Exploring social innovation as a contributor to social-ecological resilience and sustainability in environmental management


Partnership between the Toronto Regional Conservation Authority (TRCA), The Waterloo Institute for Social Innovation and Resilience (WISIR) and Queen's University

This partnership has emerged from the outset as a collaborative effort among the partners to define project goals and objectives, roles and responsibilities, and contributions of and intended benefits to each partner. The research entitled Exploring Social Innovation as a Contributor to Social-Ecological Resilience and Sustainability in Environmental Management aims to initiate and foster a long-term collaborative partnership between the University of Waterloo, Queen's University, and
the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA). 


The TRCA has identified the need to address barriers to continuous learning and innovation in environmental management in response to a growing body of evidence of continuing deterioration of the natural environment and biodiversity of the Toronto Region and the services these provide to area, despite the efforts of federal/provincial/municipal
governments, conservation authorities, and non-profit and non-governmental environmental organizations to protect and restore local ecosystems.
The goal of this research is threefold: 
(a) to explore Ontario's conservation authority model through a
social innovation lens (Westley, 2008) and examine applications or improvements of that model as a potential catalyst for increasing desirable resilience within linked social-ecological systems of the Toronto area and elsewhere; 
(b) to extend our knowledge of the potential contribution of a complex
adaptive systems approach for the improvement of environmental management outcomes; and 
(c) to leverage and mobilize this knowledge of complex social-ecological systems, social innovation and resilience to inform the practice of leading environmental management agencies such as the TRCA in protecting and restoring the natural environment in the context of improved sustainability and resiliency of the entire social-ecological system of the Toronto area.

Activities and products

The major proposed activities and products are as follows:
1. A comprehensive review, in the form of a discussion paper, of successful models of environmental management that have contributed to desirable social-ecological resilience, which will be translated into
principles for best practices;
2. A developmental evaluation of the current effort within the TRCA to examine environmental management outcomes and improve success, as well as of this joint research project;
3. Using the results of the first two products, develop a Strategy for Continuous Innovation and Improvement that identifies principles and practices that can be implemented by TRCA to help the Authority overcome barriers and to define and fulfill its mandate more effectively; and,
4. Further develop the partnership to include other partners (e.g. other CAs and relevant provincial ministries, such as the Ministry of Natural Resources, Ministry of Environment and Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, and extend it to other sustainability-oriented sectors, such as public health (in particular, discussions already begun with Region of Peel public health, who is actively exploring the connection between environmental conservation and health promotion), as well as local
economic development agencies at the regional level and private sector partners.
The work is intended as a practical contribution to addressing current complex social-ecological challenges and their management in the context of the TRCA to improve their effectiveness to implement their mandate, and as an model to be considered in other jurisdictions (i.e., other CAs and
environmental management organizations elsewhere) facing similar environmental and sustainability challenges. In addition, this new partnership is intended to grow and include other partners, potentially
other conservation authorities across Ontario.
Project members: Dan McCarthy

Last updated: May 29, 2014