Bowen Island Journal

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January 02, 2009
This is my last post here at the Bowen Island Journal on this address. I have moved the site over to blogspot after 8 years of ftping it to my own domain. Please update your links accordingly

See you at the new site.

In my work with government and other folks who are designing and facilitating strategies to engage with the public on important issues, I always encourage them to adopt the following approach to consultation:

  1. Be prepared and curious. Come into the meeting room curious. Be curious about the people who are there, about how the day will go. Genuinely want to find out stuff, get interested in the discussions and ask stupid questions. Maintaining a role of respectful curiosity, grounded in good preparation will allow you to be detached enough to see the possibilities as they unfold over the day.
  2. Acknowledge that the heart speaks truth. People that care deeply about an issue will become quite emotional if they see that something bad is going to happen to that issue. They will speak out in emotional ways. It is a true reaction. You can’t lie when that kind of passion arises. So hear the truth, acknowledge that what they care about is real, and that it needs to be heard. It’s important that the client know that there is a real issue at the heart of the intervention.
  3. Reflect what is being said. All those communications courses where you practised active listening and reflected back what you heard felt contrived, right? Well, in practice it isn’t contrived - it actually works. When people say something, especially in a situation where they are “speaking truth to power” the most significant act you can do is to repeat what they said. To feel heard is a powerful salve. To BE heard is the goal of good consultation. So reflect back and ask questions for clarification or to test out a theory that what you have just heard connects to something that someone else said earlier. Then you are really engaged and your interlocutor knows it too.
  4. Build wholeness and sense the emerging story. There is nothing more frustrating than a consultation that is simply a set of speeches. Encourage people to connect their thinking with what has come before. As a facilitator listen for the emerging story and see how people are connecting their comments to that story. At the end of the day it will mean that you have something truly valuable, much more so than a collection of comments that stand alone and make no sense. Wholeness should be the goal. That is what makes consultation useful.
  5. Do not be attached to anything other than the container. Your client might have spent years working on the thing that is being ripped to pieces in front of them, but that is not your concern. If it is out there for feedback, you have to let the feedback come. As a facilitator, pay attention to the container, and ensure that as the piece is being ripped up that it is done so respectfully and constructively. Don’t let people get away with being “terrorists” in a meeting. Passion bounded by responsibility, leading to wholeness is what you are after. If there is anger, ask about what might be done to move forward. If there are dismissive comments, challenge them and invite people to share the alternative. Building and holding a well formed container, one that, as Williams Isaacs says, hold safety, possibility and energy, is your job.
  6. Coach, affirm and soothe. Your client might be raw before, during or after a difficult gathering. Coach them to listen and see what is being said, and help them to understand that it isn’t personal. And if it is personal, and there was a reason, get really honest with the personal behaviour that triggered the attack and help to move forward. Affirm their work, and help them to see that the people who gave time to provide feedback, in whatever form, are committed to what is happening, and as such, they are actually allies. It’s about seeing differently.
  7. Be honest. There is no faster way to get people angry than to lie to them. When bullshit detectors go off, the reaction comes fast and furious. As a facilitator I have ethical standards for working in these kinds of meetings. If something is a done deal and the consultation is just window dressing, I won’t do that job. If a client betrays the confidence or the trust that has been built with a group, in an ongoing process, I will quit the job. Honesty and trust are the only things you need to move past difficult public meetings. It is surprising how many people choose to go the other way, into deceit and mistrust.
  8. Ask real questions. Get really clear on what you want from people and ask them real questions. When folks provide feedback, probe with real questions that are aimed at drawing the conversation forward into something bigger. Real questions are questions with which something is at stake. If you can get your client to say “we really don’t know and your feedback will help us move forward” then you have overcome many of the hurdles that prevent collaborative relationships from evolving. Asking real questions means asking questions that put us all on the same side of something.
  9. Turn around cross examinations. You would be amazed how many people learn conversational techniques from watching courtroom TV. It’s appalling. Whatever benefit the adversarial legal system has for society, its form of debate is toxic. In many meetings people will ask impossible questions about decisions long past, or worse still, will ask a series of questions which can only be answered with “yes” or “no.” These questions are loaded with assumptions, and the good news is it’s a simple matter to turn them around. When someone says “Have you taken into consideration that your building will destroy this forest?” you have a tremendous opening to begin a conversation with that person about values. Ask “So for you it’s important to preserve that forest. How do you see this project negatively impacting the forest? What kinds of ways might we mitigate that impact? What do we need to know about the forest that seems to be missing?”
  10. Debrief the deeper learnings. After the meeting is over, build in time to reflect about the content and the process, but do it in a deeper way. Talk about the story that emerged, the places people were attached to that story and the reasons why heart showed up. Think about what made the meeting work well and get a handle on the strategies that were used. Reflect on improvements for next time.
As we move into the OCP review here on Bowen Island, I would add one more, and that is to include your expert stakeholders and community members in the design. To that end, what if the initial public conversation on the Bowen Island OCP process was around this question:

"What would an OCP review process look like that built social capital and community engagement rather than depleting it?"

