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Starting a Synergy Group

Synergy Alberta has compiled the following resources as guidance for starting new synergy groups. If you're setting up a new group, we want your group to succeed and we'd like to help. Please contact us.

 

BEFORE YOU START

Synergy groups form for a variety of reasons. Sometimes groups are initiated by community - to seek information, provide information or address issues or concerns related to resource development in an area. Other times, groups are initiated by industry looking to proactively share information on proposed projects and gather input from the  community and other potentially impacted stakeholders in a project area.

Either way, synergy groups connect people and organizations, facilitate information sharing and allow for input on projects or issues by all stakeholders. They offer everyone – community, industry and regulator – a voice at the table and a vehicle for working collaboratively.

To be endorsed for membership in Synergy Alberta, synergy groups must meet Synergy Alberta membership criteria. These criteria are designed to ensure that groups maintain the core elements for a successful operational structure and that they follow Synergy Principles as defined by Synergy Alberta.

 

INITIATING A GROUP IN YOUR COMMUNITY

Once you've decided that forming a synergy group for your community has value, what comes
next? If you contact Synergy Alberta  we will be able to
provide you with information that may be relevant to your area and can help support the
development of a group tailored to the specific needs of your situation.

Facilitation

Past experience has shown that having skilled facilitation by someone who is experienced in synergy and community group development can be key to the success of new groups. Synergy Alberta can provide you with assistance in this area.

A facilitator acts as a neutral and unbiased party whose role is to objectively provide process guidance and help the group to stay on track and have efficient meetings. They will also promote collaboration and assist the group in identifying goals and selecting activities.

A facilitator can help balance participation between outgoing and quieter group members. Many facilitators are trained in dealing with conflict and can be key to moving forward effectively and building relationships between members when a group is formed in response to a contentious issue.

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Getting the word out:

A synergy group is nothing without people. Getting the right people to attend initial meetings is important and requires some resourcefulness. Consideration needs to be given to who your target participants are and how you will communicate with them. The following worksheets can assist you with this:

  • Starting a Synergy Group - Worksheet 2: Who Should Participate
  • Starting a Synergy Group - Worksheet 6: Communicating
  • Word of mouth - This is an excellent way to get people out to a first organizational meeting and follow up meetings / events. It also gives you a chance to explain the importance and answer questions.
  • Neighbouring synergy groups - Check in with synergy groups you share borders with for industry member contacts who might also operate in your area, as well as community people who live near the boundary. You can also ask other groups what they've found works well (or not) in communicating with the community in your area. Send public event invitations to these groups to be shared with their members.
  • Newsletters and E-newsletters - Newsletters are a great way to get information to a large number of people. When starting out, new synergy groups will often utilize the existing newsletters of their participating member agencies, companies, municipalities, etc. to promote their group and share information.
    Having your groups own newsletter does require some time and expense but could be a good way to disseminate information in your synergy group's region. E-newsletters are much more economical to distribute but remember Canadian Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL) requirements must be adhered to when creating or utilizing distribution lists.
  • Social Media - There are several social media platforms available that you can use to spread the word about your group. Understanding what demographics make up your target audience can help you decide which ones are best suited to reaching them. It is important to ensure that any content you place on your social media sites will be in alignment with the guiding principles of synergy and your group. (i.e. respect, transparency, etc.)
  • Media/Press Releases - It's worth taking the time to learn about writing press releases or
    other submitted material. Groups can use the media to help spread their message, contact
    details and information about events and meetings. Advertising in a newspaper or on a radio
    station can be purchased, but there may also be no-cost options available.

    Community newspapers are especially interested in new initiatives going on in their regions,
    coming events etc., and often welcome submitted material if it is well-written and includes
    relevant information. Some groups build relationships with their local newspaper and submit
    regular columns updating community members on group activities, upcoming meeting dates,
    information nights, etc.
    Sample media releases:
  • Operators' Groups - Operator's groups can provide contact information on which members of an industry are active in your area or they can send out the information to their members on your behalf.
  • Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) - The AER has representatives in each field centre office who are responsible for assisting the public. If you are able to provide a boundary area to search, the AER staff member can provide you with a list of oil and gas companies that operate within the boundaries you requested.

GROUP STRUCTURE AND MEMBERSHIP

Every synergy group is unique. In fact, each group's strength lies in its individuality. Synergy groups tend to be community-based and therefore each group is different based on the community it operates in.

