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


Monday 30 April 2007

Learning: the missing link?

In her response to my first posting, Gillian rightly points at the black box between knowledge and action. She and her team propose learning as the missing link. I agree, but there is more. Knowledge based learning not always produces action. Sometimes change triggered by marketing precedes learning. Sometimes we only learn the hard way. We know for instance that no matter how much health education, to stop smoking is often only achieved after serious health problems. Here is a biodiversity example from my "blog-avant-la-lettre" from 1999. It was called the Art of Learning towards Sustainable Development and I stopped it, as it met with a deadly silence among my colleages. As I have little time today I just copy and paste:

It is a lesson I learned once during a conference on environmental education in New Delhi in 1990. I attended a presentation from an Indian Women's Association. They told us about various projects to combat deforestation. The way they tackled the issue, immediately hit me as a very sophisticated marketing communication approach.

They would go to a village and focus not on all the villagers, but just on the women. The ones in the households who would go for cutting firewood for their daily cooking and walk every month longer distances. They would get them together in regular meetings and discuss health and social issues. Answer questions and give advice. They would bring up the question of eye disease. And how this sometimes was related to smoke from the type of wood they used in their open fires at home. They would show them which type of wood was less harmfull than others.

They would discuss other aspects of being so long busy above this open fire. Burning red eyes, eye diseases, rimples in the face, you name it. And the consequences. Husbands slowly paying less attention to the beauty of their wives. Forgetting them. Maltreating them. Taking a younger wife. Realities in these communities. Then they would bring up the alternative way of cooking. The 'chula' or clay stove. A practical device to cook, with almost no smoke and a consumption of only a fraction of the wood you need for an open fire. Less to carry. Less to cut. Less to suffer. They would provide soft loans to buy the new stove. They would teach the most eager ones the trade of producing and repairing the chulas, so they could make a small profit for themselves.

Only after the change of starting to cook on the chula, they would go into learning about about the forest and biodiversity. They would discuss a nursery closeby to grow their own firewood. And then slowly they would start talking about larger ambitions like combatting erosion and floods by planting the hills again with trees.

What impressed me was how well they were aware how their targetgroup related to the issue of deforestation. What their primary and personal concerns were: health, firewood, familybonds. How they communicated in realistic steps the essential changes and assisted each step with supporting means: loans, the technique of the chula etc. This way triggering behaviour change. A change that resulted in less pressure on the forests, and in some cases even to reforestation. I did not ask where they had learned their communication techniques. I am sure they would have answered me: "what are communication techniques? We just used our common sense." Actually that is what communication is all about: be simple and personal.

For me the missing link is both communication and learning. Two sides of the same coin. Key elements for positive change. Niten, as Musashi would say: Two Heavens, or a sword in each hand. To handle both is the art the Indian women had naturally mastered.

P.S. As it is so long ago, is there anyone who can tell me which organization I may have listened to in this Delhi conference? Just click on comments in the line below.

Sunday 29 April 2007

CEPA or Change?

Learning in interaction with my colleague Miro Kline.
Since 1999 I worked for a number of years in Slovenia with Miro Kline, a private consultant and lecturer at the University of Ljubljana. We were coaching staffs in the Environment Ministry and Agency to become more effective in communications. We had very similar ideas about the role of communications. Ideas that went far beyond posters, brochures and educational materials. In short our philosophy was that communications is a key instrument that helps to change people and organizations. The greater the degree of environmental change needed, the more attention one needs to pay to planning and preparation for change in human systems. And for the communications that has to support those changes (see Miro's graphic below).

The normal response of people when confronted with change is: shock - disbelief - guilt - projection - rationalisation - integration - acceptance. I remember what a shock it was for many staffs that they had to leave their desks and go to remote villages to interact face to face with local stakeholders. They went through a whole change process, slowly grasping how much more effective they could be for biodiversity and how much more appreciation they would get from stakeholders.

To integrate such changes in the organization, managers need to start communicating internally in a different way. Involve staffs and other stakeholders more in planning. Improve the working climate for employees, based on trust and cooperation. Pay attention to group norms and habits. Make only essential changes. Be transparent, provide adequate, accurate and complete information.

As individual staffs need to change first personally before they can trigger positive change in the wider environment, so need biodiversity organizations to change before they can become really effective in their work for sustainable use and conservation of biodiversity. This involves - both internally and externally - more attention to social and technical complexity, to psychological costs and values of key stakeholders. And attention to the need to find opinion leaders among those stakeholders. Investment to involve, motivate and support them for the desired positive change.

In the process we found that staffs were keen to learn more about how to improve their communication. And that we were more effective with managers, if we talked less about strategic communication and more about change management. I wonder whether we need to talk to NBSAP coordinators more about change management than about CEPA. Something to discuss further?

Saturday 28 April 2007

A smile from the toolkit

Or how to learn from a toolkit...?My father was a first violinist in the Symphony Orchestra of our town and a teacher at the local Conservatorium. He had studied with Carl Flesch and Oscar Back, both born in Hungary. And through a lineage of teachers – Joseph Marsick, Eugene Ysaye, Hubert Leonard, Henri Wieniaswki, Rodolphe Kreutzer, Giambatista Viotti - to name a few, he traced his basic knowledge and skills back to Giuseppe Tartini (1692-1770, picture). I was five when he started to teach me – my initiation into a lineage of communicators that I now pass on in quite a different way and quite a different context.

I studied the works of many of the lineage gurus and listened to the stories how they had explained difficult techniques. How to make a beautiful tone, how to catch the attention of the audience, how to change their mood. Stories how many hardships they had endured, how they had overcome difficulties in their practice. But also about their travels and adventures. Many stories were about how later in their career they had learned from the concerts of famous violinists they attended: Fritz Kreisler, Joseph Joachim, Nicolo Paganini, etc.

I experienced that 80% of my education was just practicing with my nose into the violin, my eyes on the notes of the Cevcik, Mazas or Kreutzer Studies, my mind controlling fingers and arms and my ears trying to catch a wrong note. 20% was demonstrating my progress in front of the teacher and listening to his instructions, comments or demonstrations. How nice if he played the same difficult study with me and the sound of the two violins camouflaged my own shortcomings. Then comes playing with other students, imitating them, competing with them.

My interest in communication and learning goes back to these years I learned to play the violin. I know now that to begin with you need the sparkle in the eye of your teacher. You need his encouragement, his admonishments, his inspiration. Once formal education has set you on your way and you practice hard, informal education starts adding value. Peer exchange. New books. New experiences. Lifelong learning. In this process, I learned, a smile is an indicator of success.

The toolkit offers different learning opportunities. Maybe you are facing in your work a specific issue or question. Zap through the toolkit and you may come across relevant fact sheets, examples or checklists. Maybe you are engaged in a professional dialogue with a colleague and decide, lets see what the toolkit says about this. Maybe you use parts of the toolkit in a training workshop. Maybe the toolkit inspires you to start you own blog or web community. If the toolkit can trigger a smile, you know you are right. Otherwise never mind.

Friday 27 April 2007

Practice what you preach!

Or how to make a simple communication strategy?
The Cepa toolkit and the blog are now four days on line. Still one of the best kept secrets. So far no reactions. It feels a bit lonely. Maybe this is how many National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan Coordinators must feel, after finishing their work: We have a good document. It is widely available. How come it still is so silent? We need better communications! What is happening to me as a professional communicator?

So this is the plan. Today I send a mail to the team of authors asking for advice on the blog and if they want to participate. And invite ideas for publicity for the toolkit. I will also bring the toolkit and blog to the attention of other communicators in my network. Ask them for advice and invite them to make the URLs available to people in their networks who might be interested.

Later today I will discuss with the CBD Secretariat a PR and distribution plan for the hard copy version of the toolkit and discuss the possibility of making a direct link from the CBD website to the online version of the toolkit. I will ask IUCN also to make a direct link to the toolkit from the CEC website. And maybe they can post information on their news items.

Next week I will mail the URLs to all respondents of the websurveys for the toolkit and those who sent resources and gave feedback and advice. In the coming months there are several events where I will be present anyway where the toolkit can get exposure: e.g. the world environment education congress in Durban, the summer course on environmental communication in the Autonomous University of Madrid, etc. I will ask my co-authors to do the same.

Then later this year there are the regional workshops planned by SCBD, and which are being discussed with Ramsar, UNEP and UNFCCC. So far it all is free publicity. And by listening to the advice of others the communication plan will be perfect! We will monitor initial success by looking at hits and downloads. We will keep you posted! And if you have a good advice: post it!

Wednesday 25 April 2007

Be honest and work hard!

As the work on the CEPA toolkit is finished, I ask my self: 'how do users know when to apply which good advice?' It makes me think of an ancient toolkit that for me has been a source of reflection and advice for strategic communication. This work not only addresses tactics for different situations, but even more so guides us how to develop the mental and spiritual attitude to make the right choices.

In 1645 Miyamoto Musashi wrote the Book of The Five Rings. A manual on strategy for samurai. In his introduction he explains that this strategy also has guided his mastering of other skills and arts. Some of his calligraphy and dawings can still be admired in Japanese museums. Over the years his book has become a source of inspiration not only for those specializing in martial arts but also for modern managers and politicians.

In the first section 'Earth' he positions 'the way of the strategy' and stresses the importance of preparation, practicing all arts, learning the ways of all professions and being honest. In the section 'Water' the focus is on becoming one with the target group. In 'Fire' it is about tactics to get results. 'Wind' is about other schools and paradigms and how not to get distracted by them. The last section is called 'Emptiness': absence of all narratives about strategy and complete clarity of mind to do the right thing.

Strategic communication can be practiced for large campaigns as well as for one-to one encounters. Like an experienced master craftsman knows his trade and picks without thinking the right tool from his box, daily study and continuous practice will make us pick the right interventions from the toolkit. Through practicing in all aspects of life we master the art of strategy. Humility and hard work. Once we do not think anymore of toolkit or strategy, we are close to the ultimate state of realising emptiness.

Monday 23 April 2007

Another toolkit

After just finishing the manuscript of the CBD CEPA toolkit, I read today new rules: new game. A guide to behaviour change for Climate Change, published in 2005 - I had not come across yet. 12 Pages of good advice, practical and generic. Because of its generic nature it not only applies to communicating climate change, but other environmental conventions as well.

25 Short statements provide an effective frame to plan a communication strategy. A statement that resonates well with my experience is:
"there are times of big changes in our lives: getting married, moving house, starting a new job, having a baby or retiring. People are far more open to change in these ‘transition zones’, because their habits are all in flux."

The statements are preceded by five principles: one refutes the mistaken idea that knowledge will lead to action:
"we must stop searching for the sparkly magic bridge that simply leads from values to action, or from attitudes to behaviour. People’s behaviours, attitudes, values and awareness are all different and linked in complicated ways – if they’re linked at all."

My big question is how and when will decision makers - who can make a real impact - learn the Art of Positive Change towards the goal of the environmental conventions...?