Beyond Believing: Strategic Communication for Engaging Every Community

Year: 2023
Presenter/s: Sarah Koenigsberg
Symposium Session: 2023 - 04 Cultural Values and Inclusion: Walking the Talk
Topics covered: _other, climate change, community involvement, equity and inclusion, and lessons learned


Ask yourself: do you feel it’s more important for you to be right or to be effective?

Climate change is upon us and our riverscapes desperately need landscape scale restoration and climate adaptation now. And yet, in our increasingly polarized society, far too many well-intentioned scientists and practitioners are unknowingly self-sabotaging their efforts, alienating potential project partners with triggering terminology or sloppy semantics, isolating themselves through ideological absolutism. But if we want to be successful at pushing through the restoration work that we know needs doing, we just prove that we’re right, right? Wrong.

Though the data-driven among us may with otherwise, in our complex, emotional world things aren’t guaranteed to happen just because “the science says so.” Things happen––we become effective––when we learn to listen and observe, to identify common ground, and to employ intentional communication that empowers everyone to move forward together. Restoration isn’t a one-off, it’s a relationship.

This humorous yet brutally honest talk will explore actionable tactics for better communication that are relevant across the riverscape restoration community. It will highlight a leadership and project management model of purpose-driven intentionality, and share how that lens effectively promotes self reflection, prioritizes an assessment of our stakeholders’ worldviews, and brings common goals and opportunity into focus. Deep down we all want to be the good guy, the hero of our personal narrative. The marketing world has long been capitalizing upon the power of social science to craft its sales pitch; it’s high time our world of stewardship caught up.

Weaving together insights from science communication experts such as Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson, Bobette Buster, and Dr. Katharine Hayhoe, and building upon the climate adaptation framework of renowned institutions such as EcoAdapt and The University of Washington’s Climate Impacts Group, these concepts will be brought into tangible context, grounding them in real world examples from beaver-based and process-based restoration projects across the Pacific and Intermountain West. Successes, surprises, and snafus galore, these reflections will help you view your own restoration goals and strategies in a new light. We’ll close by sharing a step by step process to identify and evaluate your own communication patterns, disfluencies, vocal inflections, and wonky jargon, and offer suggestions for how to gain more control over what pops out of your mouth when the pressure turns on.

If we’re going to make a meaningful difference for climate adaptation, wildfire resilience, water security, floodplain reconnection, ecological uplift, and salmon and steelhead recovery, we must increase the pace, scale, and efficacy of riverscape restoration. Whatever your professional experience to date––high-tech or low-tech, adaptive management or engineered design––wrangling control of your own communication is a powerful step towards increasing your effectiveness on the ground.