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


Saturday, 30 May 2009

Workshop as a mix of learning situations

To create optimal learning among professionals in a workshop a process is designed of individual assignments, working in pairs, in small groups and in the plenary group. Also a mix is created of timeslots that appeal to the rational parts of the brain and timeslots that focus on those parts of the brain that govern emotional intelligence and contain the brain's 'gatekeepers' that can open the doors to new ideas and approaches. Writing down one's learning at the end of the day helps to better remember.

Protected area issues that can change

Storytelling about positive change they had experienced in the last ten years in their PA area helped to analyze the role of behavior change. And how communication can trigger specific changes in knowledge, attitudes and practices of key audiences. A major lesson learned was that change starts with small steps. With this in mind participants worked in pairs to plan communication for an issue they wanted to change in their area. The issues included joint management of the Guanta (bushmeat); illegal fishing of the Parago (fishermen threatening biodiversity); private landowners encroaching on a Nature reserve (natural resource management); reintroduction of a species; management of forest fires; tourism development; hunting; improving relations with neighbouring communities. In most cases communication had to focus on the first step: bringing stakeholders together for joint planning, identifying leaders, researching what they already know, what they need to know to come to the workshop, what (additional)skills they need etc. In many cases it was hard to resist the attraction to solve the whole issue as experts and push their solutions through various (sometimes even participatory) communication means. During the feedback by colleagues and facilitators we discussed planning the first communication steps towards a co-creation of solutions with the stakeholders as an often more effective and sustainable approach. But in the reality of the Ecuador PAs this is often more theory than practice.

Format for communication planning

In the Quito CEPA training workshop for protected area managers in Ecuador we used this template for communication planning. Click on the matrix to read the text. The explanation in the right column focuses on the work of protected area managers. It can easily be adapted for any other kind of business. For more details on communication planning see section 4 of the CEPA Toolkit.

Are my communication objectives correct?

Communication objectives is the most frequentlty visited post of this blog. I may not have been clear enough. A reader writes: I am currently working on a highly important report for a charity organization which seeks to reach further donors in the US. I have identified the internal & external factors that affect the organization, the groups involved and now I am beginning to write the communication objectives. For example, internally the use of the communication tools between the offices is very weak and unfortunately the messages (incl. the mission, vision & values) are not transmitted clearly enough, which has quite an impact on the organization. Therefore, my communication objectives (internally for all 53 employees & board members within a 6 months period) are:
1. Increase the knowledge of what the organization stands for (mission, vision & values) as well as the importance of team spirit
2. Convey a feeling that their participation in communicating is important
3. Provide participation & communication possibilities that deliver visible results
Would you say that these objectives are 'correct'? Click for my answer on the matrix. Strategic communication focuses on change and is based on some further targetgroup research. That way we know what the audience already knows and what new knowledge we should add. Same for their current and dersired attitudes and practices. Once we have defined these changes, we know the communication objectives and it is easier to choose for each objective the right intervention or communication channel.

The five Cs of the crisis

On his way out as CEO of Shell Jeroen van der Veer draws 5 simple lessons from the current financial and economic crisis:
1. Cash should be king - be careful with borrowing money.
2. Clients - manage the risks of the different client groups.
3. Costs - always be critical of the costs, especially when business goes well.
4. Capital - be critical on capital investsments: can't it be cheaper?
5. Communication - always be transparent, internally and externally.

5 leadership tips

In his last big performance for Shell managers, CEO Jeroen van der Veer had 5 tips for leadership:
1. Everyone knows an organization has to go from A to B, but leaders often forget to make it practical. What do you do tomorrow and what on Monday morning?
2. If society and the organization are professionalising, employees need to be longer in their job. With too much staff turnover, you cannot build a strong organization.
3. People tend to make things more complex. So good leaders need to make the work more simple.
4. Leaders should first listen, then provide direction and speed things up.
5. You are never finished with culture change.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Core brand values of biodiversity

"Biodiversity is the spark of lif√ę", says Barry Gardiner on BBC. He writes about the values of biodiversity and how they seem less compelling to the media and the public than the issue of climate change. "Every form of life on this planet stands not on its own but is supported by, and supports, other living things.Lose one species and you lose a vital part of some ecosystem. That means you lose not just a plant or an insect but a service: you lose the medicine that comes from that plant; you lose the pollination of crops which that insect provides." Harriet Nimo made me aware of this article and sent me the image of the values of biodiversity (click on it to read), made by photographer Niall Benvie. It reminded me of my presentation for the IUCN SSC Steering Committee in Abu Dhabi. Are we getting closer to the core brand values of biodiversity?

