It may seem like an impossible challenge: crowdsourcing a narrative to build a better future for Canadians and their energy sector.
But if the first steps of a group out to create a compelling and coordinated narrative coalition around Canada’s global LNG opportunities are an example, there is clearly a need for better narrative connectivity between stakeholders.
At a recent Calgary meeting, a diverse group of stakeholders agreed it’s critical to ensure a future free of adversarial and divisive debate through more productive and constructive communications.
In other words: a coordinated narrative.
“Narrative,”of course, is a word introduced of late into the energy sector’s lexicon. Its acceptance is the result of recognition of two realities: first, industry has been inept at best at creating a narrative that defines and illuminates the value of “oil and gas” to Canadians; and second, forces that oppose the sector’s very existence at every turn are extraordinarily adept at the confrontational narrative game.
Recently, four organizers – JWN Energy, the Resource Works Society, Canadian Society for Unconventional Resources and the Canadian Global Affairs Institute – issued an open invitation to anyone interested in helping create and sustain a better narrative about LNG – with a focus on what it means to not only the Canadian natural gas economy domestically and internationally, but the overarching national interest as well.
The response was startling on a number of levels, noted JWN CEO Bill Whitelaw.
“We initially thought we might get a dozen people out; in the end, nearly 120 indicated an interest in the initiative – and as a result, we truly had a pan-national microcosm of interested parties. They all agreed on one key principle: it’s imperative we do a better job creating and sustaining a compelling narrative...it was a crowdsourcing approach at its best.”
Governments showed up. Investors showed up. First Nations showed up. Advocacy and technology groups showed up. Oilfield services companies showed up. Industry associations were there. Midstream and pipeline reps were there. Academics took a seat. Oh yes, oil and gas companies that produce natural gas also showed up, including partners within the massive LNG Canada consortium which represents the largest infrastructure investment in Canadian history.
During the session, attendees heard a diverse array of presentations; they listened to sector experts discuss the size of the prize and the dangers of missing the LNG brass ring by failing to coordinate.
This included the importance of nurturing true partnership with First Nations communities – partnerships that respect and honour First Nations culture and environmental ethos.
Attendees also heard how important it will be to avoid the regionalism to which Canada is so easily disposed – that if Canada is incapable in a complex global market of acting in a unified way, it will never be viewed as a serious global contender.
Stakeholders then offered their insights and priorities – and shared and commented on each other’s perspectives.
Key points of consensus:
- Politicians at all levels of government need to align and be better informed.
- Opponents of hydrocarbon development are very well organized – and the sector has to step up its game.
- Ordinary Canadians need to be better informed about the important role the energy sector plays in driving the Canadian economy.
- It is very possible to build a natural gas sector that will be pivotal in mapping Canada’s clean energy future.
- Canada has a key role to play in global climate leadership; in large part through its approach to regulation and innovation.
For CGAI president Kelly Ogle, the session underscored the importance of getting the public policy foundations right – a dynamic the Institute will explore in a 12-part series of peer-reviewed papers exploring Canada's place in a globalized LNG economy.
The papers are foundational to a successful narrative, noted Ogle.
"It's clear there's incredible complexity to be overcome...it's our view that good policy dialogue will help provide the clarity to navigate it."
One common bond cemented stakeholder perspectives: the LNG economy is too important an opportunity to let internal industry misalignments interfere with progress forward – indeed, it’s critical to stay ahead of the well-organized opposition forces determined to keep hydrocarbons locked below ground, noted Resource Works executive director Stewart Muir.
"The better aligned and more coordinated we are as a spectrum of stakeholders, the more efficient we will be at telling our stories to the right audience at the right time, for the right reasons," he added.
Next steps for the fledgling group include a similar session in Ottawa, in order to connect politicians and senior bureaucrats with the opportunity's dynamics, said CGAI's Ogle.
Another key next step will be to select the appropriate technology platform that lets stakeholders maintain a connected presence but that also allows them to pursue their own LNG strategies independently, but within sight of each other, explained Whitelaw.
“Narrative-building is not an overnight effort; we know we’re in a marathon, not a sprint,” he added.
“But if the good will we’ve seen in these early stages is an indicator, we have the right momentum. It’s now important to realize we have a tremendous amount of co-learning in front of us...as well as anticipating and proactively responding to obstacles we don’t yet see.”
For more information on the narrative coalition, please contact Whitelaw at firstname.lastname@example.org.