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Interview: Robyn Campbell, City of Iqaluit, NU

Robin Campbell

The City of Iqaluit, NU, won a 2014 FCM Sustainable Communities Award in the Neighbourhood Development category for its Iqaluit Sustainable Community Plan. We spoke with Robyn Campbell, sustainability coordinator, about Iqaluit's unique, collaborative approach to developing this plan.

FCM: First, could you give us some background on sustainable development initiatives in the City of Iqaluit?

Robyn Campbell: As a community, we are an extremely adaptable group of people. We have a way of managing together through thick and thin. That's the essence of our sustainability.

Our efforts to formalize a commitment to sustainability date back to 2006 when the former mayor of the City of Iqaluit, Elisapee Sheutiapik, became a cheerleader for our sustainability. She led city council in creating a dedicated staff position, and in 2009 our first sustainability coordinator was on the job. In 2010, we received a grant from the Green Municipal Fund. From 2011-2013, residents of Iqaluit were deep in dialogue about our long-term future, and our Sustainable Community Plan was approved by council in January 2014.

FCM: Can you tell us more about the Iqaluit Sustainable Community Plan? 

Robyn Campbell: This is our first sustainable community plan. With over 700 people actively weighing in on our sustainable future, it is a unique, crowd-sourced plan for our community that stems from deep listening and strong relationships. In this plan, we redefined sustainability "pillars" into "relationships." We based our vision on respect for these relationships, and we delivered what our community said we needed: clear information, alignment, and hope.

Woven throughout the plan is Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit — the knowledge and practice of Inuit ways for the past, present and future. It recognizes that everything is related to everything else and bases our planning framework on three relationships: those connecting us to our environment, to our social and family wellbeing, and to a productive society.

FCM: Why did the city choose this approach to plan development?

Robyn Campbell: Our community is seriously over-consulted. Iqalummiut (people of Iqaluit) have been studied for decades by researchers and government. From the get-go, we had to find a way to connect with local residents without further exhausting them. Listening, empathizing, building interpersonal relationships, and responding with heart; these all became part of our approach.

FCM: How did you engage the community? Can you describe the response of community members and groups?

Robyn Campbell: Our community challenged us to read all the reports and studies written about Iqaluit in the past, then share what we heard. So, that's what we did. We collected over 300 documents written in the past 10 years and conducted a detailed analysis of over 30 of these reports. Assembling these results, we circulated two documents in 2012: What We Heard — a summary of past voices and What We Have — our community assets.  We used these as a springboard for meaningful community dialogues: through our storytelling activity, our community exhibit, our working groups, and the long-term Inuit residents' meeting. These conversations were collated and presented in 2013 as What We Feel — sharing our stories.

Our aim was to be responsive and to create hospitable settings for community engagement. A great example is the community exhibit. We shared old photos of Iqaluit, invited storytelling, watched videos by local youth, drank tea and ate bannock, played educational games, wrote on the walls, and chatted in three languages. Instead of a public meeting, we invited residents to learn, play, interact, and sign up for working groups. Over the course of four days, more than 300 people joined us.

FCM: What steps were involved in making the vision a reality? What obstacles did you face along the way?

Robyn Campbell: It takes time and a lot of energy to connect with community in a heartfelt way. We listened closely when residents talked about consultation fatigue and disillusionment. We heard diverse concerns about the future. It was challenging to take it all in, carefully distill it, and reflect it back in a single plan. We did not rush to completion; we aimed for integrity and a really meaningful end result.

The end result is our award-winning Iqaluit Sustainable Community Plan. Our five-year Action Plan includes 121 municipal actions, plus 133 community actions from 37 community organizations, businesses and government departments, organized according to themes identified during plan development.

FCM: What costs were associated with developing the plan?

Robyn Campbell: The cash cost was about $380,000. The project also involved hundreds of hours of volunteer and staff time.

FCM: What are the anticipated environmental, economic and social impacts?

Robyn Campbell: The Iqaluit Sustainable Community Plan includes a detailed Action Plan that describes current circumstances for each theme, and outlines our strengths, challenges, and climate change impacts. It also includes sections on where we want to be in 50 years, goals and actions for the next five years, and notes linkages to other themes and documents.

FCM: Based on this experience, what lessons learned would you share with other municipalities?

Robyn Campbell: There are three lessons that we will carry forward. First, don't be afraid to be personal and informal; it leads to better community dialogue. Next, be creative and inventive; this makes it more interesting for everyone involved. Finally, building and maintaining relationships is a core part of our sustainability.

FCM: Has this experience had an influence on other initiatives in your community?

Robyn Campbell: This plan has already led to shifts in decisions made regarding our Economic Development Plan, General Plan, Solid Waste Management Plan, and Capital Plan. It's working! As one of the most socially motivated plans in Canada, we've put people at the heart of our sustainability. It has introduced new ways to think about our challenges, our strengths, our responses, and our decisions.

Page Updated: 02/04/2014