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


Tuesday 28 August 2007

Framing genetic diversity

''I don't care if they're dangerous,'' said an old man. "I don't know what the threat is ... nothing serious, I think ...'', a lady helped herself to three sacks of the fruit in minutes. A man waiting in traffic for the lights to go green near the ministry, leapt out of his car and joined the feast: ''I'm not scared of GM papayas. Rather, I'm scared I won't have any to eat,'' said the man, before rushing back to his car with the free fruit.

The frontpage of the newspaper features Greenpeace that had dumped tonnes of papayas in front of the Agriculture and Cooperatives Ministry yesterday to protest the lifting of the ban on open-field trials of genetically-modified (GM) papaya. People had flocked to load up on the free papayas, ignoring the environmental organization's campaign against the dangers of GM fruit.

Most passers-by knew nothing about transgenic fruit, and said they did not care about any health risks. ''This shows the failure of government agencies to educate people about the possible health risks of genetically-engineered crops,'' Greenpeace said later on. “At least we got on the front page of the newspapers”, I was told today. Their website did not mention the unexpected reaction of the public...!

To me the communication residue in the minds of newspaper readers might well be: “see, GM food is not any problem at all”. And Greenpeace, if they want to continue their campaign, might well be advised to start reframing the discourse into something that triggers the right psychology and appeals for motives for change. Like bio-fuels and not agro-fuels, ‘genetically modified’ just seems too abstract and harmless.

Sunday 26 August 2007

Biodiversity: the happiness you can grow

There is a Chinese saying: “if you want three hours of ecstasy, try gambling. For three weeks of rapture, go traveling. For three months of bliss, get married. Build a new house and you will enjoy three years of heaven. But if you want true and lasting happiness, grow and live with trees.”

In this Buddhist country the newspapers often feature the sermon of a monk. I happen to come across the words of Phra Paisan Visalo, abbot of a forest monastery here in the Mekong river basin. Replacing ‘forest’ in his sermon with ‘biodiversity’, I immediately thought of my search for a biodiversity metaphor.

"Growing trees makes us happy not only when we see them blossom and give fruit and shade. We experience the feeling of joy from the moment we put the seeds into the soil, pour water over them and take care of the land."

"Happiness cannot be bought. It is something we have to cultivate ourselves. The same is the case with biodiversity. We have to join hands to cultivate it. That is the beginning of growing happiness by our own hands. At the same time, what is no less important is to take care of a “tree” (or other species or ecosystem?) in our own heart. When that flourishes, so will our peace of mind."

"Much of our time we keep ourselves busy with things from the outside: friends, work, TV, shopping and so on. We think these things are indispensable and we don't need to look inside. Again the same is the case with biodiversity: globalization, shopping malls, internet, it almost looks as if we can do without nature. But it does not bring us happiness. It is time start nurturing the “trees” inside and outside of us."

I wonder what the impact might be when I am in the elevator with our PM and I ask him: “what are your priorities for the happiness we can grow?”

Friday 24 August 2007

What is biodiversity: looking for a metaphor

“The heart is a pump”, “the eye is a camera”, “the cell is a factory”, “the kidney is a waste filter”, “the brain is a computer”, “photosynthesis is like baking bread”, “global warming is caused by a CO2 blanket”.

Why do we have such a difficulty in communicating biodiversity? RSPB addressed this issue some years ago from the branding perspective. The Frameworks Institute recently studied the framing of global warming and touched on the same issue. This is what I learned.

There are many definitions of biodiversity. The CBD description is technical, other definitions are descriptive, emotive, or motivational. They are not easy to remember. They do not ‘stick’ or ‘click’ with the general public.

For a communicator trying to ‘sell’ biodiversity, the concept does not seem to address any specific human needs or segmented audiences. Biodiversity has no brain position at all (it does not ring a bell among the public). There is no big story. There is no flavor that resonates with emotional values. What is the added value?

Analyzing other scientific concepts that do resonate with the general public, we see that one has be willing to concede a little scientific and philosophical purity if one wants to communicate these concepts to the public. Analogies or metaphors have proved to be very effective in this respect, if they are:
• Catchy in brief exposures (a few sound bites)
• Easy to understand and remember
• Contagious to think, talk and learn more.
So lets brainstorm metaphors: the magic of life, the engine of nature, the natural health service, the capacity for change, the game of consequences, the missing link in decisionmaking - what other analogies would fit?

