Internet notebook about my work: deep listening to facilitate positive change


Monday, 31 March 2008

Buddies: mutual inspiration, learning and advice

B&W Next – Mayor and Aldermen Next – is an intergenerational partnership experiment in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. Young people – between 18 and 27 – are partnered as a kind of ‘buddy’ to members of the Rotterdam Municipal Council, its Mayor and Aldermen. The youngsters accompany the municipal officials when they go on official visits and they take them also to places of their own youth culture. They follow how decisions are made and have an opportunity to influence that process. “There is chatting for the sake of chatting. But we chat to get something done. Young people have to make their voices heard”, says Andrea Moreira Santos. She is the buddy of the mayor. The initiative is part of the Rotterdam European Youth Capital (REYC) 2009, a project of the Young Economic Development Board Rotterdam (YoungEDBR). This is an experiment similar to that of the IUCN Commission on Education and Communication. Mutual inspiration, learning and advice are the basis of both buddy systems.

Friday, 28 March 2008

The future will tell, ask Havel

Framing can be a powerful method to put your audience 'on the wrong foot', as we say in Dutch. In 'He Maybe a God, but He’s no Politician', Patrick French argues the Dalai Lama’s stand on Tibet is naive and the support he seeks from the West - mistakenly perceived by Tibetans as genuine - gives false hope and leads to unnecessary bloodshed. He was referring to the protests by monks in Lhasa and other cities in Tibet two weeks ago. There is some venom in the way he frames his ideas. The venom of disillusionment of a Westerner who for years – as a director of the Free Tibet Campaign - had an almost mystical belief in the sacredness of the Tibetan case and a mythical perception of pre-communist Tibet. When he learned that the Dalai Lama did not pursue independence, as his Campaign was doing, but 'meaningful autonomy', he found out the hard way that the reality of Tibet was not and never has been mythical or mystical. He then turned against his former case. His stories now may hit the front page of the opinion section of the NYT, in the end the truth will prevail.

Change Tibet into Soviet Union, and substitute for the Dalai Lama the names of Mandelstam, Pasternak or other intellectual leaders who would not give in to Stalin’s dictatorship. Would Patrick French' article still make sense? Of course not! Since the bloody riots Tibet has been sealed off. All foreigners had to leave, no journalists were allowed in. Until yesterday when the Chinese wanted to show a few selected Western journalists on an orchestrated PR tour to Lhasa that everything was OK. To their embarrassment it did not work. In front of the cameras monks testified that the official Chinese media were lying about the protests. The reality we are facing in Tibet is that Stalinist methods still are practiced in the 21st century. And because of an emerging super power, we are going to depend upon, we ‘frame’ this reality away. And conveniently put the blame on the oppressed and their Leader. Framing that reality away, for me that is just un-ethical. About the truth I would say: the future will tell, ask Havel!

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Criteria for successful strategies towards non formal learning

Non-formal learning in support of biodiversity has two sets of components: content and competencies to enable people to understand, be motivated and committed to helping solve challenges that affect biodiversity. The main content is: interdependence of life on earth, ecosystem functions and services, human impacts on ecosystems. The main competencies are: systems thinking, problem solving skills, communication skills. When Parties to CBD want to implement strategies to mainstream biodiversity into learning in non-formal contexts they should be aware of a few pre-conditions or criteria for success. The CBD-UNESCO workshop identified the following. Parties should:
• Understand the needs of other sectors, then translate biodiversity main messages into simple language that responds to their problems and meets their needs
• Use professional experts to develop that translation
• Develop a “working group” structure of nonformal providers to provide guidance and implementation assistance
• Use participatory planning with nonformal providers to design learning programs and train them to do the same
• Encourage nonformal providers to design programs that enable people to choose effective learning strategies
• Encourage nonformal providers to design programs that build skills and create solutions to sustainable development challenges.
The German campaign for CBD COP 9 is a good example of mainstreaming biodiversity into non-formal learning contexts.

