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


Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Season's Greetings

Sending season's greetings is one of the tools to keep relationships alive. At the same time it can also be a way to update and clean the relation management system. About ten percent of my three hundred 'electronic best wishes for 2011' bounced back, as addresses were not anymore correct. I could immediately update my address book. Another twenty percent of immediate response were people thanking me and sending me their best wishes. Around five percent reacted on the photo, mostly asking where it was taken. I took the picture at a small Tibetan monastery that looks after the Pragbodhi cave where the historical Buddha practiced austerities and asceticism before attaining enlightenment under the Bodhi tree in Bodh Gaya. It is situated on a mountain range overlooking dry forests and deserts, an hour by car from Bodh Gaya, India. One cave contains a statue of a very skinny Buddha. Another cave a more traditional Buddha statue. We put up prayer flages, lighted candles and incense in the late afternoon.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Bush meat message

‘Imagine it alive. In the Amazon Ecuadorians eat ten tons of bush meat each year’. The proposal for the pay off was: ‘Be a responsible tourist’. It does not refer explicitly to extinction, however it is a loss not a love message. We are discussing the campaign of an IUCN/TRAFFIC project in the Yasuni Biosphere Reserve aimed at small road side restaurant clientele in the Amazon region of Ecuador. They are American and European backpackers, oil company employees and middle class citizens of small cities in the region. The back packers are only 1% of the clientele. So forget about them for the moment. Ecuadorians love bush meat. That’s why the small restaurants still supply the demand. But how to communicate behavior change to the demand side? Appealing to rational weighing costs and benefits of behavior change often does not work. Better to appeal to emotions of national pride and love for the Amazon region and the people living there. And add a real action perspective: ‘don’t eat bush meat’ or 'try this time something else than bush meat'. Maybe explore whether 'solidarity' associations would stick: ‘so the tribes who depend on it, won’t go hungry’. As long as communication is not fully alligned with enforcement, we may influence attitudes and maybe the behavior of a small segment of the audience, but no big changes. Therefore it is worthwile to invest in a parallel dialogue with the police, local authorities and restaurant owners how to work together for positive change. In any case pre-test draft messages.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Communication plan to establish a PA

The communication strategy is based on getting support through a participatory process. The assignment asks students to write a communication plan to get support to establish a protected area.
Before I read their assignments, I do the assignment myself. I realize the communication objectives are to inform opinion leaders about the idea of a dialogue, get them interested to participate and help create word of mouth based on the outcomes of the dialogue. My plan focuses on internal and external communication.
Internal communication to clarify:
1. What the initiators really want (elevator talk) - message to use externally
2. Degree of flexibility of initiators with regard to the idea of a PA
3. ToR of the stakeholder dialogue process
4. Available time of the other initiators to engage in dialogue
5. Budget for stakeholder dialogue process
6. Procedure for reporting and decision making based on stakeholder dialogue.
External communication to get support of local stakeholders:
1. Identification of stakeholder groups and their opinion leaders
2. Establishing relationships with opinion leaders and get a first idea from them about local situation and previous (communication) interventions; knowledge, attitudes and practices of local stakeholders; motives and obstacles to change.
3. Engagement in a stakeholder dialogue process: identification and invitation of participants; planning and facilitation of the process; prioritization and objectives of communication interventions to wider audiences.
4. Creating supportive word of mouth: implementing communication interventions to wider audiences; monitoring and evaluation; positive feedback to opinion leaders and wider audiences.

Monday, 13 December 2010

Exhibits in information markets

Often we participate with an exhibit in an information market because we feel we have to be present. Presence can be an objective. But it is more strategic to formulate specific communication objectives: e.g. expand the relation network with at least 50 people. It means collecting business cards and doing a mailing or other forms of follow-up afterwards. It helps when the stand has one clear message and not too much information. It also helps when you have some trinkets, sweets or fruits that make passers-by slow down to pick it up and provide a reason to start a conversation, surf the product (songs) on the computer or take interest in the hand outs. Have an action proposal, e.g. "come to the concert tonight". These were some of my lessons learned when representing my wife at the Dutch Jazz and World Meeting Information Market ten days ago - along with another hundred suplliers of jazz and world music in Amsterdam, where she did one of the showcases in the evening. I collected 50 cards of international producers and organizers of a festival. And today I received the first response on the follow-up mailing I did last week.

Friday, 26 November 2010

Elevator talk

An elevator talk is a one-minute (or roughly 75 words) in advanced rehearsed narrative that one uses to make contact and get an appointment, when meeting people by chance in an elevator, in the corridors during coffee break of a conference or elsewhere. It is not about substance, but to introduce yourself (smile and keep eye-contact) and raise interest in your project and finally get an appointment to come and tell more about it. The example my collegue provides: “I am Sandy of the Sustainable Development Think Tank here in town. We are passionate about contributing to the solution of the waste problems. Results from our recent projects may very much enhance the waste management bill you are working on. I know members of your party are very keen to make this bill a success. Would you personally be interested in making an appointment to hear some of the highlights of our findings and concrete recommendations? Who can I phone?” Important is that your audience leaves the conversation with the feeling: that was a nice person, (s)he has an interesting project that might help my work, I have to remember to tell my secretary to make an appointment as soon as she phones.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Message: what works, what does not?

