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


Sunday, 30 December 2007

Intergenerational Partnerships

Intergenerational Partnerships for Sustainable Development offer a model for collaboration, exchange of ideas and experiences, and action between people of all ages. The model focuses on sustainability while bridging differences in values.
Its added value is:
• Enhanced decision-making
• Fill the gap between different generations
• Sustain the values in society and allow flexibility for change
• Achieve intergenerational equity.

Intergenerational partnerships can take the following forms:
• pairs of individuals from different generations in a mentor/mentee relationship
• young people interning in NGOs or with governments
• networks / organizations from different generations co-managing sustainable development and peace building projects
• young people being included within NGO and/or country delegations in global governance processes on sustainability
• supporting young people to engage in pertinent scholarship and providing a platform for disseminating and applying their research
• youth organizations consulting and working in collaboration with elders on projects, programs, etc.

This in a nutshell is the outcome from a workshop during the Tiblisi+30 ICEE in Ahmedabad. The Youth Initiative from Earth Charter is planning to draft a resolution on this issue to be adopted by the IUCN World Conservation Congress in October 2008.

Saturday, 29 December 2007

Mobilizing knowledge for sustainable development

Do we have a coherent theory of change? Do we know what the role of knowledge is in a change process? Do we fully understand the concept of knowledge? Do we understand the psychology of language? Do we know how to listen and then to formulate messages? Do we understand the difference between mobilizing knowledge and accumulating knowledge? Do we know the power of changing our own mindset and behavior by practicing and getting more familiar with new ways of doing things differently? These questions were discussed by looking at examples of change during the Tiblisi+30 International Conference on Environmental Education workshop on 'Mobilizing Knowledge for Sustainable Development'.

Massive change in Brazil occurred when it faced an oil crisis a few years ago. Consumption of energy was drastically reduced within the span of one year, through a mass participation programme. TV and advertizements bombarded people with stories and messages all through the day. A range of participatory and networking activities helped generate word of mouth and the knowledge people individually needed to contribute. Changing habits is very difficult, but it can be done if we really want to. When the urgency of change is felt. When the pain of change is less than the pain of not changing. When leaders ‘live the change they want to see in the world’, as Ghandi said. When messages and knowledge deeply ‘resonate’ with the people. When knowledge transcends theory into know-how and action.

Changing behavior on spiritual grounds

Tibetans inside and outside Tibet are changing their habits to use the skins of tiger, leopard and other endangered species in their traditional costumes. They destroy these skins along with ivory ornaments. In a massive response to a call from their worldly and spiritual leader, they pledge never to use endangered species again. Since a few years the Dalai Lama lectures the Tibetan audience during his Buddhist teachings on their attitudes and habits relating to wildlife. He urges Tibetans to remember the countless endangered species that have died for them and to pray that all human beings be guided by the compassion of the Buddha to live in harmony with nature.

The Tibetan conservation NGO Tesi Environmental Awareness Movement (TEAM) collects wild life possessions among Tibetans. These are burned and made into votive tablets. Since today they are stored in a special 14 feet pillar, near the temple of the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala, North India. The granite and marble pillar with inscriptions in both Tibetan and English contains within it 1,008 tsa tsa (votive tablets) made of clay mixed with ground parts of donated endangered species products such as skins of tiger, leopard, otter, fox, lynx, and ivory. A similar call to eat less or no meat, has led to big changes in the kitchens of many Tibetan schools and monasteries in India.

Thursday, 6 December 2007

Change through action

Often we think facilitated learning leads to change. This is only partly true, according to Oscar Motomura. He was speaking during one of the workshops at the Tiblisi+30 conference. He reminded us of the changes in young kids when they practice martial arts. It affects their attitude and behavior outside the dojo: it makes them look differently at parents and family. It influences their behavior in general: to be more mindful of their actions. I recognize this from my own rigourous practice in music as a kid. Knowledge in ESD - according to Oscar - comprises insights and know how based on action and practice. So in ESD we should not only concentrate on facilitating learning but also on action and practice. This resonated very much with me. Almost as an addition to my thoughts in earlier blog postings, e.g. learning: the missing link and a busines case for meditation.