Strategies to mainstream biodiversity into non-formal learning

CBD Parties can use a range of strategies to mainstream biodiversity into learning in non-formal contexts. In our UNESCO-CBD workshop we came up with three. A first strategy is to support non-formal learning providers and direct their activities toward biodiversity education (BD) by providing professional development in BD outreach; funds to orient their programs to BD; templates for materials with BD messages, such as exhibits, posters, flyers for public spaces, libraries, museums, zoos; booklets for literacy programs; networking opportunities to share ideas nationally and internationally.
A second strategy aims at intermediaries, e.g. engage universities and researchers in understanding how to evaluate and improve non-formal learning for biodiversity and sustainable development (SD); design campaigns with non-formal providers to support adult lifestyle change toward more sustainable behaviors; help non-formal providers listen to all voices (including indigenous and minority people) and engage all stakeholders in designing educational programs.
A third strategy aims at participation by sectors or the public, e.g. seek support from non-environmental non-formal providers, such as the private sector, media and entertainment industries by challenging them to address BD and SD concepts; engage relevant professions in creating solutions to BD and SD challenges with contests, awards, and publicity; engage the public in critical reflection of lifestyle and consumption choices by working through faith-based groups, women’s groups, civic groups, local communities, neighborhood associations, and extension programs.

What is learning in non-formal contexts?

People are always learning. They learn from observing others; they learn from their parents; they learn from media; they learn in the workplace; they learn from life. Non-formal learning providers support this “everyday” learning by offering structured and free-choice opportunities for people to explore ideas, to satisfy curiosity, to gain information and skills, and to improve their quality of life. Non-formal learning includes all types of learning outside the formal education system (primary schools, secondary schools, and universities). Non formal learning providers cover a range of opportunities, e.g.:
• Support formal education with supplemental resources, field trips, guest speakers, resource experts, in-service training
• Reach youth outside of school in clubs and camps with strategies such as games, field trips, etc.
• Engage adults in professional development and issue-specific skills and information in workshops, distance education programs, on-the-job training, courses, and conferences
• Offer life-long learning for all through the media, libraries, exhibits, and community programs.
This perspective is one of the outcomes of our three day workshop organised by UNESCO and SCBD in Paris (17 - 19 March 2008).

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Communicating species conservation

Good communication is simple and personal. A good example of communicating biodiversity is the German campaign to raise awareness on the meeting of the Parties to the Biodiversity Convention in Bonn later this year. Based on this example I developed some thoughts on how to communicate the IUCN Species Survival Commission and its work on species conservation. I positioned the work of SSC as: “The essence of nature/biodiversity is interdependence. Through in-depth study of a species we come to understand what interdependence really means. This knowledge provides indicators on the state of nature and it provides vital information for human wellbeing and development.” I proposed as a tagline: “All nature in a single species”. You can access now the 5 minute presentation on YouTube.

Monday, 24 March 2008

Practicing empathy

To improve your communication skills it is important to practice empathy. My dictionary defines empathy as "the quality or process of entering fully, through imagination, into another's feelings or motives." The more you understand the other, the better you can convey your message. I practice this through music. The more you train your ears, the better you can play music. Since I was a child I often to listen to Bach’s St Matthews Passion with Eastern. The violin solos I knew and liked best. My father practiced them at home in the weeks before Eastern. During the performance I could dream every note. Sometimes my father took me to a rehearsal and I sat next to the daughter of the conductor with the score in between us. With our student orchestra we performed the Passion many times and with different choirs. When you play yourself it all sounds different. The conductor makes you learn to hear new dimensions. The more you listen the more you hear. The more the music has to give. Every year something new strikes me. This year it was the flute solo in the second part in the aria ‘For love my Savior now is dying’. The flute – accompanied by two hoboes – playing around the soprano made me shiver. Outside the garden was white with snow. A bird flew out of a tree. The score outlined the human condition.

