Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Being Relevant?

How can a large bureaucratic agency promoting wildlife and natural resources continue to be relevant to an increasingly urban world?

In May of 2007, the population of Planet Earth officially became "urban". Increasingly, populations around the globe are becoming disconnected from nature. As a member of large state agency which is charged with supporting and maintaining natural resources for present and future generations, I wonder "How do we connect with an urban audience which is disconnected from the resource we support and maintain on their behalf?"

In an unsettling, telling, yet scarcely surprising conversation with some 'urbanites', the topic eventually came around to our rapidly diminishing natural resources. After having explained some of the challenges and threats to the others, a woman in the group remarked "Yeah, but 'they' will never let it get that bad." After pondering this comment for a moment, I asked "Who is "they"?" The answer came back "Them!... YOU!... the government!"

The frightening reality is that while many folks share the sentiment that natural resources are 'important to manage and maintain' and that they 'like to know they are there', a large portion of the population remains personally disconnected from these resources and with that comes some ethereal concept as to how the resource continues to persist and some vague and false sense of security that someone else (ie, the government) is handling the total stewardship of such on their behalf. The truth is, no one can fully manage our natural resources on anyone's behalf. It is everyone's charge.

I suspect the challenge that we are facing has less to do with the populations unwillingness to accept that charge and more to do with their lack of understanding of what it entails. People will willingly recycle, vote for emissions inspections and self-police the wasting of water - because they understand these things and they were given specific tasks they could perform by way of 'saving planet earth'. However, in the grand scheme of things, they have no idea how they could make a difference, much less where to begin. So they dismiss the seemingly insurmountable task to large agencies and organizations they believe, or at least hope, are doing all these things on their behalf. What they don't grasp is that without their collective individual participation, the task is an impossibility for any natural resource conservation or management agency functioning in social a vacuum.

This would suggest that awareness and education might make some major in-roads toward addressing the challenges. Yet the problem remains:
"How do we connect with a public that is disconnected from the resource - and us, its "stewards"?"

That brings me here. Perhaps this social media tool can open the dialogs and doors to understanding and learning. By sharing everything from technical management concepts to fun outdoor experiences in a place and a way that people are comfortable, a community of support can be built.

How do we build those communities? Can they be public forums? Where should ownership and administration lie? How would they work? What could they say? How should they be structured? Below are some examples:

Blogs which address issues

Vlogs, videos, podcasts which share outdoor experiences, focusing on

or even spiritual aspects

Then there are social webgroups that offer personal pages and groups, such as MySpace
where one can have an individual page that represents a group 'face'

as well as start an online community group

or an email-based group

Things to consider: Meeting our constituents where they are...

  • If people are unengaged or uniformed to the point that they 'don't know what they don't know', is skills-based learning always the best approach, or do we need to use a values-based approach for some urban audiences?

  • Can we 'let go' and use such forums as social media by entrusting threads to partners and community groups while serving as a counselor or advocate to 'ground truth' discussions?

  • If yesterday's presentation on generational gaps was accurate, then should targeting the millenium generation focus on fun and meaningful relationships/mentors? Define "fun" and "mentor". How would that fit into programming and efforts?