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


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.

Thursday 6 September 2007

Use of

Since the first of May the CEPA Toolkit had over three thousand visits, with an average of 26 a day. Click on the diagram to read the graphic. Visitors downloaded over 18 gigabytes of files. Mostly one or all of the four sections of the toolkit. People also downloaded videos, power point presentations and the glossaries. After the direct mail, most people found the site through the CEC website. Some found it through google search or this blog. The CBD website also has a link to the toolkit, but so far almost no one used this path.

Late April we mailed 1.000 potential users to launch the website. The CEC Newsletter featured the CEPA Toolkit with a special on 31 May. This may account for the relatively high number of visits in June. The holiday months show a natural decline. Over this four months twenty users sent in their reactions spontaneously. They liked the materials, but they would like the website to be upgraded so that the various fact sheets, examples and checklists are just a few clicks away. They also asked for translation and a hardcopy version. Many respondents would like to be able to upload their own resources.

Monday 3 September 2007

Meditation to combat climate change?

Recently someone asked the Dalai Lama: “will meditation help to combat climate change?” He was silent for a moment. Then laughed and said: “certainly not! Next question, please!” I had expected something about spirituality, lifestyle and bottom up behavior change. So I was not happy with the answer.

Afterwards I asked His secretary about this. He told me: “normally HH takes more time, but in this teaching there are too many people who think that meditation in itself will take away all their physical or mental problems. That is a wrong interpretation of spirituality. And He wanted to be clear. Normally He talks about spirituality as a means for change.”

“Spirituality is to be mindful of what is really meaningful in our life. Normally we worry about the future and about material things: the house we want to buy, our holiday etc. Real happiness only comes from seeking peace in ourselves, here and now. Being content with what we have. Wishing happiness for others, giving and sharing on a basis of equity.”

“These basic human values are needed to halt global warming and the waste of natural resources. The more people see spirituality this way, the closer we are to sustainable solutions. The more we practice mindfulness as individuals, the more our leaders have to pay attention to these values and take decisions accordingly. Satisfied?” He smiled. “I will check with HH”, he assured me, “and let you know.” This posting is the result.