Canada is facing huge challenges in sustainably maximizing the value of our energy resources. There is a polarized narrative around resource development, an intense urban/rural political divide, multiple concurrent public conflicts on energy infrastructure development and lack of clarity on when and how First Nations title claims do and should affect the sector. In the last few years, the price of oil has dropped by 65% and over 60,000 energy sector workers in Alberta have lost their jobs. Engagement processes like the Energy Futures Lab (EFL) in Alberta have been proposed as means of addressing these challenges. However, are processes such as the EFL resulting in transformational structural changes or changes in decisions by policy makers as their designers hoped? Are they resulting in changes to public narratives and attitudes towards energy resources? To answer these questions, Steve Williams has developed an evaluation framework for the societal effects of participatory processes.
This framework builds on recent work which categorizes societal effects into first-order (the short term “splash” from a specific event or process) and second-order (“the ripples” which are bigger impacts that typically take longer to appear) effects and integrates multi-level transition theory (niche innovations, policy & regulatory regimes and socio-cultural landscapes). Given the level of investment in participatory processes and the importance of issues such as Canada’s energy system transformation, it is critical that we have clear methods of evaluating the efficacy of such processes. Steve’s PhD research at the University of British Columbia contributes to the development of these evaluation processes and practices.