Climate change action requires social actors everywhere, in all sectors and disciplines, to work together regardless of location or affiliation. Similarly, communities everywhere are facing development pressures and little consensus about how to change current development paths. Natural and social scientists, municipal, provincial, and federal government, academic researchers, business leaders, and decision makers -- we need dialogue and knowledge transfer at all levels. Since climate change action and sustainable community development are ‘messy’ and ‘wicked’ problems--meaning that they go beyond any one sector, level of government, or discipline to solve--they present significant challenges that require ongoing innovation and collaboration. Traditional ways of meeting are no longer enough.
High up on the list of such challenges are the transaction costs of conducting interdisciplinary research and sustaining community campaigns. It takes too much money and time to move large teams across the country, for communities to access research and best practices, to learn from one another about what has worked and what is not working. This is why interdisciplinary research networks and community groups need virtual spaces to meet and share research and ideas in between face to face meetings. CoLabS is this virtual space.
A second major challenge is that there is no single right answer to the messy and wicked problems of now facing communities and researchers. Rather, there are multiple solutions and multiple pathways. Instead of thinking about working with ‘outside’ input (e.g. outside academia, or outside a single sector of government), CoLabS puts forth a new way of collaborating that upends the hierarchy of inside and outside. We all need to connect and cohere with as many diverse actors as possible, meaning that we are all in the middle of a network with no outside edges. This is what we mean by a true trans-disciplinary virtual space dedicated to communities.
A third challenge is overlap and access. Many efforts to embrace climate change action and sustainable development paths are often reactive, occur on a one-time basis, and are not documented, evaluated, or shared, as our community campaigns facing development pressures. For this, CoLabS focuses on campaigns at the municipal level. Larger Canadian cities all have climate plans, but smaller ones--who are often hit harder by damage--do not. If we open up access and facilitate a space for communities to document their efforts and participate directly with citizens (with no transaction costs or time delays), we can help civil society leaders to more effectively collaborate.
Finally, working virtually means that research dissemination and knowledge sharing occurs in real time. Best practises for achieving sustainable community development can be instantly shared between community campaigns, and research can be quickly translated into practice.