Sunday 19 August 2007

Blogging: learning points after 4 months

Blogging as informal learning by accessing someone’s personal documentation. There was no other reason than that I thought I should try to practice this medium. Others had told me a week earlier it was the thing to do. I just jumped into it. This is now 16 weeks or 56 postings ago. Technology is so easy that even I can handle the basics. And as rationale I thought it would support marketing the cepa toolkit and it might become a community of practice.

These are still the organizing principles for the blog. But learning by doing showed me blogging is foremost a new channel for documentation of ideas, learning points and notes. Easier than in a notebook, you can find your entries back. The form forces you to be precise and concise. No half sentences, no unreadable scribbles. Pictures and visuals are better than ballpoint sketches. Then there are the links to sources on the web, you may need again later on.

I know others have access, can read and comment on the postings and I love my readers, but increasingly I became less conscious of them. I realized blogging is making your own learning accessible for informal learning by others without (much) interaction. Except for the 1-2% of readers who post a comment, the only traces they leave are in the web statistics google provides.

I saw an increase of readers at the time of WEEC. I saw the archives are accessed regularly. And it is interesting to see which words of search engines score most (e.g. poverty, communication residue, deep listening). In July I interviewed ten people I knew were readers. Their main feedback was to make the postings shorter. This all fits with the concept of accessing someone’s documentation. I am curious how I will see blogging after another 50 or more postings. Who wants to accelerate my learning?

Thursday 16 August 2007

Getting out of our silos: illustration

What can an ecologist learn from an engineer? What can an engineer learn from an ecologist? The latest IUCN corporate posters - the back covers of the last two issues of World Conservation - illustrate the changing paradigm and the new trend of 'getting out of our silos'.

The interaction between ecology and economy is not anymore about the one winning and the other losing. It is about joint learning for sustainable development. Conservation and sustainable use not as a goal in itself, but as a means towards sustainable development.

I like the positioning of IUCN- bringing experts together to help solve our most pressing sustainable development challenges.

Wednesday 15 August 2007

Getting out of our silos

Our society – ministries, universities, etc. - is organized vertically along specializations. It means that biodiversity, wetlands, climate change used to be dealt with by specialists and specialist organizations in the relative isolation of their silo. To deal effectively with the challenges of sustainable development, the new trend is to get out of these silos.

Increasingly ecologists are not anymore totally sidelined when sanitation engineers do their work in slums: as both silos realize that the results will be much more sustainable, when the project design is not based only on thinking in terms of steel and concrete, but also in terms of wetlands and river basins. Biodiversity is becoming part of Integrated Water Management, Poverty Reduction Plans and Strategies and Climate Change mitigation approaches.

For international organizations and ministries of environment, this means a paradigm shift. The matrix illustrates e.g. the paradigm shift with regards to biodiversity. Getting out of our silos also affects communication. The new paradigm and culture shift has to be internalized in the organization: experts have to learn to tailor their messages to the language and concrete priority issues of the end users in other silos.

External communication has to improve horizontal exchange and relation management. Biodiversity e.g. has to be positioned and packaged as a credible solution for the priority issues of other silos. This often means to ‘reduce’ biodiversity initially to a concrete ecosystem service or species: the Maya nut as poverty alleviation, or the mangrove as climate change mitigation.

Monday 13 August 2007

Tailoring messages to cultural values

From left to right: Turkey – “Only darkness carries stars”; Suriname –“Nature is open-handed”; Morocco –“Water has value”; Caribbean – “Environment reaches deep”. Communicating the value of nature to audiences of different cultural backgrounds needs insight in these cultures. Target group research by the Dutch Foundation wAarde and end user participation by Dutch minority groups, identified cultural values – e.g. saving, indigenous medicinal knowledge, peace of mind - that could best be associated with the environmental messages. The result is a set of new contributions to environmental messaging in the Netherlands, especially to reach new Dutch citizens coming from Suriname, the Caribbean, Turkey and Morocco. The posters are distributed through the Dutch municipalities.

Walking the ‘Biodiversity-talk’

Successful implementation of the Convention for Biological Diversity asks for leadership. International environment organizations and Ministries of Environment are looked up to for this leadership. And within these institutions it are those responsible for biodiversity. If they walk the talk of their Biodiversity Strategy, what personal and professional changes in their actions and behavior can they make?

