Case Study: SOREM – Supporting Canadian Aboriginals
Senior Officials Responsible for Emergency Management (SOREM) – Defining an approach to service provision to Aboriginals
In late 2010, the Senior Officials Responsible for Emergency Management – a team drawn from senior Provincial and Territorial ranks, met to move forward some elements of their agenda to support emergency management needs for First Nations (both On- and Off-Reserve), Inuit and Northerners. The meeting was hosted, but not run, by Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, and attendees in the room included Senior Provincial/Territorial Managers, Senior officials from INAC, Health Canada and Public Safety Canada, and almost a dozen policy analysts from INAC who were ostensibly present to observe. That didn’t last!
All parties present would have spoken of a lack of trust and a lack of similar interests, particularly between the Federal and the Provincial/Territorial members in attendance. Indeed, when the CT Lead went around the horseshoe asking for names and organizations, it became clear that the left side of the horseshoe was all Feds; the right hand side was all Provincial and Territorial representation. With a laugh, the CT Lead instructed everyone to get a coffee, and instructed the room that he expected a far more “blended” seating structure when people retook their seats.
From up-front analytical work with the client, the CT team believed that there was a strong chance that both “sides” in this process actually wanted an outcome that was incredibly similar, but that tactical issues and years of politicking had created an environment where the forest could not be seen for the trees.
Thus, over the course of a wide ranging and yet highly structured 12-Windows situational analysis, the CT Lead enabled tremendous clarity within the room, and the common first principles were just jumping off the wall at the stakeholders in the room. Within the course of a three hour loosely-structured conversation, the level of trust in the room shifted profoundly, and by noon hour, there was a concrete sense that this workshop might be different from most of the rest.
After lunch, the CT Lead pointed to the Intention Question that was guiding the workshop, and held up a stack of templates that the client hoped the attendees might populate. With the client’s advance permission, the CT Lead challenged the room to determine if working on those templates was the most important thing they could do in service of the intention question. Within 20 minutes, the elephant in the room had been named. There was no linking document between Canada’s approved Emergency Management Framework document, and the services actually provided in the field by the provinces and territories. And all of the pain and anger and struggles existed because this document did not exist.
Finally, a Provincial executive spoke up and claimed the need for this document. The CT Lead queried the room, and when it was obviously unanimously supported, the CT Lead asked if the assembled team wanted to author said document – NOW. With some disbelief, it was agreed that they could try.
- In Round One, four teams drafted tables of contents.
- In Plenary One, one table of contents was facilitated through.
- In Round Two, the then-nine sections of the document were built, bullet point, by teams wandering from table to table.
- Overnight, the CT Team collated and assembled the draft document and made copies for everyone in attendance.
- The stakeholders arrived early, and through coffee and muffins, reviewed the draft and made individual changes.
- In Plenary Two, the entire group (35 people) wordsmithed each section of the document, cutting and pasting, adding and removing text to create the necessary document.
- By 11:00, short of flowery language and legalese, the document had been created. It would be patently untrue to state that the team was anything short of in awe of the work they had just accomplished.
- After an early lunch, the team reassembled to discuss a multiplicity of tactical issues and areas of contentions – but with the overarching strategy document written, issues fell away like autumn leaves in a heavy wind. By 1:00, there was literally, nothing left to do.
It is seldom that a two-day working group session is notable in any lasting way. However, this SOREM workshop appears to have been uncommon in the territory it covered, in the profound increase in trust levels that appeared, and in the highly unconventional approach that the client gave the CT team permission to use.
At the end of the event, we had still filled out none of the carefully designed and prepared charts that the client had originally wanted completed. They had become irrelevant, passed by because of the magnitude of the whole system shift that took place on the day.
One senior official stated that they had done “seven years work in eleven hours”. Another stated that they had “actually made history – they had actually DONE something that was going to improve peoples’ lives – meaningfully, directly, and soon”, over the course of these two days.
This was a truly Exceptional meeting. We would be delighted to work with client groups to make many more. From our point of view, we had a client who trusted in our process and who had the courage to go through some obvious points of discomfort, because she wanted to see a better future. Her courage and her permission to do what needed to be done, enabled the CT team to work exceptionally well in service of the room.