Wednesday, 5 December 2007

ESD: a new pedagogy

Most definitions of ESD are long, abstract and difficult to remember. "ESD is a new pedagogy". This metaphor came up in one of the exchanges during the Tiblisi+30 conference. ESD is not only about a new content, it is also a new approach to learning. The new pedagogy does not only apply to formal education. It equally applies to learning in an informal or non-formal context. Maybe even more. Educators become facilitators of learning for change or change process managers. The Samvardham approach is a good example of educators becoming change facilitators and managers. It also showcases the shift from supply driven to demand driven education. That in itself generates new contents. We should also apply the new pedagogy in our own learning processes. Now most workshops I attended during the conference were structured according to the 'lecturing' model. Even in many rooms they used classroom seating arrangements. There is definitely a need to work on strengthening the facilitation capacities of educators: one of the spearheads of the new draft IUCN CEC mandate.

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

Networking for change

After ten years of civil war with Maoist guerillas, peace has been restored in Nepal. The absolute monarchy has been abolished. Notwithstanding the many political problems that still exist, new opportunities for sustainable development present themselves. 17 members of the IUCN Commission on Education and Communication (CEC) thought this is the time to use the CEC network to contribute to positive change. After the summer they started meeting and formed a planning committee. They identified many challenges: the need to revise the school curricula. The need solve the huge waste, water and energy problems. The need to halt the massive practices of illegal logging and wildlife trading.

Knowing I was attending the Tiblisi+30 Conference, they took the opportunity to invite me. They wanted to brainstorm further, talk about CEC and let me do a public talk (photo above). As they all represent different networks, they now consider to enter into partnership with one of the Nepalese universities, private sector and NGOs to set up a regional Centre of Excellence for Education for Sustainable Development (RCE). The IUCN Country office will help. They also will use the CEC network to try to find a Norwegian partner for a global warming campaign in Nepal. Their idea is to use the networks of community extentionists in gender and health issues. Two charismatic CEC members lead the networking: Arzhu Rana Dewa (on the right of the photo below) and Mangal Man Sakya.

Community based change management

In tribal areas – where life totally depends on natural resources – the Center for Environmental Education (CEE) supports sustainable development by improving the quality of life of communities through initiatives led by ‘community entrepreneurs’. The latter are selected from Rural Higher Education Institutes. They originate from and adopt the tribal areas as their home. They work with village committees to introduce the necessary changes to improve drinking water, livelihoods and primary education. In Gujarat (India) ten community entrepreneurs focus on generating financial and social capital in the thirty villages. They have a direct stake in the joint venture with the communities. Their core business is change management. Change without loosing the existing sustainable values and practices of the villages. Learning takes place at the individual, organizational and social level. The approach is called Samvardhan which stands for ‘nurturing nature and people’. This was a project that really resonated with me when attending the Tiblisi+30 conference.

PR and distribution strategy

Over 600 copies of the CEPA toolkit were distributed through the IUCN Commission on Education and Education (CEC) booth in the exhibition area of the Tiblisi+30 conference. The booth was very strategically situated and from far you could recognize the CEC logo and posters. Every day during lunch and tea breaks – when most participants roam the exhibition - I made sure there were about 50 CDs to take away displayed on the table. A short announcement - hand written on paper - explained about the CEPA toolkit website. It stated that educators from the North easily can download the material from It continued that the CDs were especially made for those participants from countries where it is difficult to access internet and download large files. Another announcement invited visitors to leave their card or write their address on a list when they wanted more information about the toolkit or CEC. Over a hundred visitors left their names and address.

A learning experience in sustainability

The Tiblisi+30 conference on environmental education was not so much a conference in the traditional sense of the word but more a learning experience in sustainability. The campus of the Ahmedabad based Center for Environmental Education (CEE) offered a perfect space to experience sustainability.The plenary hall, lunch court and exhibition area were all in tents in the open air. The spacious gardens took the place of the ‘corridors’ for networking. The variety of trees, flowers and music during the breaks generated an open atmosphere, impossible to compete with by the usual congress center. Lunch and dinner offered an opportunity to taste the varieties of the local vegetarian cuisine.

An art exhibition showed what traditional crafts can contribute to communicate sustainable development. A concert, a dance performance and an evening with traditional Gujarati folk dance communicated peace, equity, ancient values and innovation. The ambiance offered participants an opportunity for deep listening and sharing. Subtle positive energy radiated from the hand movements of the dancers of Mallika Sarabhai's group Darpana. It came right into the hearts of participants. Inspiration to start ‘living the change we want to see in the world’. It all influenced our mental frames to share and learn. This is how an ESD or environmental conference should be organized.