Sunday, 23 March 2008

Analysis Paralysis

“One of the biggest challenges leaders have is to ensure that preparation and analysis add real value and provide the framework for action. The biggest enemy to action is analysis paralysis.” I read in ‘Ten ways Leaders Overcome Analysis Paralysis’ by Andrew Cox. “Analysis paralysis is the graveyard of many organizations and careers. It's procrastination - on both the organizational and individual level - caused by fear of failure, fear of consequences, fear of not being thorough, fear of making a mistake.” This very much applies to the situation I find at my client’s organization. Their focus is on complexity not on simple actions. They want to know everything before they act. They do not know the ‘Principle of Good Enough’. They spend months to write a ‘partnership strategy’. The result is a document with too many choices. So in the end no action is taken. In the same way they scrutinize my communication quick scan and question every detail. My conclusions meet with a range of historical explanations, aslmost as an excuse that change is not possible. They skip over my simple recommendations. To avoid any further procrastination in improving their communications, I frame my advice to the next management meeting solely in ideal outcomes and actions to get there, including the time, budget and resources needed.

Friday, 21 March 2008

Schools and biodiversity education

Biodiversity contents in learning focus on: interdependence, carrying capacity, resilience, goods and services, cultural and spiritual values, the role of man, economic drivers and consumption patterns. Biodiversity related competences focus on: critical thinking, problem solving, conflict resolution, participatory planning and system thinking. This is one of the outcomes of a workshop organized by UNESCO and SCBD on CEPA and ESD. I came across a few good examples of biodiversity related education in schools. Click on the titel to go to the various websites.
Baltic Sea School network This project includes all nine countries around the Baltic Sea, creates networks of schools and stimulates the development of teaching methods in environmental education and education for sustainable development.
Sandwatch project Sandwatch seeks to modify the lifestyle and habits of children, youth and adults on a community-wide basis and to develop awareness of the fragile nature of the marine and coastal environment and the need to use it wisely.
Tales around the world campaign With "Cities around the world" children will give their city the opportunity to have their say: they find out more about their city, they discover its desires and dreams and express what people could do so that it keeps living in harmony with the Earth.
YouthXchange Youthxchange is designed to help trainers and individuals to understand and communicate on sustainable lifestyles.
Year of the Dolphin – dolphin manual A very nicely designed and highly informative book (90 pages) about the situation of the Chinese White Dolphins (a.k.a. Indo-Pacific Humpback Dolphin; Sousa chinensis) with numerous pictures. It's in English and Chinese
Young reporters for the environment The YRE book 2007 has been edited and sent in every participating country. It contains articles and photos of young reporters from 15 countries who investigated their local environment.
Teaching and learning for a sustainable future Multimedia teacher education program.
World Heritage in young hands The UNESCO programme that gives young people a chance to voice their concerns and to become involved in the protection of the world's natural and cultural heritage.

Sunday, 16 March 2008

Core brand value of biodiversity

How do we communicate biodiversity more effectively? A few weeks ago I suggested to go beyond the usual species approach. Wiebke Herding came up with the idea of a hierchy of engagement. That idea has been bugging me ever since. I am not so sure whether there is a linear or step by step engagement hierarchy. I think the key is defining a core brand value for biodiversity. I like the brand developed for COP 9 in Bonn: interdependence. If we keep the concept of interdepence in mind in our biodiversity communication, it may stick with people. By watching, studying or familiarizing themselves with species or ecosystems they may come to understand what interdependence really means. What it means for the state of biodiversity, for human well being or for development. They may come to understand that no single species - including us - can exist on its own. That in fact all nature is reflected in a single species. Being mindful of interdependence may become the guide our actions.

Saturday, 15 March 2008

Are leaders born or made?

