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A newsletter from Biodiversity Project Spring 2013


Getting a Distrustful Public to Trust You

ifty-three percent of survey respondents think that the federal government threatens their own personal rights and freedoms, according to the latest survey conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press in January 2013. Forty three percent disagree. The number of survey responders who view federal government as a threat has consistently increased since November 2001, so these results are not a surprise. But, these results do mark the first time that a majority of people have felt this way. Predictably, Republicans and Democrats disagree on this topic. While 70% of Republicans say government is a threat to rights and freedoms, only 38% of Democrats say the same. This difference between Democrats and Republicans is in line with the results of another Pew survey from June 2012 that showed that values and basic beliefs are more polarized along partisan lines than at any point in the past 25 years. The differences between the two parties are fun for political scientists and media pundits to analyze, but they make it harder for environmentalists. Environmentalists can only achieve lasting behavior changes, pass laws and secure funding by appealing to people in both parties. So how can environmental organizations and coalitions ever hope to advance specific policy goals and garner greater public support when the public is so drastically divided over such fundamental issues as trust in government?


Building trust through shared values As these polls show, it is likely that a good percentage of your audience isn’t exactly feeling good about our federal government right now. Therefore, this is a good time to play up the other values that people feel positive about. A value is an unchanging part of who we are. It is how we define ourselves and it’s a big part of how we make decisions. Values are formed from experiences, parents, teachers, friends, habits and religion. They are formed over time and are not easily shaken or changed. Because our behaviors and choices stem from our values, environmentalists must understand an audience’s values and connect to those values in order to influence the audience. As there is a significant gap in the values most closely held by people in the two main political parties (from trust in

government to opinions on social issues), we have to be smarter about how we talk about the environment and encourage environmental action. Just because their values are different, that doesn’t mean disparate groups won’t adopt the environmentally-friendly behaviors that we want them to. We must simply connect environmental actions with more universal values like concern for family and regional pride. Because, while opinions on partisan issues are severely divided along party lines, members of both groups still value hope for the future, financial responsibility and family safety. While opinions on The growing distrust in government means that we can’t base our public communications on partisan issues are glowing language about government. Likewise, severely divided the widening gap between Democrats and along party lines, Republicans on environmental issues means that members of both we must expand our communications arsenal to include more universal values. groups still value Thankfully, there is still hope. Majorities of both hope for the Republicans and Democrats agree that members of future, financial Congress—the politicians themselves—are the responsibility problem, not the political system. As long as Americans believe in the system, they maintain hope and family that government will eventually get its act together. In safety. the meantime, environmentalists will have to work around government’s PR problem with values-based communications. For more information about how we use this information in our strategic communications, contact Rebeca Bell at 773-754-8902.

f you’ve been part of one environmental coalition or network, you know how they all work. Steering Teams, conference calls, agendas, annual meetings and action items. Coalitions are necessary and often extremely effective ways for like-minded groups to share resources and tools. They can magnify voices and achieve social change and policy victories much faster than anyone one group can do alone. But they are also predictable. The work associated with coalition membership—webinars, listserves and committee meetings—can be both slow moving and draining. So, what if there was another way? What if you could build an environmental coalition that was as personally energizing as it was effective? Vital Lands has done just that. Vital Lands is a program of the Grand Victoria Foundation. Comprised of people from throughout Illinois, past and present Working Group coalition members all work in some way on land conservation, restoration and protection. Biodiversity Project Executive Director Jennifer Browning is now in her second year as part of the Working Group. Like any good coalition, Vital Lands offers members a number of typical benefits, such as a chance to meet interesting, passionate people doing excellent work and opportunities to learn about all of the new projects and progress being made in Illinois. But the structure of the Vital Lands meetings—and the way participants work together in between meetings—is where there is a difference. The meetings are designed expressly to allow creative thinking to flow.


For two days several times a year, members shed the constraints and requirements of daily life (“to do” lists, deadlines, cooking, parenting) and gather to answer Big Questions: How do we define a healthy Illinois landscape? What needs to be done to get there? And ideas for solutions that start with “What if…?” By providing a well-organized, facilitated space for conservationists to talk about the Big Questions, the Vital Lands coalition has been able to move beyond policy minutia and governance documents into a new realm where big picture thinking happens and effective action begins. Big Question conversations produce ideas and thoughts that can be as varied as the participants: simple, complex, inspiring and challenging. But whatever the results are, that they happen at all is the remarkable part. Vital Lands simply provides the luxurious opportunity of time outside of daily tasks to think, listen and share thoughts, uninterrupted, about land conservation in Illinois. Asking the Big Questions has lead to some great progress. Members of the Working Group have created a vision for the future of conservation in Illinois: “An interconnected system of protected land and water at a scale sufficient to allow habitat, wildlife and people to thrive,” and is busy working on reaching that vision. By creating a space for free-thinking and sharing, Vital Lands is building a cohesive conservation movement and energizing members. It truly is a new kind of coalition.


