12 Things to Know about Working in the International Sustainability Arena

Tip #1: To meet leaders working on sustainability issues from different perspectives, attend the conference of an international cross-sector organization, suggests Katherine Sierra, a senior fellow in the Brookings Institution’s Global Economy and Development Program who spoke at our Leopold advanced training “Navigating the International Sustainability Arena.”

If you’re a researcher in sustainability science, and you want to make your research used and useful in solving sustainability challenges internationally, how do you engage? “The world is wide,” as the saying goes. How do you identify partners and determine where you can have the most impact?

The Leopold Leadership Program recently held an advanced training in Washington, D.C. to help participants answer these questions. All were academic researchers seeking to integrate their science into practice internationally.

During the two-and-a-half-day workshop, the group got an overview of the international sustainability arena through the lens of two organizations: the World Bank, which was the subject of a keynote by Katherine Sierra, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution; and the Global Environment Facility, which was the focus of a panel moderated by Tom Hammond, Secretary of the Scientific and Technical Advisory Panel for GEF. As happens with all Leopold trainings, participants immediately had the chance to put what they learned into practice. In this case, they interviewed professionals working at international organizations on their issue of interest to learn more about their work.

To prepare, the group first did a series of “speed interviews” during an afternoon session. Working in pairs, they had an hour to develop questions. They then used them in 12-minute interviews with volunteers from the World Bank, the Pew Charitable Trust, Climate Advisers, and the World Wildlife Fund. The goal was to learn as much as possible in a short time about the international sustainability arena. Armed with an understanding of which questions work best, they spent the following day visiting international organizations and doing their one-on-one interviews.

In their debrief, the workshop participants spoke about the power of informational interviews for building relationships to advance the work of solving sustainability challenges. “Aims to influence policy start with a real desire and ability to listen to policy- and decision-makers, rather than always providing information and thinking that ‘they will come,’” said Marc Jeuland, a workshop participant and faculty member in the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University.

Here are 10 other tips:

Marc Jeuland: “In the context of making connections, I learned how critical it is to tailor even a two-sentence introduction to be most relevant to the person and purpose at hand. I used to think that such clarity could come from subsequent conversations, but this workshop and the substantial practice interacting with others (in small groups, mock interviews, and then with my own scheduled interviews) really drove home the point that first impressions are very critical if one wants to maximize impact.”

Jill Caviglia-Harris: “I learned that the silos that we talk about in academia also exist in the international policy world… and that breaking into this new arena requires reaching out, building long-term relationships, and co-developing questions that can be addressed with research findings.”

Karen Holl: “I learned an immense amount about the goals and workings of several intergovernmental organizations, and how I could most effectively collaborate with them. As a result of one of my meetings, I was invited to participate in workshop in May to discuss forest restoration and monitoring with various countries participating in the Initiative 20×20, which aims to restore 20 million hectares of tropical forest in Latin America by 2020.”

Kevin Krizek: “If you’re asking for an informational interview with someone, include the name of the person who referred you in the subject of your email. This strategy works for getting a response, and I’ve begun teaching it to my students.”

And:

“There are amazing efforts out there aiming to make the world a better and more environmentally humane place. These international agencies need different types of information from scientists and researchers at different points in various initiatives. A key challenge is finding out — and then delivering — the right info at the right time.”

Max Boykoff: “I found discussions surrounding our ‘theories of change’ very enlightening, in appreciating how we can chart different pathways to effective change in the international sustainability arena. My colleagues’ varied perspectives helped me to reflect on how to prioritize and plan my contributions going forward.”

Marco Janssen: “When I asked about the challenges they experience, representatives from the various international NGOs voiced the same message: ‘No more individual case studies, how can we scale up?’

Jennifer Cherrier: “All my interviewees reinforced the power of collective approaches for creating change that I learned in my Leopold training. I was reminded of the need to focus on your niche and work toward a series of ‘small victories’ (‘shrink the change‘) rather than trying to hit it out of the ball park. In all of this, doing your homework is key — you have to ‘know thy stuff’ and enough of your interviewees’ and collaborators’ stuff to effectively cross borders. Finally, be realistic with time constraints when you interview for information and plan accordingly.”

Margaret Krebs, Leopold program designer and training co-facilitator: “The rules of engagement are different for the international arena than they are for other spheres of sustainability work. Cultural differences are in play, and you need to respect and work with them.”

And:

Who you know matters. This training was possible because Leopold fellows and the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment shared their networks to identify people who could advise us about the workshop content and matching participants with representatives of organizations to interview. Thanks to Josh Tewksbury, Lea RosenbohmEd Barbier, Ruth DeFries, and Rashid Sumaila for their help in this regard!”

Pam Sturner is the executive director of the Leopold Leadership Program.

Teaching Leadership: Inspiration for the New Academic Year

ReciprocityStickyNotes

The reciprocity ring: a reminder that leaders are willing to ask for help, and everyone has something to offer

The start of the academic year can be a natural time to try something new. If you’re looking for inspiration for new course content on leadership, read Kate Knuth’s recent post on IonE’s Boreas Environmental Leadership Program blog. Kate, who directs Boreas, facilitated a special session on environmental leadership at the Ecological Society of America’s annual meeting in August. It attracted participants across the spectrum of career stages — from undergraduates to retirees — and sparked a lively, engaged conversation on these questions:

  • Where and how have you learned best about your own leadership and potential for impact?
  • What skills/connections/practices/support systems do you think are important for developing environmental leaders? How do these differ at different points in a person’s career?
  • How could organizations you are part of help to develop people’s leadership capacities? Think of universities, agencies, professional societies, etc.

