POLIS Project on Ecological Governance

POLIS Dispatch – Spring 2011


With this Dispatch, the POLIS Project on Ecological Governance marks a full decade as a university-based centre for integrated research, policy, education, and action!

While POLIS has grown and evolved since first established at the University of Victoria in 2000 by the Eco-Research Chair of Environmental Law and Policy, some things haven't changed. Our collective work on critical environmental, social, cultural, and political issues continues to push theoretical and practical boundaries in exciting ways, and encourages innovative conceptual and on-the-ground solutions. POLIS activities are catalyzing policy changes, winning awards, raising positive media attention, allowing students and highly qualified personnel to develop and hone their skills, and consistently drawing in funding and widespread support.

Our flagship program is the Water Sustainability Project led by Oliver M. Brandes, which takes an integrated approach to water management and decision-making, embedding the notion of ecological sustainability in government, business, industry, and civil society. The Water Sustainability Project continues to influence provincial, national and international research and policy development agendas in significant ways, and catalyzes positive impacts on water management practice across the country.

Our ocean governance work, headed by Rod Dobell, uses social media as an inclusive tool to engage wider society in policy development processes. Kelly Bannister's work on biocultural diversity and community-based research ethics has influenced national and international ethics policies and helped launch an unprecedented international collaboration on community-based approaches to cultural heritage protection. Michael M'Gonigle's recent focus on green legal theory is culminating in an exciting new book and stimulating new thought on how to create self-sustaining social, economic, and political institutions that are ecologically based with the potential to transform patterns of production and consumption. Next in the works for Michael is a municipal "best practices" project on food sovereignty.

This dispatch highlights our key projects and most recent achievements led by senior POLIS Research Associates. But over the last year many more researchers and students have supported and contributed to POLIS, as associates, affiliates, research assistants, volunteers, and interns.

POLIS bids a fond farewell to a few team members including Jamie Biggar, former POLIS associate and a key catalyst in the Common Energy network at the University of Victoria. Jamie recently completed his Master's degree, critiquing conventional climate change policy approaches. Susanne Porter-Bopp and Elizabeth Hendriks, who, over the last several years, have built POLIS' capacity in community education and outreach as part of the Water Sustainability Project are both moving on to pursue new personal and professional opportunities. This past fall and winter, POLIS benefited from intern Brad Densmore's work supporting the Water Sustainability Project.

In February, POLIS welcomed Laura Brandes, Communications and Outreach Coordinator for the Water Sustainability Project. Laura supports the water team by disseminating new research and effectively engaging communities, governments, and practitioners on water conservation and policy issues. Dr. David B. Brooks, leading Canadian resource economist and water soft path thinker, and Kirk Stinchcombe, principal of Econnics, Canada's first full-service, international water conservation consultancy, also joined the Water Sustainability Project team. As well, Nathalie Down recently completed her practicum at POLIS under the guidance of Kelly Bannister for University of Victoria's new Social Justice Program on the topic of "(Re)imaging Ethics as a Social Justice Practice." Nathalie will continue working with POLIS as a volunteer this summer. From our hub in University House 4, POLIS Office Manager Ann Zurbrigg continues to skillfully coordinate our diverse activities and streams of research as an integrated whole.

This wider community is fundamental to the success of POLIS and underscores our unique strengths – whether linking university research and policy development with important community issues in the region, engaging students in meaningful learning experiences not found elsewhere, or mobilizing knowledge across the spectrum of government, private sector, community organizations, and the general public.

The POLIS ideal is founded in the ability to make decisions collectively for the greater good. POLIS is – and always will be – about people rooted in place and community. A heartfelt thanks to the wider POLIS community for your continued support and interest in our work!

––Kelly Bannister, POLIS Co-Director and Research Associate

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Michael M'Gonigle

Michael M'Gonigle's core areas of research are ecological governance and political ecology. This past year, his work has been largely focused on green legal theory, and he is currently writing a new book on the subject, Earth Rules: Towards a Green Legal Theory.

Complementing his work at the University of Victoria, Michael recently authored a series of articles in The Tyee. This series highlighted the ideas behind political ecology and addressed the importance of recognizing and utilizing global opportunities to create meaningful environmental, social, and economic change.