In a country where invasive species is a priority issue, the leadership may e.g. look at their garden at home: is it filled with non-indigenous plants, then change it. If the major issue is bird species: what provisions do they have in their garden for birds? Is the main issue water: how do they manage their garden and household in that respect? In general the leadership walks the talk when they are mindful of the ecological footprint of their household. Of course one cannot be perfect or totally consistent, but one can make a serious effort.

Professionally it also means looking at the footprint: how do we use water, energy, paper etc. in our offices. How do we go about procurement, human resource management, mobility, our other policies etc.? To what extent are our public meetings also a real experience of biodiversity and sustainability? And - when speaking, writing or conducting meetings – to what extent are we consistently referring to our biodiversity vision and how that vision aligns with our own beliefs and values.

Sunday 12 August 2007

Walking the talk

Why should others implement the required changes, if the environmental leadership does not observe the required behavior? There is nothing more powerful than observing leaders making a sincere effort to do the actions and behavior they request from others. When employees, colleagues and other stakeholders see that the leadership is walking the talk, their message is taken much more seriously. Environmental leaders - who understand that what really matters is what they do, not what they say - will change both on the personal and the professional level.

The psychology of personal and professional change works in two ways: it strengthens your own leadership abilities and it affects your audience. Your audience appreciates that you personally know what it means to make an effort to change. People trust you more as you have undergone the often painful experience of change. They like to follow a leader who took the courage to overcome different obstacles towards change.

At the same time it strengthens your leadership abilities: when you ‘live’ the change, it is easier to talk about it in simple terms. Your speeches will be more authentic. It enables you to listen better to those you want to change, as you can connect better with their concerns and needs. It contributes to your reputation, integrity and credibility, especially if you invite others to provide feedback where you can improve your actions and behavior.

Wednesday 8 August 2007

Ordering a website: homework!

When we hire a firm to design our website, we often discover during the process that things do not work out the way we had imagined. Mostly this is due to the fact that we did not do our homework properly, before assigning the firm with the project. Here are a few hints from the Getting Attention blog of marketing and communications consultant Nancy Schwartz. She suggests six steps. I summarize the main points here:
1. Develop a Site Development Request for Proposal that is as comprehensive as possible, use input from all disciplines in your organization.
2. Establish the following baseline criteria for firm selection: working with open source software; having three or more years in business; using a content management system and client-orientation.
3. Understand your choices: web development firms fall into at least five different categories. Make sure you select a firm from the category that fits your needs.
4. Research your options: ask around internally and externally what recommended firms are. Surf the web.
5. Interview your top picks to establish your shortlist: first an email, followed by a phone call to firms that seem to be a good fit.
6. Select three firms for a Request for Proposal and compose an internal team to select the best proposal. Make sure all disciplines in the organization are properly represented.

Monday 6 August 2007

Communication residue Hamburg Teachings

The teachings of the Dalai Lama in Hamburg left the following communication residue behind.
Sustainability: the best experience I ever had in a conference. The stadium had no parking facilities, the tickets included free public transport. A simple linen hand bag contained the program, a map and the text by Aryadeva. Food for 10.000 participants was provided in large tents around the stadium. Tables and benches brought people closer together. Local restaurants offered a variety of vegetarian cuisines from different origins against very moderate prices. Meals were served on normal plates with disposable thin wooden forks, spoons and knives. All drinks were served in a specially designed plastic cup for which you had to pay a deposit. We kept two!

Learning: I experienced the conditions for effective lecturing: a strong desire of the students to learn; a teacher coming down to the level of the students, illustrating difficult concepts with examples from everyday life, providing simple methods to apply lessons learnt and last but not least showing through his behavior he is totally sincere, humble and humorous.

Buddhism: the two main concepts - for our individual life and society - are infinite altruism and interdependence of phenomena.

Germany: concepts of reliability, logistics and organization must have been invented here. Germans - our neighbours - are much closer to us than we normally want to admit.

Sunday 5 August 2007

Learning emptiness

Every phenomenon exists because of its causes and conditions, nothing exists from itself. Everything that is dependent, is ‘empty’. Out of our seven days in Hamburg, the Dalai Lama taught five days Buddhist dialectics by giving a commentary on the Four Hundred Verses, a treatise by the Sri Lankan philosopher Aryadeva (3rd century CE, see picture). To my limited knowledge the meaning of emptiness has to be understood as follows.