Can you learn to be a leader? Is leadership a quality you are born with? I would say the latter, but the quality has to be developed. There is a lot you have to learn and then you also need opportunity to rise to the occasion as a leader. In an orchestra or in a quartet the first violinist is taking the lead in making music. I played in the orchestra of my school, in the Utrecht conservatorium orchestra and a few student orchestras and chamber music ensembles. A few times I was the first violinist. Many violinists want to be that and work hard to achieve the position. Mostly in vain. My teacher always said it is not about being in that position, it is about your drive to re-create together the music the composer has written. Not surprisingly in post war Europe, he was a bit suspicious about ‘leaders’. You just have to translate the word into German and you know why. He said you are born with a talent and by practicing hard you can develop it. Then circumstances may offer you the opportunity. If you are humble inside you will see what is an opportunity and what is not. I had to think of him when I was reading an article about the leadership of Ghandi and one about the characteristics of leadership.

Friday, 14 March 2008

A simple communication strategy

Strategic communication can help to realize management objectives. The NGO, I am helping, wants to organize a workshop in partnership with a large international organization. The NGO is not known. We have no contacts. Our strategy is to get invited to one of their expert meetings and use the opportunity to organize the help of intermediaries. Through contacts in our Ministry of Foreign Affairs we arrange to meet their focal point over lunch at the meeting. If he is is interested he can arrange for the cooperation of the permanent represenative to make the official request. During the coffee break we introduce ourselves and talk to key staff of the international organization to make sure that once the request comes in, it gets the proper attention for timely decision making. After lunch the permanent representative is briefed. We leave the meeting with the task to draft a letter for the Permanent Representative to bring the initiative to the attention of the International Organization.

Thursday, 13 March 2008

Introducing Climate and Security

To introduce the issue of climate and security into the NATO community, the Science for Peace and Security Program organised a Forum in NATO HQ. In the press center experts gave introductions to an audience of NATO staffs, NATO parliamentarians, delegates from ministries of defense of member states and NATO partners. All presentations and discussions were filmed and real time displayed on video screens in the corridors of the NATO building. During coffee breaks some staffs - who had no time to participate - came down from their offices to mingle with the Forum participants. The documents and videos were immediately made available on the NATO website. The site also contains photos with short texts (35 words) and short videos with testimonials about NATO projects on environment and security. A good example of communication to support the introduction of an innovation.

Monday, 10 March 2008

Communication residue of a fridge broken down

Experiential learning goes deeper than knowledge transmission. After twenty years of service, the fridge in our kitchen broke down. Somehow it must have had a peculiar seize. New models did not fit in the same place. It took us three weeks to find, order and get the right one installed. Three weeks without a fridge looked like a disaster: spoilt milk, rotten vegetables etc. But the second day without a fridge I realized that the cellar is a perfect alternative. And buying less also reduces the risk of food and drinks getting spoilt. In stead of once a week going by car to buy a week’s supply, I cycled every day the 30 minutes back and forth to the shop where we buy our biological products. True it costs more time and energy (sweat – no gas or electricity). But the ride through the park and the old 19 century extension of the city is nice. I almost regretted the arrival of the new fridge. Of course I had known that muscle power has no CO2 footprint, but now it really hit me that part of the energy debate should be reduced to the question to what extent we can substitute electricity again with our own or paid for muscle power?

Sunday, 9 March 2008

How to create word of mouth?

Invest in creating positive word of mouth is my advice. How, asks my client. Strategic communication is like music: it starts with an idea of the composer. He works it out. Then it is performed. Your head of communication is the composer. He listens to the objectives of your program or policy. Asks many questions and makes the composition. You as CEO are the conductor - you choose to play the composition, you interpret it and make your organization play it. The composer is there to advise you. The instruments are your recent research results, your website, your networking, seminars, brochures, free publicity in mass media, etc. Some of your staffs have a solo, some parts are played together. It is all team work. And - mind you - every staff is a musician in your orchestra. Not just the people in the communication unit. I use a visual to explain explain the composition. To show how communication can support knowledge to have impact on policy I formulate the intended communication residue with the audience for each different intervention.