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


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.