As an advocate of "the global is the local," Michael has long been involved in the application of academic research at the community level, particularly on the Saanich Peninsula. In recent years, he co-founded the Farmlands Trust and several other groups working to assert popular control over land use and food production. In conjunction with the Dogwood Initiative (an organization founded by the Eco-Research Chair in 1999), this has helped to foster a growing regional movement to reduce urban sprawl, preserve farmland, build compact communities, and develop the infrastructure appropriate to these needs.

Dr. Michael M'Gonigle is the Founder and Principal of the POLIS Project and a Professor at University of Victoria. He holds the Eco-Research Chair in Environmental Law and Policy at the University of Victoria and is cross-appointed between the School of Environmental Studies and the Faculty of Law. A lawyer and political ecologist, Michael is a co-founder of Greenpeace International, SmartGrowth BC, Forest Futures (now Dogwood Initiative), the Sierra Legal Defence Fund (now EcoJustice), and the Water Sustainability Project. His work on campus sustainability reflects his commitment to effecting positive policy changes right at source. Michael has written widely on environmental and resource management issues, particularly forest policy, international and environmental law, and theories of ecological political economy. He is the lead author, with Justine Starke, of Planet U: Sustaining the World, Reinventing the University (New Society Publishers, 2006).

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Rod Dobell

Rod Dobell has recently expanded his research interest in ocean governance to include the investigation of innovative possibilities for improving institutional knowledge by using social media.

Rod has two major projects under way that aim to utilize deliberative mechanisms, develop distributed knowledge databases, and facilitate the development of crowdsourced social scientific knowledge. These research projects engage citizens around issues of resource use, ecological health, and decision-making. By developing online tools that promote broader citizen participation and improved interaction at the community scale, Rod's research ultimately aims to develop more effective policy formation and implementation.

Since June 2010, Rod's MITACS Research Cluster, Web2.0 + Web3.0 Approaches to the Information/Decision Interface in Public Policy, has been investigating innovative possibilities for knowledge-based deliberative policy formation. These include semantic data-mining and collaborative, enterprise-wide policy analyses. The research cluster, supported by the work of researchers Justin Longo and Jodie Walsh, brings together two trends in online networking: Web2.0, which is the social web (Facebook and Twitter), and Web3.0, the developing field of "intelligent" semantic data mining and analysis.

Rod is also Principal Investigator for the Digital Fishers crowdsourcing component of NEPTUNE Canada's Oceans 2.0 social networking project. Working with the local firm, Digital Fishers facilitates science-oriented networking, data capture, and collaborative knowledge building. This project applies emerging Web2.0 principles and technologies to create new online networking tools to engage citizens in policy formation within corporate, academic, civil, and civic societies.

In addition to his work on ocean governance, Rod also studies freshwater governance issues. He is currently working with the POLIS Water Sustainability Project developing water policy modernization frameworks for various levels of government.


Dr. Rod Dobell has been involved with the POLIS Project since it began in 2000. Prior to joining the POLIS team, he was an affiliate with the Eco-Research Chair. Rod completed his PhD in economics at MIT. He has taught economic theory at Harvard and was a professor of political economy at the University of Toronto. Rod has served as Special Advisor (Long Range Economic Planning) to the Deputy Minister of Finance; Deputy Secretary to the Treasury Board in the Government of Canada; Director of the General Economics Branch at OECD; Director of Research for two Parliamentary Task Forces; and President of the Institute for Research on Public Policy, 1984-1991. In 1991, he was named as the first appointment to the Francis G. Winspear Chair for Research in Public Policy at University of Victoria. From 2000 to 2003 he co-led a partnership between University of Victoria and the Clayoquot Biosphere Trust under the Community-University Research Alliance program funded by SSHRC that continues to be supported by POLIS. Rod retired in 2002 and remains actively involved as a professor emeritus and research associate at POLIS.

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Oliver M. Brandes

Oliver Brandes and the POLIS Water Sustainability Project team are finding an ever-increasing interest and sophisticated dialogue around issues related to water and watershed sustainability in Canada. Across the country, governments, decision makers, civil society, and people from across sectors are realizing the critical importance of clean, accessible fresh water, and the need for innovative solutions to the governance challenges facing this vital resource. Almost every region around the country is seeing significant action on water policy and law reform. For example, the Northwest Territories recently released its visionary water strategy, Northern Voices, Northern Waters – The NWT Water Stewardship Strategy. In 2010, Ontario passed its new Water Opportunities Act. Quebec is showing renewed action on watershed management and commitment to the Public Trust Doctrine. And, here in British Columbia, the Provincial government is active in its efforts to implement the commitments of its Living Water Smart plan, including modernization of the over 100 year old BC Water Act. The POLIS Water Sustainability Project is actively engaged with all these processes, providing research and input, and mobilizing knowledge to help Canada move towards a more holistic and sustainable approach to water management and governance.

