Finding others with similar interests

The Wettenhall funded “Taking Landcare Planning to the Next Level” is winding up. the workshops with Goulburn Broken Landcare were a stunning success, and the big question is what next. I’ve a report of findings and broad recommendations in draft, and I’m working out what specific new projects might be ventured.

CLEA (Community Learning for Environmental Action) is well underway, with a trial of QWEA completed, and a first round of interviews with exec and staff of Landcare networks, and the beginning of a regular email letter with links to the CLEA blog, and CLEA holdings. I”m getting ready for a curated issue on a theme, and asking how to avoid simply becoming a warehouse.

There are several spin-off projects in the queue: taking the Goulburn Broken Landcare material on Questions Without Easy Answers and seeding out the questions and answers through the region; costing what it would take to contract a journalist to interview around a theme in a region, probably the Corangamite region.

New preoccupations, as I pull mroe stories out of the interviews I’ve done, is how to get autonomous production of stories at regional level, and how to link inquirers.

Moragh Mackay and I took systemic inquiry to the big smoke, with the two current regional inquiries sitting down with people at State/Federal level in Victoria interested in improving NRM governance. A great crew cam together to put on the event – Catherine Allen, Institute for Land, Water and Society, Charles Sturt Univesity, and Ray Ison, Phil Wallis and Seanna Davidson from the Systemic Governance Research Program, Monash University Sustainability. We put out an invitation, and ended up with about 20 of us in the room.

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People really like being about to sit down with others and talk. We surfaced severn possibilities for further inquiry:

  1.  How can we measure the social side of NRM?
  2. What narrative will legitimate investment in the capacity of land managers?
  3. What would be a good process for planning for biodiversity in Victoria?
  4. How can the performance of NRM organisations be assessed?
  5. How can the language of goals, targets and outcomes used in NRM be improved?
  6. How can we interact with the NRM funding environment in ways that minimise competition and enhance co-operation?
  7. How can we do NRM planning in ways that are fit-for-purpose in a climate-changing world?

Talk about questions without easy answers! For those who came, the ball’s in their court now.  We’re inviting people to be self-organising – if they want to keep talking about these things, get it organised, and we’ll show up. Or hire us to organised it.

Meanwhile, on the ground, Riddells Creek Landcare’s multichannel communication strategy is bedded in, with a monthly posting to the local rag, Riddell Roundup, to the RCL blog, and hard copy hand out of the same story on the desk at the Riddells Creek farmers market every two months.

That’s a lot of writing and webby cross-weaving! I’m very happy most of the time. Occassionally I think maybe I’ve wandered right off the map.

Finding others with similar interests remains a major focus for me.

The faultline between community and government

The Commonwealth’s new National Landcare Programme seeks greater ‘community engagement and participation.”

I had the opportunity to sit in with a peer inquiry group set up by Dr Lisa Adams, the National Rabbit Facilitator, with people working in northern Victoria. Membership was Landcare staff, CMA engagement staff, and one Landcare community member with a leadership role in her community.

Amidst the incredibly demanding situations discussed, the group touched on the renewed desire of government agencies to engage with communities, and the way that might not be easy for bureaucracies to undertake.The Consultation Paper for the new National Landcare Programme, which follows through on Minister Hunt’s promise to “put Landcare back at the centre of the Government’s land management programme”, asked some searching questions about the mechanisms that will actually do this (see VLC Policy Briefing #18, with links to the full VLC submission and the Consultation Paper).

As these practitioners talked, what came to mind was Ruth Eversole’s sensitive probing of the “deep tension between the traditional hierarchical ways of organising that characterise government bureaucracies, and the mandate to create more networked, horizontal interactions with diverse groups outside of government.” Government programs like to organise community action the way governments organise things. Their staff are often blind to the way communities go about organising their own action, and blind to their own assumption government programs’ ways of organising are the only worthwhile way to drive change.

This blindness will affect the possibility of transforming NRM governance. It is practitioners like this, working each day on the faultline between community and government, who will either make some headway with this transformation, or get caught in an awful grinding of gears. Probably a bit of both.

They’ll certainly need to take time to talk within their peers, in collaborative inquiry.

Wired to the web

I’ve got a background project going: how to reduce the space between forming an idea or project, and putting it into the world.

My Nokia phone lets me post a photo direct to my Facebook page – pretty neat, but how to ramp up the thinking content of the happy snap? I’ve been challenging myself to add text to say what is happening in the picture.

Next step up is making a movie of work on Riddells Creek Studio, using stills and video and the Windows movie editor, posted to my Facebook page.

Here’s another experiement: putting materials for the upcoming “Taking Planning to the Next Level” workshop into a website, so they can grow as the workshop progresses.

Then there’s Les Robinson, a master at using the web to make his work accessible. Les says he’s built online mentoring into his web-based Changeology program, using Google Docs. He can give feedback on the projects people develop during the online workshop, as they develop it. Nice work Les!

Innovation comes from the edge

“I want to stand as close to the edge as I can without going over; on the edge you find things you can’t see from the center.” Kurt Vonnegut.

