Theory of Change
We are proud to present our first theory of change. We undertook this rigorous planning and evaluation process to hold ourselves accountable to the change our organization can make in Canada — and to identify HOW we’re going to do that. This process helped us better understand the connection between our actions and vision and identify intermediate steps that result in the outcomes we aim to achieve.
Our theory of change is a living document, and will be further refined as we move forward to create our impact measurement and evaluation process, and test our strategies.
Canada has recently developed a plan to set Canada on a path to achieve a prosperous net-zero emissions future by 2050. Energy use, and its reduction and optimization, has a direct and outsized impact of reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Communities are responsible for over half of Canada’s energy use and GHG emissions. For Canada to meet or exceed its climate and net-zero targets in a just way, communities must be involved in the solutions.
Communities are important because they are the ecosystem in which society functions. Canada needs communities to change the systems and structures embedded in our society and institutions to achieve a truly durable and just net-zero economy.
Communities experience many benefits from lower GHG emissions and pollutants, to energy and health expenditure savings, to greater resilience to the impacts of climate change. They are healthy, prosperous, resilient and just and will achieve their energy and climate-related goals.
500 diverse communities in Canada are implementing durable and just net-zero strategies by 2030.
Net-zero strategies are strategies implemented at the local level that enable a community to achieve and maintain community-wide emissions at net-zero. With a focus on energy, economy and environment, the strategies move communities from vision to implementation by establishing widespread political, staff and stakeholder support, building staff and financial capacity for implementation, and embedding net-zero emission targets and energy system transition and integration objectives into the plans, policies and processes of the local government.
Why did we choose 500 communities as a target?
Canada has over 5,000 communities, and we believe that 500 diverse net-zero communities is the tipping point representing the critical mass implementing net-zero strategies to realize sustained larger impact.
We’re aiming for large-scale change — the size of change needed if Canada is to meet its targets. To achieve this, partnerships are key. The strategies we have are indicative of QUEST Canada working with and through others to meet our intended impact. We’re focused on the number of communities implementing, no matter who they interacted with to get there.
Canada cannot achieve its net-zero objective without the participation of communities. Below are four primary conditions that are necessary for communities in Canada to effectively contribute to the net-zero objective.
Institutional and Corporate Readiness — a strong backing of independent, open, inclusive, adaptable, and stable energy decision making systems and corresponding governance models that are expeditious, accountable, and backed by knowledgeable and reliable government institutions. This is a must for the successful adoption of clean technology, much of which will occur as grid connected distributed energy resources and/or integrated solutions at the local level.
Aligned Financial Mechanisms — establishing financial mechanisms that enable significant investment from the private sector and strong returns on investment is also critical for the deployment of local energy and energy efficiency solutions as governments do not have the funds needed for the scale of investment required.
Market Supportive Policies — currently in Canada there is a misalignment between existing energy policy frameworks and climate objectives and further misalignment between the plans, policies and processes between all three levels of government and Indigenous communities. In many cases, the pace of change is contributing to an absence of meaningful public engagement and strong intergovernmental cooperation which is contributing to unclear and unstable policy environments that lack public support.
Local Implementation Capacity — local governments have been handed the responsibility of facilitating the implementation of climate mitigation and adaptation solutions, retrofitting building stock, enabling low-emission transportation systems, addressing energy poverty and more but most lack the capacity to deliver on or outsource the implementation of these outcomes. Arming local enablers with the capacity (time, skills and resources related to governance, partnership, finance, data, policy, and other aspects) is critical to achieving our net-zero future.
Strategies and Actions
QUEST Canada will pursue the four strategies below to realize our intended impact. The strategies are interconnected, mutually reinforcing, supported by strong partnerships, and work together to result in outcomes that create the enabling conditions needed to realize our impact. Each strategy has associated actions.
Strategy 1: Nurture Strategic Partnerships
To meet our ambitious goal, we can’t do it alone. This is why this strategy encompasses the others. QUEST Canada will need to build and strengthen strategic partnerships to realize economies of scale, to scale proven services, and to provide greater value to those we serve.
Partnerships with QUEST Canada
- Formalize delivery partnerships with organizations in areas of the country QUEST Canada isn’t currently in, and who have expertise in net-zero and community energy and emission planning to
- achieve economies of scope;
- reduce redundancies in the service provider space;
- make the ecosystem easier for communities to understand; and
- support implementation of net-zero and community energy plans.
- communications and marketing partnerships with organizations that have a large network of our target audiences and align with our brand to increase awareness;
- advocacy partnerships to have a stronger, more inclusive voice;
- data and/or academic partnerships with organizations that could fill information gaps, inform research, and reduce redundancies;
- partnerships with Indigenous knowledge and practice organizations to respect the realities and needs of Indigenous communities, and integrate Indigenous ways of doing into our offerings; and
- partnerships with organizations working with traditionally marginalized groups to respect their realities and needs.
- Partner to develop community energy and/or net-zero community standards and/or standardized tools with those in the sector.
- Evolve advisory services and/or programs to support net-zero and community energy implementation.
- Ensure reflection, learning and sharing occur among all partners. Build robust knowledge retention and continuous improvement processes to maintain built capacities internally and externally. Promote experiential learning of staff through collaboration.
