In order to spark the ecological transition, GRAME is developing a novel accompaniment service

To answer this question, GRAME turned to the MIS Civic Incubator. By joining the 2019-2020 cohort, the carriers of the project, Catherine Houbart and Catherine Chabot, were able to devise an ecological transition support service for municipalities.

GRAME's missions

An important player in Québec when it comes to innovative and realistic solutions to major environmental problems, the Groupe de recommandations et d’actions pour un meilleur environnement (GRAME) has been working since 1989 to promote sustainable development and environmental protection.

Its activities concern three areas: influencing decision makers, raising public awareness and promoting education with respect to environmental issues, and make direct interventions in the field.

Photo credit: GRAME

The findings at the origin of the project

Strengthened by this complementarity and its proximity to its community of elected officials, residents and scientific and legal specialists, GRAME has identified many discrepancies between municipal by-laws and the municipalities’ commitment to sustainable development.

These, for example, include the obligation to have a paved driveway and a grassed front yard, the ban on clotheslines and the required elimination of front-yard vegetable gardens. These regulatory inconsistencies hamper citizen mobilization in favour of the environment while at the same time creating a feeling of powerlessness in the face of administrative structures.

However, does the solution lie simply in the review and amendments of municipal by-laws?

The task proves to be more complex because the impediment to environmental projects is not necessarily the obsolescence of regulations. It is quite possible, in some cases, to update regulations quickly or even override them. Rather, the approach requires an overview of conflictual situations and flexibility in intervention methods.

This is how, throughout the workshops of the Civic Incubator program, an offer of environmental innovation coaching services for municipalities was developed. This service – integrated, versatile and adapted to the realities in the field – is based on components such as the identification and scaling up of best practices, ongoing evaluation and sustained dissemination of information on these cases.

« We seek to build collective knowledge and to influence more and more organizations to discover that they are capable and have the motivation required to take action. »

Catherine Chabot

For example, a town wishing to improve biodiversity, including that of pollinating insects, might consider abolishing its by-law on maximum height for lawns or on the requirement to have front lawns. GRAME can help it define what the actual need is, determine a few key stakeholders to work with and inventory innovative practices in this regard.

We will then discover that other municipalities have more environmentally efficient by-laws, but in addition, that some cities even offer grants to citizens to convert their lawns to more environmentally friendly environments, for example. Discussions with the stakeholders involved will then make it possible to design a customized solution for the municipality, based on evaluated best practices, and to proceed with its implementation. After its evaluation and actual deployment, the new practice would be widely publicized so that others would learn about the right approach and, also seize their own opportunity to take action.

Drawing on the resources of the Civic Incubator to develop a solution

At GRAME, the project has been under consideration for a few years now, but it lacked the spark needed to make it a reality. When Catherine Houbart became aware of the Civic Incubator’s call for projects, which was relayed in a newsletter from a partner in Lachine, she saw the opportunity to tackle the project by being accompanied during its design, a stage that had been a stumbling block until then.

« We needed to take charge of the project by finding a way to approach it, and it’s rather rare to find support when you come up with a problem rather than a solution that is already tied up and ready to be developed. »

Catherine Houbart

Catherine Chabot and Catherine Houbart

Thanks to the tools integrated into the Civic Incubator program and the consistency of the workshops, which creates a sustained work dynamic, the project leaders have gained confidence, highlighted the elements missing in their thinking while effectively formulating the content of their accompaniment program for the municipalities.

Going through the pilot project stage

In order to test this new approach, the team wishes to set up a pilot project by the summer of 2020 with a municipal partner.

The objective is to take into consideration the feedback from the chosen partner, to correct and adapt the program in order to maximize its impact and to spread as widely as possible the positive initiatives that will result from it!

Three alumni of the program look back

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The potential realization of a positive-impact project idea—one that has long been brewing in the back of their minds—has motivated over one hundred change-makers to join the MIS Civic Incubator.

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