Our ‘conceptual thinking’ makes us see phenomena in a ‘biased’ way: immediately imputing labels on whatever we perceive. These labels construct in our mind a reality that seems to exist independently and permanently. The ultimate reality though is that everything is subject to a continuous process of change, that phenomena are empty of an independent nature.

Once we understand the emptiness of one object, we will be able to understand the emptiness of all phenomena. Understanding emptiness makes a person better equipped to deal in the right way with the conventional reality as he is less vulnerable to negative emotions, such as anger, hatred, greed, desire etc. One of the methods to begin to understand emptiness is to analyze the concept of ‘self’ or ‘I’ through reflection and meditation.

At a grosser level of understanding I learned that an un-biased look at reality and a more humble understanding of the ‘I’ or ‘Self’ is a pre-condition for any successful intervention towards positive change.

Saturday 4 August 2007

Learning to smile

From my Hamburg notes on internal learning: a smile. “I don’t understand a thing of Buddhist dialectics”, says the CEO of a Hamburg based company, sitting next to me, “I just come for his smile. I feel seeing his smile all these days just makes me a better person”.

A smile has many appearances. The professional smile of a stewardess. The calculating smile of a politician. The skeptic smile of our opponent in a debate. The seductive smile of a sales person. The artificial smile of a talk show hostess. And then there is always the genuine human smile. Any smile is meant to change something in us. But it is the motivation triggering the smile that determines the nature of that change.

A smile - a genuine human smile - is an expression of sharing affection and mutual happiness. From early childhood this is an essential non-verbal means of communication to express our appreciation for parents, family and fellow human beings. It is our common experience that a genuine smile gives us a happy feeling and we naturally respond with a smile. The more we can familiarize ourselves with a genuine smile the more meaningful relationships, dialogue, and positive change will emerge.

Learning non-violence

More from my Hamburg notes on internal learning: non-violence. Affection and attachment basically are emotions that bring us closer to people, make us feel stable and safe. Anger pushes us back and isolates us from people; it makes us unstable and fearful. The seed of a warm heart and compassion is by nature in all of us. Through reasoning and common sense we can increase these positive emotions. If we extend the natural attachment we feel to our family to other people, to all sentient beings, even to our enemies, non-violence will naturally emerge. Non-violence should be judged not so much by its appearance (loud or harsh words, angry face, use of force), but by its motivation: a teacher may use harsh words out of compassion with the student; a politician may use a smile to cheat his opponent.

For reasons of survival, aggression is also part of our human nature. It is a temporary emotion, whereas affection and attachment are basic emotions that are there more permanently since the time we were born and have been dependent on the affection of others for survival. Violence may gain us temporary satisfaction, but in the long term it causes problems and regret. Based on our common experience we should realize that conflicts can be solved best within the framework of positive human feelings and basic values. Learning here means familiarizing ourselves with this type of ethics and practicing dialogue and non-violence in our own daily life. Once we have experienced that this approach will create more realistic solutions for happiness and peace of mind, we can introduce this concept to our leadership. On a larger scale it is the way out from 'old thinking' and the basis for positive change towards peace, justice and a healthy environment. Especially in a globalized world where we all are dependending on each other.

Friday 3 August 2007

Learning peace

From my Hamburg notes on internal learning: peace. We all know that our best decisions are taken when our mind is calm and clear. Decisions taken when our mind is disturbed by negative emotions, e.g. stress, anger, fear, suspicion, jealousy or hatred, we later on always have to regret and repair. Negative emotions disturb a calm mind. A calm and peaceful mind can be learned by realizing that it is caused by positive emotions, such as compassion, forgiveness etc. and that it has to protect itself and get immune from negative emotions.

We should realize that most of our negative emotions, are not so much created by external objects or people, but are merely our own mental projections. If we are able to analyze these objects or people more objectively and from different perspectives, we find that they are not totally bad, repulsive etc. And we have to realize that we should make a distinction between persons and actions. The actions which upset or harmed us maybe totally unethical or bad, but the person may not be completely bad and may have previously done very positive actions. So we still can develop some compassion for the person, though we may have to protect ourselves from the negative actions.