Communications

Making my work a no-fly zone

Last time I flew for work was in 2007, running a workshop in the Netherlands.  I had tried to find a way to go by boat and train, but couldn't make the timings fit in with other commitments. The last time I flew for pleasure was so long ago that I can't remember. I have turned down all work that involves flying since then, but without being up-front about this.  I say I'm unavailable or "I'm sure you can find someone locally" .  And I try to help them do just that: a great reason to network internationally and to keep in touch with people who I've come across over the years who understand both process and sustainable development, or may know someone who does.

Being up-front

On a coaching course this year, we did a pairs exercise about 'boundaries'.  We had to identify a time when we had noticed a boundary and maintained it.  We were invited to illustrate this.  As I drew the picture I realised that flying was emerging as a boundary for me.  It has been a value-in-action and I can choose to make it an espoused value too.  In that realisation I decided to make it an explicit aspect of my work.

The illustration I drew at the time shows this through the picture of sealed charter which makes 'not flying' a clear part of how I do business.

Since then, I've included this in the 'walking the talk' statement on this website, and in an updated discussion document which I share with new clients which sets out how I intend we will work together. (This latter also includes a range of other 'draft ground rules' for our consultant-client relationship: things like honesty, collaboration, learning from feedback, acting in good faith and so on.)

Testing my commitment

I've had a chance to test out this espoused value in two different situations recently.

One is a new client is based in the UK and the USA.  I set out up-front (before putting in a proposal) that I would not travel to the USA as part of this assignment.  I felt some trepidation in doing this: might I lose the work?  Reflecting further I realised that this outcome was not, surprisingly, such a big worry for me as I'm turning down work at the moment and I knew I didn't want the work if it meant flying.  The bigger source of my anxiety was that these people who I'd only just met might they think badly of me. They might interpret my refusal to fly as a criticism of them - they almost certainly are obliged to fly for work.  They might simply think me wildly eccentric.  (One day I'll blog on the EAFL meme : "environmentalists are **** loonies" ).  They might worry that association with me would make their colleagues think this about them.

I'm being very frank here - explaining my worries discretely even though I know they were quite murky at the time before I was able to pin them down precisely.

The new client was not put off, although I will continue to watch for the impact this stance has on our relationship, as well as the practicalities of the project.  Our first multi-continent workshop was run using impressive video presence facilities, and I'll blog about that separately.

The second challenge came about because I wasn't really paying attention!

I am working on stakeholder engagement for the UK's first Climate Change Risk Assessment. As part of this, there are workshops for stakeholders in the Devolved Administrations - Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.  I agreed to facilitate these workshops as part of a team, with the workshops distributed between us.  Only later did I realise that - of course - Belfast is usually accessed from other parts of the UK by plane, these days.  As luck would have it, the Belfast workshop is the one date that I could do.  Could I get there without flying?  Fortunately I had a full day with no meetings on either side of it, allowing slow travel.

I checked the cost of travelling by train and ferry, using the legendary Man in Seat 61 website.  I also checked the travelling times, and worked out that two nights accommodation were probably needed, not one.  I resolved that I would absorb the additional expenses if they proved to be higher than those of my flying colleagues, and not charge for the longer travelling time.

Armed with these mitigations, I raised my 'no flying' commitment with my immediate client (the consultancy I am sub-contracted by).  They seemed fine with it.  And - thanks Sarah, you're a star - one of my facilitator colleagues said she'd travel with me too.

I still feel a bit funny about this choice to go by train and ferry rather than flying.  It takes much longer.  And if we miss a connection, or there's a storm at sea, people may criticise me for choosing a less reliable way to travel.  It feels like an experiment which could go wrong.

And I have read and re-read this blog entry, afraid to click 'publish', for some weeks now!

Experimenting with 'being the change'

I know that for many people, deciding not to fly for work would be a seriously career-limiting decision.  The way we organise our working lives and our international organisations is now so dependent on being able to travel very long distances or across seas fast, that  using only surface transport would be very inconvenient.  Even within the UK, there are lots of journeys which involve moving from one island to another, where boat is slower and - ahem - more bilious than flying.

I have the great good fortune, though, to be in a position to say 'no' to flying for work even as I recognise that this is not an option for many of the people I work with.  So I can be an experimenter, someone who tries out what a world with seriously reduced dependence on aviation might look like.  And if I can do it, perhaps I should.

How are people taking it?

The reaction from people who I've told about this has been an interesting range.  Some applauded and said "I bet your clients love it that, because you're really walking the talk".  Some said "that's a long time to be away not earning".  Others said "that's really interesting, I'd like to experiment like that, tell me how it goes".

I'm going to actively reflect on this experiment, and I'll tell you how it goes.

Good for your skin, your figure and the planet!

