An inclusive, comprehensive economic development plan written for residents, by residents through a year-long series of public consultations and community engagements. The resulting Plan effectively synthesized community visions into short- and long-term policies and strategies.
Problems and Purpose
Facing economic decline, governing officials of the Cormorant Island community launched a series of public engagements to create an economic development plan. With few resources, councilors recognised the need to harness the power and perspective of local knowledge in the drafting and implementation of the plan. Through tight collaboration with citizens, the adminstration hoped to develop a robust economic vision and the policies and human resources to achieve it.
Background History and Context
Cormorant Island is a small Canadian island in the Broughton Strait between the mainland of British Columbia and the north-eastern tip of Vancouver Island. The island has a population of around 1000 and is demographically split between two groups: the 550 people of the Namgis first nation tribes and the 450 people of the Village of Alert Bay. The island is governed by two administrations, Namgis First Nation and Alert Bay Village Council, which govern their own respective parts of the island and communities; however, the two institutions have a long history of working together due to possessing different powers over the island meaning they often have to come together in the interest of the whole.
In recent decades the economy of Cormorant Island has been on a decline for a variety of reasons, namely; a collapse in the local fishing industry, government cutbacks, and a failure to retain residents, especially the young. Between July 2014 and March 2015 the two administrations decided to engage the community in the creation of an economic development plan, with the intention to develop an economic vision and the policies to achieve it. The councils recognised the need to engage the community as they themselves have little resources  thus it is the community that possesses the ability to further the economy of the island both in terms of business and volunteering in aspects of implementation.
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
This participatory process was to be undertaken with the support of the consultancy firm EcoPlan international, who specialise in strategy development through community engagement processes.
The funding for the process totalled CAN $60,000 (approx. $48,000 USD), provided by the following sources;
- $10,000 from the local administrations
- $10,000 from the Regional District of Mount Waddington
- $30,000 from the Island Coastal Economic Trust
Due to the funding coming from administrative sources and a development charity there is less likelihood that the process could have been captured by special interest.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
In democratic innovations who participates is vital towards the outcome. In this case, the recruitment method differed depending on the method of engagement of which there were three: survey, stakeholder interviews, and community workshops.
Resident survey: conducted by street, door to door and online, it was open to responses between September to November 2014; in total, 170 residents filled out the survey, 35 of which were business owners. Demographically 63% of respondents were from the Village of Alert Bay with the remaining 37% from Namgis First Nation Reserves.
Demographically this underrepresents the First Nation people on the island and thus could be construed by some as illegitimate. It is likely the biased response rate could have something to do with the way the surveys were delivered as street and door to door delivery can be classified as random selection and are biased demographically depending on the area that they are delivered in.
Stakeholder interviews: following the survey, organizers conducted one to one interviews with business owners, likely chosen to obtain their knowledge as stakeholders who have a greater knowledge of the problems businesses face. There were 31 such meetings.
Community workshops: the final phase of engagement took the form of two open community workshops held on November 6th 2014 and February 26th 2015 with a turnout of 65 and 55 attendees respectively. Although the community workshops were jointly run by both administrations demographic statistics for the first workshop again show that the First Nation people were underrepresented, this is likely due to the fact that both sessions were held at the Alert Bay Community Centre, as a result we can speculate that location plays a role in demographic turnout especially in communities with such clear territorial boundaries between groups. However, cognisant of potential issues of representation, both governing councils retained decision making power over proposals. The administration thus providing a check against the majority opinion and ensured the Namgis First Nation and the interests of their community were represented in any outcome.
Methods and Tools Used
The type of communication used during these participatory processes has ranged from the aggregation of preferences to deliberation. This reflects the different goals of the different participatory forms. A steering committee of representatives from the two councils guided the development of the plan and regular contact between these organisers and the public was undertaken in the form of regular online messages, newsletters and posters. The survey was conducted to record the communities thoughts on the economy while one-to-one interviews gained in-depth perspectives from business owners. The community workshops provided both an educational and deliberative platform for citizens. The first workshop opened with an information session and then guided participants through a logical process of decision-making, moving from introductory material to discussions on future aspirations to feedback on previous policies to drafting and voting on proposed action items. The second workshop was similar to the first, providing opportunity for participants to provide feedback on the finalized action items and to discuss implementation strategies.
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
Final decisions were made by the councils but the plan was drafted up based on the feedback and preferences expressed by the citizens in participatory processes of which there were three forms: surveys, stakeholder interviews, and community workshops.
