In 2003 I quit my job as the leader of a well-known provincial environmental conservation non-profit, and moved my family to Halifax to undertake doctoral studies. I left behind great pay, high-profile community sector commitments, my soccer team, close friends and family members. It was heart-breaking to leave – especially for my children. But I had to do it. I was restless. As odd as this may sound, this restlessness was all about P2. Specifically, after 20+ years in the P2 trenches, I decided that I needed to firm up my theoretical and scholarly understanding of the field I was firmly planted in. I wanted to become better at promoting and leading better and different P2. I wanted to learn about the drivers of effectiveness in P2 including why people did and did not participate and why things succeeded or failed when they did. I wanted to use scholarship to become a better practitioner.
In order to get into the Dalhousie University Interdisciplinary PhD Program I had to write an entrance essay. I wrote about the state of P2 as I saw it. I wrote about how I believed we were in a type of ‘naïve phase’ or early era of P2. I wrote about how we needed innovation in P2 and how all sectors needed to ‘up their P2 game’ given the ‘democratic deficit’ emerging in our country. I described how I would use my experience to inform my scholarship, and how my doctorate would ultimately make me a better practitioner overall.
Suffice to say I got into the program. I put my head down and read endlessly for 4 years. I found the origins of P2 in early conceptions of participatory democracy. I went deep into the bowels of early management, business and ecology literatures where I found the first uses of the terms stakeholder theory and wicked problems. I explored communitarianism, organizational ecology and social-exchange, open-systems, negotiated-order, contingency- and stakeholder- theories. I learned a lot. Somewhere along this journey I stumbled into the IAP2 via a web-search. I can still remember the feeling of relief I experienced as I read about the IAP2 and its mission and activities. After finding myself deeply bogged down in theory I remember thinking:
‘Wow – now here is an organization I could get behind: full of thoughtful practitioners; leading the way; trying to build a movement; thinking and acting pragmatically about this important work. Someday, if I ever extricate myself this doctoral mess I have created for myself, I must find them’.
Fast forward 10 years. I finished the doctorate. Given the need to focus, I exited Dalhousie as an expert on the 6th rung of Sherry Arnstein’s Ladder of Citizen Involvement (i.e., partnership). I have been told that I am now some sort of collaboration specialist that knows a lot about synergistic performance in collaborative structures. My 8 year-old daughter at the time said, “why didn’t dad study something interesting – like an animal?”
Likely because of my new credential, I was recruited by the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador (GNL). I woke up one morning as a senior executive responsible for a small department that would soon become a well-known and lauded P2 ‘support desk’ for both departments and external agencies that work with government. Over the past 7 years I believe we have changed the internal GNL culture when it comes to P2. Departments are now doing more, better and different P2. We drew on outside resources to achieve this. Indeed we heavily relied upon insights and materials we were able to ‘borrow’ from IAP2.
In any case, largely because of what I learned at a distance about IAP2 over the years, (I had never actually been a member before now), and also because my staff insisted that it would be good for me and our work in NL, I stuck my toe in the board-election waters this Spring. I am delighted to be within the fold and to be with you all. I have a lot to learn, and I will do my best.
My early impressions? The Board is a talented and formidable group. The organization is very well run (kudos to past boards, Presidents and staff). The 2015-17 work-plan is ambitious, practical and achievable. The fact that our membership is growing, and that new chapters are emerging is very impressive. We are in a very good place. You should be proud of your efforts. There is a lot of work to do, and it will get done because the people involved are highly motivated.
In closing, I am delighted to be part of an organization that is at the cutting-edge of a field I care deeply about. As President, I will support you in your/our efforts to change the way P2 is understood, practiced, and supported in this country. Hopefully we will have fun together as we do this important work.
You can read more about Bruce’s background and those of the other members of the IAP2 Canada Board on IAP2 Canada website.