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Start a Synergy Group

IN THE BEGINNING

Synergy Groups form for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it's community-driven to seek more information, provide information or rally against something the community opposes. Other times, groups are created by industry looking to proactively share information on proposed projects and gather input from the community and others with a stake in the project or area.

Either way, the strength in Synergy Groups is that they connect people and organizations to a particular project, facility or neighbourhood. With relevant people at the same table, true information sharing happens and projects or facilities can be tailored to meet the needs of all stakeholders including industry, residents and landowners and regulators.

INITIATE A GROUP IN YOUR COMMUNITY

You've decided forming a synergy group for your community has value. What comes next? No hard and fast rules dictate the order in which you undertake the activities listed in this section. The tools listed here are a good starting point to assess the needs of the community as well as the resources already available.

Community Consultation:

Community Consultation can take many forms, but is always an important step in making sure the needs of the right people are being met or that the right information is being accurately communicated with the right people.

Resources on consulting with communities:

Community Participation Kit [.pdf] - This kit offers a process and set of tools for defining and understanding public involvement in energy development. It provides tools to help community groups, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and industry work more effectively together.

Tools are presented in three modules:

  • Convergence - Helps your group develop clarity around its purpose and work, and to ensure you have all the interested parties around the table.
  • Cooperation - Helps your group establish effective structure and working principles, including identifying issues that may arise in your work together and strategies for addressing such issues.
  • Communication - Helps your group clarify its messages, means of communication and target audience so that those outside the group understand the group's purpose and work.

The kit is a useful tool for those considering forming a synergy group. Modules include Principles of Participation, Roles and Responsibilities, Community Social Responsibility, and The Benefits and Costs of Participant Involvement.  Existing synergy groups may also find value in all aspects of the kit.

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GETTING THE WORD OUT

A synergy group is nothing without people. Getting the right people to attend initial meetings is important and requires some resourcefulness.

  • Word of mouth - get out and tell people! Word of mouth is an excellent way to get people out to a first organizational meeting and follow up meetings / events. It gives you a chance to explain the importance and answer questions.
  • Neighbouring synergy groups - Check in with groups you share borders with for industry member contacts who might also operate in your area, as well as community people who live near the boundary. You can also ask other groups what they've found works well (or not) in communicating with the community in your area.
  • Newsletters - These can be mass distributed or sent to a mailing list (once you collect names). Mailing lists can be developed by gathering names at public events, regular meetings or even through the media.

    Newsletters are a great way to get information to a large number of people, but they do require some time and expense. There is also a risk that for all the cost and effort, many people will not read it. However, others will and this could be a good way to disseminate information in your synergy group's region.
  • Media/Press Releases - Using the media to help spread your group's message doesn't have to cost money.  Community papers are especially interested in something new going on in their region, coming events etc. You can often get free coverage anywhere from the Coming Events/Community Events sections to news stories.

    It's worth taking the time to learn about writing press releases or other submitted material. Smaller newspapers often welcome submissions and will run them as-is if they are well-written and include all relevant information.

    Always include contact information for more information - both for reporters and readers/listeners. You can also buy an ad in a paper or a radio station
  • Operators' Groups - Operator's groups can provide contact information on which members of an industry are active in your area or they can send out the information to their members on your behalf.
  • ERCB field office for listings of local operators - The ERCB has Community and Aboriginal Relations Advisors in each field centre office who are responsible for assisting the public. If you are able to provide a boundary area to search, the ERCB staff member can provide you with a list of oil and gas companies that operate within the boundaries you requested. See map for the ERCB contact in your area.

GROUP STRUCTURE AND MEMBERSHIP

Every synergy group is unique. In fact, each group's strength lies in its individuality.
Synergy groups tend to be community-based and therefore each group is different based on the community it operates in.

  • Membership - most synergy groups include representation from various stakeholder groups: community (residents and landowners), industry and regulators. Other participants more frequently include representatives from municipalities, health authorities, government agencies and other resource development industries such as forestry.
  • Structures - Synergy groups generally fit into one of three main structures ranging from very informal to incorporated societies with full-time employees.
  1.  
    1. Informal: This involves groups that don't necessarily adhere to regular meeting schedules and may or may not have an executive. They tend to meet more on an as-needed basis, often at the kitchen table of a member. They rarely have paid staff of any description or much budget.

      Group membership also varies from lifetime dues to annual payments or simply anyone interested may participate and be included in meetings and other communications. Examples include BAC and STAMP.
    2. Semi-formal: These groups tend to hold to a regular meeting schedule, including semi-regular public events such as information nights. Many of them employ a facilitator on a contract basis. Finances are handled in a variety of ways by these groups including some with bank accounts and scheduled invoicing to others which have member companies handle expenses on a rotating basis.

      Group membership also varies from lifetime dues to annual payments or simply anyone interested may participate and be included in meetings and other communications. Examples: CMAG, Calumet, West Central Stakeholders.
    3. Formal: This structure includes groups with larger budgets, paid memberships, regular invoicing, part- or full-time employees and regular meeting structures. These groups are usually incorporated, are run by a board, have an elected executive and formal committees and processes as part of their structure.

      Group membership also varies from lifetime dues to annual payments or simply anyone interested in participating and be included in meetings and other communications. These groups tend to strive for representation from all areas in their regions, often with representatives from each area. Examples include SPOG and LICA.

