The purpose of this report is to provide detailed, up-to-date information on the wide selection of software tools currently available to First Nations. The referral process in the Province of British Columbia has developed as a result of court cases that found that the Provincial and Federal Crown have a legal duty to consult and, where necessary, accommodate First Nations when development activities are being carried out within their traditional territories. The referral process is triggered anytime the Crown is about to make a decision which may impact Aboriginal rights. This has resulted in an inundation of almost daily referrals upon sometimes small First Nations with limited staff and resources. Organizing, prioritizing, analyzing and responding to referrals in a meaningful and effective way has proven to be a major logistical and administrative challenge for Nations today.
To assist First Nations in meeting this challenge, several referrals management software tools and solutions have been developed, and over the last decade a competitive market for such products has emerged. Understanding and keeping up to date with all of the different software tools and solutions available to First Nations is difficult, as is making decisions about how to best manage referrals.
In an effort to provide the most relevant and up to date information on referrals management software tools available to First Nations today, we reached out to both software providers and users in British Columbia. Referrals management software tools are highly customizable and include value added services which complement each system, as well as constant updates making any static documentation or review of the software quickly obsolete. Further, because each situation is unique, our own experiences using the systems may not reflect those of First Nations. We encourage any Nation looking for referrals management software solutions to use this report simply as an introduction and starting point for the options available, and to reach out to software providers directly to better understand how they can support them in their particular situation.
The Software Providers
- Referral Tracking System (RTS)
- Stewardship Planning Portal
- Lightship (Formerly Lightship Labs)
- Community KnowledgeKeeper (CKK)
- Louis Toolkit
Main Challenges of Referrals departments
- Finding, training, and retaining referrals management staff, particularly those with GIS experience or other technical expertise, seemed to be a major challenge for First Nations
- Data entry was one of the most difficult aspects of managing referrals, regardless of which or whether a software was being used
- Training staff on software almost always seemed to be a challenge, and there is always a long learning curve
- A lack of funding for managing referrals and paying for software
- Constant updates to software can require re-training on the same system, or the modification of a feature that was previously used
- As with any technology, there are always bugs that need to be fixed
- Troubleshooting software can become costly in terms of both time and resources
Benefits of Referrals Management Software Systems
- Proponents can enter their own data into the system, saving time for the First Nation
- Built in mapping means non-GIS staff can conduct simple spatial analyses
- Ability to carry out cumulative impact analyses in ways that were not possible before
- Streamline the referrals process and centralize all data into a web accessible system
- Integration of traditional use studies and other field data into referrals assessments
- Simplified tracking of referrals and comments
- Software updates can provide new helpful features
Other Important Themes
- Focusing on engagement with proponents rather than the referrals process itself can be a better way to achieve desirable results for the First Nation
- Having community liaisons or cultural monitors on staff is an important way of engaging communities in the consultation process and ‘ground truthing’ impacts
- Multiple Nations using the same system and/or process means collaborative troubleshooting and joint improvements to the software, and can result in lower costs
- Funding for referrals can be received from the government regulators through which the referral is sent (i.e. provincial ministry) or from industry
- Funding which comes directly through engagement with proponents is often the most valuable
Our conversations with referrals staff across BC revealed that there are a wide variety of processes and systems being utilized to manage referrals. Many Nations are striving to catalogue, analyze and respond to every referral, while others are filtering through the often endless flow of referrals and prioritizing responses and engagement to those that seem to be the most impactful on their interests. We also found that there is a great difference not only in the approaches that First Nations take to manage referrals, but also in the amount of time and resources given to the referral process. Some of the staff that we interviewed see the management of referrals, including detailed responses to each application, as an exercise of the Nation’s rights and as an important legal paper trail for potential future conflicts or ongoing negotiations. For many First Nations, effective referrals management means greater assertion of guardianship over their territory, and as a way for the Nation to have independent, critical and in-depth understandings of the cumulative impacts of activities within their territories. Others see the referrals process as reactive and ineffective in exercising the rights of the Nation, and an overwhelming and burdensome process that takes time and resources away from more meaningful engagement with industry.
The underlying issues and varying opinions about the referrals process indicate the need for a significant improvement in the way in which industry and government interact with First Nation Groups. Having a practical and effective system in place for managing referrals, such as one of the software tools described herein, can and will continue to play an important role in supporting First Nations Groups in asserting increased sovereignty over their territories and resources.