Context

Human societies are becoming more complex due to increasing dynamic interconnections between human and natural systems (Dale 2001; Norgaard 1994; Holling 2002). We cannot afford to continue to merely react to climate change; vector-borne diseases such as West Nile; global transmission of illnesses such as SARS; fishery collapses; human security; energy and water shortages, at the cost of diverting resources from our country’s future innovation and competitiveness. It is clear that Canada must move from reactive to proactive sustainable development strategies for decarbonization, climate change adaptation and mitigation, industrial ecology, energy security and transportation demand, to avoid lurching from one disaster to another. 

Contributing to these failures are critical information gaps and large coordination failures in terms of channeling the appropriate resources to the right target (Sabel 2001), that dramatically impact on individual community competitiveness and Canada’s future comparative advantage. One way of closing these ‘gaps’ is the mobilization of intellectual and social capital within and across Canadian communities; any one community cannot deal with them in isolation, as unsustainable development spans traditional jurisdictions and local capacity. Unsustainable development can be seen as a fundamental failure to learn from our history of boom and bust cycles of exploitation, lurching from one species substitution to the next, as extirpation occurs. And if unsustainable development is a failure to learn, we need to develop new models of ‘learning communities’ based on sharing (S-learning) strategies, where knowledge is shared within and without organizations with the intent of increasing the volume of opportunities with the strategic advantage of shifting the speed of exploitation of knowledge (Kurtz and Snowden 2002). New transdisciplinary and social network formations designed to stimulate collaboration between researchers, early adopters and marketers building upon new coalitions, strategic alliances and leadership are critical to achieving sustainable community development (Dale 2001; Onyx and Bullen 2000; Snowden 2002).c or managed origin, rather “it is about dealing with people and their diverse cultures, interests, visions, priorities and needs” (Norgaard 1995; Cornick 1996). One of the major reasons why these issues remain largely unresolved is the gridlock in the planning and implementation processes for decision-making. This gridlock is not due to lack of research, knowledge and information residing in communities, rather, an ‘implementation gap’ has arisen as a result of the numerous solitudes, silos and stovepipes (Dale 2001) that characterize the research, business and government sectors. Others have referred to fundamental disconnections—between federal, regional and local governments, between rural and urban communities, and critically, between the business and research communities (Bradford 2003; Dale 2001). One example is when provincial policy for environmental protection is undermined by municipal development plans that sprawl into farmlands and greenspace and increase the need for private automobile commuting (Slack 2002), impacting on federal Kyoto agreements. Another example is the collapse of the East Coast cod fisheries, with seemingly little knowledge transfer to the West Coast fisheries.