Strategy 2: Facilitate Connections
The net-zero and community energy space is complex and evolving. A trusted, knowledgeable, nationwide organization is needed to vet and disseminate resources, provide platforms to share best practices and knowledge, and build alignment to reduce redundancies and spur innovation and action. QUEST Canada will facilitate information sharing and help create alignment and shared understanding among net-zero community capacity-holders or champions (NZCCs) to support local decision-making and implementation.
Partnerships QUEST Canada Facilitates
- Facilitate connections within and amongst NZCCs by breaking down silos and fostering collaboration. This can be internal to a subset of NZCCs, and/or between different NZCCs.
- Coordinate communities of practice to share lessons learned, best practices, and to promote experiential learning of participants through collaboration and implementation.
- Use our tools and services as platforms for connections.
- Act as a bridge between academic research and NZCCs.
Communications and Marketing
- Strengthen our communications and marketing capacity (including by partnering with others) to
- more clearly articulate the value of becoming a net-zero community;
- conduct outreach to those who have shown interest in our work to engage them in becoming a net-zero community;
- ensure QUEST Canada and our programs and services have adequate promotion with push and pull marketing levers;
- promote and celebrate successes of communities;
- continuously promote existing and new tools and offerings; and
- add value to our advocacy efforts.
Strategy 3: Empower Community Champions
To reach the implementation and fulfillment stages of reaching net-zero, NZCCs require the know-how and connections to take action. QUEST Canada will develop and share the knowledge and resources needed to improve community contribution to the net-zero target.
- Identify gaps in knowledge and tools, and the interventions needed to reach our intended impact
- Apply mechanisms to incorporate equity, diversity, and inclusion principles.
- Continuously create and update tools and offerings to maintain relevance and ensure ease of use.
- Explore developing net-zero community standards with those in the sector.
- Focus on increasing knowledge and tool capacity amongst NZCCs.
- Inform NZCCs about their roles and ability to influence.
- Cultivate net-zero leaders to provide mentorship and/or leadership.
- Develop and promote educational resources targeted at NZCCs.
- Ensure reflection, learning, and sharing occurs internally and externally.
- Build robust knowledge retention and continuous improvement processes to maintain built capacities internally and externally.
- Promote experiential learning of staff through collaboration.
- Ensure robust feedback and integration mechanisms amongst partners to maintain relevance and usefulness of tools and services.
Strategy 4: Influence Decision Makers
The current policy and regulatory environments need to evolve to reduce barriers to taking action, and to provide the necessary support to those ready to take action. QUEST Canada and partners will influence all levels of government, utility, and private sector decision makers to create policies and programs that enable the implementation of community energy initiatives for a durable, sustainable, and just energy system.
- Use the Leaders’ Dialogue to raise community-level needs and concerns.
- Conduct research to identify policy barriers and potential solutions, and to inform creation of new policies.
- Proactively provide input into policy, regulation, programs and/or processes to enable net-zero community policy and support
- at the federal and provincial/territorial levels to remove barriers and/or provide more power to local NZCCs to implement community energy solutions; and
- with the private sector to partner with other NZCCs and to invest in implementing solutions.
The process by which individuals and organizations obtain, improve, and retain the skills, knowledge, tools, equipment, and other resources needed to do their jobs competently.
Individuals and institutions within a smaller-than-provincial/territorial geography bound by a form of organized government.
Community energy and emissions plan
A tool that defines a community’s priorities around energy and emissions. While there is no standard approach this often includes community energy and emissions inventories, goals, and actions and timelines for implementation, and is ideally informed by ongoing, meaningful community engagement.
Communities are individuals and institutions within a smaller-than-provincial/territorial geography bound by a form of organized government (may include regions, cities, townships, hamlets, reserves/settlement areas, etc.). Individuals or institutions within the community who possess strengths and resources that add value to the development and implementation of net-zero or community energy plans are net-zero community capacity-holders or champions (NZCC) (distinct from rights-holders and stakeholders). This includes Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities and their governing structures at all levels, utilities, the development sector, tech and service providers, and possibly others (unique to community context and/or investment opportunity) who are located in communities of all different shapes and sizes from all areas of the country.
The ability for communities and strategies to maintain/ continue at a consistent level over a long period of time while withstanding obstacles that may arise.
Strategies that prioritize resilience and well-being as opposed to colonialism, human rights abuses, social inequity, ecological degradation, and climate change.
There is not yet a consensus on either an exact definition of a net-zero community or the accounting principle criteria, so QUEST Canada will need to be flexible in its approach as these concepts evolve. The concept of ‘net-zero’ is based on accounting procedures. All energy consumption or GHG emissions generating activities within a given geographic area are counted on one side of the ledger, and all of the energy production or carbon sequestration activities are counted on the other. Combined, the result is a net of ‘0’. A zero-sum balance indicates significant environmental and economic benefits.
Net-zero community capacity-holders or champions (NZCC)
Individuals or institutions within the community who possess strength and resources that add value to the development and implementation of net-zero strategies.
Strategies implemented at the local level that enable a community to achieve and sustain community-wide emissions at net-zero. With a focus on energy, economy and environment, the strategies move communities from vision to implementation by establishing widespread political, staff and stakeholder support, building staff and financial capacity for implementation, and embedding net-zero emission targets and energy system transition and integration objectives into the community energy and emissions plans (or equivalents), policies and processes of the local government.
The quality of not being harmful to the environment or depleting natural resources and the ability to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.