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


Saturday, 24 January 2009

Communication without words (2)

My new year's greetings Naturally Less Words and More Music, triggered even more response than last year’s. “Are this your hands?” "Music carries the meaning of the words itself “. “I could not have agreed more”. “I have started this year with more music and less words. So your wish has already become a reality”. “Keep up the playing, and the serious work as well!” Others sent their own images about communication without words. This Vietnamese gouache is one of them. I wrote back what it triggered in my mind: the two seem to communicate about mindfulness and nature. Cleaning up your mind and life. Understanding and being receptive of the laws of nature: What behavior to develop and what actions to avoid.

In return the sender made me aware of her own observations. Not the content of the dialogue but the difference between the two creatures: “one with external protection and another one with an internal one”. This made me think of the turtle’s behavior as driven by genetics and natural instinct. And the sage reflecting how long and what it takes for sentient beings to see reality as it is, be compassionate and become enlightened. One of the Jataka stories tells of a previous life of the Buddha, when he was a large sea turtle and saved sailors from drowning after their ship was wrecked. He brought them ashore and then seeing their hunger, offered his body for food. Maybe they are sharing this story. Both with a smile of their own.

Thursday, 22 January 2009

The difference of participation in the South

Participatory planning – does it work in every context? Why did the participants from Western Europe do their assignments better that those from Central and Eastern Europe, not to speak of those from Africa? How much is this inherent in the University’s approach (a government driven approach) to establish a protected area? This is what I learned so far.
In developed countries public participation is an approach for government or governmental institutions to improve their decision making. It requires a range of pre-conditions, e.g. transparency, freedom of information, the ability for adaptive management and to deliver on promises. Good governance.
When the appropriate legal and economic structures are lacking, participatory planning can be successful. But the focus is then often on empowering communities to help themselves without having to lean too much on government or other outside support: see e.g. the Maya Nut case. Mostly it means that the government is at a distance and NGOs or the private sector are the drivers of the process.
In cases where through the support of international cooperation, governments engage in participatory planning, communities quickly ‘smell’ whether the government institutions are serious in terms of follow-up of the participatory planning: mostly a matter of making available appropriate financial and human resources. If not, communities sooner or later back out. Or the process drags on, like in the Nariva Swamp case. In other words what trainers and (future) managers should realize is that participatory planning processes are different - depending on the context.

Friday, 16 January 2009

Teaching is learning

You learn when you have to explain, when you facilitate other people's learning, or when you have to grade the papers of your students. Part of my duties as a lecturer for the MSc Course Protected Area Management of the University of Klagenfurt is to read and grade the assignments of the students. This time I had 16 students from a range of different countries. The nine entries below reflect my learning from cases of interactive planning of protected areas they described in their assignments. I learned that major issues in interactive planning are the difference between communication and management objectives. The time needed for the phases from establishing relationships to mapping change pathways. And the need to formulate objectives before one designs a program for a workshop or stakeholder meeting.

Stakeholder engagement in Montenegro

In selling the idea of new protected area in Montenegro, the issue of trust in the governmental bodies would be the major one, because of the long period of centralized decision-making. This is the issue my student adresses in her communication strategy. And this is my feedback.
Good: Your plan proves you have internalized most of the theory of the CEPA toolkit and the participation cases and exercises of the lecture. What I like is that you thought of collecting names and addresses – such a database is vital in a communication plan. If you add interets, values etc. to nbames you get slowly a relation management system. What I also like is that you specify objectives for the meetings before formulating an agenda. And that you check the agenda with stakeholders. The more stakeholders are involved in the organization of a meeting the more productive such meeting will be. You also thought of how to publicize the meeting. I also like the idea of a local product fair – this also is a way of generating ownership of the process by stakeholders. What you did very well is to include learning from the process through monitoring and evaluation.
To improve: A next time you should formulate the objectives per targetgroup by specifying their existing knowledge to the level of desired knowledge. Or from the level of trust or mistrust they have now, to the level of trust you need (if you do not specify that exactly you never know how to evaluate your communication. So this type of stakeholders analysis is needed to formulate and establish criteria to assess the effect of your interventions.

Stakeholder engagement for Paleśsie National Park

How to get local support for the idea of a national Park? This is my feedback on the paper by my student from Belarus.
Good: What I like is that you have tried to visualize your communication plan in a real situation in Belarus. You have sketched well the area, the culture of the people and the gap in trust between citizens and the government.
To improve: A next time you should realize that most elements of your communication plan (benefits, jobs etc.) belong more to the management aspects of the project to establish a PA than to a communication plan. The communication is about improving the knowledge of audiences, their attitudes, their actions. So you need to establish first what they already know, and what they need to know; what their sttitudes are and what they should be etc. That would change also the mapping of your communication plan from a series of almost random activities to convey information to a series of strategic communication interventions to contribute to a change in the social and maybe economic systems of the communities.

The case of Tatra National Park

My Slovakian student describes the role of communication in the establishment of this park in the period 2002 - 2004. This is my feedback on his paper.
Good: Your paper is a good description of a real case to formulate a new PA management plan with participation of key stakeholders. It shows how long this project takes (three years) and what phases one has to go through. And what the strengths and limitations of participation are. Especially where you touch on what the project learned and the recommendations it made to the government (early communication, time frame, etc.).
To improve: Although communication should be integrated in the total management of the process to formulate a new management plan, you should be much more specific on how communication can help improve, influence and change knowledge, attitudes and practices of the various key audiences. That way your would showcase that you have internalized the various aspects of the communication and participation theory. This would also underpin and illustrate your comments about the information focus and public hearings as opposed to other two way communication modalities. The planning is very global and more about the management plan than about the communication activities. Next time make clear in what currency the budget is made.