The few sound bites that the audience remembers from your communication. That - I explain to my audience of MSc students - is the message. When you prepare and formulate an effective message, don't concentrate on what you want to say. Formulate what people should remember. Key informative sound bites why they should bother and what they should do. And don't forget that your body language and other actions should support the message, not contradict it. The audience should like and trust the messenger. The rest are just details. Details communicate that you know your stuff. Íf you provide too many details, you often mess up your message. Instead provide a source where people who want to know more can go to. A good way to practice messaging is having students analyze a series of brochures and leaflets to distill their core message.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Resistance against climate science

Denial, wishful thinking, framing your opponent's knowledge as junk science and your own knowledge as sound science: nothing new under the sun! In his latest article Clive Hamilton - author of Requiem for a species - looks at the resistance Einstein met when he first published the results of his relativity theory. He analyzes Churchill's strugle against complacency and the popular wishful thinking that nazi-germany was not a threat to world peace. He evens diggs into Camus' La Peste. I am left with the feeling 'what to do?' Just persevere? Or can we do better to make climate science more relevant? More on this issue in the Yale Forum on Climate Change and the Media.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Interview with Frits Hesselink .wmv

How to make biodiversity relevant to non-scientists? Talking to Yvonne Otieno during COP 10 in Nagoya.

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Biodiversity Barometer -

On the occasion of the CBD COP 10, the Union for Ethical BioTrade commissioned an extension of its Biodiversity Barometer to Japan and Korea. Through consumer surveys, UEBT tracks consumer awareness and understanding of biodiversity and their purchasing behaviors. The new surveys of Japanese and South Korean consumers also claim to confirm the growing importance that consumers attach to biodiversity across the world. The reports consist of two pages. The website provides no access to the original research or methodology... The survey was sponsored by a Korean cosmetic firm and carried out by a global market research company: its website does not mention any biodiversity barometer... Greenwash or clumsy communication?

Friday, 29 October 2010

Lionfish PSA

Fun as basis to effectively communicate invasive species. To learn more visit the website. A Randy Olsen film. See also the interview in the NYT.

SOS - Save Our Species - join now!

Save our species. Not a very effective advertizement for a website. And food for thought from the perspective of branding biodiversity: Love. Not Loss! Food for tought also from the perspective of strategic communication: who is the audience and what KAP change is intended? See also the brochure.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Science, disinformation and ethics

"Environmental scepticism is an elite-driven reaction to global environmentalism, organised by core actors within the conservative movement." A recent study from the University of Central Florida shows that over 92 per cent of environmentally sceptical publications are linked to conservative think tanks, and 90 per cent of conservative think tanks interested in environmental issues espouse scepticism. This scepticism is a key tactic to undermine the environmental movement’s efforts to legitimise its claims via science. The sceptics are not unbiased analysts of science who expose the myths and scare messages of the environmentalists, whom they label as practitioners of ‘junk science’. They are not - as they claim - marginal voices who battle like ‘Davids’ against the powerful ‘Goliath’ of the environmental scientists. These sceptics are supported by politically powerful think tanks funded by wealthy foundations and corporations. In another recent publication of Penn State University Donald Brown asks himself whether the disinformation of sceptics can be labeled as a new kind of crime against humanity. Given the results of the climate change and biodiversity negotiations one could at least say that the communication tactics of the sceptics to influence decision makers and the public seem to work better than the communication strategy of the environmentalists.

Monday, 25 October 2010

The positioning of communications

In governments, international organizations or NGOs the function of communications is sometimes directed by the Head of the Information Unit. Sometimes it is directed by the Policy or Management Team. The choice where to position the communications function in an organization depends on the vision one has on the role of communications. On a continuum one can formulate many visions. For reasons of clarity I just describe two extremes on such continuum.
If one sees communications only as an instrument to facilitate and clarify operational information to external audiences (especially mass media) one positions the communications function in an Information Unit. And the press officers in this unit are basically directed by the Unit Head.
If one sees communication as a strategic policy instrument to influence knowledge, attitudes and behavior of specific target groups, generating trust and support and engaging audiences in public participation, then communications is often directed by top management and positioned directly under the highest decision making level. And the various communications experts of the unit (varying from media experts, to facilitators of stakeholder dialogues and social marketers) also are the ‘ears’ for top management: they bring into the policy making process the actual attitudes, gossip, prejudices and motivations of the audiences for whom policies are developed.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Action triggers attitude change

Often we think that behaviour change is based on a sequence of changes in knowledge and attitude. In reality change is not based on such linear process. I realized that when I was invited in the biodiversity fair in Nagoya to cut my own chop sticks out of bamboo. It was not easy. It was very helpful that a skilled Japanese old lady was demonstrating me the basics. It was also fun to try. I never had thought that practicing sustainable use, would reenforce so positively my attitude towards sustainability.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Communicating science