I am willing to host this conversation with anyone else who would like to join me.

The other day I wrote about how the limits of my admiration for the plow drivers had been reached when one sprayed me while I was shovelling out a space for my car. Today, my admiration has been restored, largely because these guys are doing this work in the context of a community that is incessantly bitching about them.

If you read the Bowen Online Forum - and I used to post there, but I don't anymore - there are several threads where people complain about two things: the conditions of the roads (why haven't mine been plowed yet, it's so icy that its impassable) and the communications fro the Municipality. Here are my thoughts on both.

On the road conditions

The weather we have been having is freakish and unseen for 40 years. There is no way to compare this weather to anything people on Bowen can remember. Forty years ago, no doubt the island just shut down and people bravely banded together. What has made this weather tough is the huge amounts of snow we have had followed by days of rain, freezing and thawing. This is how it is in March in most of the rest of the country, where conditions get very icy and dangerous.

Main roads are kept clear and are passable all day when the temperature thaws them, At night, they are icy though and very dangerous, especially for cars, like mine that aren't equipped with snow tires. So bottom line is that I don't drive at night.

On the secondary roads and tertiary roads, things are bad. People are complaining that those roads haven't been plowed. It seems as if every road HAS in fact been plowed at least once, and the hills have been sanded and salted. The problem is that the moment anyone drives on fresh snow, it compacts it and in the cycle of freezing and thawing, that compacted track becomes ice. You can salt to help reduce frost buildup, but ice more than a centimeter or so thick is really hard to get off with a plow.

There are other complications with some roads being very narrow and having cars parked on them because people are snowed out of their driveways. In these cases, there is no way the plow can get through.

So, while its frustrating, I have to admit that I have seen snowplows every days since before Christmas and that these guys are doing their best to get the job done. The weather we are having is not typical for our community and not easy in terms of snow removal.

What you can do

  • If you are parked in a public space, it might already be too late for you, but get your car into a private space. This might mean shovelling out somewhere or asking someone to do that for you. It might cost some money, but along our stretch of Miller Road, we've been doing that for each a little, especially with folks that can't shovel. Cars have to be off the roads for the crews to do their thing.
  • If there are tricky sections on your road, you could go out there and break them up. Compacted ice needs detailed attention, not a snowplow, and there is no one else that is going to come and do that for you. Peter King, our intrepid bus driver, has been slating and shovelling treacherous parts like Reef Road in Tunstall Bay. Follow his example and take care of the road by your place. Take shovels, axes, garden edging tools, salt and sand or dirt and take advantage of the thaws during the day to work on your part of the road.
Municipal communications

This one is tougher. The municipality has not communicated well during this storm. Part of the reason for that has to do with the fact that it is holiday time, and the staff aren't around as much. Part of it has to do with the fact is that no one is able to or required to update the website. It seems people would like to see the following information:

  • Road conditions updated as much as possible, but especially focused on passability and iciness.
  • Plowing schedules so folks have a sense of what is being done
One challenge for this kind of thing is that we really don't have a local communications system. There is no one place people turn to for up to the minute information. We have a local radio station, but it is mostly web based. Not everyone has an internet connection, and so even the Municipal website will only reach some people. As for the forum, that is not a place to post news. It once was, but the vitriol of several posters over the years have scared people away from it, and I know I only check it on occasion. It's a venting space, now, which is fine, but it's no longer a useful source for breaking news. Pretty much the only things everyone reads is The Undercurrent, but they are a weekly paper.

In fact the best source of news has turned out to be Peter and Toni King, who run the bus company, but they are TOTALLY overwhelmed with people calling and asking about conditions. If you want to call someone, do what firends of mine have been doing - call your friends further down stream from you. I have taken calls from friends in Eaglecliff and Hood Point about road conditions here on seven hills and am happy to do so.

An additional challenge is that everyone wants news provided to them individually. In other words, I want to know specific things right now. It's impossible for a central communications hub to do this. And given that the municipality ISN'T doing any of it, it seems that the best thing to do is take the matters into our own hands.