The case of the Cres-Lošinj archipelago

What can communication do to avoid negative perceptions and generate positive support? My student from Croatia describes the case or a marine reserve that was established top down and now has to face opposition from local stakeholders. This was my feedback on her communication strategy.
Good: Your plan is concise and I like the idea of backcasting of a case that really happened and that provides you with the opportunity to see what you would have done differently. The first is that you integrated communication in the activities to establish the PA. And that you assumed that the ministry would be willing to accept the outcomes of a participatory process. This is crucial. And mostly cost quite some time to sell such an approach internally. Your communication plan shows that you know and have understood the basics of the theory of stakeholder involvement.
To improve: To make your plan really work and to show the decision makers how the meetings provide the results promised in the communication plan, it is important to think much more through the details of the process of the various meetings and through the psychology of the various stakeholders, such as fishermen, tour operators etc., who have to change. That would give more detailed ideas how to structure your meetings. It also may make time planning and budget more realistic.

Turning the Karwendel mountains into a PA

How to realize meaning ful participation of twelve stakeholders in the planning of a protected area? TThis is my feedback on the strategy designed by a student from Austria.
Good: I like a concise plan. In the introduction you describe the three objectives of the communication strategy: knowledge – attitude – action. The strategy is based on two way personal communication between initiators, government and key stakeholders. You describe the process from small talk to the real hard work in a working groups. You have understood that there is lot of ‘psychology’ involved in the process. You also have a reasonable estimation of costs.
To improve: A next time you could think through the process maybe a bit more in detail: now the planning seems very optimistic. These participatory approaches take much more time. A next time you also should think that your plan has to convince the decision makers to say yes to the plan and provide the budget and be willing to play some role in the implementation of the plan. That means investing in the presentation of your plan. A decision maker wants to be sure that he gets value for money. Your plan is concise – that is good, but it needs more information to base a decision on.

The case of Sargan-Mokra Gora

How can communication help to extend a recently established nature park? My feedback on a communication strategy by a Serbian student was as follows.
Good: Your paper shows you have internalized some of the theory of communication and its role in establishing or managing a PA. You describe well the situation of a PA in a country in transition. Public participation is often quite difficult under these circumstances, so a more instrumental use of communication might better work. You define a number of knowledge objectives for communication in terms of messages.
To improve: Action speaks louder than words. Since its establishment the PA already has communicated and established relationships as you describe in the 3rd paragraph of your introduction. Any communication strategy should build on this and involve the manager. As a film maker he should be aware that he is also a major communicator! Communication alone can do very little, it has to be integrated in all activities of the PA. Next to knowledge objectives you should also think in terms of attitude and action objectives for communication interventions.

Turning Laganas Bay into a national park

How can communication help to generate support for the idea of a national park? This is my feedback on a communication plan written by a student from Greece.
Good: You describe the need for participatory planning as a condition for the successful establishment of a PA. You describe the core of the process as face to face interactions between people. In this description you prove that you have internalised most of the theory and practical tips of the two CEPA toolkits. You see this as a process for which more meetings are needed, that build on each other.
To improve: A next time you should realize that participatory planning also implies that the PA initiators from the start should be willing to make trade offs, and also change their own previous perceptions, opinions and ideas, where appropriate. There should be decision moments in the planning that reflect this. The planning further seems a bit too optimistic. These processes take much more time. Same for the budget: the travel costs of participants and catering costs for meetings seem rather low.

My own valley: a protected area?

One of my students describes the participatory planning process she designed to establish a protected area in the valley where she lives. This is my feedback on her paper.
Good: You describe the interventions as participation aspects of change management. You are concise and to the point. The situation analysis gives the bigger picture. Your stakeholder analysis describes the target groups as ‘people of flesh and blood’ and diagnoses as first need the building of trust and identifying opinion leaders. Involvement you plan through joint fact finding. You invest time in jointly identifying opportunities and barriers for change. You recognize the power of stories (word of mouth) in communication and understand that you engage in a process that can only partially be planned in advance. What I like most is that you have used your own experiences and your own words. You avoided jargon and still you are theoretically correct.
To improve: You have to think more through the management aspects of the process in terms of time and money, otherwise it will be difficult to interest the decision makers to give you the 100.000 euro budget you ask for. For such a process you may start with a feasibility study of 10.000 euro and then specify the rest of the budget on the basis of this first exercise.

The case of the Commonwealth Lake Reserve.

How can communication bridge the gap between local communities and the government after it has launched top down a protected area? This is the issue addressed by a Ungandan student.My comments were the following:
Good: You describe the real life case of the Commonwealth Lake Reserve. There seems to have been no concern how to guide the transition by the local communities from fishing to tourism. This is a process that needs some degree of participation in the planning and implementation. In your plan you try to repair this omission by formulating a communication plan.
To improve: A next time you should think more deeply whether education and communication alone could repair the damage done so far and convince the communities the PA is good for them. People believe what they see, not what they hear. Or action of the government or the PA speaks louder than words. The objectives of the education program and communication program you should formulate much more in a SMART way. Remember an objective is only an objective when it contains a result. So do not start the formulation of an objective with a verb. As to the content of the objectives – they seem to be more management objectives than communication objectives. The latter are always focused on knowledge, attitudes and actions or practices (KAP). The meetings you envisage can be more strategically planned when you first formulate objectives for each meeting: what should participants know, feel and do after the meeting. You list a range of other communication means but you do not specify what and how the add value to the rest of the communication plan.