Whatever structure your group chooses, it is strongly encouraged to become a member of Synergy Alberta.

For more information on any of these groups, please see the Synergy Groups section for links to group websites and group contact information.

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FINANCES AND FUNDING

Synergy Groups choose to cover their operating expenses in a variety of ways. We welcome more information from groups on how they address funding and finances.

Some examples:

  • Membership fees charged to all members (community and industry)
  • Membership fees charged to industry participants       
    • Based on activity levels in the group's area
    • Flat rate for all companies active in the group
  • Participating companies covering expenses on a rotational basis. This can include two companies sharing expenses of larger events such as public information events which cost more than regular group/planning meetings.
  • Apply for grants
  • Municipalities or other interested parties supporting activities such as free use of meeting space in county building, college facilities to host larger events etc.

Foundations and Grants:

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FACILITATION

A facilitator is neutral person able to help a group work through challenging issues, identify goals, select activities and stay on track (both during meetings and throughout its existence.)

Some groups choose to operate without the assistance of a facilitator, others hire a facilitator for specific projects such as creating a vision and mission, strategic planning or for large public events. Some groups hire a facilitator to work with them continually during regular meetings as well as annual events like goal setting and public events.

Why use a facilitator?

A facilitator is not emotionally involved in the group or the issues facing the group. The facilitator is not a group member, he or she can objectively guide the group through problem-solving and decision-making.

A facilitator can help balance participation between outgoing and shy group members and help groups work through contentious and often emotional issues. Many facilitators are trained in dealing effectively with conflict and can be key to a group formed in response to a contentious issue moving forward effectively while continuing to build relationships between members.

As a neutral party present at meetings, a facilitator can also help group members stay on track and work through agenda items in a timely fashion. Keeping meetings effective is an important way to keep the entire group effective and maintain the members' interest.

A Synergy Group may benefit from a facilitator's service as the group is forming to help bring people together in a collaborative way, and throughout the group's tenure to ensure that the group remains collaborative and efficiently organized.

What are the differences between facilitation, mediation, and arbitration?

Facilitation is providing process guidance to a meeting, or series of meetings of a particular group. Facilitation promotes collaboration among participants while having effective and efficiently run meetings. Facilitators are trained to handle conflict situations as they occur.

Mediation is process for resolving conflict which is best described as assisted, face-to-face discussion between the parties who are in conflict. The parties involved shape their own outcome or agreement. Mediators are neutral third parties who are specifically trained to guide the parties through a process to resolve their issues.

Arbitration is also a process for resolving conflict. However, arbitration involves a third party who makes a decision for the two parties in conflict. It is a formal process, which requires input from the participants, although they have no input into the decision.

What would a synergy group do if a facilitator shows bias?

This would be an unusual situation. However, if a group believes that a facilitator is biased in any way, the group should make a collaborative decision to address this with the facilitator.

If the facilitator is unable to resolve this issue, then the group should ask the facilitator to leave the group and find another facilitator.

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SET A DIRECTION: CREATE A VISION AND MISSION, SET GOALS

Most people wouldn't head off on a lengthy road trip without some sense of where they were going and how they would get there. If they did, they might never arrive at their destination, or only arrive there by chance after taking a long and zigzagging route to get there.

The same premise applies to organizations, including synergy groups.

A group with a clear sense of where it is going is stronger and more effective.  A vision (or direction) enables members to tailor their activities to helping the group reach its goals. This gives members a greater sense of purpose and understanding of the value of what they are doing.

Mission Statement - statement of purpose and business (primary methods)
Vision Statement - an image of the future we seek to create
Values Statement - guiding concepts, beliefs and principles

A group's vision, mission and values are the foundation for all the group does. It's helpful to involve as many stakeholders (people who have something at stake in the group) in this process to ensure all perspectives are taken into account during planning and to build a greater sense of ownership and commitment to the process and the outcomes (the vision, goals etc.).

Keep in mind that creating vision and mission statements isn't something only new groups should do. Existing groups need to consider updating existing vision and mission statements to reflect any changes in the group as it grows and evolves. Groups without a vision and mission benefit from taking time to create them and give members a clearer sense of direction.

  • A mission statement should describe an organizations reason for existing.
  • Mission and vision statements should be reviewed regularly to ensure they fully capture the group's purpose.

Once a group has a clear mission and vision - the foundation - it can move on to goal setting which is putting that vision and mission into action. Goals should be based on the mission and vision, and actions and activities should be based on achieving the goals. This builds groups that only undertakes activities that are relevant and that members understand the rationale. When members understand why a particular activity is valuable, they tend to be more enthusiastic and involved, keeping momentum going.

The end result of taking the time to create vision, mission and goals is a group that keeps moving forward, maintains interest of members and usually grows.

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DEVELOPING A WEBSITE

Synergy Alberta offers groups a professional, cost-effective and low-maintenance website. Groups can chose to create a webpage through the Synergy Alberta website in order to share more information with their communities and stakeholders.

Website uses include posting meeting minutes, dates and locations of upcoming meetings and events, links to best practices, publication of newsletters and lists of member companies.

To get started, fill out a Web Page Planning Worksheet [.doc] and e-mail it to webmaster@synergyalberta.ca.

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