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


Monday 18 February 2008


New Blog: Educomunicación. The Edu-communication team of the Autonomous University of Madrid that organised the Summer Course in Colmenar Viejo in July 2007 (see my postings Student questions, and communication residue ) has started their blog Educommunicación. I think practicing to blog is a very useful edu-communication activity. Especially when we can connect beyond borders and languages. The first postings of the new blog are about the idea to continue the dialogues of the summer course through the blog, the public debate about the Metro of Madrid and learning by observation and imitation.

Sunday 17 February 2008

Education an excuse for failing policy?

Key actors that have the largest impact on wetlands, e.g. politicians, hunters and farmers are receiving minimal attention from environmental education and communication activities. Instead environmental education is mostly targetted to audiences that have no or little impact on wetlands, e.g. the general public, housewives, local administrations or schools. This is the outcome of research done by Friends of the Earth in Spain. Theo Potma, one of the pioneers in environmental management in the Netherlands, used to say: "environmental education is the excuse of politicians for their failing policies". And he was and is right. CEPA as a stand alone instrument is not very effective. Of course he did not argue that children in schools have no right to good education, including environmental education. What he meant was that CEPA is only effective when it is integrated in a strategic mix of instruments to solve a particular environmental problem. Susana Calvo, CEC CEPA Co-Chair just reminded me of this issue when commenting on the CBD CEPA work program priorities.

Ineffective presentation: an example

An ineffective brochure occurs when there is no communication strategy behind it. When managers or scientists - and not communaction specialists - are in control of making a brochure this is what happens. They task a desk top publisher to cut and paste texts from reports and publications and mix them with visuals into a product that ‘looks’ good.
A few weeks ago the latest LIFE and Europe’s wetlands brochure fell on my doormat. The tagline was good: Restoring a vital ecosystem. And – although hidden in the text - the news is also good. Good but spoilt by ten times too many words and far too much jargon. An average of two photos per page does not make it better, especially when the images do not really support the message. Even specialists will not read all this, let alone the general public or decision makers in other sectors. At random I take a sentence from a page (33):
The eradication of exotic species in particular cherry (Prunus sp), giant reed (Arundo donax) and plantation of autochthonous vegetation, carried out in different areas of the lake basin, helped to enlarge and protect habitats under the directive: mainly temporary Mediterranean ponds (3170), calcareous fens with Cladium mariscus (7210) and residual alluvial forests of Alnus glutinosa and Fraxinus excelsior (91E0).

Saturday 16 February 2008

Effective presentation: an example

To prepare the public for CBD COP 9 the German Government brands biodiversity as: One nature – one world – our future. Key messages are: All species are interdependent. If we destroy one species we endanger many more. In the end it is us the endangered species. After showing the commercial for COP 9, the video continues to show in four minutes my power point presentation on what we can learn from this example. Being short, concise and a bit provocative keeps the attention of the over a hundred scientists in this meeting. What works in communication is to be simple and personal:
• One liners
• Beyond jargon
• May not cover all aspects, but resonate with people’s emotions & values.

In communication the reality is that you must take into account people’s perceptions. How can we apply these lessons to ‘selling’ species or the IUCN/SSC Specialist Groups? A first attempt to brand SSC: All nature in a single species! A first attempt to formulate messages - about the added value of SSC - that resonate: The essence of nature/biodiversity is interdependence. Through in-depth study of a species we come to understand what interdependence really means. This knowledge provides indicators on the state of nature/biodiversity and it provides vital information for human wellbeing and development.

Spirituality and consumer behavior

We all desire luxury: larger homes, 4-wheel drives, one weekend to go the opera in New York and the next one to see an exhibition in Paris. We want the latest TV, PC, mobile, fashion and perfumes. All material luxuries. All with a footprint. All the basis of economic growth and an increasing CO2 impact. Does it make us happier? On the contrary.
Does immaterial luxury exist? We all know it does. An afternoon walking along the beach. A simple meal after a long trek in nature. Tending to the flowers in the garden. Reading a book to the children. Playing music together with friends. The weekly yoga course, or the daily meditation sessions. Being mindful of our activities throughout the day. Almost no footprint at all.
The road towards a more sustainable society - especially in my part of the world - is to change our desire for more materialistic luxuries into a desire for more immaterialistic ‘luxuries’. Spirituality and its discipline can help us change and become less materialistic consumers. In ‘living’ this change we contribute to a sustainable society.
What we practice in our individual households should also influence our collective household. A 'spiritual' economy would not tax the labor, but the raw materials we extract from nature. When you have to pay the same amount in tax as you pay for the extraction, re-use and recycling becomes profitable and a new service economy may emerge. Read more about this on the website (only partly in English) of Eckart Wintzen, a pioneer of this new economy.

Saturday 2 February 2008

Ten commonly made mistakes in surveys

A survey is one of the ways to involve stakeholders and or experts in a project. The CEPA toolkit was developed with the input of more than a hundred experts worldwide through web based surveys, telephonic interviews and expert meetings. Gillian interviewed me what works and what does not work in involving large networks. The result is the posting Time, Technology and Tangibility on her blog. For the more practical aspects I remember that I used an old checklist from my organization. Here is a ‘brushed up’ version of the ten commonly made mistakes in surveys:

1. Working in isolation – trying to have results first before engaging a wider community, instead of asking right from the start the largest possible group for ideas, feedback and advice and use that as a staring point.
2. Forgetting to offer clear benefits for participation and providing information. We ask their time, knowledge and experience – can we offer them credits, exposure, access to new information or other benefits?
3. Not making the invitation to participate as personal as possible – investing time in personal emails, especially to those people we know. Using intermediaries – respondents know - as senders also helps.
4. Forgetting to give timely feedback to great individual contributions – a personal email to thank people who have made an extraordinary effort and or ask them for a phone interview to get more details and examples.
5. Forgetting to give timely feedback to the whole group of respondents on the results of the survey. This causes the decline of interest and less response in a next round.
6. Not keeping the pressure up – it is better to give a rather short lead time to respond and to send halfway that period a reminder.
7. Not testing the questions first in a small group. The questions have to be concise, clear, not too many and fun to do. This to avoid the feeling that responding is actually a waste of time or that important aspects of culture, language or gender are overlooked.
8. Having too many open questions – this can be avoided by having a qualitative survey first and formulate multiple choice questions based on that survey.
9. Not having a simple procedure for processing and interpreting the answers – the design of the survey should make it easy to see the overall results. Proper time management is the basis of the time consuming task of interpretation.
10. Not making a proper project planning – involving all survey project team members - for all the phases of the survey from design to evaluation. A (joint) planning helps to save time and reduce risks, especially when you forget to involve secretariat support staff.