European strategies to rally political will for biodiversity conservation
26 April 2011 | News story
A recent CBD capacity development workshop showed enthusiasm for stakeholder engagement and strategic communications for biodiversity. CEC member Wiebke Herding reports.
After the ambitious decisions taken at the International Biodiversity Summit in Japan last fall, the Convention on Biological Diversity is organizing a series of 12 capacity building workshops for its members to help them update their national biodiversity strategies and action plans. Forty European country representatives met in April 2011 on the island of Vilm in Germany.
After a review of the five focal areas, the focus shifted to strategic communication and stakeholder engagement. For many countries, developing and implementing meaningful biodiversity strategies felt like an uphill struggle. National focal points often face changing governments, conflicting priorities and a general lack of political will. In these situations, communications and engagement strategies can be more important than scientific papers and top-down planning.
Ask: Where does it work?
One strategy can be to look for the bright spots. No situation is completely hopeless, and doing more of what already works is a highly likely to lead to success. When asked for the bright spots, participants told stories of thriving gateway communities and educational TV programmes in Georgia, of the pride Israelis take in the diversity and health of their food and of successful wetland restorations in Britain. How can you apply elements of the success stories you know to the problem you are trying to solve?
Focus on what you want to achieve.
Measuring the impact of communications is easy if you know what you want to achieve: A change of behaviour in a specific (and ideally named) target audience. Once we had identified the regional ministry of the environment as the main actor for a regional development project in Bosnia, we knew what needed to happen: The minister should attend the launch event and take a decision to dedicate staff to the project within two years of launch. Now it was possible to focus on strategies to convince the minister to do just that.
Engage, Rinse, Repeat.
Communications is not a one-way process. The most effective way to overcome resistance, build ownership and create new solutions is to listen and create space for conversation. Some recent biodiversity strategy and planning processes have shifted the emphasis from scientific data to engagement processes - with impressive results. In France, more than 400 people met to define the country's new direction for biodiversity. At a similar conference in Germany, stakeholders had a clear message for the government: Let's engage more people, not more paper.
The Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity has invited the IUCN Commission on Education and Communication to contribute to the workshop series. The common session guide was developed by Frits Hesselink (Netherlands), Keith Wheeler (USA), Laurie Bennett (UK), Wendy Goldstein (Australia), Marta Andelman (Argentina), Jinie Dela, (Sri Lanka) and Gillian Martin Mehers (Switzerland). So far, workshops have taken place in Botswana (March 2011, facilitated by Juliane Zeidler) and Germany (April 2011, facilitated by Wiebke Herding).
For more information, contact Wiebke Herding, firstname.lastname@example.org