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


Thursday 31 January 2008

Need to reposition biodiversity?

Biodiversity – in the perception of the public - mostly relates to species. Loss of biodiversity has no personal impact. Conservation of biodiversity is first and foremost a moral obligation. These are some of the outcomes of the Gallup Poll from November 2007. At the request of the EU Gallup interviewed in each of the 27 EU countries 1000 citizens. The report concludes i.a. that 65% of EU citizens do not know what is biodiversity. Citizens indicate that their main sources of information on biodiversity are TV and internet. If we want to inform people about the interdependence of species, ecosystems, and genetic diversity and the dependence of humankind on biodiversity, we need to review our current information on TV and internet and go beyond the power of wildlife imagery (photos and films). This might be an interesting issue for the communication workshop ‘Beyond jargon’ planned for the IUCN World Conservation Congress.

Wednesday 30 January 2008

Exploring solutions for the human species.

A tagline will help to understand the direction and goals of an organization. The absence of a tagline – or the use of an ineffective one – will put an organization at a competitive disadvantage in funding, building of staff and volunteer base, and increasing use of its programs and products. It is late night and we are sitting in a pub in a small town in Germany. Over a beer we discuss the positioning and taglines of conservation organizations. IUCN is one of them. IUCN’s mission is to influence, encourage and assist societies throughout the world to conserve the integrity and diversity of nature and to ensure that any use of natural resources is equitable and ecologically sustainable. Nobody can remember it correctly.

IUCN’s current tagline is: The World Conservation Union. Not very appealing. This is what I remember the day after how we positioned IUCN: The International Union for the Conservation of Nature brings together the knowledge of scientists, experts, local communities, governments and NGOs working in conservation and sustainable use of species and ecosystems. IUCN offers a platform for dialogue, partnerships and capacity development. Its goal is to find solutions for people and nature at the local, regional and global level. IUCN: Exploring solutions for the human species.

One nature – one world – our future

A great tagline differentiates you from your competitors while expressing your organization's or event's personality and adding consistency to your marketing and communications. The German Ministry hosting the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, felt the need to brand the event: one nature - one world - our future. The mission is: The objective of COP 9 is to find political solutions to the loss of biodiversity and to work towards the goal to reduce significantly the rate of this loss at global, regional and local level.

To reach out to the public for this event, the ministry started an information campaign. The main messages are: All species are interdependent. If we destroy one species we endanger many more. In the end it is us the endangered species. To complement the advertising campaign (advertisements in media, road show, campaign song, film, webpage, printed materials etc.) the Ministry initiated a Nature Alliance, a partnership with opinion leaders from culture, media, private sector and NGOs who contribute to a range of activities, seminars and events.

Thursday 24 January 2008

One message, one headline

More points in one letter looks economic and time saving. Yesterday I had to ”sell no” to my client when she suggested to include a second request in an email to be sent out to the stakeholders in our project. Our memory is selective, we often only remember one issue per email. So in communication it is better to limit ourselves to one message per intervention. Yesterday I suggested to write a new email with that request at a later stage. That way we are more clear. It makes response easier: only one question at the time. And it contributes to more continuity (and planning) in communication with stakeholders. To increase the effect and response, we should also invest a little time to state the subject clearly in the headline of the email. I often copy the main sentence of the email into the space for ‘subject’. Or I draft a heading as if it were an article for a magazine. More tips on Mind Tools.

Sunday 20 January 2008

What is demand articulation?

Demand driven knowledge is more useful than supply driven knowledge. The same is true for any innovation. A few years ago we wrote about this in Redefining Capacity Development for the 21st Cdentury. We argued that most conservation knowledge processes are linear and supply driven (research, guidelines, manuals, workshops etc.). That a needs analysis is not enough to guarantee a real demand driven approach. What really is important we argued is to articulate the demand (see graphic). I just came across a study on this issue. I summarize here my learning. Demand articulation is the process in which users, producers and regulators try to clear up the characteristics of an innovation. This innovation can be new knowledge, new methods, new technologies. Demand can be described as statements made about (or elements of) new technologies that users find important and that should be included or addressed by other stakeholders. These statements concern:
- Visions, expectations, promises
- Problems with existing knowledge, products or situations
- Needs for existing and non-existing knowledge or products;
- Ideas for existing and non-existing knowledge or products
- ideas for directions for solutions
- Concerns about ethical, legal and social implications;
- The complex of norms that frame the day-to-day decisions on strategies, practices etc. in the organization or sector;
- All types of costs of realization of a potential innovation.

Saturday 19 January 2008

Mission statement or positioning statement?

A positioning statement is the basis for the organization’s tagline. My client asks why don’t we just use our mission statement, like Greenpeace does? What is the difference? We look at the Greenpeace website: “Greenpeace exists because this fragile Earth deserves a voice. It needs solutions. It needs change. It needs action. Donate! Sign-up! Get Involved!” Although it answers the question why Greenpeace exists, it also offers the public a value proposition: solutions, change, action. That is a different rationale and emotion compared to other conservation NGOs. And Greenpeace walks the talk as it invites an immediate response: click on donate, sign-up or get involved! As a customer you ‘buy’ Greenpeace because you share the same emotions and concerns. So it is a positioning statement.

A positioning statement is a concise articulation in two or three lines of the distinct value to the clients of the organization compared to competitors or other actors in the field. It is the basis for all messages and communication: the tagline, the elevator speech, the homepage, the brochures, power point presentations or a marketing campaign. A mission statement articulates the company’s purpose for the public and for the employees. It guides the present operations of the organization. A few clicks away we find it: “Greenpeace is a global campaigning organisation that acts to change attitudes and behaviour, to protect and conserve the environment and to promote peace.” Although it is the basis for the positioning statement, it is different language!