What you can do

  • First, stop complaining about how easy it is to set up a blog or a wiki to share road information, and just do it. Here I did it for you: Bowen Road Conditions weblog. If you want to be an administrator there, please email me at and I'll hand it over to you. People can post news in the comments. For a tool like this to be effective, people have to know about it, so spread the news and we'll see if it catches on.
  • Alternatively you could contribute to the road status tool being built on Bowen 2020 to help out a groups of folks develop a mapping tool that would do the same thing.
The Municipality might embrace decentralized news gathering, but it might not be for a while. All of which begs the question of our emergency communications system in the case of an earthquake. I'll have to check into that one.

Anyway, there are some things we can do as citizens to get through this strange period of winter weather. If you have more ideas leave them in the comments.

January 01, 2009
First post for's snowing again this morning although feels like it could turn to rain.

To get the year off to a start, here is a post from my neighbour and friend Alison about what life is like in the caring knot of community that we have here on Bowen. Last year she and her partner suffered life thretening illnesses and this is how people responded:

People, some of whom I barely knew, fed and cared for my animals, cleaned my house, answered my messages, picked up my mail, did my laundry, stocked my fridge with food and when I still wasn't home a week later threw it all out and restocked it again, delivered firewood, chopped kindling, paid my bills, made the trek into Vancouver to visit me - so many kindnesses I didn't even know about at the time.

When I got home and was recuperating and sweetie was still in a coma for what would turn out to be another 6 weeks, they ferried me into Vancouver for doctor's appointments and to visit him, read to him days I couldn't get in, took him food from restaurants when he woke up, called me with visit status reports, brought me food, flowers, music, books, movies, and kept the woodstove going. Every day. For weeks. I lacked for nothing.

A woman I'd only ever spoken to twice gave me an old sweater she'd always found comforting, a friend wanted to rent me an apartment in the city so I'd have somewhere to stay in between hospital visits, surrogate daughter phoned from Wales where she was going to school to say she was coming home. (*sternly* You'll do nothing of the kind, you'll stay and finish your degree)

I returned months later to a part-time job to discover paychecks waiting for the time I hadn't worked there.
We should never tke this for granted. This community is knit together by acts like this, folks looking after each other. If this was a reserve, we'd call each other "cuz." This closeness, I believe, is our most precious resource. It can be put to good to use and it can be depleted as well.

So my wish for Bowen for 2009 is that our most precious resource grow and flourish and that we do all we can to make that happen.

December 31, 2008

Van Jones - my inspiration for 2009
Photo by luxomedia

I've blogged about Van Jones before, but last night, as the wind howled outside, I listened to a podcast of a talk he gave at a Social Change Forum at Hollyhock on Cortes Island earlier this year. With a powerful mix of humour and truth telling, he describes the confluence of social justice and environmental justice and calls for a new politics that transcends dualities, us vs, them thinking and win/lose outcomes. He also make a powerful point about how our absolute reliance on deliverables, outcomes and achievables makes us liars, as we pretend to be able to tell our donors, funders and stakeholders how we will shape the future. Van makes a powerful point that when we tell the story that we are successful, and hide that fact that half the time we don't know WHAT we are doing, we prevent the ability to learn from one another.

The world is a complex, chaotic and changing place, and what is needed now is not winning against but winning over. We need to invest in prototypes not pretend we know the solutions. We need experiment, relationship and integrity. That is the new politics of activism - it is the new politics period - and it is what I am committing myself to here at home on Bowen Island, and in my work in the world for 2009.

Happy New Year and see you out there.

December 30, 2008

The wind is howling again tonight, but this time it's a southeasterly gale blowing up the Strait. Power is flickering a litle, and may well blink out although I've been impressed with the extent to which the power has remained on here in Seven Hills during the past could of weeks. Other areas have lost power but other than a few blips, we've been fine. Tonights gales though - winds gusting to 90km/h - may change that, as the wind is coming from the east rather than the north which is how the Squamish blows. There are many more major power lines exposed to the southeasterlies, so we'll see what happens.

But what is really capturing my attention at the moment the above graphic. This current weather map shows a confluence of four low pressure systems rotating around a common core with developing hurricane force winds south of Kamchatka. Whatever that thing is - and I've never seen anything like it - it'll be here in a few days and it fixes to be interesting.

Snow is melting - maybe half gone - but we have huge banks of ice and slush at the road sides, some of them piled up four feet or more.