“Innovation comes from the edge, almost never from the centre. Sometimes it’s cool to live on the edge but for the most part it’s hard work. Things keep breaking. The business models are not proven. The procedures aren’t fixed. The models and metaphors are not understood by everyone. It’s difficult to connect with the mainstream. This is life on the edges.”          Harold Jarche www.jarche.com

Jarche thinks development of organisations requires a partnership between managers on the inside, workers at the edges, and consultants beyond the edge. Amongst those “workers at the edge”, I’m interested in those who have taken themselves to the edge of authority. They no longer believe that hierachy is the only or best form for organising action, and question these presumptions when they appear in organisational behaviour. Nor are they just building networks as a self-protective reaction to hierachy, but looking for the ways networks and hierachies can work together.

Conversations for innovation in governance

I recently missed out on getting a Corangamite Catchment Management Authority (CCMA) contract to develop a Community Engagement Strategy. Gareth Smith, the CEO, rang me Friday afternoon to give me the news. It was good to hear I was in the mix, but deeply disappointing nonetheless to miss the job. It took me a while to get over my disappointment, but when I did, I could see why Engagement Plus got the job and not me. They do one thing, and that’s engagement.

Then I started asking myself what it is I do have to offer at this point in a long and diverse career. Research and design for innovation in governance is what I got to, and the business of making engagement work has deep opportunities for innovation. In this post, I consider one aspect of the Corangamite CMA’s situation in relation to engagement – the place of community profiles.

Through 2013, the CCMA have had a consulting firm, RMCG, profile their community segments; the Community Engagement Strategy will move that through to commitments  to specific engagement. I was around in 2003 when the first of such profiles was done for the CCMA, and I know that the profiling study was not well-integrated into the consciousness or decision making of staff at the time. Then in 2005-06, I myself differentiated and interviesed community segments in Corangamite (in a project with regrettably little internal support at the CMA of the time – see Indicators and measures for social capacity in NRM).

As a result, I have a standing question of how such profiles of stakeholders/types of landholder/community segments can be brought into a dynamic relationship with the work of engagement that goes on day-by-day in a program team.

In my bid to the CCMA, I’d suggested some ways to do this. Strategic plans are only as good as the smarts of the teams enacting them, so getting staff wired into development of a strategy is essential. Once you have defined path, things change as soon as you take your next step. Action brings all sorts of new information about the people in the community with whom you are working. The situation itself changes. As this happens, the coarse generalisations of a profiling study, and of the strategy itself, are drawn into a more nuanced understanding of what people think, what they do, and what enables and constrains the trajectories of change you want to encourage.

How can that new experience be brought back into a profile? How do that be done across say, 20 staff, each of whom has their own program-defined brief, each of whom will encounter members of those segments each day as they work? How each staff member’s separate experience of stakeholders be brought back to a conversation between staff.

Are there examples, I wonder, of organisations which have trained their staff to ask salient questions of people/customers as they work with them, and bring this back into some holding and shared understanding of the organisation’s stakeholders, something that refreshes the profile? To begin with, staff would need to have some focus questions around which to draw in the impressions and expression they encounter while interacting with communities and agencies.

Reading Kate Legge’s Yes She Can in this morning’s Weekend Australian Magazine, I was impressed with the power of the kitchen table conversations that underpinned the community inquiry that began the change in the seat of Indi in NE Victoria, and that led to Cathy McGowan’s nomination and election. People were invited to speak to three themes: living in Indi; issues that matter; political representation. They did that locally, in their own homes and meeting places.

Cathy McGowan with her siblings in Albury last month. Picture: Jake Nowakowski Cathy McGowan with her brothers, sisters, nieces and perhaps a nephew or two tich in there. Source: TheAustralian
Cathy McGowan with her siblings (and a few nieces)  in Albury last month. Picture: Jake Nowakowski Source: TheAustralian

Could we invent a focused inquiry in NRM into the matters that most concern people? I can imagine the conversations, and the questions that would open these up, but the stumbling block I see is maintaining the focus of staff on the landholders they are working with, as distinct from the managers they are working for, at several levels (regional, State, national) above the grassroots. Productivist culture, that awful and mindless obsession with reportable outputs, erases attention to what the end user thinks, does, wants, can contribute, is creatively involved in.

Reading Legge’s article on what has happened in NE Victoria, I think the only way knowledge about the community can stay fresh is to shift the whole notion of a profile on its axis, and turn it, as they have in Indi, into a conversation that the community itself owns. No profiles tucked away on agency hard drives: we need a web-based record of what people think on matters of consequence.

Mary Crooks, of The Victorian Women’s Trust, was noted as one of the people who designed the kitchen table conversations behind the Indi shift. Cambell Klose contributed to the digital facilities that supported that groundswell in NE Victoria. I’d be interested in what their experience might bring the NRM field. How might their designs inform the work of a Catchment Management Authority, charged as these authorities are with facilitating action across public and private stakeholders, in pursuit of sustainable landscapes? How might these designs be adapted by the landcare movement, where there is local action, but little linkage across the local?

Starting points for innovation in governance are invariably conversations between people who care about our collective life.