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Effective attitude of a consultant

The client is always right. We never blame him for his mistakes. Like a physician will not blame the patient for being sick. Our aim is not to be ‘right’. We accept a ‘second best’ solution, as long as it comes from the client. The client’s organization never functions in an ideal way. There is always something to improve. Even when implementing our advice they make many mistakes. As long as there is a positive impact, we wait until the next opportunity to help them improve. Learning goes step by step. This were my thoughts this weekend when flying back from my assignment over the last few months. Remember verse 13 of the Tao Te Ching:

Accept disgrace willingly. Accept misfortune as the human condition.
What do you mean by "Accept disgrace willingly"?
Accept being unimportant. Do not be concerned with loss or gain. This is called "accepting disgrace willingly."
What do you mean by "Accept misfortune as the human condition"?
Misfortune comes from having a body. Without a body, how could there be misfortune?
Surrender yourself humbly; then you can be trusted to care for all things.
Love the world as your own self; then you can truly care for all things.

Monday, 19 November 2007

Environmentalism's existential moment

Imagine swapping Tony Blair for Winston Churchill. Would it transform the timid politics of global warming? A week ago Keith Wheeler pointed me to this article in Conservation Magazine by Shellenberger & Nordhaus of the Breakthrough Institute. They are authors of the Death of Environmentalism. In the article they show the power of framing. They reframe the Blair/Churchill approach to a crisis. On their blog you can find more discussion on this issue.

Jack Byrne wrote us that the authors had recently spoken in Middlebury at a conference called "What Works?" The premise of the conference was that environmentalism was failing to sufficiently address the climate change issue and that a new model was needed, i.e., what other movement had successfully dealt with a large complex issue and cause a social change that lasted? The answer that came up was the civil rights movement. Since then there has been a very active and successful group of students who are learning and applying lessons from that history. He also thought that the enviro community could learn a lot from reframing the issues. The CEPA Toolkit deals with framing in Section 1.

Sunday, 18 November 2007

Eco-networks: management or coordination?

Can Public Councils - platforms of stakeholders, a body without legal personality - be tasked with the management of eco-networks? Participants in the kick-off seminar of the Bulgarian-Greek cross border eco-networks heavily debated this question in Sofia this week. Should Public Councils become NGOs? Should we have new legislation?

I realized that the confusion originates from the word ‘management’. To ‘manage’ a protected area or a Natura 2000 site you need legal ownership of the land and or legislation on all aspects of land use. The state is not owner of the whole eco-network. The core areas of the eco-networks are protected areas, mostly owned by the state and Natura 2000 sites have to be managed according to a special regime. But the buffer zones and corridors are not under any special regime. Land owners and municipalities are under no obligation to contribute to the eco-network. They do so on a voluntary basis. So it is better to communicate the task of Public Councils as “to coordinate the voluntary contributions of the eco-network with the management of the Natura 2000 sites and the protected areas in the region”. If you frame it this way, everybody can agree. And the task becomes much more ‘manageable’!

Saturday, 10 November 2007

'Deep listening' to images

An image says more than a thousand words. In her presentation during the Trondheim conference, CEC member Juliane Zeidler analyzed the impact on the ground in Namibia of the conceptual frameworks of the MEA’s, the national planning frameworks and the donor policies. What impressed me were the photos, taken by Juliane and her friend Louisa Nakanuku. You feel the tension between the community level and the (inter)national environmental and development goals. Think of terms such as: Paris declaration; mainstreaming environment in PRSPs; ecosystem services; National Development Plans; key result areas; performance review process; GEF. And then look at the photos and ask yourself: will change occur top down, bottom-up or both ways? If you want to see the full presentation, click here.

Thursday, 8 November 2007

Walking the talk or just green washing?

One of the rules in communication is “never lie, never over state, never make promises you can’t deliver”. It always comes back at you like a boomerang. And you get the opposite of what you intended. I had to think of it when I saw the story of an international environmental organization claiming it is ‘walking the talk’ with its new green building for which the highest environmental standards will be used.

The story reminded me of this neighbor in my street. Unloading his car he proudly showed me the energy saving lamps he had bought. No more old fashioned lamps in his house. I should be happy with his contribution to combat climate change. Looking in his trunk, I saw he also had bought lights for his garden and an electric heater for his terrace. So I said: "I don’t think your electricity bill will be going down, most probably it will go up!"

The same for this 'leader in biodiversity conservation'. Of course you can integrate sustainability in all aspects of management. Not only in procurement or construction. Sustainable development in HRM could mean that staffs work more at home and come to the office regularly for meetings. This way you need less office space. Even less when you decentralize functions and post the various programs in different regional offices. You walk the talk when your organization grows, but you can manage with the same office space, and the same footprint. The publicity now only communicates that you are not a leader, but are doing the same green washing, you blame so many others for.

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

Conceptual framework: scientific base for change?

