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


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.