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Selling Our Story: a lesson in engagement

Updated: Apr 25, 2023

When telling a new person about this Blue Community project, you likely only have a minute or two before they either “get it” and want to hear more or they withdraw.

I wanted to highlight one of the workshops I recently participated in. Engagement Organizing: harnessing people power was facilitated by Lindsay Telfer from the Canadian Freshwater Alliance. This one-day workshop was in Sudbury and I was joined by Sr. Bonnie Chesser and Associate Rita Pulice. We went to meet others working on environmental issues in the area and to better think through our Blue Community strategy locally and across the Federation.

There were many topics and questions covered including:

  • Who are we trying to engage with?

  • What is our message?

  • What is our vision of change?

  • How would we like to invite people into this vision?

  • How can we assess and learn from our efforts?

Working on our engagement stories. Photo by Lindsay Telfer.

One example of the many thoughtful tools we worked on was a worksheet called Storytelling for Engagement. While facts and figures appeal to our reason, most people make sense of problems and solutions based on a story. The general arch of our stories can follow a four part flow: the Challenge, the Choice, the Outcome, and the Ask.

Let’s try this out on the current ban on new bottled water permits. This Provincial permit allows companies (such as Nestlé) to access groundwater for almost free and sell it within and beyond the watershed for millions of dollars. The Provincial government is considering adding nine more months onto the current ban. What could an engaging story arch look like?

The Challenge: Water is being turned into a commodity all over the world and right here in Ontario. The rules for using groundwater were written before bottled water even existed. They were never designed to consider the social and ecological impacts of this extraction such as including community and Indigenous consent and long-term groundwater levels and plastics pollution.

The Choice: The Provincial government is currently looking for public comment about the bottled water permit policy. Now is the perfect time to learn and share how this industry works and the damaged relationships it creates. Water can continue to be managed like a resource or we can use this bottled water review to signal our commitment to stewarding water as a shared commons for all and sacred gift for many generations to come.

The Outcome: If the ban on new bottled water permits is extended by another nine months, then we have more time to build capacity and awareness for phasing out this industry over time. A world without for-profit bottled water affirms a global and Canadian commitment to provide water and sanitation as a human right, rather than for buyers only. More time creates more chances to weaken the social license of bottled water and inform policy that shares our values.

The Ask: We have until December 18th to have our voices heard through the Environmental Registry of Ontario. You can submit your letter through the mail to:

Shari Sookhoo, Environmental Policy Branch, 40 St. Clair Avenue West, 10th floor, Toronto, ON, M4V 1M2. This is concerning ERO #019-0913. Alternatively you can submit your comments through this form set up by the Wellington Water Waters.

How was that story? It’s not easy taking a lot of details, motivations, values, and choices into consideration and converting them into a four-part story. But with practice we can become more effective when engaging with people who are not already supportive of our cause and that’s how we can grow Blue Communities across the country.

Workshop slide courtesy of Lindsay Telfer
Workshop slide courtesy of Lindsay Telfer
By Paul Baines
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