Integrated Management and Geospatial Information Network for the Environment – Building a Shared Vision
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In Canada as well as internationally, long-term planning for social, economic, and environmental sustainability is confounded by practical obstacles. These include the inability of decision-making bodies to keep pace with the rapid rate and extent of development of new technologies, and the existence of outdated governance structures that simply were never set up to contend with cumulative effects. Integrated management approaches, which bring together science, geography, policy, and socio-economic information, are emerging as valuable tools to manage environmental objectives, cumulative effects and conflict in aquatic, terrestrial, and marine areas. Canada is a leader in the emergence and use of new geospatial applications. Notable examples of these applications are in the forestry sector where forest managers have employed geospatial models for decades, and in Alberta where competition for roads, water, and infrastructure must constantly be managed across multiple sectors.
As computers and geographic information systems have evolved over the last two decades, there has been impressive growth in geospatial applications for policy and sectoral decision-makers. However, such applications are largely absent from the decision-making processes because of inadequate mechanisms to enable exchanges among different jurisdictions, sectors and disciplines. Between 2005 and 2007, a series of workshops were organized to clarify the nature of these inadequacies, or gaps, and to identify tools to address them, notably (i) the transfer and integration of appropriate information and data among agencies; and (ii) the use of data/information for analyzing complex interactions, risk, and uncertainty associated with individual and interacting policies.
The vision that emerged from these workshops is a collaborative, multistakeholder approach that is co-ordinated across sectors, disciplines and jurisdictions. This approach is technical. It is about policy and risk. It is also about implementation. And, perhaps not surprisingly, it is an adaptive management framework. The Integrated Management and Geospatial Information for the Environment – IMAGINE Canada Network Project is the product of this process.
Over the next 18 months, IMAGINE Canada will explore and test strategies to establish the necessary levels of communication, learning, and exchange among technical, policy, and operational decision-makers to foster this approach to integrated “landscape” management.
As environmental assessment and integrated “landscape” planning practices have evolved, their close relationship has become ever more apparent. Members of both the public and private sectors work within frameworks based on integrated ecosystem management, ecosystem-based management, and integrated resource and environmental management. Clearly, there is an emerging community of practice dedicated to more integrated, whole-system approaches to the planning, conservation, and management of terrestrial and aquatic systems. At the same time, the exchange of communication and learning among members of this community is often weak, and important links between planning and assessment often remain largely unrealized. Two recent expert workshops1 have shown that this is indeed the case in Canada.
In order to support and enhance a cohesive community of practice, GeoConnections is supporting the growth of a national network of integrated landscape management (ILM) practitioners and experts across Canada. This network is called IMAGINE Canada – An Integrated Management and Geospatial Information Network for the Environment. The overall objectives of IMAGINE Canada are to:
- improve the state of readiness of Canadian land-use decision-makers to undertake integrated land-use planning
- expand awareness and use of state-of-the-art tools, techniques, and approaches for integrated landscape management; an
- support decision-making processes within regions, with specific consideration for the combined or interactive effects of development activities that originate from multiple sectors.
IMAGINE Canada is to be co-ordinated by GeoConnections in conjunction with a newly formed ILM Secretariat within Environment Canada, federal and external advisory committees, and the support of the International Institute for Sustainable Development’s (IISD) Measurement and Assessment program. GeoConnections will provide support for five pilot project areas across Canada, starting in May 2008. The early phase of the ILM Network is intended to start accumulating information and resources from and for the five pilot areas, through a combination of original research, “lessons learned” studies, and the tracking and support of the pilot projects. Key goals during this period are to better understand the needs and challenges of ILM and to compile information on how to overcome these challenges and address important needs.
As part of this process, GeoConnections, the ILM Secretariat, and IISD hosted a Network Implementation Workshop on March 4 and 5, 2008, in Winnipeg, Manitoba. This workshop occurred at a critical stage for defining and setting the direction of the Network. Over a two-day period, project representatives contributed insights and expert opinion on ILM-related needs that will form the basis of the needs and objectives for the Network as a whole. Participants also worked together to refine their project proposals and create implementation plans that can have real and lasting impacts on policies and regional environmental, economic, and social conditions.
Participants also discussed:
- the ILM Network and its goals in addressing ILM activities/needs
- challenges, and approaches and tools used by other candidate ILM pilot sites; and
- how a Canadian ILM Network can help pilot sites with their integrated landcape management issues.
This report’s purpose is to describe the Network Implementation Workshop in the broader context of the emerging ILM Network. The following sections provide background information on the Network, including:
- its historical antecedents, underpinning logic, and overall structure;
- the purpose, objectives, and activities of the workshop; and
- the key outcomes of the workshop and next steps for the ILM Network.
Efforts to further land, water, and marine management activities have increased dramatically across Canada over the past several decades.2 Management and decision-making processes have struggled to keep up with the complexity and pace of change in new technologies, an ever-increasing mixture of competing and often cumulative activities, and a trend toward intensified extraction of resources. The increased scope and complexity of regional development and conservation activities have been particularly challenging to environmental assessment (EA) practices, which have tended to focus on single projects and not on the cumulative and interactive effects of numerous developments in the same area. And given the potential background effect of climate change, EAs will increasingly need to integrate information about several proposed and ongoing activities within a larger geographic region in order to identify and understand the significance of any risks from forecasting or cumulative impacts analysis.
To be effective, integrated “landscape” management must be nested within decision-making processes that consider social, economic, and environmental factors collectively in the pursuit of broader, forward-looking sustainable development goals.3
At present, however, the inclusion of integrated planning and assessment insights into decision-making processes is hampered by existing information and governance approaches that:
- divide decision-making activities along sectoral and jurisdictional lines; and
- influence the collection and storing of information (and data) along disciplinary and/or sectoral lines.
Two important first steps toward integrated landscape management and assessment are the expansion of the use and analysis of geospatial data to broader-based information management systems and/or procedures that support decision-making, and the development of a better understanding of the science and information needs of regionally based decision-makers. Integrated landscape management (ILM)4 is emerging as a systematic and practical means of managing trade-offs and of identifying win-win-win situations among environmental, economic, and social conditions considered over time, space, and across jurisdictions.
Perhaps because of the large size of Canada’s provinces and territories, a number of ILM approaches and tools have been established across the country over the past two decades. Although the methods have progressed with the introduction of faster computers and new geospatial applications, there has been limited uptake of ILM applications in decision-making processes.
The project outlined in this report, Integrated Management and Geospatial Information Network for the Environment – IMAGINE Canada, is a joint effort to better understand the information, data, and integration needs of decisionmakers in Canada, and to explore ways to promote a national community of practice among Canada’s existing and growing ILM practitioners. This project will create a national ILM Network starting with five selected pilot areas, which will form the basis for advancing the integration and analysis of multidisciplinary information at the regional decision-making level. A combination of site-specific activities and network-level analyses will identify the key challenges and lessons learned. At the same time, the information that is generated will be based on science and relevant for policy-makers, using innovative ILM approaches and tools.
At the site-specific level, IMAGINE Canada will focus on tracking the activities of five pilot project teams as they use, develop, and expand on ILM approaches and tools. As well, insights and lessons learned will be solicited from other ILM groups across Canada and internationally.
At the network level, the focus will be on learning from these experiences, including the various needs and roles within the Network. This information will be used to develop a “living” public resource base that can support the growing number of ILM practitioners across Canada.