A longtime rural resident, I use my 60 plus years of life learning to opinionate here and elsewhere on the “interweb” on everything from politics to environmental issues. A believer in reasonable discourse rather than unhelpful attacks I try to give positive input to the blogesphere, so feel free to comment upon rural issues or anything else posted here. But don’t be surprised if you comments get zapped if you are not polite in your replys.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Committee Work

Or perhaps better titled seeking consensus within a committee! I have recently become involved with a major project to rebuild & update the internet presence of a local organization that, in that it is not really a corporate entity nor really simply a 'club but rests somewhere between those two, seeks consensus via a committee. Having been involved in a number committees over the years both formal in a work setting, and informal in a club setting, as well as having been on the executive of several clubs I can say that the approach to such committee work varies considerably. Some run very formally with very structured discussions and a recorded vote upon issues where the majority rules, others may allow extensive discussion but in the end what the chairperson wants is what gets done (something like how the Harper 'government' works). In most cases the preferred option is to build consensus, where there is disagreement we should try to find middle ground, seek compromise between two opposing positions and leave everybody in a position that they can say “I can live with that”.

A committee is a thing which takes a week to do what one good man can do in an hour.” - Elbert Hubbard

In my view this is by far the best way to approach working with or for a committee, if members of a group go away disgruntled that their point of view did not get heard or was dismissed arbitrarily then they will not be receptive to your point of view in the future, and if working in a volunteer capacity may well decide to go on to other less frustrating activities. Seeking such consensus will inevitably lead to extended discussions which center around the various options available and the personal opinion of each participant at the table, such things can often go around and around interminably, it is the chairs job to decide at which point to bring such 'discussions' to a head without offending anyone. This can often be difficult when strong opinions are held.

A committee is organic rather than mechanical in its nature: it is not a structure but a plant. It takes root and grows, it flowers, wilts, and dies, scattering the seed from which other committees will bloom in their turn.” - C. Northcote Parkinson

With modern communications such 'discussions' often take place at virtual meetings by a series of emails, this is a great way to get things done without dragging folks to a central location every couple of days but it has its own set of pitfalls. The first is the tendency when replying to someone who has responsibility for one particular issue of replying to just them and not including all the group, emails should almost always have a copy to all members. This may result in some folks getting reams of emails which they have little need to reply to but they are kept 'in the loop', do not feel they are being passed by regarding the topic and can always ignore them if they wish. The second thing to beware of is how quickly and almost without thought we all hit that 'send' button, true it takes a little longer to screw up when typing than when speaking directly (at least for one finger keyboard peckers like me) but once sent your thoughts are documented and non retrievable. Having such conversations 'documented' is in the whole scheme of thing a good thing in that previous input, decisions and opinions can be reviewed without the '”but you said.....” arguments, which is why it is important to review your text before hitting send.

To get something done a committee should consist of no more than three people, two of whom are absent.” - Robert Copeland

I am guilty on that score all to often, whilst articles like this one are assembled over several days and reviewed numerous times before publication I tend to treat email 'conversations' much the same as face to face conversations and reply with my immediate reaction without thinking it through. This can often result in one or more 'I forgot to say....' follow up emails which can be most disconcerting for the recipients. I find one way to avoid that is to formulate each answer to a complex and ongoing issue in a document as they emerge and then review and edit it at the end of the day before sending it off. This can slow down the 'discussion' sometimes but often clarifies the issues and certainly give one time to 'rethink' your response.

Any committee is only as good as the most knowledgeable, determined and vigorous person on it. There must be somebody who provides the flame.” - Claudia Lady Bird Johnson

I am sure my fellow committee members will be interested to read this and it remains to be seen if I practice what I preach! If my primary goal of fostering open and honest discussion is met then I am sure they will let me know. I hope I can provide that 'Flame'! In that regard I must now 'review' this post before publication and add a brief summary how I believe a committee meeting should proceed be it face to face or online in some form.

  • Foster open and honest discussions where no idea or opinion is dismissed without due consideration.
  • Try to keep the discussions focused but know when to move on when consensus cannot be reached.
  • Beware excluding any member from a discussion, particularly one with whom you disagree.
  • Think before you speak or hit that send button, your remarks may be misconstrued by some..
  • Review and summarize your discussions frequently in order to clarify the status of issue under consideration.
  • Above all do not take critique as a personal attack, you SHOULD all be working towards the same goal and finding flaws in any proposal is a GOOD thing.

In this case the committee of one reached complete consensus on the text of this post!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Thousands of Lakes and Rivers left unprotected.

