Adapting the participatory process at Lake Saint-Charles to the pandemic

One year ago, the Canadian team began a participatory process with stakeholders from the Lake Saint-Charles social-ecological system, in a similar manner than the ongoing process at Lake Dümmer described in previous blog entries. Lake Saint-Charles is located in Quebec province, Canada, and is the main water reservoir for the City of Quebec.

Interviews were led with 22 stakeholders in the fall of 2019 to explore the different perceived social-ecological issues within the system. This helped set the table for a series of three in-person workshops which were planned for 2020.

We held the first workshop successfully on February 25 of 2020, bringing together 13 stakeholders from different sectors and backgrounds to build a future vision for Lake Saint-Charles. Stakeholders were invited to think of their personal vision for the lake first and were subsequently divided into 4 subgroups to build subgroup visions. These four subgroup visions were compared afterwards with the whole group, the most interesting aspect being that no vision was found to be divergent from the others. That is, all stakeholders, once they were able to sit down and talk about the lake in a context devoid of any immediare political or professional objectives, shared a similar vision for the lake.

Stakeholders explaining the vision in the first workshop.

We planned to have the second workshop in June of 2020, and the third workshop in the fall of the same year, but due to the global pandemic, the whole participatory process had to be rethought. We reframed the workshops within a virtual context, surveyed participants to know if they were interested in continuing the process in such a context, and agreed, together with them, to replace the last two workshops with a series of shorter virtual ones.

We held the first virtual workshop on June 15, with mixed results. A total of 16 stakeholders participated, with several of them who connected in an impromptu manner, underlining the ease with which participants could decide to join in a virtual meeting. However, technical issues hampered the smooth progress of the meeting, borrowing time on our very tight schedule. The content of the workshop, which explored the status quo of the lake, was also not sufficiently cut down to adapt to the new context. Those experiences and issues helped us understand the limits of virtual meetings and plan a better structured subsequent workshop.

The second virtual workshop was held on October 30, 2020. Eleven participants undertook, in three sub-groups, a backcasting exercise by setting the necessary steps to: 1- reach integrated governance, as this had previously been identified as the main catalyst of change for the lake system; and 2- reach one or several objectives of their choosing, derived from the first workshop’s common vision. This exercise helped establish the foundation for three different forecasting scenarios which may be reused in the last, upcoming workshop. The exercise was carried out with the help of miro boards, a method made possible as a result of the virtual context. Exploring such technological tools not only helped us realize the workshop successfully, but it also influenced scenario development as some stakeholders mentioned how these tools could help enhance communication between different stakeholders. Once all three subgroups had gone through the backcasting process, we asked them to look back at their proposition within the context of climate change to discuss how objectives and milestones could be affected by its effects.

Results of the backcasting exercise, group 1

Results of the backcasting exercise, group 2

Results of the backcasting exercise, group 3