Key structural features for implementing a sustainable community plan

In Canada, there are a variety of governance structures for enacting collaborative sustainable community plans. Regardless of the approach, five key structural features are essential for successful implementation. The five structures do not necessarily have a hierarchy of importance; rather they are all essential pieces that contribute to the successful implementation of a collaborative community sustainability plan.


The first structure is an oversight entity to oversee plan development/implementation and facilitate networking among partners. Through identifying issue-based short and long-term actions, this collaborative body enables the achievement of sustainability goals and ensures that the plan is renewed over time. In addition, the sharing of knowledge horizontally is enabled through the promotion of increased connections between partners to work toward these goals. As this governance structure is collaborative in nature, the partner organizations gain more momentum for implementing their own sustainability initiatives; thus the knowledge capacity of each partner is also increased.


The second structure consists of a communication system with various avenues of information exchange. This ensures all partners, as well as community members, are kept up to date. Mechanisms to do this include a website, a newsletter, social media, email updates, events, and other communications systems. The quality and quantity of this information are imperative for the proper understanding of sustainability and for organizations to know how to be involved, promoting further action to be taken. In addition, these communication channels keep partners connected, as well as act as a means to communicate successes to the larger community.


The third structural feature to include is a monitoring system, with the use of specific indicators, to ensure the plan stays relevant and progress is made. This monitoring would create a forum for which all activities and progress can be documented, continuing to add to the plan’s legitimacy. It would also facilitate a plan renewal, and allow for adjustments to be made to the actions as needed.


The fourth structure to have in place is a mechanism to engage partners. Most importantly, this ensures that key organizations are invited to join and thereby identify unrealized benefits of embracing sustainability for those organizations. By involving all relevant organizations as partners, the plan gains legitimacy. In addition, the engagement of a diversity of partners maximizes community unity and potential progress towards sustainability.

Partner Actions

The fifth structural feature is that the individual partner organizations are helping with implementation. It is not enough that partners support the plan in principle, and are providing advice to the local government on how to implement it. The partners themselves need to implement through their own organizational efforts. For example, an NGO might help with education, or a company might do internal sustainability efforts that also help the larger community reach its goals. By engaging with their own projects or initiatives, partners are not only contributing to the overarching goals of the community’s plan but also realizing their own benefits as an organization.

The below graphic summarizes these structures.

Key Structural Features for Large Partnerships

This content has been derived from:

Clarke, A. (2011). Key Structural Features for Collaborative Strategy Implementation: A Study of Territorial Sustainable Development Collaborations. Management et Avenir, 50(10): 153-171. DOI: 10.3917/mav.050.0153

Clarke, A. & MacDonald, A. (2012). Partner Engagement for Community Sustainability: Supporting Sustainable Development Initiatives by Reducing Friction in the Local Economy. State of Knowledge Report. Ottawa: Sustainable Prosperity.

Clarke, A. (2012). Passing Go: Moving Beyond the Plan. Ottawa: Federation of Canadian Municipalities.