"...communication is not just one element in the struggle to make science relevant. It is the central element. Because if you gather scientific knowledge but are unable to convey it to others in a correct and compelling form, you might as well not even have bothered to gather the information.” This quote comes from the latest publication of marine biologist and film maker Randy Olsen: ‘Don’t be such a scientist: talking substance in an age of style’, Island Press 2009. In this book Olsen argues that scientists should pay more attention to how they communicate their work. They should focus not only on substance or content, but much more on the style of communication. As a professor in marine biology, Olsen had gained a reputation on a range of conservation issues. But only as a film maker he learned that information, facts and figures do not speak for themselves. At least when you are not teaching students or talking to your peers. Olsen explains how human psychology basically works. In the matrix I present my personal summary of his explanation. To get people – non-experts – to listen to your research or project findings, you have to first stimulate curiosity in them. You do that not through content but through style: humor, spontaneity, personal stories and messages. Only after you have ‘aroused’ your audience they are open for the content. Or in Olsen’s words: “When it comes to connecting with the entire audience you have four bodily organs that are important: your head, your heart, your gut, and your sex organs. The object is to move the process down out of your head, into your heart with sincerity, into your gut with humor, and , ideally if you’re sexy enough, into your lower organs with sex appeal.“

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Behavior is less rational than we may think

We tend to make ‘hot’ choices – “what I want to have”, over ‘cold’ choices – “who I want to be”. Satisfying immediate needs is an instinct humans share with animals: (fast) food, sex, power, whatever turns you on. Civilization has also brought other values, says psychologist Roos Vonk, but mostly those moral values lose from our instincts. We consume on impulses to satisfy our immediate desires. Even if it means compromising our moral values of fair trade, child labor, CO2 and ecological footprints, health etc. Unconsciously our mind ‘explains away’ the potential objections from our consciousness, so that we still can feel good, whatever choice we make.
Firstly our mind acts like a spin doctor when dealing with cognitive dissonancy: “For a healthy diet I simply need to eat meat”; “meat is just delicious, I can’t imagine a meal without it”; “I already do so much for the environment”; “Biological products are far too expensive”; “I only eat biological meat or buy fair trade products” Etc.
Secondly our mind unconsciously appeals to the paradigm of individualism: “I want to do my thing”, “I have a right to live and consume the way I prefer”, “I am free to choose what makes me happy”; “I happen to like buying new stuff”; “I do what is good for me”; “I follow my gut feelings and instincts” Etc.
Thirdly our mind appeals to dominant social and moral values: “it is not immoral to eat meat, to fly etc.”; “There is no law against…”; “The government acts in the same way”.
In communicating sustainability Roos argues it is best to address the hot choices by appealing to cold the ones: “do you have an inferiority complex that you need to drive a Hummer?”; “If you consume like others, is that compatible with your personal values?”; “Isn’t it the core of individual freedom to pursue the values you belief in?”

Monday, 20 September 2010

How sexy are forests?

Psychology is at work when we are confronted with words. Words have not only their literal or dictionary meaning, they also have strong associative connotations. A word invokes feelings, images, memories and values. People in the disciplines of journalism or advertizing know how much words matter. Choose the wrong words in your headline or tagline and no one will read your article or buy your product. To illustrate how this works for the word forest, I did a little experiment with forest experts, CEC members and people for whom forest conservation is not of immediate concern. All were asked their first associations with the word ‘forest’. In the matrix I summarize the associations and clustered them into the domains of head, heart, guts and loins.
The associations of most forest experts were in the domain of the brain. Some really tried to be ‘without a mistake’ in their answer, e.g. “Forest is a land which is dominantly covered by trees of different dimensions, in association with grasses, herbaceous plant, lianas and other flora such as epiphytes.” Only a few forest experts had some associations in the domain of the heart, one in the domain of the guts. The answers of CEC members were spread over the domains of brain, heart and guts. The great majority of the associations of the non experts were only in the lower three domains. This is where scientists need professional communicators when addressing non-experts: with style, storytelling, messaging, and tone of voice that appeals to the audience they want to reach. An article on this experiment will be published in Arbor Vitae.

CEPA Toolklit Users Survey

As contribution to the International Year of Biodiversity, HECT consultancy did a survey among users of the CEPA toolkit to explore how to improve biodiversity communication. Respondents are highly satisfied with the toolkit. They like the perspective of change and the orientation on biodiversity results. Its comprehensiveness makes that different professions find tools in it, which they can immediately use. Many respondents have recommended the toolkit in their professional networks, as a credible and authorative source of information. They also indicate that SCBD and IUCN should invest more in PR and distributionn of the toolkit to bring it to the attention of national policymakers and local conservation initiatives.
At the other hand the comprehensiveness also makes it difficult to easily find what one looks for, both in the hard copy and in the electronic version. Especially the latter is not very user-friendly. There is a need for even more information tailored to local and cultural contexts, exchange of experiences and case studies. Respondents also express a demand for more training workshops and distance education to fully take advantage of all the information and tools. The survey will be published in the coming weeks by IUCN and SCBD.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Oil becomes Plastic becomes Oil

A story of positive change starts with the inventor remembering how in his youth he used to play in nature. Tina Trampus, a colleague, made me aware of this video. Since it first appeared on YouTube it already had over 150.000 views. It caused controversy about assumed toxic residues and the disincentive to reduce the use of plastic. The UNU page now provides arguments that it is safe. The company still mainly produces larger, industrial-use machines:

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Living Outside The Box Sustainable Lifestyles

Most definitions of sustainable lifestyles talk about three key areas: minimal environmental impact, not undermining the carrying capacity of resources and helping people interact with the communities and places in which they live. 
The UNEP Taskforce on Sustainable Lifestyles in its recent report points out that 'people will only change their lifestyles in exchange for a better one'. This means sustainable lifestyles should be attractive and desirable. Its more than savings on energy bills, it is also about happiness, social relations and quality time. Read more in the Ecologist. The report is produced by Futerra.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Next generation footprint calculator