There’s a great summary of the group’s insights and advice in Kate’s post. What leadership idea or practice are you most interested in exploring with students this year? Leave a comment.

Fellows, Call Home!

green_phoneLast Monday evening at the Ecological Society of America’s annual meeting, after a full day of sessions about the ecology of mountains, oceans, and the zones in between, about 80 scientists gathered at a mixer held by the Ecology Society of America Policy Section, the Union of Concerned Scientists, and the Leopold Leadership Program.

As often happens when scientists who are passionate about linking their knowledge to action get together, the room filled up quickly, and people lingered to talk well beyond the scheduled end at 8pm. A dozen Leopold fellows were there, including Sharon Collinge, vice president of public affairs for ESA, and Karen Holl, the main organizer of the event.

Karen got the idea for the mixer from conversations with other fellows during the 2012 All-Cohort Reunion. “We talked a great deal about the importance of the Leopold network,” she said. “The mixer allowed fellows to not only interact with one another, but also to share ideas and catch up with scientists involved with the ESA Policy Section and the Union of Concerned Scientists who are similarly committed to using science to inform policy.”

In addition to catching up with each other, attendees heard the latest from the three organizational hosts. Alan Townsend, co-director of the Leopold program, spoke briefly about changes in direction following our 2011 strategic plan. He noted the shift in focus from science communication to leadership development designed to support fellows in linking their knowledge to action. This direction, which comes out of fellows’ feedback, gives us agility in addressing emerging needs at the interface of science and action. It also relies on fellows acting as a network — by contributing to our knowledge base, sharing ideas, and taking on new roles in the program.

Alan also touched on the challenging funding situation that we face after June 2016. “We are actively seeking a sustainable funding model and are optimistic that we’ll find it,” he said. “But if we don’t, there’s a real possibility that this program will cease to exist.”

He described a few simple things fellows can do to help sustain the program:

1. Call Home. If you’re involved in an initiative that links your science to action – or if the focus of your research is changing as a result of your Leopold experience – call or email us about it. Your stories help us share the impact of the Leopold program with our funders and build our understanding of what’s needed to help researchers integrate their science into practice.

2. Send a photo with a caption for this blog. Share a highlight from your experience working with an NGO, the private sector, or a government agency to catalyze change.

3. Participate in the Leopold network. Tell us about what’s working and where you see emerging needs to help scientists effectively integrate their science into practice. Make use of the network when you’re undertaking a new initiative. We can help you find others who share your vision.

What do you want to know about the work of the Leopold Leadership Program? Leave your question in the comment section.

Pam Sturner is the executive director of the Leopold Leadership Program.

Endings and Beginnings for the 2013 Fellows

Photo: Jennifer Tank

Photo: Jennifer Tank, 2013 Leopold Leadership Fellow

Yesterday marked the end of the “refresh” training for the 2013 Leopold Leadership Fellows. As part of their graduation ceremony, they wrote down things they’ll say “no” to in order to make time for the things that support their visions for change, and then burned the papers in the campfire.

While their fellowship year has ended, their work toward a vision for environmental change is just beginning. As the 2013 fellows know, effecting the kinds of change needed to achieve sustainability is a long-term endeavor. Sustaining this work requires ongoing commitment, learning, and persistence and the support of friends.

As they return home from the idyllic Wingspread Conference Center, we welcome the 2013 fellows into the Leopold network and wish them success in the next phase of their Leopold journey!

 

The Power of Collective Approaches: An Engagement Strategy for the Long Haul

Karen Lips (right, turquoise jacket)

Karen Lips (right, blue jacket), teaches a graduate course in cross-disciplinary analysis. It will enable students to help inform policy questions about animal imports.

When we created our advanced training program last year, our vision was to help Leopold Leadership Fellows gain a skill or learn about a context they need to understand in order to integrate their science into practice. In January we held our first advanced training, “Hitting Your Policy Mark: Leveraging Networks and Collective Impact,” in Washington, D.C. as a joint pilot with COMPASS. Participants learned how to identify partnerships, pathways, and criteria for selecting opportunities to engage. They also gained skills for mobilizing interdisciplinary sets of experts, drawn from the Leopold Leadership network and elsewhere, to combine knowledge and provide an integrated synthesis of an environmental issue. Chad English, Director of Science Policy Outreach for COMPASS, was the facilitator.

One thing we hope to learn from advanced trainings is what makes it feasible for researchers to engage effectively, in limited time and for the long term, with policymakers, NGOs, businesses, and communities. Chad has written about a creative approach taken by Leopold Leadership Fellow Karen Lips, a participant in the January training. Karen studies the decline of amphibians and has examined risks to them from imported animals that may carry disease. By carefully defining her role in the conversation about this issue, Karen mobilized a community of scientists to analyze data needed to inform policy questions about animal imports. As Chad notes, her strategy ensures that policymakers benefit from the breadth and depth of her community’s collective knowledge.

Karen has also taken an innovative approach to engaging her graduate students. They play a pivotal role in conducting the analysis, which brings together data from science, policy, and economics. Her group is unique in crossing these disciplines to inform animal importation policy questions, and they receive training through an interdisciplinary course that Karen teaches at the University of Maryland. By working with graduate students in this way, Karen is able to provide timely analysis that speaks to policymakers’ needs.

Read Chad’s post for more about how Karen uses a collective approach to have an impact with this work. Is an approach like this part of your engagement strategy? Leave a comment about how it’s working for you.

Pam Sturner (@PamSturner) is the executive director of the Leopold Leadership Program (@LeopoldLP). Subscribe to “Leopold Leadership 3.0″ to read how Leopold Leadership Fellows are linking their knowledge to action.