Conceptual framework is a term often referred to during the Trondheim conference as the scientific base for biodiversity conservation. My doubts are on the increase. I think there is more. Quantum physicist Werner Heisenberg has said: “every concept, clear as it may be has only a limited range of applicability.” But it seems to be difficult to be aware of the limitations and of the relativity of conceptual knowledge, linear thinking and a mechanistic world view. The representation of the reality of pressures, drivers, impact etc. is so much easier to grasp than reality itself, that we tend to confuse the two and take concepts, symbols and graphics for reality. And base our policies, interventions and the road forward on the 'map' and not on the reality.

The conceptual framework presented by UNEP (click on the image to see a larger version) also maps the causes and impacts, but pays very little attention to the realities on the ground and concrete changes towards sustainable solutions. In the same way most speakers focused on the analysis of problems, or the white boxes. It is really high time to get down off our mountain tops and start paying attention to the blue box and focus on the 'chemistry of change'. That is what comes to my mind if I think about the conference almost a week later. At the same time the music and art that warmed and colored the conference come to mind and the networking with so many people eager to contribute to positive change. And for me it was a good learning experience.

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

Communication without words

Even when we don't say anything we communicate. Body language. Not appearing where we were expected. Not returning a call. Etcetera. The portrait of Jan Six was not exhibited for more than 50 years. So when I had to be in The Hague today, I made time to go to the museum to see the painting. And I immediately had to think about how powerful communication can be without words.

The portrait tells a clear story. You see what he is thinking: My name is Jan Six. I am a man of the world. I love my city. I am a succesful business man, about to become a mayor of Amsterdam. I am used to get what I want. I look at my friend Rembrandt - who is painting me - with genuine sympathy. I really like a good artist. I buy his paintings so he can pay his debts. Actually I have to go out now, and have no more time to pose. So I am about to say: Rembrandt my friend, see you another time!

Thursday, 1 November 2007

Demand for biodiversity knowledge

Biodiversity as a means to poverty alleviation. This is the title of the talk by Fabrice de Clerck from CATIE. The Millenium Villages, an initiative of the Earth Institute, uses biodiversity knowledge to help villages in Africa to improve their crops and live stock. This way food production will be more nutritious, more stable and larger. It contributes to a range of MDGs. Most importantly when health and income improve, other tasks in the village can be initiated: infrastructure, reforestation, water, education. People can turn around the downward spiral of poverty. Read more on the website of the Earth Institute. Another good example of the biodiversity community getting down off its mountain top! To view the presentation, click here.

Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Promising partnerships

A good example of the biodiversity community getting down off our mountain tops. Emile Frison told about the health problems of dietary simplification or the replacement of traditional diversity of food by energy rich (fast) food in Kenya. The consequences are well known in the developed world: diabetes, obesity, cancer etc. But they are new in Kenya. Bioversity International worked in partnership with farmers, supermarkets, health NGOs and marketers to reintroduce traditional veggies that have much more nutrients than cabbage, the only vegetable left in the market place and restaurants. In 5 years with the help of a marketing communication campaign addressing - through protagonists - cultural values and motives for change, supermarkets and vegetable markets now offer again a range of traditional vegetables against competitive prices. Sales went up with 1100% over the last two years. A promising partnership positioning biodiversity as a solution for the MDGs.

Tuesday, 30 October 2007

Different perspectives on measuring impact

How do you measure the impact of your work? I ask this question to people I meet in the corridors and over lunch. I attend the Trondheim/UN Conference on Ecosystems and People – Biodiversity for Development – The road to 2010 and beyond. Policymakers, managers and scientists have a dialogue at the invitation of the Norwegian Government. So far I get different answers from the people I speak. The number of citations of my studies (university researcher). New or renewed funding for my institute (policy researcher). Allocation of more funds to the biodiversity budget lines of my organization (manager of a biodiversity program). Improved attitudes towards biodiversity of my colleagues in government (policy maker). It is interesting to note that only grass root organizations and consultants think immediately in terms of impact on the ground – e.g. improved living conditions of local people and e.g. decrease of deforestation.

Get down off our mountain tops

How do you engage in partnerships, can you give an example? It is one of the questions after my presentation at the Trondheim/UN Conference on Ecosystems and People – Biodiversity for Development – The road to 2010 and beyond. The main message of my presentation was: biodiversity objectives can only be realized through others. The biodiversity community cannot do it alone. It therefore has to come down off its mountain tops and starts entering into partnerships with other sectors on an equal basis. Knowledge generation should not exclusively focus on biodiversity science, but equally on how to make the results of our studies relevant for policy, management and on the ground impact.

My answer to the question refers to an experience as a consultant with Natura 2000. A Ministry of Environment had no infrastructure to communicate the new policy to local stakeholders of the more than 100 sites in the country. Establishing relationships at various levels with the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry made it possible to use their extension services. The advantage was that these extensionists already knew the land owners and users. Of course it took time, negotiations, trade offs (e.g. help to establish criteria for sustainable agriculture subsidies) and training. But it worked very well. In Section 3 of the CEPA toolkit more examples are given how to mainstream biodiversity. For the article I wrote for the conference, click here.

Friday, 26 October 2007

The success is in the preparation

“What will make our workshop a success?” My clients give me the design for a ‘closing’ workshop of their project. It starts with speeches of the VIPs and is followed by presentations of the major stakeholders. No interaction just a little space for questions. They expect between 100 and 150 participants. I have learned that the success of a workshop is in the preparation. And starts is with defining the objectives. This workshop should not be the end but the beginning. From now on the government and local stakeholders will start to implement what they have worked on in the project. So lets put the participants around tables in groupings of ten. Make the workshop into a moment where they share their commitments, discuss next steps, clarify mutual expectations, build and deepen relationships. Instead of presentations lets have a short video, an exhibition about local initiatives, panel discussions and informal interviews among the various tables. Lets have enough time for informal networking. And lets provide information to help with various next steps through one pagers in the workshop folder. The CEPA Toolkit contains in section 2 and section 3 further guidance on how to prepare and facilitate workshops.

Thursday, 25 October 2007

Lay out, a matter of taste?

My clients ask is the lay-out of a publication a matter taste or are there criteria? Lay out should support our objectives. You should brief the designer that in this case the document is meant to guide civil servants to decide about project funding and to help local stakeholders to select and prepare project proposals. Look and feel of the lay out should support this. It should be easy to read and easy to find information. It should give an impression of reliability, credibility and be business-like. E.g. large fond and texts in two columns help readability. The choice of the illustrations can help finding information and support credibility. A design without much ornamentation makes a document more business-like.

Sunday, 14 October 2007

Management first, communication later

When do you need strategic communication advice? My clients explain their organization needs a more strategic use of communication. They expect added value for corporate and internal communication, but especially for the translation of scientific research to policymakers. They are already working on a communication strategy document. Asked what they expect from me, they say they are not sure what should be in the document. So could I help there?

We talk about the history of the organization, its current structure, the products and services, its reputation and successes, the human capital, clients, competitors, donors and challenges for the future. It becomes clear that they have only a vague idea about the business they are in, the added value of their products, their successes, their vision and objectives etc. It appears they have no overall strategic plan for the organization. So my advice is: “communication is a means to support the vision and objectives of the organization. You need strategic communication only when you have clarity about the vision and objectives of the organization. Lets work on that first”. Section 4 of the CEPA toolkit is about making a strategic communication plan.

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

Framing bio-fuels as agro-fuels

After my shopping, I realize that my breakfast tomorrow will be more expensive than that of today. The reason is my cornflakes. The prices of corn have gone up because of the “go yellow” hype in the US. Rising oil prices, energy security, and global warming concerns have led to this hype over corn ethanol. The conservation community still labels it as bio-fuel.

But recent research shows that the expansion of the corn ethanol industry will lead to more water and air pollution and soil erosion of America's farm belt, while failing to significantly offset fossil fuel use or combat global warming. Rapeseed and maize bio-diesels are calculated to produce up to 70 per cent and 50 per cent more greenhouse gases respectively than fossil fuels. By framing our energy problems as being about which source of fuel to use, we have landed in a trap that is hurting local farmers.

Fuel and food are already competing for land in the US. It will affect prices of meat and other agricultural products. This is just the beginning. The whole issue gets an ethical dimension if we calculate worldwide the space needed for fuel and food. Can we drive cars while others go hungry? So my question again to the conservation community: “why not start framing the issue as the energy scam of the agri-business? Or if this is too political, at least change the word bio-fuel into agro-fuel?”

Monday, 8 October 2007

The added value of marketing

The traditional expert approach to biodiversity conservation is to research and map the whole situation and try to think of a logical system of interventions that address all aspects of the biodiversity issue. The concepts and models of landscape approach, protected area systems, eco-networks or ecosystem approach are then translated into often large and ambitious projects. My experience is that such projects seldom lead to real and lasting changes.

In the private sector a marketing strategy is a process that helps a company to concentrate its (always limited) resources on the greatest opportunities to increase sales and achieve a sustainable competitive advantage. For the biodiversity conservation community a marketing strategy can help to focus on the greatest opportunities to realize and increase impact and achieve a sustainable competitive advantage for conservation and sustainable use issues vis-à-vis other interests.

The Maya nut case study provides a good example of the added value of a marketing approach next to a protected area approach. The posting triggering positive change is another illustration. On the web I found two other interesting examples, one focusing on bananas, the other on sugar. Marketing focuses on what people or institutions would motivate to do things differently. It often starts small, focuses on visible success and on triggering word of mouth. The latter then makes change take off on a larger and sustainable scale.

Friday, 5 October 2007

The Zen of positive change

What can we learn from Zen for positive change towards sustainable development? Zen like other schools of Buddhism focuses on spiritual change. In all traditions the spiritual change process is depicted in ten phases. The pictures here come from the Chinese Zen (Chan) tradition. They are attributed to Kuo An Shi Yuan,who added a poem and a commentary to each picture. I added my 'learning' for positive change to the original titles.

1. Searching for the ox – analyzing the situation
2. Seeing some traces – identifying the behaviour we want to change
3. Seeing the ox –defining desired behaviour
4. Catching the ox – analyzing obstacles for change
5. Herding the ox – analyzing motives for change
6. Riding the ox home – making change easy
7. Ox vanishes, man remains – making the new behaviour normal and desirable
8. Man and ox are lost – change has turned into a habit
9. Returning to the origin – we understand everything changes and all phenomena are interdependent
10. Entering the market place with empty hands – we apply the learning about change in other spheres of life.

Wednesday, 3 October 2007

Environmental education: aren’t we forgetting something?

Next month the Fourth International Environmental Education Conference takes place in Ahmedabad, India. When I look at the ‘Tibilisi+30’ program, I wonder why I cannot find anything about learning in informal contexts. Lifelong learning is since the seventies one of UNESCO’s 'master concepts' that should shape educational systems worldwide. Since then we speak of formal, informal and non-formal education. 'King's College London' researcher Justin Dillon pointed me to the diagram on the website of the Learning in Informal and Formal Environments (LIFE) Center. It shows how most learning during our life takes place in an informal environment. Moreover today we learn through TV, radio, newspapers, magazines, google, wikis, gaming, Youtube, Myspace, blogging, chat boxes, you name it. Learning is learning is learning, as Justin Dillon told me. So why no attention to this increasingly important sector? Are environmental educators only focused on schools, zoos and NGO fieldwork? If so aren’t they missing out on what is going on the real world? In any case this area is one where the IUCN Commission on Education and Communication is more and more interested in.

Monday, 1 October 2007

The biodiversity system: time to change?

European biodiversity conservation – like elsewhere in the world - is a system that operates on the basis of research. Scientific information is translated into a logical system of objectives, measures and actions. Measures for governments. Actions - funding available - for other levels of government, private sector and NGOs. The question is whether this logic will produce the desired changes. For years the system operates in this fashion. Notwithstanding the ‘system’, negative impacts on biodiversity continue. The loss of biodiversity is even increasing.

My clients work on such a logical program of objectives, measures and actions. At some point in time the scientific logic and the realities on the ground seem to clash. The results of the project are in danger. I am asked to help with 'this communication' issue. But change takes place with a logic of its own. So my challenge is to introduce principles of change management, marketing and communication and softly guide the experts towards a set of final products that may work.

But in the meantime 80% of the investment has been in research. Is it not time to change the logic of the European biodiversity system? Or is the system just there to provide employment for biodiversity experts and not to halt the loss of biodiversity?

Input or output management?

Most biodiversity experts tend to manage their project on input, not output. That is why many conservation projects often run into difficulties. Input management is a style where the project manager concentrates on getting as much of the best available input into the project. Many of the meetings with team members are about the challenges, content and process. The project manager spends much time to advise team members how to prepare and carry out tasks. He oversees progress of the work on a daily or at least weekly basis. He is on top of the whole process from the details of GIS to the program of a stakeholder meeting.

Output management is a style where the project manager concentrates on getting the best possible results for the project. He makes sure the results are - right from the start - jointly defined with the key experts. Everyone in the team has to know what exactly the project should deliver. To delegate tasks the project manager invests in detailed briefings and checks if the employees understand what he asks of them. Then he expects them to be on their own and only report back when the task is finished or when they see a problem arising.

I learned that a focus on input for the best possible quality involves a high risk for the project to run into time or money problems. Even quality problems, as this style implies that only the team leader knows the right quality. For a consultant who is asked to solve the problems the project has run into, it means coaching the experts towards the right quality, within the available budget and time. If possible to coach them towards an overall output management style.