The fieldprint calculator – developed by the Keystone Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture - helps farmers assess their operational decisions. It is an easy way to find out how current land use, energy use, water use, greenhouse gas emissions, and soil loss compare with state and national averages. Most footprint calculators are aimed at consumers to give feedback on lifestyle changes. A few aim at companies providing benchmarks to reduce carbon emissions. The field print calculator belongs to a new generation footprint calculators that are tailored at specific professions to help make better informed decisions on the job. In Fastcompany Magazine CEC member Joe Russo explains the knowledge management model behind these new generation tools: “GPS-enabled yield monitors allow us to get site-specific field information for 1- to 5-meter areas. But when it comes to weather forecasting, the most specific we can get is about 1 square kilometer, where there can be a lot of variations in canopy heat and moisture. So there's a gap .that's what we're trying to bridge by combining modeling with physical observation. We use precipitation, effective precipitation -- how much water breaks through the canopy and reaches the soil -- and evaporation levels of the plant and soil to figure out how much water is actually present. Water is precious. Knowing exactly when to distribute it in an exact amount means huge savings.”

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Briefing authors for a special of a magazine

Briefings are often done on line. Sending just an email with the request to write an article is not enough. These are some points of attention when briefing a new group of authors for a special of a magazine. The email itself should be short and personal. The briefing should be in an attachment. See also: Successfactors for a good briefing and Briefings for communicatuion support. Click on the image to read the points.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

What to tell and how to tell it?

For a presentation – focus not only on content but as much on your style. In my last posting I provided some suggestions on how to organize the content. From my musical education I also learned that playing all the notes accurately does not turn your performance into music. Similarly a good presentation in terms of the sonata form, still can be boring. With the result that people afterwards do not remember much of it. So apart from the content we have to think what makes people really pay attention. These are a few points that have helped me:
1. Ask the audience one or two questions about the themes of your sonataform that they can answer by show of hands, then do your talk referring to the answers of the audience.
2. Tell the subject of your talk and ask the three things they would like to know most from you: in your answers you improvise around the themes of your prepared sonataform and be prepared to go beyond.
3. When interacting, give positive feedback to the public, e.g. I heard you have much experience in…; your show of hands proves your positive attitude towards…; that is a very good question that makes me think of the following story…. Etc.
4. During a concert the conductor also does not show the score, so leave the powerpoint in your notebook (if you have one send it in advance or afterwards with the invitation to mail you questions). A talk without powerpoint can be more powerful than one with all the distractions of images and words.
5. Be relaxed and make your mind completely empty before the talk (don’t concentrate on the themes of the sonataform – you know them already by heart); be open to anything that happens when you get on stage, smile, make eye contact, use humor, show emotion and use silences. Be like the audience: a normal human being of flesh an blood. Show what makes you tick. The more they like you, the more they will like what you tell them.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

For a presentation - use the Sonata form

The sonata form comprises an exhibition, a development and a recapitulation. It is the most common form of the first movement of a classical symphony, solo concert or string quartet. In the exposition the main themes or theme groups are presented, in the development the themes are elaborated, questioned and argumented. All tonal, harmonious and rythmic developments are finally resolved in the recapitulation of the main themes from the exhibition. Similarly in a presentation one should start with the two or three key messages one wants to convey to the audience. Next one should illustrate each of these messages with examples and stories preferably from one’s own experiences. One should conclude with repeating the main messages.
A colleague of mine has to give a 12-minute presentation on communicating biodiversity to consumers. The themes she choose were: ‘perception is the only reality’, ‘people change because they want to’,’ let others tell it’. We talked about developing the first theme with stories about generating attention and interest of consumer groups by changing the focus on biodiversity messages and using jargon to focusing on people’s own situation, experiences and values and using plain language. The second is to be developed by stories how change in behaviour of large groups is more successfully triggered by appealing to people’s own motives and drivers. And not by rules, penalties and prohibitions. For the third theme we thought of stories where she had used intermediaries that are most credible to consumer groups and who conveyed messages from their context that (also) benefit biodiversity. For the laggards behind finally we need strict enforcement and if that does not work we should reach out to the responsible agencies.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

The answer isn’t more science; it’s better PR

Scientists need to make people answer the questions, What’s in it for me? How does it affect my daily life? What can I do that will make a difference? Answering these questions is what’s going to start a conversation. John Francis has drawn the attention of the CEC network to an article by Erin Biba on Wired, titled ‘Why Science Needs to Step Up Its PR Game’. Scientists risk their lives and fortunes to do something that is, in many cases, an act of faith. They’re heroes. It’s a beautiful thing. Imagine the impact if a scientist said, ‘I’ve been working in climate science for 20 years, and it breaks my heart that people don’t believe in what I do.’ The reality is that scientists assume that facts will speak for themselves. However in the real world cerebral mindedness does not work, you need to draw the attention of other human organs. Or like Randy Olson, scientist and filmmaker, says in his new book Don’t be such a scientist: “in a media dominated era you should grab people’s attention by plain language stories, caring about how you are perceived and using artists to arouse interest.”

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Managing professional updating projects

The graphic summarizes the phases of a professional updating project to help clients think beyond funneling expert knowledge into power points. Formulation and execution of a professional updating project is often a learning experience for both consultant and client. The client makes steps from thinking in terms of instruction to thinking in terms of creating a learning environment; from seeing the consultant as a follower of instructions to trusting his/her didactic expertise to guide the development process for which the client is one of the suppliers of information and content. The consultant makes steps in understanding context, audiences, expectations and a possible next phase of development in the learning of the client. Most difficult for both is to realize that often most of the available time is needed for the phases that prepare for the production. I sometimes wonder whether these reflections not only apply to learning projects, but to all communication projects.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

The power of love messages

People will protect nature because they want to, not because they have to. This is one of the pay offs of Futerra's arguments to rebrand biodiversity. They base this on common sense. Everyone loves nature. Love is a powerful driver. You can't get more powerful than wonder, awe and joy. Reconnecting with such type of childhood experiences in nature generates empathy and willingness in our mind that motivates to act for nature. I had to think of the biodiversity brand when visiting this morning the National Gallery here in Ljubljana and seeing the painting - 'Summer' - by Ivana Kobilca. The light, shadows and colours on the real painting are much nicer than on this reproduction. In the same way our own memories of real experiences in nature are much stronger than any rational appeal to conserve biodiversity.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

It is time to kill off the extinction message

It is time for a new biodiversity message. That is the conclusion of Futerra after working on developing the logo and communication strategy for the International Year of Biodiversity, an information toolkit on Access and Benefit Sharing and many other conservation projects. Futerra has been building up thought leadership on sustainability communications and shares its latest findings in Branding Biodiversity. A concise manual for campaigners, policy makers and media who are open to radically changing our biodiversity message, in order to radically increase action. Branding Biodiversity challenges communicators to stop talking about extinction and to distil a complex scientific concept into a set of values and promises that appeal to the masses. They reveal the formula of ‘Love’ + ‘Action’ that will inspire the public to act to conserve biodiversity.

Be simple and personal

What is the retention of a lecture? The framework of my eight hour lecture consisted of me asking questions, telling stories from my work to answer questions, assign group work, do games, make drawings on a flipover and jointly draw conclusions. I avoided any use of PP and handouts on paper. I wanted to walk the talk of 'effective communication is being simple and personal'. The students seemed to like it. What they learned I will know when they send in their assignment. But at the end of the day I already was quite satisfied when the over 20 Klagenfurt University students of the International MSc Course in protected area management listed their main principles for effective communication and public participation in the early stages of planning a protected area:
Be humble.
Respect views of others.
The stakeholder 'is always right'.
Improve your empathy.
Invest in building mutual trust.
Avoid assumptions.
Invest in assessing prior knowledge.
Communication is a two way process.
Identify leaders.
Create positive word of mouth.
Participatory planning and management equals dealing with change.
Change is painful, focus communication on overcoming resistance.
Learn how to deal with uncertainties.
People are more concerned about 5 Euros loss than about 5 Euros gain.
Sometimes money can be a disincentive.

Friday, 9 July 2010

Seeing is believing

Communicating biodiversity is communicating how people behave in a positive way towards nature and natural resources. David Aimé and David Fabrega, two young professionals are about to start a world tour to explore real life examples of such positive behavior. As their contribution to the International Year of Biodiversity, they will visit over 12 countries and meet with people in communities, organizations and governments. They will document the experiences and stories on video on their site. What I like is the 'people' aspect that reminds me of the West-Eastern Divan, the without borders orchestra initiative of Daniel Barenboim and Edward Said. By playing music together this communication platform offers young Palestinian, Jordanian, Syrian, Egyptian, Spanish and Israeli musicians an opportunity to make music together, learn first hand about each other's life, and perform in countries that otherwise would be completely closed to them. Communication that contributes to peace. Similarly the two Davids want to contribute to biodiversity and sustainable development.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Deep listening to a brochure

People make judgments in a split second, not based on rational weighing of costs and benefits, but through ‘irrational’ associations with deeply ingrained values, feelings, and experiences. That’s how we scan headlines, pick up magazines and surf the internet. It is also how we browse a brochure and put it aside or grab the phone. I just came across SOS Save our Species, a brochure from a IUCN-GEF-Worldbank initiative to raise funds from the private sector for species conservation. Going through the brochure I started to like the initiative and its potential. At the same time I came up with 5 things I would had done differently:
1. Have the animals on each page look from left to right: avoid ‘looking backward’, forward looking associates with the future. That is the language of the private sector.
2. Start with a vision how species underpins our life, our business. Don’t start with the threats: guilt shuts us down and makes us put the brochure aside.
3. Use pictures of animals we can emotionally relate to; a tiger pub is better than a rhino; we can’t relate to plants but we can relate to a farmer in her field, a fisherman on his boat or a doctor in her laboratory.
4. Use common sense, make it personal: “We all love nature. We all want to conduct business in a responsible way. Here we offer a range of concrete opportunities to combine the two. You can associate yourself, your employees and clients with a conservation project of your choice”. Don't use conservation jargon.
5. Support our species, support our own species, might be better that the current tagline. Actually I would avoid all SOS connotations. SOS associates with disasters. Nobody wants to contribute to a lost case. That's what the private sector calls: "throwing good money to bad money."