Membership:

Synergy groups include representation from various stakeholder groups: community (residents and landowners), industry and regulators. Participation by these three stakeholder sectors is required for endorsement for membership in Synergy Alberta.

Other participants frequently include representatives from municipalities, health authorities, government agencies, local businesses and other resource development industries.

Structures:

Synergy groups generally fit into one of three main structures ranging from very informal to incorporated societies with full-time employees.

  • Informal: This involves groups that don't necessarily adhere to regular meeting schedules and may or may not have an executive. They tend to meet more on an as-needed basis, often at the kitchen table of a member. They rarely have paid staff or a large budget.

    Group membership also varies from lifetime dues to annual payments or simply anyone interested may participate and be included in meetings and other communications.
  • Semi-formal: These groups tend to hold to a regular meeting schedule, including semi-regular public events such as information nights. Many of them employ a facilitator on a contract basis. Finances are handled in a variety of ways by these groups including some with bank accounts and scheduled invoicing to others which have member companies handle expenses on a rotating basis.

    Group membership also varies from lifetime dues to annual payments or simply anyone interested may participate and be included in meetings and other communications.
  • Formal: This structure includes groups with larger budgets, paid memberships, regular invoicing, part- or full-time employees and regular meeting structures. These groups are usually incorporated, are run by a board, have an elected executive and formal committees and processes as part of their structure.

    Group membership also varies from lifetime dues to annual payments or simply anyone interested in participating and be included in meetings and other communications. These groups tend to strive for representation from all areas in their regions, often with representatives from each area.

It is important to document whatever structure your group chooses in some form of terms of reference. This clear line of sight to who you are, what you do and how you do it, provides clarity and consistency for understanding both internally and externally. The tools below can help your group to define its structure.

Tools for setting up your group structure and sample terms of reference:

For more information on any of Synergy Alberta’s member groups, please see the Synergy Groups section for links to group websites and group contact information.

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SET A DIRECTION - CREATE A VISION AND MISSION, SET GOALS

A group with a clear sense of where it is going is stronger and more effective. Members are enabled to tailor their activities to helping the group reach its goals and have a greater sense of purpose and understanding of the value of what they are doing.

A group's vision, mission and values are the foundation for all the group does. It's helpful to involve as many stakeholders (people who have something at stake in the group) in this process to ensure all perspectives are taken into account during planning and to build a greater sense of ownership and commitment to the process and the outcomes (the vision, goals etc.).

The group's vision, mission and values should define the following:
Mission Statement - statement of purpose and business (organization's reason for existing)
Vision Statement - an image of the future we seek to create
Values Statement - guiding concepts, beliefs and principles

The following worksheet can be helpful in this process:

Once a group has a clear mission and vision - the foundation - it can move on to goal setting which is putting that vision and mission into action. Goals should be based on the mission and vision, and actions and activities should be based on achieving the goals. This builds groups that only undertake activities that are relevant based on a rationale that members understand. When members understand why a particular activity is valuable, they tend to be more enthusiastic and involved, which keeps momentum going.


The end result of taking the time to create vision, mission and goals is a group that keeps moving forward, maintains interest of members and usually grows.

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FINANCES AND FUNDING

Synergy Groups cover their operating expenses in a variety of ways. Most groups collect funds from participating industry members to pay for meetings, events, facilitation, etc. The financial burden is generally placed upon the participating companies primarily because they are creating the impacts being addressed. Other stakeholders may contribute to the group in other ways, through time, effort, meeting space, and other in-kind donations.

Establishing and documenting a budget provides clear accountability for the use of funds and is necessary in order to meet the endorsement criteria for membership in Synergy Alberta. Budgets do not need to be complex and Synergy Alberta can provide assistance with this.

Some examples of funding and contribution models:

  • Membership fees charged to all members (community and industry)
  • Membership fees charged to industry participants
    • Based on activity levels in the group's area
    • Flat rate for all companies active in the group
  • Participating companies covering expenses on a rotational basis. This can include two companies sharing expenses of larger events such as public information events which cost more than regular group/planning meetings.
  • Grant applications
  • Municipalities or other interested parties supporting activities such as free use of meeting space in county building, college facilities to host larger events etc.


Budget, funding and grant resource links: