Learning about Environmental Engagement has given me a much deeper and more refined way of thinking about the way in which I discuss and form opinions about controversial issues of any subject. My past experience with engagement was through canvassing which focuses primarily on the deficit model of engagement, assuming that if more people had access to this information they would care about the issue. I wrongly assumed that engagement was simply telling people about an important issue and getting them to understand and eventually agree. However, I now recognize that environmental engagement is far more nuanced and important than this single approach. I also see how the principles of environmental engagement span to other topics as well. I see engagement as a way of thinking about approaches we can take to help to erase the barriers to progress and conversation that often exist across differences.
Our reconnaissance field trip was beneficial in growing my understanding and appreciation of environmental engagement. Going on this trip early in the semester gave me real life examples of engagement on various environmental issues which has helped me form a broader and more applicable understanding of some of the themes we have continued to discuss in class. It was nice to hear from such a large variety of people about the challenges they face with engagement and the passion they have formed for the work they do. To me, the most impactful presentation was from the Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm.
For one, I think this presentation challenged some of the preconceived notions I had formed about farm work and the issues they lobby for and their motivations for doing so. Most of what Barb Iverson–head of the Oregon Farm Bureau and owner of Wooden Shoe–brought up about her farm and the experiences of farmers overall were things I had not previously thought about. Listening to her experience influenced my perspective and reminded me of how many different perspectives there are and how many people may be at stake even with some of the most seemingly straightforward issues. This was most present in reference to the bill she mentioned which would ban an insecticide that she believed could be hugely important to saving the entire crop of farmers in the future. I think I have been previously trained to assume that the banning of environmentally harmful products is always good with little consideration for who else is impacted. However, after hearing her speak on this bill I was reminded that it is important to consider all of the actors who are and will be impacted by an action and that there should be more consideration placed on all who are involved.
Partnership Organization: Healthy Democracy
My partnership organization is Healthy Democracy, an organization in Oregon and beyond that works on projects to promote democracy throughout the state and ensure that voters have access to information and promote community across differences. Learning more about the work that they do has further solidified my understanding of engagement in a way that showcases its applicability and importance surrounding topics other than the environment. Healthy Democracy is an engagement nonprofit which has made it really interesting to explore different engagement strategies in relation to the different programs that they offer. This has not only built upon my understanding of the real-life applicability of engagement, but has also given me a better understanding of different aspects of and approaches to engagement because I can apply them to the work of Health Democracy.
Who, How, What and Post-Truth of Environmental Engagement
In relation to our partnership organizations and beyond we have learned about the who, how, what, and post-truth understandings of environmental engagement. In our week covering effective action (the what) of engagement, I grappled a lot with whether I agreed with their criteria for determining the most important issues to take action on. According to the effective action approach, the best problems to solve should be great in scale, highly neglected, and highly solvable. To some degree I agree and understand the notion that we should prioritize issues that are directly solvable, impactful and allow for the most efficient use of resources, however–especially when it comes to many environmental issues–I feel like it is more complicated than that. I struggled to determine if these are the most important criteria and if not what are. Regardless of what the right answer is, I think that these are important things to consider because in many cases I believe that there are more problems than there are more ways and means to solve them. I found the who of engagement to be very closely related to effective action. The actors impacted by a problem is hugely relevant to the significance of a problem and the importance of solving it. That being said, there can often be a multitude of stakeholders to take into account on an issue and weighing different actors and how they’re impacted is not always straightforward.
I found the how of engagement to be the most interesting and relevant to the exploration of environmental engagement. This encompasses the different models of engagement that can and have been used historically to approach engagement surrounding environmental issues. These engagement approaches are broken up into three types, the deficit model which assumes popular knowledge and aims to educate, the framing model which has a similar goal to educate or inform people but it’s more sensitive to cultural frames, and the dialogic model which is a theory with the goal of stakeholder engagement in a two-way learning process. While I think that learning about post-truth is significant to the who and the what, I think it’s especially important to consider in relation to the how. If there is not one agreed upon truth then determining how we engage–especially favoring approaches that consider multiple perspectives–becomes more important.
To me, engagement focuses on something that is critical to all issues that we as individuals and as part of a national and global community face today and in the future. This is understanding, openness, and acceptance of beliefs and perspectives that differ from your own. While this may be an obvious suggestion it is so frequently overlooked. This course has taught me that while not all issues leave room for effective compromise–something I have optimistically believed in the past–this does not negate the benefit that comes from inclusion and consideration of many perspectives when it comes to solving issues of any scale or type.