Saturday, 26 June 2010

Briefings for communication support

Large organizations tend to ask for external communication support to help them getting their messages out through websites, newsletters, press releases, posters, leaflets and brochures. In their briefings they mostly formulate their objectives as ‘to increase awareness, understanding, and support among stakeholders and the (interested) public, as the means for their further engagement’. Such ‘paper’ communication definitely contributes to access to information on policies and practices. It is questionable however whether it will create awareness and support of people in stakeholder groups and among the general public.
How to upgrade such ‘paper’ communication to ‘people’ communication? The first step is made when – in the briefing – you:
1. define the success of the policy or organization and the evolving needs of its audiences and position the added value of the transactions the policy or organization has to offer
2. segment the audience (identify those target groups that are key to the success of the policy or organization) and
3. quantify the objectives (SMART) per target group (often additional target group research is needed).
In the briefing you can then ask the communication support
1. to formulate short messages in the ‘language’ and ‘mind frame’ of the target group, that appeal to them, contain a promise and a proof that it is possible and make concrete what the target group can do contribute;
2. to make creative use of those media that are credible and effective sources of information for the audience, if possible by involving people and media from the target group itself;
3. to map out benchmarks to monitor the process, provide positive feedback and adapt the approach where necessary.
Read more about briefings.

Friday, 25 June 2010

Web survey

A web survey is a good way to explore demand and how to best satisfy it. The tools are there and make it very easy. They are user friendly and are mostly free, but better use for a short period the upgraded versions. I learned the following five 'rules of the game'.
The respondents. Define whose opinion you need. If it is a small group of 10 to 20 people you already know, you may reconsider a web-survey and do telephonic interviews. If it is a large group of a few hundred or few thousand people it is important to know how much the issue is of concern to them. The closer they are to the issue the higher the response you may expect. 2% is a very high response for a large and ‘distant’ group. 20% response is a high for a smaller and 'closer' group. Make sure you have updated mailing lists.
The objectives. Define the two or three things you really want to get out of your questions. To do so it is best to first conduct telephonic interviews. This qualitative research will help you formulate what is really relevant to ask. 5-10 semi-structured interviews will do. Don’t ask more than 6-8 questions. Analyze and discuss the results with a few colleagues. Then design the web survey. If you don’t have time for interviews, at least discuss objectives and framework of the survey with colleagues.
The three parts of the survey. Start the survey with a concise formulation of the background and objectives. Explain what is in it for the participants, e.g. "it will help us to service you better"; "you will be credited in the publication as a contributor". As to the questions, keep their number as low as possible. Make sure you ask about the profile of respondents. Ask their email address to be able to keep in touch. In a choice matrix keep the number of choices around 5. More choices make reporting in a diagram difficult to read. If you need more choices use a new question. Ask to explain their answer when you use a closed question. The last question should be about what else respondents would like to say about the issue and what advice they have for you. Always end the survey with a thank you and indicate when and where respondents can see the results of the survey.
The test. Before you send out the survey always test its ‘usability’ among a few colleagues. Ask them to do the survey. This alone may bring to light some small mistakes. Also ask them about whether or not to use ‘compulsory’ questions. Are the questions clear? Do the open questions work or irritate? What other advice they have?
The message. The more personal the email with the request to participate, the more response. Use a sender they know, appreciate and has credibility. Keep the text in the mail short, but personal. If you use more mailing lists, apologize for possible cross-posting. Keep the time frame for the survey short (maximum three weeks). Send a reminder halfway the period for response.

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Communication: tools or strategy?

Strategy is about how to most effectively reach your goal. Most communicators concentrate on tools: brochures, videos, photo exhibitions. The question is will that help us reach our goals? My students ask what then is a strategic communication? I answer it is a way of life. And I paraphrase Musashi. A strategy for effective communication is not different from a strategy for success in business development or war. If you don’t appreciate strategy, you won’t value the use of tools. Each situation is different and does not stay the same. Before you communicate you have to analyze it, including the context and key people. Then define success. Each situation may ask for a different tool, set of tools or a different use or timing of the tools. The main tool is speech. You master it when listening becomes hearing.Then you also know how to use the other written media. The other tool is drawing. You master it when looking becomes seeing. Then you also know how to use the other visual media. The success of a strategy is not in the plan but in the planning. It is professional way of life. The principles of the way of the strategy are:
* Always be honest.
* Keep on practicing and learning.
* Become acquainted with every art.
* Know the mindset of all professions.
* In worldly affairs go for the result.
* Develop your intuitive judgment and understanding for every person or situation.
* Perceive things that cannot be seen.
* Pay attention to details.
* Do nothing which is of no use.

Friday, 11 June 2010

Communicating protected areas

For Life's sake. With students of two universities I analyzed a slide show from WCPA to better communicate the importance of protected areas. Afterwards we looked at the final publication and saw that only a few of our concerns were addressed. These are some of the conclusions from the combined analysis. From a factual or scientific perspective the main values are comprehensively captured and translated into content to be communicated. From a communication perspective the top five suggestions for improvement are:
1. Change the word protected area – it does not trigger positive connotation by the non-experts, use words a ‘nature areas’, ‘conservation areas’, special bird areas etc.
2. Start with the positive dream that nature can play in our lives, do not start your messages with the threats, people will immediately switch off their attention and interest.
3. Don’t be abstract or use jargon, be concrete e.g. ‘the mangroves protect us against cyclones’ instead of ‘For life’s carbon buffers’; or ‘the river gives us to eat and drink’ instead of ‘For life’s essentials’.
4. Don’t use landscape photos – people can only positively associate with nice animals, or people in the landscape. If you use a good landscape photo, have a few words providing the essence, e.g. a wild forest = carbon store, food source, playground.
5. Make clear to whom you are talking, what your promise is and what you ask them to do. Be aware that for most people your messages are new and don’t try to cover everything, e.g. inspiration, meaning, joy etc. maybe a bridge too far. Better use words as playground, a space to find some inner peace.

