How do we go about engagement?
After addressing the significance of “what and who” in regards to engagement, the proceeding concern is “how?” During week 8 of Jim Proctor’s course —Environmental Engagement— our focus was drawn to how engagement happens. To foreground our understanding, we began by looking at the models of environmental engagement. This article outlines three models of engagement — the classical (deficit) model, the framing model, and the contemporary (dialogic) model. The classical model functions off of the notion “educate the people.” It assumes that insufficient scientific understanding acts as the catalyst for the lack of support for scientific knowledge and policies based on it. Separately, the framing model approaches engagement in a mode that is sensitive to an understanding of cultural dissimilarity. It frames scientific explanations for its intended audience — considering the responsiveness of which people receive information. Lastly, the contemporary (dialogic) model —unlike the two previous models— adopts two-way (or more) means of communication. More recently, it has been increasingly recognized that contemporary trends are moving from the deficit model to the dialogic model.
Brookman and Kalla’s article,”Durably reducing transphobia: A field experiment on door-to-door canvassing,” explores an approach of communication that aligns with the contemporary (dialogue) model. More specifically, they explored how canvassers —in this case, volunteers who went door to door encouraging active perspective-taking amongst voters— used a model of communication which was more dialogic in its makeup. This dynamic is apparent in the foregrounding stage of their canvassing. The canvassers set up a foundation for communication that was very open and less polarizing. This opening strategy led to conversations in which the voter was in a position to look into their own experience and share similarities. Instead of adopting a deficit model and choosing to exclusively present their perspectives, the canvassers decided to cultivate a two-way dialogue that was more fruitful in the co-production of knowledge. Furthermore, this dialogue model of communication is employed by organizations beyond the canvassers discussed in Brookman and Kalla’s article (Brookman, Kalla, 2016).
Sustainable Northwest acts as a liaison, bringing together people, ideas, and innovation so that local environments, economies, and communities throughout Oregon can thrive. These are essentially the organization’s “what” and “who”; the who being those in which Sustainable Northwest engages with, and the what being the conversations and projects they help facilitate. Their programs cover Forests, Water, Energy, and Rangelands, with their mission being to function at the intersection of these natural resource programs and groups of people such as tribes, farmers, ranchers, and rural communities.
How does Sustainable Northwest connect their What and their Who?
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Sustainable Northwest approaches their “how” with the dialogic model of engagement. They put a tremendous emphasis on involvement, ensuring the stakeholder’s project understanding, the collection of stakeholder suggestions, and considerations of stakeholder input during decision making. This is all done through – you guessed it – dialogue! The organization goes far beyond just the decree of facts when communicating with their “who”; they implement strategies of listening, as well as speaking, to ensure that bring local interests together to develop balanced community-driven solutions.
Opportunities for dialogical “How” approaches
Because Sustainable Northwest focuses on facilitation, conflict resolution, and negotiation of multiple parties, the dialogic model works well in for the organization. As the “radical middle”, they work less on trying to convince others to adhere to a certain philosophy, but more on listening to multiple sides to find shared values and beliefs that can lead to a consensus. An opportunity for this model is Sustainable Northwwest’s engagement with logging communities. These communities rely largely on logging to fuel the local economy, and Sustainable Northwesr acts as a framework for a lot of the shared beliefs among the members of the community.
Acting as the “who”, logging communities are a group that Sustainable Northwest works to engage with on the controversial issue of logging. These rural communities are largely underrepresented in environmental discourse today, where its negative ecological impacts and doubts regarding the ability of loggers to manage forests have been heavily emphasised. In this scenario, where logging communities and environmentalists disagree about what needs to happen via policies and practices, Sustainable Northwest can act as a mediator and not only listen to both sides but also make sure both sides are listening to each other. Both logging communities and environmentalists have most likely already heard the facts, but there are so many of them that simply using facts – the deficit model – to reach consensus may be unlikely to work. In the end, it can lead to conversation where every side is listened to and everybody’s desires are adhered to in the most equitable way possible.
Broockman, David, and Joshua Kalla. 2016. “Durably Reducing Transphobia: A Field Experiment on Door-to-Door Canvassing.” Science 352, no. 6282: 220-24.