This from the Sixth Estate which deserves to be re-posted in full
As I noted previously, the Navigable Waters Act is being renamed the Navigation Protection Act and the environmental protection which the federal government once extended, basically, to any body of water you could paddle a canoe on is now being restricted to a special shortlist of 62 rivers and 97 lakes (plus the three oceans). In a country that has tens of thousands of rivers and lakes, obviously this is going to involve a great deal of environmental and legislative carnage. Last post, I noted that this removed the majority of Canada’s longest rivers from protection under the navigable waters law.
Today I’d like to do the same thing for lakes. According to Wikipedia, Canada has about 32,000 lakes “larger than three square kilometres” and 561 lakes “larger than 100″ square kilometres. The first list is obviously too long to go into here: it goes without saying that 97 out of 32,000 is not very impressive. (Plus there are some that are not that large yet still are protected: for instance, the Conservatives took special care to protect a small puddle in the middle of Ottawa called Dow’s Lake, which I can’t imagine is that large, though I could be wrong.) There’s not even any point working with the list of 561 lakes, since I can already tell you without looking that more than 85% of them can’t be on the list, mathematically speaking.
What we can do, though, is look at Natural Resources Canada’s list of lakes over 400 square kilometres — that is, the very largest lakes in Canada. From there, we can see that the federal government has failed to include three of B.C.’s five largest lakes (Babine, Atlin, and Ootsa); all of Alberta’s largest lakes; and, as with the rivers, has all but written off the northern territories as free and ungoverned.
For strict comparison purposes, I decided to shorten the list even further, to just those lakes over 1000 square kilometres. Only 15 of Canada’s 43 largest lakes — lakes over 1000 square kilometres — are now protected as navigable waters. Those that didnt’ make the cut include lakes Aberdeen, Bras D’Or, Lesser Slave, Lac la Ronge, Cree Lake, the Gouin Reservoir, Lac Seul, Lac Mistassini, and the Smallwood Reservoir, Lac Manicouagan, and the Robert Bourassa reservoir.

What more can be said the attack upon the environmental protection of our Natural Heritage by the Harper Regimen continues without pause.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Rural Internet Survey Results

Survey Results.

A couple of months ago in order to try and get an idea of what reaction folks would have to a forum dedicated to Rural Affairs and how many rural folk were restricted in their internet access and thus we perhaps less inclined to use such communication methods I posted a survey on these pages. Having been very disappointed with the lack of data emerging from a more comprehensive survey by the Woman’s Institute of Ontario in their Rural Voices project I promised to share any results with my readers for all to see.

Here then are the results to date, please note that the response was understandably very small given my readership and that any online survey asking about internet use is automatically biased by both the method of data collection and by those inclined to answer such surveys. That said here are the results.


Rural Respondents 57.10%

Urban Respondents 42.90%

Type of internet connection. (Choice)


Cable or wireless 200k - 1m bps 35.70%

Hub or Stick 50k - 200k bps 28.60%

Greater than 1 m bps 28.60%

Dialup less than 50k bps 7.10%

No connection at home 0.00%

Internet connection limits (choice)


Unlimited 35.70%

10 Mb or less without extra charge 28.60%

3 Mb or less without extra charge 21.40%

Over 10 Mb without extra charge but not unlimited 14.30%

Most used online discussion methods (multiple choice)


Online forum or discussion sites 57.10%

Email 'lists' and digests 50.00%

Online bulletin boards 35.70%

Online audio conferencing 21.40%

Online video chat or conferencing 14.30%

Online chat sites 7.10%

None of the above 42.90%

Use by respondents of a Forum dedicated to Rural matters. (Choice)


Perhaps, depending upon how it was used / presented 64.30%

Yes 21.40%

Yes, if it were local content 7.10%

Not probable 7.10%

No, I hate online forums. 0.00%

How respondents get information about their LOCAL community (Ranked)

Rank (only top 3 choices shown) 1 2 3
Directly from others in the community (face to face) 46.20% 23.10% 0.00%
Via the Internet 30.80% 7.70% 38.50%
By email 7.70% 30.80% 7.70%
From the local newspaper 7.70% 15.40% 7.70%
From radio or TV 7.70% 7.70% 23.10%
By phone from others in the community 0.00% 15.40% 23.10%

Some notes and comments upon the results:-

Examination of the individual responses indicate that the majority of those with high speed unlimited connections are urban residents whilst most of those with less than optimal connections are rural citizens, this is as expected and reflects the patchy availability such services in rural areas.
100% of those who did use some kind of online discussion method (excluding 'social media') visited Forums of some kind but more than 1 in 4 did not use any such methods of exchanging information. Given that this was an online survey this is a little surprising, perhaps they are enamored with facebook & twitter which I do not regard as a place for serious discussion and information sharing.
Even given the above nearly all the respondents said they WOULD use a forum dedicated to rural matters although most said it would depend upon how it was presented.
Almost half said that most of their local information was obtained by face to face communications however the internet came in a strong second, email, radio, TV & newspapers all showed up as generally the 3rd, 4th or 5th choices.

All in all an interesting glimpse of something which we need a lot more information about, StatsCan does have figures on internet use but as far as I can tell no information as to the type of connection by rural / urban split. Unfortunately due to the very small sampling of this survey such information remains elusive, any pointers to more information in this regard would be greatly appreciated..

The link to the survey will remain valid for a while, feel free to add your data to it. If the results change substantially with more respondents I will update the results.