Thursday, 10 June 2010


Talking about competencies of a sustainability professional, I just received a nice tool from my colleague Dominic Stucker and could share it with the workshop participants. A great animation and talk by Al Gore’s former speechwriter Dan Pink, explaining what really drives and motivates humans.' A nice example how to communicate research and science.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Sustainability mindset

Are conservation and sustainable development just another job opportunity or do they ask more of a professional? If so, where do I go to get the right education. The question of one of the participants makes me think. A recent study on ‘What a sustainability professional should know how to do´, surveyed opinions of experts in the field. It maps knowledge (concepts, theories, ideas, processes), skills (process dynamics, tools, methodologies), attributes (innate abilities) and performance competences (job/career duties/responsibilities) for corporate sustainability managers and community development professionals. Among the top three hard skills are strategic planning, system thinking and project management. The top three soft skills are communication, problem solving and inspiring and motivating. When we look at attributes we see a long list of innate abilities. The softer the skills and attibutes the less traditional training and learning approaches seem to have to offer. It looks as if it is a personal responsibility to develop these. Coaching or a teacher in an unexpected discipline (music, sports, meditation) may help. For me it is basically about looking inwards and practicing a sustainability mindset. Making yourself used of being mindful of others before self, non violence, respect for the diversity of life and cultures, timing, efficiency, effectiveness etc.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Sustainability: sacrifice and gain

Sustainability does not mean sacrifice and expense. My environmental friends here in this Asian country are quite convinced. Instead it provides opportunities and competitive advantage. They have brought me in their four wheel drive to this fast food restaurant on top of a high rise building. Below the streets are literally filled with cars. More high rise buildings as far as I can see. Even this high my lungs seem to feel the air pollution. Transition to a sustainable urban development, mobility and clean air and water will not come only through new technologies and better planning. Habits also have to change. E.g. the habits of taking the car, throwing things so easily away. When you stop eating hamburgers and take the bicycle, in the end you will feel better and enjoy the exercise. But the behavior change has it costs: the pain of overcoming the resistance, the effort to keep repeating the new and unfamiliar behavior. I know you have to compromise, but if environmentalists want to be leaders in the change towards sustainability, they should continuously be mindful of what change really means and how it feels. The only way is to practice change yourself. Eating less or no meat is such a practice. Taking the bicycle or reducing your waste to (almost) zero too. Such practice means some sacrifice and expense, but it also provides opportunities for feeling better and gaining support for sustainability by being able to provide examples of change from personal experience.

Monday, 7 June 2010

Don't try this at home

Donors often think that toolkits are a great way to support the implementation of policies. They can be, but only if accompanied by training and the awareness that experts still are needed. Toolkits contain very useful (explicit) knowledge, but one needs the tacit knowledge and skills of experts to solve questions of what is the right tool and when and how to use it. Otherwise the results might be contra-productive. I remember how I admired as a toddler my father’s carpentry toolkit. I was not allowed to touch any of these tools. I had to be content with my wooden play tools. When I was around ten years old my parents sent me to ‘carpentry’ lessons. An old carpenter had every Wednesday afternoon about ten boys in his work place who he would teach the basics of his trade. We learnt when and how to use each tool. The advantages and disadvantages of your choices and the dangers of either damaging the tool or yourself. After a few months I had acquired some basic skills and knowledge. And had produced a wooden footrest, as a birthday gift for my grandmother. I also knew now I should not try some of these tools at home alone. Some things you better leave to the specialists.

Saturday, 8 May 2010

Learning finds us through social media.

In the future we will not longer search for products and services they will find us via social media. This fundamental change in the way we communicate I personally experienced a few days ago. I opened my Plaxo for a few seconds when a blog entry of a colleague Gillian Martin-Mehers caught my eye. I realized that what I saw was a tool I could use to visualize in one image the key concepts of the Bali Action Plan, I was working on. After fiddling a bit with the tool, I also saw its potential for a front page of a new report, or a mirror for clients to illustrate the amount of jargon they use.

Friday, 30 April 2010

Communicating local stories

How to communicate messages from a wide range of voices around the globe about what they consider essential to make the world more sustainable and how they contribute themselves? The Guardian last year provided us with a good example: web page with stories how people experience climate change. You click on the image of a person and a small window opens with a short text in which this person tells his or her story. The project is called the human face of climate change. Although the content focuses on the threats, the format seems to me a good way to communicate local case studies on sustainable development to a worldwide audience.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

More than just a logo

The logo of the International Year of Biodiversity is used for many events. Here for an exhibition in the Edinburgh Zoo. Yesterday I saw the logo in the Amsterdam Zoo on a conference banner. What I did not see, nor hear is the story that gets me ´on board´. Yesterday there was a lot of jargon. Not many people seem to use the text and narratives developed specially for the IYB. E.g. non jargon messages are:
You are an integral part of nature; your fate is tightly linked with biodiversity, the huge variety of other animals and plants, the places they live and their surrounding environments, all over the world.
You rely on this diversity of life to provide you with the food, fuel, medicine and other essentials you simply cannot live without. Yet this rich diversity is being lost at a greatly accelerated rate because of human activities. This impoverishes us all and weakens the ability of the living systems, on which we depend, to resist growing threats such as climate change.
For more non-jargon bio-diversity messages read here.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Facilitation modalities

