When developing engagement practices, determining the specific issues to be addressed and the stakeholders that need to be invited to the table is critical important. Just as important as these two steps is determining how to best foster engagement between these identified stakeholders -who may have competing values- towards the end goal of addressing the key environmental issues at the heart of the problem (Proctor 2019). This is also known as the “How” part of environmental engagement, tying it in with the aforementioned “What” and “Who” categories of engagement, as they relate to our specific project with the Hood River Forest Collaborative.
Our proposed engagement project with the Hood River Forest Collaborative aims to help the Collaborative develop an online presence, through which they can host events, share knowledge, and engage in outreach to invite more voices to the conversation. In addition, we aim to develop and promote a series of public speakers. This has the goal of increasing community engagement with interesting and applicable topics, as well as provide of baseline of informed knowledge for members to start future engagement from.
As Andrew Spaeth -the facilitator of the Collaborative- noted in our interview, one of the biggest challenges facing the Collaborative is that sometimes people disagree so strongly on issues that they cannot listen to one another and are thus incapable of meaningful engagement. He noted that he has hosted social events, like group meals, for members that allowed them to talk to one another and form friendships outside of their heated debates. While this seems to help members see one another past the issue they represent, a more open and informative series of events would have the potential of drawing in new stakeholders who may not initially be interested in the Collaboratives monthly meetings and may be intimidated by the idea of joining strangers meals.
We plan to utilize social media to allow a space for members to connect online. In a context where people just cannot agree, it can help to see others as simply human, and to socialize outside of the debate on land management. Utilizing social media as a platform for comment can help people engage with one another, since this can allow people to work together to produce knowledge on land management issues. This also helps to address many of the issues the Collaborative faces in regards to getting new stakeholder involvement, as engaging through social media requires far less time commitment than a three hour meeting at the Hood River Ranger Station. Social media is also incredibly useful as a vehicle to disseminate critical information about their schedule, and can provide a great way for interested parties to initiate contact and develop a more personal interest in prolonged engagement with the group.
Additionally, it may help strongly disagreeing members engage more with one another if more people are involved in the conversation. Having informal and casual spaces for outsiders to comment on the issues of land management that affect them may help members hear about other perspectives, and engage with more people who can learn from each other’s perspectives (Broockman and Kalla 2016). However, these spaces would obviously have to be moderated in some fashion to maintain their integrity as a vehicle for providing important facts, as unchecked flame wars help nobody develop meaningful engagement.
Broockman, David, and Joshua Kalla. 2016. “Durably Reducing Transphobia: A Field Experiment on Door-to-Door Canvassing.” Science 352 (6282): 220–24. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.aad9713.
Proctor, James D. 2019. “When Our Ideas Differ: Three Options.” EcoTypes: Exploring Environmental Ideas(blog). June 23, 2019. https://jimproctor.us/ecotypes/about-ecotypes/when-our-ideas-differ-three-options/.