December 29, 2008
It's a classic Canadian moment here today. If you don't like the weather, come back in 15 minutes. It rained hard last night, and was a little sunny this morning but then thick cloud rolled in and it has been raining showers of thick drops all day. Just as I'm heading to Snug Cove to get the ferry, it starts to snow again. There is no rhyme or reason to this. It's like some petulant child is fooling with the weather controls - windy, calm, rain, fog, snow. Even the meteorologists have given up. The forecast for the next four days is partly cloudy with rain and snow with occaisional wind. That is covering your ass par excellence.

December 28, 2008
The thaw is on today as the roads go from sheets of ice to waterfalls. Neighbours shovelling out neighbours is what it's all about now. Especially considering the fact that there is another load of snow on it's way. A sunny afternoon has gioven way to forboding cloud and the temperature has strated to drop again.

You'll be happy to know that the mood is improving in the Cove. The General Store this afternoon was busy and upbeat with war stories shared all round.

One side benefit to helping out neighbours was that I discovered one of them, Lauryn Oates, had a piece done about her in the Globe and Mail last week. In the annals of Bowen Islanders who make a difference it turns out that Lauryn is one of our best. For 15 years she has been tirelessly working on women's right inAfghanistan and she's undaunted in her work and outlook. Read more about her at the Globe.

December 27, 2008
Back in 2002 my friend Avner Haramati and his family were visiting Bowen Island from Israel. He asked me if everyone was always so nice to each other here. Caitlin replied that, no in fact people were sometimes quite angry with each other and that just the day before, a yelling match had broken out in the Cove over some ferry marshaling issue. She offered to go get the newspaper to show him.

"Wait a second," Avner said. "Two people yell at each other and it makes the news?"

Well, yeah. It's a funny place.

We're usually pretty politic to each other around here, and skirmishes between neighbours are sometimes the only news going. At least it's the news you WANT to hear about, which is why gossip is the high speed internet of small towns.

Today, the weather has warmed up and if it hasn't exactly started raining, everything is melting. And then freezing again somewhere else. What was yesterday a fluffy three foot high bank of joy-snow is now an immovable pile of hate-slush. Getting through it is hard and slow and wet work.

This morning I desperately tried to dig the car out in time for Caitlin to make an 11:00 am water taxi to Vancouver. I couldn't get out in time, so Caitlin hitched a ride to the Cove and made it off the island. I continued on and with the help of a friend - thankfully a former pro basketball player and member of the Slovenian national women's team - I got out.

Turns out Caitlin was one of the few to find an escape pod from Fortress Bowen. The ferry isn't running today due to a problem with the ramp on this side - almost certainly to do with the melt-freeze-melt-freeze dynamic that is all the rage. We did finally make it to the Cove and it's a mess there. Cars everywhere, piles of snow all round, people trying to liberate one from the other with small shovels and strong backs. If the last few days was otherworldy and downright magical, today is some kind of shadow version of hell, where everything is frozen and wet, and it's not looking like things will be clearing up any time soon.

All of that perhaps explains why there is much grumpiness and just pure asshole-type A behaviour this morning on our fair and happy Island. For example, the caretaker at Village Square, who I don't know, was going ballistic at people trying to shovel out cars. He screamed something about trying to get the place ploughed, but people kept driving in and parking. I don't know what his problem is this morning, but taking it out on folks who are just trying to do their best is not the way to go. He put a damper on the whole mood around the Ruddy Potato and Phoenix. In general, mean people suck, but mean people yelling at random strangers for no reason takes you from "mean" to "prick" in an instant.

So we transacted some basic business in the Cove and climbed back in our car to head home. Not sure whether I would be able to get back in my driveway, I parked on Miller Road with my hazards flashing and took a run at shovelling out the bottom of the driveway so I could get the car off the road.

Now don't get me wrong, I have nearly unending admiration for the job our plowmen have been doing the past two weeks. But I discovered the end of my admiration this morning. As I am gamely trying to hack away at the foot of frozen slush that the plow left, who comes barrelling down the hill but the plowman himself, resplendent in his big yellow truck with gaily flashing light atop. He leans on his horn, swerves around my car heads straight at me and coats me from waist to boot in ice mush. Nice. Merry fucking Christmas to you too.

So if you are on Bowen, stay home. If you are not on Bowen don't come here today, unless you are coming over to hang out with the Manns at Seven Hills B&B. The island has awoken from a lovely week of indulging itself in winter, and the hangover isn't pleasant. We're not at our best, so please move along and come back later, when the snow is gone and the rainforest is awash in new year's light as the fog hangs in tendrils on the douglas-fir canopy of our peaceful Island home.