring stakeholders together. This involves defining the issue, problem or opportunity, and identifying the stakeholders. Once stakeholders have been brought together, their initial task is to agree on principles and process. The work of the Network Outreach circles around these questions:

·         What is the issue, problem or opportunity?

·         How complex is it? 

·         Who has an interest?

·         Are they willing to be involved? How?

·         What is our goal for engaging others (inclusion, learning, innovation)?

·         What principles of engagement will we follow?

The Journey Is About Learning

Learning may be a sufficient goal for defining and bringing together a stakeholder network. Collaborative learning is deliberately not focused on problem-solving or opportunity-creation, though solutions and new ideas may naturally emerge.

During “Learning”, members develop a shared understanding of the network of relationships and interdependencies that connect them, and of the larger context that affects them all. Learning involves discerning the root causes, assumptions, linkages, interdependence and complexity of the network.

Another key outcome in Learning is for members to “see” the system anew through new insights into cause and effect; through recognition of previously invisible or unknown relationships and patterns; and through inquiry into assumptions and deeply held beliefs. During Learning, members reflect and think together, willingly suspending their assumptions in a spirit of inquiry and curiosity.

A useful principle to adopt during the Learning phase is the first principle of living systems that “everything is connected”, or as the Nuu-chah-Nulth First Nations culture puts it, hishuk ish ts’awalk – “everything is one”. This assumption informs the work of seeking to make the whole system visible.

The work of Learning involves answering these types of questions:

·         What are the stories and history of the people in this system?

·         What do we know about the issue, problem (“mess”), or opportunity that brings us together?

·         What external factors, events or potential developments concern the well-being of this network now or in the future?

·         What is working and not working in the current situation?

·         What root causes, patterns or assumptions underlie this system?

·         Where is the common ground among us? What are the differences in perspectives, interests and needs?

Innovation Is The Prize

When high stakes exists, when stakeholders have recognized their interdependence, and when the system that connects the issue is commonly understood in depth, a shift occurs. People start to take responsibility for the whole. It has been our experience (and the experience of stakeholders in the forestry case) that innovative solutions arise out of this struggle to bridge competing perspectives and needs within a system.  

Attention during Innovation, focuses on solutions and actions, summarized by these types of questions:

·         What do we yearn for?

·         What is our preferred vision of the future?

·         What is the common purpose that unites us?

·         How can we co-create the future all desire?

·         What might we do? What will we do?

·         How do we organize for action?

Innovation is future oriented. Participants develop a common vision for desirable future, shared goals, and the most compelling opportunities. Because they have been involved in creating this new direction, they are willing to take action. Groups that achieve innovation at the level of a limited subsystem in the mess sometimes go forward to tackle more encompassing systemic problems (Gray Gricar and Brown 1981).

Innovation is not always the end goal of stakeholder network engagement, but in messy, conflicted situations, innovation is needed to evolve the system as a whole to a more effective and sustainable level of functioning. A stakeholder network that has invested in connecting the parts of the system together (during Outreach), and that has built a common database of knowledge and understanding of that system (during Learning) has also built trust among members (Relationship Building). Such a network is capable of innovating for the good of the parts and the whole.

While stakeholder networks rarely attain this prize of whole system innovation, those that do (as in Clayoquot) are most often grappling with meta-messes - highly complex and urgent problems related to environmental degradation, social justice, and poverty. More examples are emerging around the world of multi-stakeholder groups successfully engaging in on-going dialogue to develop new solutions to systemic challenges.


We believe that co-creative power is an idea whose time has come. We must come together to solve complex issues that are beyond the scope of any one individual or organization. As we face the consequences of economic globalization, environmental degradation, the threat of war and poverty, we must find new and better ways to address complex, cross-boundary problems and even more importantly opportunities - together.

“Hishuishts’ awalk” –

everything is one.

About the Authors

Ann C. Svendsen, M.A., is an Adjunct Professor and Executive Director of the Centre for Innovation in Management at Simon Fraser University, Faculty of Business, Vancouver, British Columbia ( ). She is the author of The Stakeholder Strategy (1998) and advises companies and government agencies worldwide on stakeholder engagement.

Myriam Laberge, M.A., is Director of Collaborative Learning & Dialogue at the Centre for Innovation in Management at Simon Fraser University, Faculty of Business, Vancouver, British Columbia. In her private practice, she is an organization development consultant specializing in whole system transformation with Breakthroughs UNLIMITED ( ).

For further exploration of the ideas presented in this paper, consider:

·         Stakeholder Engagement & Innovation – a 3-day workshop of the Centre for Innovation in Management at .

·         Co-Creative Power: Learning and Innovation in Stakeholder Networks – forthcoming book by Ann and Myriam (November 2004).

Acknowledgement & Appreciations

We are grateful to the Fetzer Institute who funded this project. Alan Briskin the coauthor of “Centered on the Edge: Mapping the Field of Collective Intelligence and Spiritual Wisdom” (COTE) and Sheryl Erickson from Fetzer initially saw the connections between the COTE principles and our work in multi-stakeholder collaboration and engagement.

The initial premise of this article was seeded with Alan, and Tom Hurley, Executive Director of the Chaordic Alliance, in San Francisco in June 2002. We could not have had better “thinking partners”. They challenged us to answer the questions “What would it mean for stakeholders to come together to create something more than a solution to an immediate problem?”, and “What would be the strategic and tactical implications of starting with interconnectedness?” “Could we learn how to better tap the collective intelligence and wisdom of multi-stakeholder groups to deal with the complex social and environmental “messes” facing us?”

Our appreciations also extend to Bob Boutilier at CIM and Don Haythorne at Breakthroughs UNLIMITED, who have helped us to further refine our thinking through many iterations of this work.


1.      Websites for organizations engaged at the innovation stage: The Chaordic Alliance:

2.      The Joint Solutions Project: “”; The Nechacko Watershed Council:

3.      The Central and North Coast consists of an area of publicly owned old growth forests about the size of the US state of Maine. The coastal area consists of small, dispersed communities dependent on logging, fishing, and mining.

[1] See Note 1 for websites.

[2] Linda Coady has been involved on environmental, aboriginal and trade issues in the BC forest industry since the 1980’s, and catalyzed a number of initiatives aimed at better integrating environmental performance and changing social values into her company’s overall business strategies. Linda is Director of Iisaak Forest Products Ltd., Director of the Vancouver Island Marmot Recovery Foundation and of Forest Trends, which is an international non-profit organization involving forest companies, research organizations and environmental groups. In November of 2002, in a move that would have seemed shocking a decade ago, Linda became Vice-President of the World Wildlife Fund, Pacific Region.

[3]I define uncontrollables as areas where hard metrics do not exist, and where because everybody has a different view of what performance standards should be, there is significant controversy both within the company and in a public venue. Examples of uncontrollables include environmental issues, sustainability, social justice issues, equity issues, aboriginal title issues, behaviour of the organization when under extreme pressure  or conflict, and ethical issues that may go beyond the law.

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