Friday 18 January 2008

Taglines of Conservation Organizations

A tagline explains in a few words what your organization does, and why it's valuable. A good tagline is specific and emotive. It is simple, concise and clear. Easy to remember and pleasant for the ear. It invites to action. I am working with my client on a new tagline for their NGO and we study some good ones from the corporate sector: e.g. Philips: Sense and simplicity. Unilever: feel good, look good and get more out of life.

Good examples of NGO taglines are: Sierra Club: Explore, enjoy and protect the planet. WWF: for a living planet. Conservation International: Life lives here. Protect our future. RSPB: A million voices for nature. Environmental Defense: Finding the ways that work.

Not very exciting, a bit too general or repeating what is already in their name are: Society for conservation biology: a global community of conservation professionals. World Resources Institute: Working at the intersection of environment & human needs. UNEP: environment for development. Wetlands international: Wetlands for Water and Life. Birdlife International: working together for birds and people. Not easy to pronounce or remember are: Friends of the Earth: Making life better for people by inspiring solutions to environmental problems. SSC: The biggest network of conservation experts dedicated to fighting the species extinction crisis. IUCN, CBD, and Ramsar appear to have no tagline at all!

Sunday 13 January 2008

Communication objectives

Communication objectives always focus on knowledge, attitudes and behavior. They are very different from management objectives. Management objectives define the goals and targets of the policy, the organization or the project. In the case of my client they are e.g. well-informed decision making in the forest sector or providers and users maintain functional knowledge networks etc. When I read the communication strategy of my client, I see that they take the same objectives as communication objectives. They then summarize all target groups, messages and media. This way a strategy stays on a very generic and abstract level. It does not add any practical value to the organization.

The added value of communication is to analyze right from the start who has to change to reach the management objectives. This means to explore what the target group already knows, feels and does with regard to this issue. Establish the gaps in knowledge, the psychological barriers and the various concrete steps that would result in change of practice or action. On that basis you define the communication objectives. I gave my client an example what their first management objective would mean for the communication to a middle manager in a Forest Authority (click on the illustration to enlarge it). In Section 4 of the CEPA toolkit a communication strategy is explained in more detail.

Tuesday 8 January 2008

Interviewing stakeholders: what works?

How much time will it take? What are good questions? To prepare a communication strategy for an international environmental organization we do a quick scan (limited number of interviews; maximum ten questions) among its internal and external clients. To reduce costs and to learn how to do regular customer satisfaction surveys, the communication staff help me. Part of my coaching is to give a few bench marks on what works. I share two here: plan enough time; structure the questions. Click on the image to enlarge the text. The CEPA toolkit provides more information on communication research in Section 2, page 28-41 (How to consult on issues) and Section 4. page 20-25 (Selecting target groups).

Saturday 5 January 2008

Good communication is simple and personal

For Season’s Greetings we carefully select or make a card, write a message and post it. We do not use the internet, its not personal and may irritate the receiver. That is how most of us – me included - think. Yet this year I sent my New Years Greetings by email. It was a – once every 5 years - exercise to clean up my address system. And I wanted to experiment and learn. I made sure the email was simple, personal and meaningful. As visual I used a recent painting of a friend. From the 300 addresses 50 bounced back and could be deleted. From the other addresses I received a 30% response in the first 3 days - when many people are still on holiday. The majority were reflections, images or links triggered by the painting and my message. I share a few.

"Thank you for the inspiring painting. The year in Sofia started with lots of snow. Attached is a picture of this white snow winter”. “The notion of abundance is beautifully (re)framed in this painting. Abundance does not necessarily mean beyond limits…….as it’s often portrayed these days”. “It was good of you think of me in these troubled times. As you know Pakistan is blessed with all the abundance shown in the painting, but also has its abundance of ills. Nevertheless I'm heartened, that even in the aftermath of the terrible violence in Karachi, I've been able to walk into the office most days and have met with nothing but kindness, concern and courtesy en route”. ”I spent the last days of 2007 and first 4 days of 2008 in a forest - tiwai island. Its a place that helps to remind me of exactly the same message”. So Season's Greetings by email can work - QED!

Thursday 3 January 2008

CEPA toolkit: decline in use

How was the website with the text of the CEPA toolkit used in 2007? The graphics cover the period from 1 May to 4 December 2007. There were 4.500 visits; 8.500 pages were viewed and 21 gigabytes were downloaded. Compared to similar websites the decline in use is apparent. E.g. the Sport for Development toolkit shows no decline in use and has over the same period ten times more visitors and page views. But it had half the number of gigabytes in downloads. The differences probably indicate that downloading the text of the toolkit was the main use. To better service users, the website at least needs an option to navigate directly to individual checklists and fact sheets. I hope in 2008 we can find the funds to upgrade the website, so that it can answer specific ‘how-to-questions’. Users have asked for such improvements in their feedback.

Tuesday 1 January 2008

Still life to capture learning

For my New Years Greetings this year I used the painting 'Abundance' by the Italian painter Marco Gasparri - a ftriend of mine. He has mastered all aspects of the painting techniques of Renaissance and Classicism. Still life is the main subject matter of his work. He depicts ordinary things like bottles, fruit, vegetables, shells, jars, jugs and discharged objects. Was the purpose of the old masters to show off their virtuosity to depict reality, Marco goes beyond that. Each still life is a short story or statement about real life learning. The objects are placed not at random, but in a search for a composition that allows form and colour to speak. The title of the still life - in this case 'Abundance' - provides the spectator with a key to a world of deep listening, reflection and compassion. A world where nature and culture; subject and object become one.