Currently, much of Oliver's work is focused on the concept of watershed governance. The growing challenges of climate change, water scarcity, and population growth have signaled a need to move this discussion forward. Watershed governance requires a change in perspective. Moving beyond our traditional municipal or provincial boundaries, watershed governance requires planners and managers to consider the complex interaction of natural water flow and other natural processes with human activities. Across Canada and all over the world, a shift to watershed-scale governance is beginning to take place.

To reinforce this opportunity for significant change, the Water Sustainability team has developed a sophisticated body of work and has been focusing on improving outreach and discourse around the concept of, and the benefits associated with, watershed governance. Oliver's goal is to engage the key players in government, civil society, professional and academic networks, and across sectors to enable more distributed and collaborative forms of decision-making that emphasize watersheds as the critical scale for both management and governance.

Oliver is interested in answering the question of how to best build capacity, flexibility, and resilience into society's broader process of decision-making, and how to enable watershed governance as the foundation of water sustainability into the 21st Century.

For more updates on the POLIS Water Sustainability Project, check out its latest newsletter.

Oliver M. Brandes is a political ecologist and has been part of the University of Victoria's POLIS Project on Ecological Governance since 2002. He serves as Co-Director and leads the Water Sustainability Project. He holds a Masters in Economics from Queens University, a Law Degree from the University of Victoria, and has diplomas in ecological restoration and international relations. Oliver was recently appointed to the Province's Water Act Modernization Technical Advisory Committee and the National Round Table on the Environment and Economy Governance Expert Committee. He is an adjunct professor at the University of Waterloo's Department of Environment & Resource Studies. Oliver's current work focuses on water sustainability, sound resource management, and ecologically based legal and institutional reform.

As the Water Sustainability Project leader, Oliver manages an interdisciplinary team of researchers and provides strategic water policy and governance advice to all levels of government, as well as numerous national and local non-government and funding organizations. He has helped found a number of key organizations active on freshwater protection, including the Forum for Leadership on Water (FLOW-Canada). Oliver has authored over 100 academic and popular articles and major research reports. In 2009, he helped lead the writing of Making the Most of the Water We Have: The Soft Path Approach to Water Management (Earthscan 2009), which brought together the results of the first-ever, international comprehensive water soft path study.

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Kelly Bannister

2010 marked the International Year of Biodiversity and Kelly Bannister's tenth year with the POLIS Project. Her policy research and educational outreach continue to explore and expand the understanding of ethics of community engagement and research related to biodiversity, traditional knowledge, and cultural heritage. This past year, her expertise and research findings were incorporated in several national and international policy initiatives, including the new Tri-Council Policy Statement: Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans.

Kelly advocates for collaborative research that is founded in respect and mutual understanding. Her work draws on ethical tools, such as guidelines, codes of conduct, research agreements, and community protocols, to foster equitable relationships between academics, Indigenous peoples, local communities, and others. Collaboration based in local values and priorities is an essential element of ecological governance.

Academic research can – often unintentionally – facilitate the appropriation and commodification of community knowledge and resources. Recognizing these long-standing barriers to building equitable relationships is what motivated Kelly to study ethics in research and embrace an ecological governance perspective. Relationship is key in working with communities. Kelly works to seek new ways of doing and of knowing that are inclusive, synergistic, and contribute to the broader goal of healthy cultures and ecosystems.

Dr. Kelly Bannister is Co-Director and a Research Associate of the POLIS Project. She is an Adjunct Associate Professor in the Faculty of Human and Social Development with the Studies in Policy and Practice Program. She has an MSc in Microbiology from the University of Victoria and a PhD in Botany from the University of British Columbia. She first came to POLIS as a postdoctoral fellow in 2000. Kelly has designed and taught courses on biodiversity and collaborative research for the School of Environmental Studies and presented at countless workshops and conferences on ethics involved in community-based research and biocultural research. She has a diverse and extensive publication record that includes academic articles and book chapters, contract reports for government, NGOs and private foundations, policy documents, and educational materials for schools and communities. She has recently begun expanding her outreach through development of multi-media online toolkits and handbooks.

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