Surveys and Interviews
The survey was conducted on a door-to-door basis to record the communities thoughts on the economy, asking residents “what works, what doesn’t work, and what can we do to improve things”. The questions asked included self-assessment questions pertaining to those who ran their own business, asking what are the Islands strengths and weaknesses of the island and asking to pick from a list of proposed “Big Ideas” in order to determine which ones the citizens felt were more beneficial. This recording of preferences and current experiences resulted in a mass of information provided by the community on what is working for them and what isn’t, as well as a clear idea on what should be the abstract targets, the economic vision, of the development plan. The survey served its purpose by identifying the economic issues the development plan had to fix and proposing solutions to them. Unfortunately there is no record of how the one-to-one stakeholders meetings were conducted but the final report implies they were similar to the survey.
After an introduction including education and briefing on economic statistics, the first workshop took the form of five stalls each dedicated to a different part of the plan. The stalls guided participants through a logical feed-back process, moving sequentially through: Provision of Statistics, Economic Vision Discussion, Geographic Potential Discussion, Feedback on action ideas, Feedback on Previous Policies, and, finally, to voting on actions ideas. The practice of this workshop meets many of the standards of deliberative democracy, notably the sharing of information before the recording of preferences after the sixth stall, additionally the list of actions that were to be voted on at the end were those that were highlighted in the prior survey, as a result the community effectively set their own agenda for the meeting. Debate was not moderated however the stall format effectively turned the workshop into a series of small manageable discussions about different parts of the wider economic plan, thus the amount of data received was immensely large, and much of it being from lay stakeholders. This workshop served its purpose by encouraging deliberative debate about the details of the plan, the problems and the solutions to address them, the results at the end of the workshop showed broad consensus on what the citizens believed were they key issues and what was needed to solve them. In addition to this the deliberative evaluation of previously failed plans on the island gave the steering committee better understanding of how to go about implementation.
Workshop two in the February of 2015 followed the same stall format but with different stalls. By the time of this workshop the development plan was nearly finalised, the economic vision and the actions to achieve them were almost fully decided, this workshop provided a chance for some additional deliberation on the final form of the actions. Specifically this workshop asked the community to look at implementation and how they could assist, the impact of this is clearly visible in the final report of the plan, with many “quick start” solutions based on community volunteering.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
After the February workshop gathered the final round of public feedback, the final development plan was adopted in the March of 2015. The finalised plan contains 22 actions that have their priority decided based on the responses from the community and the advice of EcoPlan. The steering committee is in charge of implementation and the community members have actively taken part in the actions that required volunteers, such as cleaning up the Island or running small business clinics. Furthermore the Island is seeking to recruit the help of external organisations and has succeeded in restoring a credit union operated by Varsity to help small businesses access funds. The establishment of new tourist services and street markets will also contribute to future economic development.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
Overall, it can be said this was a successful innovation. The normative outcome of this democratic innovation was the creation of policy rather than an increase in representation or a rectification of injustices in policymaking or governance. The fact that the council and steering committee retained authority was not an obstacle to the performance here, especially considering the process was open and transparent. The steering committee acted to synthesize the views of the community into a plan, something that was made easier to achieve given the consensus the participants reached after deliberation in the workshops. Additionally, the high rates of participation in the survey relative to the population and the large volunteering effort in implementation show that the decision reached was likely to be legitimate in the eyes of the citizens.
This innovations raises points regarding small communities whose citizens all face the same economic or political issues. Nearly all citizens in this case can be referred to as lay stakeholders, a title normally reserved for dedicated and engaged citizens. All the residents of this close-knit community have faced the same economic problems and its effects on their businesses and lives; they are the experts in this situation, and even the most pessimistic democratic theories which often doubt citizen capacity recognise that people are rational when the effects of politics are directly observable in their lives. In this case, where the economic reasons are obvious and the effects of decisions are not far removed from the individuals, the citizens here could potentially be classed as a community of Lay Stakeholders. This naturally ties into volunteer theory, Lay Stakeholders would be seen as more motivated to volunteer thus it could also be argued that innovations launched in small communities may be able to take advantage of the close community feeling in small communities to increase volunteerism to assist in the processes of innovation and implementation.
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Update: similar information can be found at https://ecoplan.ca/featured-projects/cormorant-island/
 Island Coastal Economic Trust. (2015). Cormorant Island Economic Development Plan. [online] Available at: https://www.islandcoastaltrust.ca/projects/ecdev-strategies/cormorant-island-economic-development-plan [Accessed 2 Nov. 2017].
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 Schumpeter, J. (1976). Capitalism, socialism and democracy. London: Allen and Unwin, Chapter XXI and XXII.
 Clary, E. and Snyder, M. (1999). The Motivations to Volunteer. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 8(5), pp.156-159.
Final Development Plan: https://goo.gl/W3uKhM
Project overview by Island Coastal Economic Trust: https://goo.gl/pF6pZG [DEAD LINK]