Case study format communication stories

Communication can support the process of positive change in a protected area when it focuses on knowledge, attitudes and practices (KAP). Storytelling about cases of positive change helps people to analyze the change process and discover the role of communication. In our workshop for protected area managers in Quito, we used an upgraded version of the template we developed over the years in CEC (click on the matrix). The open questions make it easy for managers to tell their story and compare their experiences with their peers. It is important though to explain what we are looking for. E.g. WHEN is not so much asking for a date, but for the description of the moment change really started to take off: the tipping point.

Monday, 25 May 2009

The real issue: make it small and concrete

Management effectiveness of protected areas depends on defining the right management objectives; and this depends on the right definition of the issues a manager wants to change. Management effectiveness increases considerably when communication concentrates on how to engage stakeholders in the issue, explore change pathways and co-create solutions. Thinking strategically about communication helps to (re)define the issues managers want to change. Visualizing the change that managers want to see (click on the photo) proved to be a powerful tool to formulate small and simple first steps towards change in our CEPA workshop for 24 protected area managers in Ecuador. In this case communication can focus on knowledge, skills, attitudes and actions of stakeholders to get them around the table.

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Towards viral fish campaigns?

Conservationists should not eat what they want to conserve. They should set an example, walk the talk. CEC member Harriet Nimmo had sent me a nice article about this. But then yesterday on the market - while eating a haring with my sister in law from Japan I realized that my eagerness to show off how we eat raw fish was stronger than my mindfulness of sustainability. I just did not know. Once at home I immediately looked at the Good Fish site of the North Sea Foundation: fortunately the haring was listed under the good fish. But it made me realize how useful it would be if sites like Good Fish, Fish Online and IUCN with its My Hotel in Action become more pro-active in their communication. Why not start a viral campaign among conservationists, consumers and suppliers (retailers, restaurants etc.) to spread this basic information?

Friday, 22 May 2009

Website usability

How user friendly are our websites? Relevance of information for the user is not evident. Images that don't help to sell. Text is hard to read. Navigation doesn't privilege buying. Where is the "Buy" button? These are some of the conclusions of a study of 15 Brazilian e-commerce websites by CEC member Mercedes Sanchez. User behavior research is important to identify needs and wishes of website users and turn visitors into buyers or activate them otherwise, e.g. in the non profit sector. These are some of Mercedes' advices: "websites should prioritize what is relevant for their users. They should show the way to find what the user is looking for. They should not push their products. Use customers vocabulary." Today on Biodiversity Day I wonder how much this is also true for conservation websites...!

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Internet magic

If you make the message accessible to people, use the internet to build an on line community, you can get people to take collective bottom up action. The prince of Wales created his own global web viral campaign to protect the rainforests and combat climate change. The website has been designed and built by Blue State Digital, the internet consultancy company behind Mr Obama’s web campaign. An array of celebrities have appeared alongside Prince Charles and an animated frog in a film to highlight the dangers of deforestation. One of the things visitors of the website can do is create their own frog message with a photo or video clip and include in the celebrities video to send it to their networks.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

The problem with global warming is global warming!

Do conservationists have to mirror what industry and political conservatives are doing? Yes, they do! John Boder writes in the NYT of 2 May 2009 about research by EcoAmerica that shows that the term global warming turns people off, fostering images of shaggy-haired liberals, economic sacrifice and complex scientific disputes. Environmentalists should not only avoid jargon, they should reframe the issues (see box). Then the article questions this approach by quoting Robert J. Brulle an expert of Drexel University. He argues that the use of advertising techniques is cynical and, worse, ineffective: “It doesn’t engage people in a face-to-face manner, and that’s the only way to achieve real, lasting social change.” I disagree: change also needs public opinion. And the battle for public opinion needs communications research.

Friday, 1 May 2009

A survey to take informed decisions

Benchmarking is the process of comparing, analyzing and improving business practices. It is not only an essential management tool in the private sector, but also a tool to communicate and lobby in policy processes. Currently countries are formulating their emission reduction targets for the Copenhagen meeting of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Knowing what other countries do, can help in this process. Japan for Sustainability (JFS) goes a step further and asks people around the world for their comments and preferences among the various scenario options for Japan. JFS will share the results of this survey with the government and the media. This way informed decision making can also include what diffferent actors in other countries think Japan should do.