Saturday, 29 September 2007

Triggering positive change

Will a comprehensive portfolio for investment opportunities in sustainable development in the four eco-networks trigger positive change? Will municipalities, local entrepreneurs and NGOs write proposals to get funding under EU structural funds for regional development? Will they have the capacity to write them? To implement them? To comply with all EU rules and regulations? Questions that intrigue me.

I day-dream that the money now used in this rather ambitious project, is used in a few small - strategically chosen - projects. For example to introduce improved potato cultivation or local cattle breeding. To set up a partnership to collect, clean, dry and market local herbs, honey, syrup from pine branches, berries (for jam), walnuts, sweet chestnuts and hazelnuts, mushrooms etc. To market a yearly local festival of folklore, crafts and arts. To turn authentic village homes into guest houses. To stimulate solar energy. To manage municipal waste. To restore public parks.

What I have learned is that investments in small concrete improvements of socio-economic conditions of communities trigger more success elsewhere. Concentrate on doing one thing well. Easy-to-do projects that promise immediate and visible success. Publications do not trigger change. People do. And action speak louder than words. Word of mouth then creates positive change.

Monday, 24 September 2007

Stakeholder engagement: always a double focus

Managing a public participation process means a double focus: on results and on process.We entered into a fantastic participatory process. The stakeholders formulated a common vision for sustainable development, priorities and a huge amount recommendations for concrete initiatives. People are really enthusiastic. Too enthusiastic, actually. They have too many expectations from us now. And we find it difficult to match their ideas – all formulated in a different way - with the existing policy frameworks and the funding schemes. We are afraid that stakeholders will not recognize anymore their input.

This is what I have learned over the years. Stakeholder engagement is a way to improve decisions the government takes with bottom-up input. In this case decisions to fund sustainable development initiatives. Management of such a process implies you know all relevant government strategies and funding opportunities before going to the stakeholders. You don’t do this research later or as a parallel activity. From the start you have to explain what will qualify for funding and what not. This marks the limits of the public dialogue and helps not to raise too many expectations. To work out ideas, provide a format that addresses all relevant aspects of the funding policies. This will get you better and more focused bottom-up results. And it will make it easier to compile the ideas in a way stakeholders later can relate to. In short do not only focus on the process. Also focus on the results. And have clarity on the desired results first.

Section 3 of the CEPA toolkit provides further advice on public participation.

Sunday, 23 September 2007

Communicating eco-networks 2

How to package expert information to make it effective with non-experts? I have maps of internationally and nationally designated areas (Ramsar, World Heritage sites etc.). Maps of internationally acknowledged areas (Important Bird Areas, Important Plant Areas, etc.). Habitat maps showing existing non-fragmented natural and semi-natural areas considered large enough to sustain viable populations of species of European importance. I get many lists of actual distribution data of selected species. And I get descriptions of the existing relevant laws, policies and strategies.

Together all this is just data. Not information. When it goes out like this, nobody – except other experts – will understand it and agree with the design of this eco-network. Maps and statistics are not the reality. Reality is much more dynamic and also implies people of flesh and blood. And it is people we have to reach.

So I ask for real life stories that illustrate the need for the eco-network. I ask for photos that bring abstract concepts to life: world conservation value, threats to biodiversity, the culture, the demographics. I ask for quotes from local people. What they think of the current situation. Their dreams for the future. Their ideas for initiatives that will benefit both society and nature. Their motives to be part of positive change. With this support we write short simple texts. The data go into boxes or annexes. Section 2 of the CEPA toolkit deals with packaging biodiversity information in the second chapter.

Drawing to learn strategy

“What is so strategic in a drawing?”, my colleague wants to know. Apparently I have not been clear. And my drawings are even less. I try again. This time using better examples. I concentrate on learning from nature: “Artis Natura Magister”.

Drawing can be used to practice observing the situation, to understand what is important and what not. So you can act strategically. Take the landscape. It is a complex dynamic system. Its essence is change. To understand what is going on around him, Musashi must have taken in the landscape. The mountains, the forest, the stream. Then he saw a bird hopping from reed to reed. His drawing captures the moment just before the bird takes off again. His message may have been: “change occurs, timing is everything”.

The classical Chinese landscape offers apparently a very different picture. Not reduced to a reed stem and a bird. Here is abundance of information. Mountains, forest, streams. But when we look better we see the change. This time it is a lonesome traveler. Clearly he still has a long way to go to his final destination. And he has been on the road for quite some time. He crosses a bridge and to his relief he now can see in the distance the small village that may provide him with food and shelter for the night. The message may have been: “persevere, step by step you reach your goal.