If you're trying to get fashion-crazy teens and young people interested in climate change, it makes sense to start where they are.  And that's what Global Cool have done, in their Eighteen Degrees of Inspiration campaign. But isn't it superficial, missing the point, and above all not going to get the scale of change we need at a systemic level?

Well, according to Chris Rose's VBCOP theory, starting where people are and eliciting changed behaviour for non-'green' reasons is the most effective way to build up political space for systemic change.

Want to know more?

I've written about this in the environmentalist, and you can read that article here.

Who can help me influence them? Mapping the players and pressures in a system of behaviour

Strands of work on stakeholder engagement and behaviour change have been woven together in a couple of different pieces of work I’ve been doing with public sector clients recently.  I’ve ended up developing some new frameworks and adapting some existing ones to help people clarify their aims and plan their campaigns. If you want to influence someone to change their behaviour, there are models and approaches which can help.  For example, the six sources of influence help you identify the right messages and pay attention to the surrounding context which supports and enables – or discourages and gets in the way of – the desired behaviour.

When you are working for a public body (the NHS, a Government department) and you are trying to influence the behaviour of people who you have at best a distant relationship with (mothers, or people who buys cars) then you will go through a multi-stage process:

  1. Should we be trying to encourage this behaviour change, which we see as desirable?
  2. If yes, what role(s) should we be playing (legislator, educator, convenor, funder etc)?
  3. If yes, what are the most effective ways of influencing the behaviour?

Should we encourage this behaviour change?

Given current discussions about social engineering, this question is important.  It might seem entirely obvious and uncontroversial to us that wanting to promote energy efficiency that more efficient light bulbs should be promoted.  So obvious that we don’t stop to consider possible unintended consequences or misunderstandings.

So an important early stage is to engage stakeholders in helping to inform the decision about whether to encourage a particular behaviour change at all.   For this, classic stakeholder identification and mapping techniques (e.g. see figure 1 in this paper from WWF) will help ensure that you hear from more than the usual suspects.

Stakeholders can share perspectives about the policy goals, identify which behaviours might help to achieve them, and whether action to encourage those behaviours is a good idea.

What role should we be playing?

Some public bodies draft new legislation and regulations, others deliver services.  Some enforce regulations and others provide advice and public education.  Some bring other organisations together, convening conversations and partnerships.  Others commission and fund research.  There are lots of roles that public sector organisations could play in a given situation.  Which role or roles make the most sense, in meeting the policy aim in question?

Listening to the views of stakeholders in relation to that question is enormously helpful.  And those stakeholders may be professionals who work in that field of expertise - but removed from the coal face - or they may be practitioners on the ground whose direct experience can bring a dose of reality to the conversations.

A great example of this is the Low Carbon Communities Challenge, launched on Monday 8th February.  It will (amongst other things) draw on the experiences and insights of 22 communities which are being funded to install energy efficiency kit and renewable energy equipment en masse in their areas.  They’ll also be encouraging people to adopt low-carbon behaviours.  Each community will be doing something different, guided by its particular circumstances and enthusiasms.  Excitingly, each community will also be asked to identify the barriers to and enablers of progress, in particular what government could do differently to make this kind of low-carbon push as successful as possible across England, Wales and Northern Ireland. I'm delighted to be a facilitator on this project.

What are the best ways of influencing this behaviour?

A cool analysis of the system of players and pressures which lead to the current patterns of behaviour is a good starting point, and involving a team (including some stakeholders) will help ensure that the picture built up is rich and complete.

In a workshop a few weeks ago, we used the classic ‘pestle’ headings to brainstorm the pressures and players which influence a particular behaviour which my client is interested in changing.  Let’s say that the behaviour is keeping one’s car well-maintained, so that it runs as fuel-efficiently as possible.  Specific behaviours include keeping the tyre pressure optimum, and removing the roof box when it’s not needed.

In the workshop, people identified players and pressures and wrote them on post-its, sticking them up under the headings of Political, Economic, Social, Technical, Legislative, Environmental and Other.  The headings and team-work both help to ensure that no aspect of the system is forgotten.

Once that was done, we stood back and looked at the results, and pictures were taken on a camera phone.  Then I invited people to bring the post-its to a big blank sheet of paper, and to begin mapping the relationships between the players and pressures, starting with “the most interesting” element of the system.  [The idea of asking for ‘the most interesting’ came from a book about coaching which I’ve been reading.]

One post-it was brought to the empty map, and was soon followed by others.  Lines of connection were drawn, and amid the chaos some patterns emerged.  Most importantly, the team realised that these behaviours were more like DIY and home maintenance than like ‘eco’ behaviours, so when targeting different audiences they should seek our market research which segments people according to things which are relevant to that kind of behaviour, rather than segmentations which have been developed with an environmental purpose in mind.