Bringing people together to make a joint next step. That is in general often the objective of a conference. In one week time I attended two similar conferences. They had the same theme: ecosystem management and human well being. However they were different in focus and process. Both had framed the theme in a catchy way: 'Nature - What's in it for me?' and 'The Great Escape - There is NO Planet B!' The photo at the left shows the power point lecturing approach of the first conference; the two photos on the right show the interactive round table approach of the second one. The first conference aimed to take stock how IUCN members in the UK are contributing to this program area. The second to start a dialogue between IUCN members and the Dutch development community. Both had official parts with ministers, and ample room for networking. Exciting innovation of the second was a session with opportunities to contribute through twitter. Exciting during the first one was a dinner where a new multimedia project was launched 'why a wilder Britain is good for you'. The last difference was the facilitator: an insider in the first conference, a real outsider in the second one. Normally I prefer an outsider, assuming (s)he has empathy with the audience and affinity with the subject. I look forward to see the impact in terms of next steps of both conferences. I wonder what national committees could learn from each other about organizing conferences.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Rethinking mobility, practicing slow life

Imagine a world without planes. The closing of most of the European airspace during the last six days - because of the eruption of a volcano in Iceland - faced Europe with the question how to cope without air transport. Ferries and trains were quickly sold out. Stranded tourists had to deal with inconsistent information. Importers of fresh fruit had to rethink their logistics. We environmentalists got stuck in an international meeting. We now have to rethink our conference habits and use the new media more strategically. I will practice slow life on my 17 hours train ride from Edinburgh to Utrecht. And with me many others.

Showing the link between people and nature

More than just some forest. That was the title of a picture of a British forest. The pay off was: Carbon store. Heat source. Playground. With powerful images and key words the 2020 vision for a wilder Britain was launched in Edinburgh at a reception for the UK Committee for IUCN. It was more convincing and to the point than any of the 20 power points shown during the day in the conference. Conservationist might want from now on to leave their power points home when they argue their case with non-experts in a ministry, an industry or the man in the street.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

The fear to interact with stakeholders

Biodiversity experts from government and NGO have a similar fear to interact with stakeholders during an excursion in a workshop. You have to prepare them and push softly. They need to adapt to a new 'rationale', quite different from their normal professional interaction when they represent the law or gather scientific facts. Once they have overcome their initial 'cold water' fear, these interactions of probing into hopes and fears of daily life become meaningful. And afterwards they are perceived as the most successful parts of a workshop. Over the last 15 years I had exactly the same experiences in Latin America, Africa, Central Europe and now in Bangladesh. As facilitator you have to listen to all their objections and excuses in advance "why this part of the program is not appropriate and can disrupt already difficult relations". But keep in mind: perseverance will be rewarded!

Friday, 2 April 2010

Effective messaging

When determining the message content we also have to think what flavour, personality or association will be needed to have the desired effect on the audience. Musicians do this all the time. As this is Eastern, here are - thanks to YouTube - seven examples of the "Erbarme Dich" Aria from Bach's St Matthew Passion. And these are the 'flavours' I hear/see:
1. The awe for the distant divine (Eula Beal, Yehudi Menuhin, Antal Dorati, US late forties).
2. A subdued desperation about loss and mercy (Herbert von Karajan, Kathleen Ferrier, UK, late fifties).
3. A personal appeal for transparency, harmony and compassion (Julia Hamari, Karl Richter, Munich Bach Orchestre, late sixties).
4. The power and volume of musical performance and perfection over guilt and pity (Vladimir Spivakov and Tamara Sinyavskaya, Russia, late nineties) .
5. The quality of sound to evoke universal sympathy (Makiko Narumi, Japan, 2000)
6. Reading heartfelt sorrow from the score (Maureen Forrester, Antonio Janigro, I Musici di Zagreb, 1997).
7. The mystique of how it must have sounded in Bach’s time (Delphine Galou, Francois-Xavier Roth and Orchestre Les Siecles, France, 2009).

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Communication management

When you have enough time with a protagonist, spokes person or a resource person, use the opportunity to reach out to different audiences through different media. Last year the Fundación Félix Rodríguez de la Fuente did just that: a lecture and workshop for the audiences of the Casa Encendida, interviews to newspapers and magazins, a professional dialogue with their staff and input for an educational video. UNED, the Spanish Distance Education Channel used the input for a module in a course on sustainable development: Verdades y mentiras sobre el cambio climatico. The title is inspired on the lecture I gave an hour after this interview. The video also features on YouTube.

Monday, 22 February 2010

Segment your audience

"We need to convince people about the importance of conservation". This was the first reaction of most respondents in a quick scan on communicating tiger conservation. Asked what key change agents could be, most came up with a further segmentation of 'people': villagers, forest department and politicians. One respondent even took a next step in segmentation: "we should identify the movers and shakers of key groups; communicate through them by framing the issue in terms that are relevant and functional for them". For me this would mean investing in target group research, dialogues and partnerships. And in deep listening when we talk to the various stakeholder groups. It reminds me of the change from a deficiency approach to a contextual approach: