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


Saturday 25 April 2009

“There is nothing more surreal than reality.”

Giorgio Morandi in his paintings investigates the relationship between the real and illusory : “I am essentially a painter of the kind of still life composition that communicates a sense of tranquility and privacy, moods which I have always valued above all else”. “What interests me the most is expressing what’s in nature, in the visible world, that is.” “Everything is a mystery, ourselves, and all things both simple and humble.” My colleague and friend Keith Wheeler had made me aware that the Phillips Collection was just around the corner of my hotel. I used my free morning in Washington to go there. To my happy surprise they had an exhibition of Morandi. For me looking at his paintings is a training to understand perception, reality and emptiness. The still lifes almost have an architectural composition of bottles and other simple utensils. There is very little depth and focus; almost no perspective or shadows; colours, forms and texture are almost ‘mute’; light, time and space seem to have stopped to exist. I could not take my eyes off them. I can still hear their silent message: inner peace.

Thursday 23 April 2009

Never change a winning team

Be careful with changes in the objectives and design of the workshop, when you are already half way. Recently - on the evening of the second day - I found the organizers and some of the participants by the pool of the hotel. For the last few hours they had been heavily discussing a complete re-design of the workshop. The face of the facilitator was getting desperate. When it was my turn to say something, I said: “Of course we have to be flexible, but never change a winning team! Our facilitator has spent a lot of time on the design of this workshop. It is better to provide her with some feedback on her ideas how to fill in the time slots of the last two days, than to try to restructure the whole workshop”. It all had started from the fact that the first two days of this workshop had been planned in much detail. The last two days on action planning, recommendations and agreements had been only roughly designed. As the steps of action planning and recommendations always follow certain principles, they can be designed in advance. This way you minimize the need for improvisation. Workshop flow and participants already give you enough to adapt to!

Briefings of facilitators and resource people

Clarity about objectives, a proper preparation and investing in ownership are success factors for a good workshop. The briefing is key. “Could you imagine preparing a three-hours session on strategic communication for sustainable development for a group of 10-15 participants to be run twice during the ‘training’ day (morning and afternoon) of our 4-day workshop?” Of course I had said: “yes!”. But until the last minute I had little clarity about the target group, the real issue and the objectives of the workshop. When I was contacted first I should have been more assertive and have used my checklist briefings to ask the right questions. The training sessions went all right, but in the end it was clear that the organizers had a different idea about communication objectives and strategy than I had: e.g. on the day after the training session they lead the group in action planning, asking them to define first messages and then look at target groups. Finally a next time I would advise them to give more time to develop ownership. You earn this time more than back through increased interest and motivation.

A letter to myself

How do we ensure that participants in a workshop remember their learning and apply it once back in their office? Recently one of my colleagues used a technique I had not used myself for some time. All participants had to write a letter to themselves at the end of a workshop: the three most important things they had learned and the three things they were going to do about it once they were back home. We had to put the letter in an envelope, close it, write our address and give it to the facilitator. She collected them and promised to post them after a month. Indeed a few days ago my letter was in the mail. I reread my key points of learning, looked again into my notes from the workshop and checked the three things I would do. And I made time for the things I still had not done. The posting below is one of them.

Communicating ABS

Don’t communicate externally before you have clarity about the message. When a product, policy or legal regime is still in development, do not communicate externally anything else than: “we are working on it”. Only when you have clarity about the behavior change you want you can go public. Until that time it is better to engage in a range of small scale concrete projects with major stakeholders and then find out what different stakeholders have to know, and how to change attitudes and behaviour.
ABS or access to genetic resources and benefit sharing arising out of their utilization is one of the three objectives of the Convention on Biological Diversity. The idea behind it is that the pharmaceutical, cosmetic and food industry make profits that are partially based on the biodiversity and local knowledge in tropical countries – and that we neeed an international regime to make sure that part of these profits go to the communities that provided knowledge on and or access to the genetic resources. The CBD would like to define key audiences and messages. But I would say that at the moment you can’t say more than "we are developing an international regime for the 'fair trade' in genetic resources" and for the rest stick to two-way communication approaches (click on the matrix from the CEPA toolkit).

Monday 20 April 2009

Our 'grey cells': why isn't the brain green?

How do we change behaviour? Should we concentrate our efforts on how people relate to nature or on how people deal with uncertainty, time, potential gains and potential losses? And if we look at change processes: do people base their decisions on analytical assessments of costs and benefits or on emotional drivers, based on personal experiences? How many worries can people deal with at the same time? How does the framing of risks influence people's attitudes? What are the differences between decisions reached on an individual basis or in a group? Would it not be wise to investigate to what extent technical solutions resonate with people, before investing in them? These are only some of the questions addressed in an article by Jon Gertner - "Why isn't the brain green?" - in the New York Times. This weekend Keith Wheeler sent me this overview of recent research on environmental decisions. ‘Gefundenes Fressen’ for further reflection and discussion, I would say for anyone who works to change policies, practices and behaviour in order to deal effectively with issues such as climate change or the loss of biodiversity.