Women In Energy Story Telling: Karen Morton

Staying connected and engaged in your work after many years can be a challenge, even with lots of opportunities to participate in a variety of projects and regulatory challenges. I have a long history of working for Canada’s National Energy Board: I was a modeller, a natural gas market analyst (with a few projects in oil, natural gas liquids, and electricity), a technical specialist, and the director of energy trade. I wanted to be a catalyst for change, as I was growing weary of polarized energy dialogs.

My yearning to be a part of change led me to apply for and win a Chevening Scholarship, provided by the UK’s Foreign Commonwealth Office for future global leaders to study in the UK. My winning application proposed studying Media and Communications at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), with the goal to shape new energy conversations. I knew my organization would also benefit from me gaining new perspectives on energy and communication for a digitally connected world. In 2015, I began a journey from director to student in a new programme with the LSE’s Media and Communications Department: Data and Society. That started the biggest challenge of my career so far.

The WIE mentorship program is extremely helpful for addressing transition apprehension. I had been involved with WIE as a mentor to a young analyst with Ofgem and when I knew I was going to be a student, I requested to switch roles and be a mentee myself. My mentor, Valeria Termini, Commissioner of the Italian Regulatory Authority for Electricity Gas and Water (AEEGSI), had previously been a professor of Economics at the University of Roma Tre. We spent our mentoring time discussing transitions, particularly between regulatory work and academia. Following a WIE webinar, Dr. Kenneth Hill, director of the Tennessee Regulatory Authority, reached out to share his experiences of returning to school and learning with students. The support of two well-established ICER members were valuable to mentally and emotionally prepare me. Learning about their experiences gave me inspiration to make the journey my own.

The generosity of my mentors helped me to reach out to others. I contacted a former colleague and industry executive, who had, years before, taken leave to get a PhD. We discussed personal growth and returning to work after an educational leave. She provided me with a London industry contact through which I connected with other women leaders in the energy industry through the UK’s POWERful Women organization.

Recognizing the importance of diversity in leadership, in my opinion, would help organizations keep more talented women and help them to advance their careers. My family and I lived at Goodenough College, an amazing post-graduate residential college in the heart of London, with residents from over 80 countries. Being part of both Goodenough and the Chevening Scholar communities gave me the benefit of exposure to new cultures and ideas and forms of leadership in many different aspects of life. Diplomats, judges, business people, and military leaders joined us often at Goodenough to discuss leadership and their successes and failures. In this community, I shared my experience and perspectives on the Canadian energy landscape by giving an evening seminar with one of my Canadian LSE classmates and I participated in a weekend seminar series on cultural diplomacy and soft power in Dublin, Ireland.

I found valuable direction and examples of leadership and engagement from theatre and opera directors, members of the clergy and my fellow scholars. The Chevening Scholarship program offered a variety of valuable leadership sessions and events, including a women’s leadership workshop and lessons on social media for diplomatic purposes. I participated in a week-long Women of the Future conference that emphasized the roles of kindness and collaboration amongst women leaders. These inspiring activities showed me what diversity really offers for leadership.

The role of diversity of skills and perspectives was further revealed in my studies and dissertation work. I gained greater understanding of how people from different countries view energy policies of Canada, how they engage with digital technologies and with the UK government’s open data program. I chose open data as the focus of my dissertation research because I knew the Canadian government had recently launched a Directive on Open Government.

I thought my challenge would be my lack of programming and data skills—as a director, I delegated analytical tasks to others and lost my skills. I worried that I would not be able to relate well enough to the topic and the subject matter experts. But, in fact, I learned my non-technical perspective on the subject was invaluable, as I relate to many citizens and government workers. Data literacy and skills are problems for both groups.

My research examined partnerships between communities, government, and technical experts and how this ecosystem approach has been effective. I examined the role can citizens have in producing energy knowledge using open data. In this research, I interviewed government workers, journalists, data developers, and NGOs that specialize in open data. What struck me was the enthusiasm for the principles and engagement opportunities offered by open data and the need for a healthy ecosystem of actors and skills: government, data scientists, citizens, and industry. Through these relationships, knowledge transfer and development can flourish through collaboration between citizens with context for problems/issues, technical specialists to help work with data, including assisting government, and government and industry who have access to the data and policy expertise.

I was extremely proud of my dissertation work and now as I sit within a regulatory role again, working to support Canada’s Directive on Open Government, I realize that new energy dialogues will happen when we become open and porous with our knowledge. I ask myself whether data is truth, or merely a language that some of us speak better than others? How should we communicate with our data to foster deeper engagement? We need to help facilitate digital and data literacy skills to avoid creating a data elite. And what would it mean to regulators if nobody owns the truth?

Today I’m still on my journey. In trying to lead change in open data delivery and engagement with data, I had to work on the fundamentals of data management and understanding internal and external users’ needs and desires. I’m learning from my local civic tech community, Data For Good, and the Innovations in Visualizations Lab at the University of Calgary. I’ve participated in several datathons, where volunteers meet to perform analytics for not-for-profit agencies. This work really reveals how the data ecosystem and an open mindset works to improve data quality and analytics for organizations to evaluate performance and effectiveness.

Today I’m excited about my new role as a project manager in a large data acquisition project – one that combines understanding and addressing the needs of internal and external users, regulation, open data, standards, IT, and engagement with other regulators and industry.

My advice to women in the energy and regulatory fields is to follow your passion and curiosity. Listen and be porous. I highly recommend study in a different country, as moving away from your comfort zone, your familiar landscape, and perspective to be invaluable experience.


Karen Morton is currently Director of the Energy Trade Team at the National Energy Board. She oversees the analysis and processing of all energy export orders, licences, and permits, and the monthly reporting of authorization holders. She has been with the Board for over 15 years in a variety of roles including leading energy demand modeling for the Board’s Energy Futures report, and technical specialist of market analysis. Prior to working for the NEB, Karen worked for the Canadian Energy Research Institute and the B.C. Ministry of Forests. Karen holds a Bachelor’s degree in Economics and a Master of Science in Forest Economics. Karen is a member of the United Way of Calgary’s cabinet and Chair of the Steering Committee for Calgary’s Government of Canada Workplace Charitable Campaign.