Building Trust and Relationships to Tackle Forestry Issues

Apr 12, 2010

People sometimes contact RESOLVE to facilitate one meeting or run a large public hearing. While sometimes we will help with those events, our favourite requests are when people ask us to help them, over time build relationships, expand collaborative capacity, develop reliable information, and implement agreements that solve real problems.

Almost two years ago, I received a call from a forestry company in New Brunswick, Canada. Their question was simple – “Is there anything we can do to improve relationships between forest industries and environmental NGO’s?”From that call, I contacted several New Brunswick environmental groups, university staff, provincial, and forestry company staff to organize a meeting. In that first meeting, a wide range of provincial, conservation, fishing, forestry company, and environmental group representatives exchanged concerns and perspectives on the environment and forestry. Some of them decided to meet, and then they met again… They developed and agreed on a mission and ground rules. They learned about each other’s concerns and shared information. They developed criteria for good projects to work together on and they brainstormed a long list of possible projects. They ranked the projects and began working together as the Forest Collaborative.

This week, Keith Ashfield, Minister of Parliament from Fredericton, New Brunswick, CA and NB minister of Natural Resources announced a $990,000 grant to the Forest Collaborative. Minster Ashfield said, “Twenty years ago we wouldn’t have seen this kind of collaboration between industry, environmental groups and universities.”

What kept these participants coming to meetings? Enough people wanted to try a new way of working together after years of conflict. They developed clear outcomes that could only be achieved through collaboration. They agreed that they did not have to tackle all provincial problems or develop the very best solution, just projects that would help. They communicated respectfully and productively and they worked in small groups between face-to-face meetings.

There will be challenges as the members of the collaborative tackle tough economic, social, and environmental problems. Developing trust and relationships led to new funding. New funds bring untapped resources and renewed energy to New Brunswick for new forestry solutions.

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Juliana Birkhoff

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