Mapping stakeholders for behaviour change

This brought us smoothly to looking at which stakeholders to engage as a priority, to add muscle to the campaign to  influence people to adopt (or reinforce) the desired behaviours.

Many of these stakeholders were ‘players’ identified in the earlier exercise.  Some were organisations and people who the team thought of as the system was being mapped.

As a variation on classic impact /influence matrix, and building on the ‘who can help me’ matrix which I use with organisational SD change champions, is this diagram.

Brainstormed onto post-its, stakeholders are then mapped according to the team’s view about their influence and attitude.

You then overlay the coloured ‘zones’ onto the matrix, and these are linked to typologies of engagement like the ladder of engagement.

The people and organisations which are the highest priority to engage with, are those who are highly influential and have the strongest opinions (for and against) the desired behaviour change.  In-depth engagement which involves them directly in designing and implementing the behaviour campaign will be important.

Those in the ‘enhanced’ zones need to be involved and their opinions and information sought.

Those in the ‘standard’ zone can be engaged with a lighter touch – perhaps limited to informing them about the campaign and the desired behaviour.

The workshops helped these clients to identify new stakeholders, reprioritise them, and consider more strategically who to engage and to what purpose.

Have you heard the one about...

...the North Wind and the Sun? In Aesop's fable, these two characters argue over who is the strongest, and decide to settle the matter by seeing who can get a traveller's cloak off his back.

For those of you unfamiliar with Greek tales, the denouement can be found here.  And while you read it, you might reflect on our behaviour change strategies - and which are most effective.

Just who are you talking to?

When we write a blog post, draft a leaflet, design a poster or click 'publish', it's important to think about who we're trying to reach, and what will get through to them.  This isn't just about the mechanisms, it's also about the tone of voice, the words we choose and the messages we decide to present. Sometimes we get it right, by chance or intuition.  Sometimes - especially when we're trying to reach out beyond people like us - we fall flat on our faces.

Here's some ways that you can segment your audiences, to make sure your talking gets heard.  The article was first published in the environmentalist.

Are you sitting comfortably? Using stories

Good.  Then I'll begin. Stories are a powerful way to get your message heard.  And telling our own stories is a powerful way of helping us to make sense of our experiences.

The story you tell might, when you examine it, be unwittingly framing a situation.  Change the frame and you may see something different.

Making sense of stories and unravelling their role in building better understanding between us are just two of the themes covered in my article on stories for the environmentalist.

Read on.

Update

Here's a round up of stories about climate change, from the good people over at the Centre for Alternative Technology.

Psychology to save the planet

A recent report by the American Psychological Association, featured in the New Scientist, brings together some of the evidence and theory behind the 'positive thinking' approach to communicating about climate change. It goes something like this: people will block up their ears if you tell them the scary facts and make them feel bad.  Instead, discover what already motivates them and makes them feel good, and use that knowledge to promote the new behaviours you'd like them to adopt.  You might not mention the climate change links at all.

The areas picked up the NS article are:

  • social networks
  • immediate feedback
  • competitive instincts
  • fitting in with the crowd

I'm very excited that this kind of psychological analysis is seeping into the world of technical experts and physical sciences.   How have you been using psychology to help engaging people more effectively?

And speaking personally about climate change...

There are quite a few courses on offer in the UK to help people speak in public more confidently, knowledgeably and effectively about climate change. This article which I wrote for the environmentalist examines two of them, focusing on the key points that the trainers are trying to get across.

Eco-nomics and the credit crunch

Enticing people with a money-saving message has always been part of the eco-communicator's armoury.  When the credit crunch began to hit in late 2008, I looked at how those messages were being resurrected in the UK, through make-do-and-mend to more radical voices hoping for a wholesale redesign of the economy. Read that article here. It's a pdf file.

Behave!

Changing behaviour, encouraging and enabling pro-environmental behaviours in particular, is endlessly fascinating.  There are lots of theories of behaviour change, and lots of practitioners getting out there and trying to make it happen.  And some of them even succeed from time to time!  This article - Behave - which I wrote in 2007 - covers some approaches.  There are also other models, like the six sources of influence which I came across recently. Start your exploration of that model with this great video!


The UK Government's Defra (Department of Food and Rural Affairs) has its own behaviour change models, which I wrote about here in the context of audience segmentation.  NESTA also produced a great report on the use of established social marketing techniques to sell 'low carbon' living.  My September 08 column in the environmentalist covered that.

Which approaches to behaviour change do you see being used by environmental organisations?  And which are used by multi-national FMCG organisations? (That's Fast Moving Consumer Goods to you and me.)  Clue: the behaviour FMCGs want to influence is purchasing behaviour.