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


Thursday, 22 July 2010

The answer isn’t more science; it’s better PR

Scientists need to make people answer the questions, What’s in it for me? How does it affect my daily life? What can I do that will make a difference? Answering these questions is what’s going to start a conversation. John Francis has drawn the attention of the CEC network to an article by Erin Biba on Wired, titled ‘Why Science Needs to Step Up Its PR Game’. Scientists risk their lives and fortunes to do something that is, in many cases, an act of faith. They’re heroes. It’s a beautiful thing. Imagine the impact if a scientist said, ‘I’ve been working in climate science for 20 years, and it breaks my heart that people don’t believe in what I do.’ The reality is that scientists assume that facts will speak for themselves. However in the real world cerebral mindedness does not work, you need to draw the attention of other human organs. Or like Randy Olson, scientist and filmmaker, says in his new book Don’t be such a scientist: “in a media dominated era you should grab people’s attention by plain language stories, caring about how you are perceived and using artists to arouse interest.”

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Managing professional updating projects

The graphic summarizes the phases of a professional updating project to help clients think beyond funneling expert knowledge into power points. Formulation and execution of a professional updating project is often a learning experience for both consultant and client. The client makes steps from thinking in terms of instruction to thinking in terms of creating a learning environment; from seeing the consultant as a follower of instructions to trusting his/her didactic expertise to guide the development process for which the client is one of the suppliers of information and content. The consultant makes steps in understanding context, audiences, expectations and a possible next phase of development in the learning of the client. Most difficult for both is to realize that often most of the available time is needed for the phases that prepare for the production. I sometimes wonder whether these reflections not only apply to learning projects, but to all communication projects.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

The power of love messages

People will protect nature because they want to, not because they have to. This is one of the pay offs of Futerra's arguments to rebrand biodiversity. They base this on common sense. Everyone loves nature. Love is a powerful driver. You can't get more powerful than wonder, awe and joy. Reconnecting with such type of childhood experiences in nature generates empathy and willingness in our mind that motivates to act for nature. I had to think of the biodiversity brand when visiting this morning the National Gallery here in Ljubljana and seeing the painting - 'Summer' - by Ivana Kobilca. The light, shadows and colours on the real painting are much nicer than on this reproduction. In the same way our own memories of real experiences in nature are much stronger than any rational appeal to conserve biodiversity.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

It is time to kill off the extinction message

It is time for a new biodiversity message. That is the conclusion of Futerra after working on developing the logo and communication strategy for the International Year of Biodiversity, an information toolkit on Access and Benefit Sharing and many other conservation projects. Futerra has been building up thought leadership on sustainability communications and shares its latest findings in Branding Biodiversity. A concise manual for campaigners, policy makers and media who are open to radically changing our biodiversity message, in order to radically increase action. Branding Biodiversity challenges communicators to stop talking about extinction and to distil a complex scientific concept into a set of values and promises that appeal to the masses. They reveal the formula of ‘Love’ + ‘Action’ that will inspire the public to act to conserve biodiversity.

Be simple and personal

What is the retention of a lecture? The framework of my eight hour lecture consisted of me asking questions, telling stories from my work to answer questions, assign group work, do games, make drawings on a flipover and jointly draw conclusions. I avoided any use of PP and handouts on paper. I wanted to walk the talk of 'effective communication is being simple and personal'. The students seemed to like it. What they learned I will know when they send in their assignment. But at the end of the day I already was quite satisfied when the over 20 Klagenfurt University students of the International MSc Course in protected area management listed their main principles for effective communication and public participation in the early stages of planning a protected area:
Be humble.
Respect views of others.
The stakeholder 'is always right'.
Improve your empathy.
Invest in building mutual trust.
Avoid assumptions.
Invest in assessing prior knowledge.
Communication is a two way process.
Identify leaders.
Create positive word of mouth.
Participatory planning and management equals dealing with change.
Change is painful, focus communication on overcoming resistance.
Learn how to deal with uncertainties.
People are more concerned about 5 Euros loss than about 5 Euros gain.
Sometimes money can be a disincentive.

Friday, 9 July 2010

Seeing is believing

Communicating biodiversity is communicating how people behave in a positive way towards nature and natural resources. David Aimé and David Fabrega, two young professionals are about to start a world tour to explore real life examples of such positive behavior. As their contribution to the International Year of Biodiversity, they will visit over 12 countries and meet with people in communities, organizations and governments. They will document the experiences and stories on video on their site. What I like is the 'people' aspect that reminds me of the West-Eastern Divan, the without borders orchestra initiative of Daniel Barenboim and Edward Said. By playing music together this communication platform offers young Palestinian, Jordanian, Syrian, Egyptian, Spanish and Israeli musicians an opportunity to make music together, learn first hand about each other's life, and perform in countries that otherwise would be completely closed to them. Communication that contributes to peace. Similarly the two Davids want to contribute to biodiversity and sustainable development.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Deep listening to a brochure

People make judgments in a split second, not based on rational weighing of costs and benefits, but through ‘irrational’ associations with deeply ingrained values, feelings, and experiences. That’s how we scan headlines, pick up magazines and surf the internet. It is also how we browse a brochure and put it aside or grab the phone. I just came across SOS Save our Species, a brochure from a IUCN-GEF-Worldbank initiative to raise funds from the private sector for species conservation. Going through the brochure I started to like the initiative and its potential. At the same time I came up with 5 things I would had done differently:
1. Have the animals on each page look from left to right: avoid ‘looking backward’, forward looking associates with the future. That is the language of the private sector.
2. Start with a vision how species underpins our life, our business. Don’t start with the threats: guilt shuts us down and makes us put the brochure aside.
3. Use pictures of animals we can emotionally relate to; a tiger pub is better than a rhino; we can’t relate to plants but we can relate to a farmer in her field, a fisherman on his boat or a doctor in her laboratory.
4. Use common sense, make it personal: “We all love nature. We all want to conduct business in a responsible way. Here we offer a range of concrete opportunities to combine the two. You can associate yourself, your employees and clients with a conservation project of your choice”. Don't use conservation jargon.
5. Support our species, support our own species, might be better that the current tagline. Actually I would avoid all SOS connotations. SOS associates with disasters. Nobody wants to contribute to a lost case. That's what the private sector calls: "throwing good money to bad money."