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The Oak Ridges Moraine as a Social Innovation: Strategic Vision as a Social-Ecological Interaction

Daniel D. P. McCarthy, Waterloo Institute for Social Innovation and Resilience and the Department of Environment and Resource Studies, University of Waterloo
Graham S. Whitelaw, School of Environmental Studies, Queens University
Frances R. Westley, JW McConnell Chair in Social Innovation, Waterloo Institute for Social Innovation and Resilience
Debbe D. Crandall, Debbe Day Crandall Save the Oak Ridges Moraine Coalition
David Burnett, Manager, Regional and Provincial Policy, Toronto and Region Conservation


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The Oak Ridges Moraine (ORM) case is unique in that it represents a social innovation in Canadian, if not North American, ecosystem-based land-use planning. A social innovation is an initiative, product, process, or program that profoundly changes the basic routines, resources, and authority flows or beliefs of any social system. Successful social innovations have durability and broad impact. We interpret the narrative of the ORM conservation process to explore the utility of an emerging social innovation conceptual model, the ‘vision as social interaction’ framework using resilience thinking and the role of vision in social change within complex social-ecological systems. Qualitative data from two interrelated studies of the moraine were reinterpreted and include 38 in-depth, semistructured interviews conducted between 2004-2006, as well as extensive participant observation at over 50 moraine conservation meetings, workshops, and events. The results of our study indicate that emerging model of social innovation can be linked with other models of ‘radical change’ such as those that employ concepts like ‘policy windows’ to describe opportunities for continued innovation once an initiative has reached the routinized phase. Just as with the panarchy cycle, when a social-ecological system reaches the conservation phase, the system has a propensity to collapse and reorganize. Rather than seeing this as the end of an initiative or program, such as is the case with the ORM, stakeholders can see it as an opportunity for reorganization with newly released resources and new opportunities.

Key words

Oak Ridges Moraine; social-ecological systems; social innovation; strategic vision

Copyright © 2014 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087