Sunday, 16 September 2007

Learning strategic communication

Strategy is a military concept to reach our goals in the most effective way. One of the preconditions of any strategy is the right understanding of the situation. Trying to draw a situation, without any artistic ambitions, has been a useful exercise for me to understand the situation. It taught me to be mindful of the most important things. To picture what other people see and what they do not see.

I came to understand what Musashi writes in his strategy manual: “the Way of the samurai is twofold: the way of the brush and of the sword. He has to have an affinity for both ways. Even if someone does not possess the natural talent, he can become a samurai by relentlessly holding on to both aspects of the Way.”

To draw on a blank piece of paper is to develop a communication strategy. What is the main issue to communicate? How to frame the issue? The core message? What to leave out? What to give more accents? How to get a top brain position.

To illustrate what I mean I share some of my old exercises. They are from my diary when I traveled for some months in Japan in the mid seventies I did not write anything. Instead I made a drawing every day. You can easily see how complex reality is. How often you are distracted by the unimportant things. Through practicing I slowly learned to assess the situation, to see what is important to be effective.

Friday, 14 September 2007

Communicating Eco-Networks

The participatory process to establish eco-networks has raised expectations among a range of different stakeholders. Governmental departments, districts, municipalities, local entrepreneurs, NGOs and biodiversity and other experts. They all speak a different language. The plan has to comply with existing legislation, policies and strategies. So even with all the bottom-up input, the language in all the reports we have to use is full of biodiversity and official government planning jargon. Overall objectives, measures, interventions, ecosystem services, core areas, corridors, buffer zones etc.

Our communication task is to capture the essence of the eco-network and sustainable development program in simple language. We have to be creative to get the attention of the audience of stakeholders, to trigger their interest and desire to take a next step. The AIDA principle is explained in section 1 of the cepa toolkit. The idea of the eco-network program is to trigger initiatives that improve the living and biodiversity conditions in the eco-networks. We call the program: ‘Naturally investing in our future”. It is a portfolio of opportunities for investment in sustainable development. It contains recommendations for initiatives that can be funded under existing funding schemes. We illustrate the portfolio with a simple graphic. We are now testing the concept.

Thursday, 13 September 2007

Coaching: to be mindful of learning

The sage has no mind of his own.
He is aware of the needs of others.

I am good to people who are good.
I am also good to people who are not good.
Because Virtue is goodness.
I have faith in people who are faithful.
I have also faith in people who are not faithful.
Because Virtue is faithfulness.

The sage is shy and humble – to the world he is confusing.
Men look to him and listen.
He behaves like a little child.

Verse 49 Tao Te Ching

When the client cannot do the job himself and I am hired – what I do is learning and guiding the learning of others. Coaching as a consultant results in products, services, and communication of organizations that would not be there without my interventions. If the impacts are good, they are not associated anymore with my efforts. Even the clients have come to perceive it as their own doing.

What I need is to be humble, to value simplicity, to be flexible, creative and well versed in strategy. Clients learn to do the right thing, increase their self responsibility and become owner of the solutions. Although the doctor is instrumental in the process, the body is ultimately healing itself. Therefore a good consultant develops in himself the attitude of the sage from the Tao Te Ching.

Saturday, 8 September 2007

Tourism: a look from the inside

My neighbor in the plane works for a large tour operator. We talk about marketing biodiversity. Much to reflect on!

Profile of the client?
Over 80% of mainstream tourism is all inclusive package deals. This client does not want to hear the word environment or nature. He is not impressed by biodiversity loss. He wants sun and fun, e.g. heli or jet skiing. And there is always plenty of local supply. Americans want the same level of luxury and food as at home, even in an eco-lodge. Europeans feel they are now guests and want to taste another experience.

Entry points? 50-90% of the footprint is transport. It depends on the length of the flight. Each year holiday flights increase with 7%, while the improvements of flying increase only with 1,5%. CO2 compensation is only an excuse for real improvements. There is not enough space on earth to plant trees for all flights and after planting no control over the fate of the trees. The rest of the footprint is hotel and entertainment. Globally only1% of the hotels is certified. In Europe only there are 50 eco-labels. Attempts to come to a single global label have failed. In many countries there is no eco-label at all.

Ecotourism: the solution? Ecotourism often creates a new stream in the market that develops slowly out of control into mass tourism. Only when there is no tourism at all, you can start with eco-tourism. For the rest it is throwing good money to bad money. Ecotourism does not give a real return on investment. What you can do is to include responsible wildlife watching or a local day in the package tours.