Big Questions How One Environmental Coalition is Shaking Things Up

What’s New at Biodiversity Project?


In May, Biodiversity Project will present at two great conferences. First, we will present at the 2013 Ohio Stormwater Conference in Cincinnati, OH. Because preventing stormwater pollution requires people to make specific changes in their behavior, we have developed communications strategies and messages designed to connect target audiences with specific values-based messages. In this presentation, presenter Rebeca Bell will lead participants through a case study of unique audience-specific behavior change campaigns that can efficiently and effectively help organizations reach public outreach goals. Then, just a week later, Jennifer Browning and Amy Sauer will present at the 2013 River Rally in St. Louis. This popular conference draws participants

Biodiversity Project Connections

from around the country for an intensive weekend of motivating and informational sessions. We will be presenting on our experience building and managing the Mississippi River Network and 1 Mississippi campaign to restore and protect the Mississippi River. Biodiversity Project is proud to again partner with Anheuser Busch/Budweiser for another Great Lakes Forever beach cleanup. We are working with the Alliance for the Great Lakes to clean up Montrose Beach in Chicago. The June 29 event is an opportunity for Budweiser and Goose Island employees to work along side members of the public to keep our community clean.


Creative Tools for Increasing Public Participation

iodiversity Project has been working on an initiative called “Weigh in on the Winnebago Waterways� for which we are providing both the project messaging and also a significant outreach plan. When we saw the Request for Proposals for a public engagement project in the Lake Winnebago region of Wisconsin, we knew that our proposal would include a new web-based tool to achieve the ambitious engagement goals set out over a tight timeline. With the help of an online engagement tool called MindMixer, we were able to submit a unique proposal, and develop an effective and extensive public engagement program. The Winnebago Waterways region is home to around 522,000 people, Wisconsin’s largest inland lake, world-class fisheries and a host of other recreational opportunities. The region is an economic engine for the five counties that are working collaboratively to find ways where it might make sense to develop cohesive lake policy or management protocols. Currently neither currently exists for the system. Before the counties can develop cohesive policies or protocols to collaboratively solve the problems facing the water system, the counties wanted to hear from the people. Therefore, in the first phase of their collaboration,


Biodiversity Project is engaging the public to find out how people use these waterways and what is important to them about the waterways. In a region so wide, with funds and schedules so limited, we looked for the best way to find and hear as many voices as possible, using both traditional and innovative methods. We are mailing a traditional survey to the residents and we are hosting a series of open house style meetings, but we know that only so many people can attend these meetings and that we are limited in the questions we can ask on a survey. So, we turned to MindMixer to help bridge some gaps. MindMixer functions like a virtual town hall, where everyone who signs up (attends) has a chance to weigh in on the issues. All input is open to be viewed and commented on by other site users. Residents of the five-county Project administrators let users know that their ideas Lake Winnebago region were heard, and how they have been invited to weigh-in plan to use them for action. on the future of their rivers It is a truly democratic and and lakes at public meetings and transparent process that continued on page 4

Biodiversity Project Connections


CASE STUDY continued from page 3

people can take part in at any time from any location where they can get online. The technology boasts many features, such as the ability to text input to the site, that allow people to engage in the ways that are most convenient to them. Even better, the project team can respond at any time, from any place which makes managing the content and engagement very easy, not to mention more cost- and time-efficient than compiling survey results and hosting multiple rounds of meetings. We customized a website for our project and needs and have been able to ask questions and engage in conversations that give fuller input than traditional surveys might yield.

The technology offers a variety of ways to ask questions, including polls, surveys, open-ended idea submissions and ranking ideas, but the best part is having the ability to ask responders to clarify or expand on their ideas. While still early in our process, we have already seen success in engaging a demographic that has been difficult to capture over the years in this region: the under 55 crowd. While online forums like MindMixer are not a replacement for traditional public engagement activities, MindMixer is certainly a handy new tool in our engagement and outreach kit.

Supporting a Nontraditional Nonprofit No single person or organization can change the world on their own. It takes an informed and engaged public to get things done.

tional messages and materials. We use values-based communications and social marketing tools to move people toward lasting behavior changes. We do this through:

 researching, designing, implementing and evaluating communication and education strategies that connect personal values to environmental causes  helping other groups reach their own communications goals through workshops, trainings and consulting hours.

That’s where we come in. Biodiversity Project helps nonprofit organizations, coalitions and government agencies understand and consider the needs and values of their audiences in order to create compelling and motiva-

Our unique mission makes us a nontraditional nonprofit organization. While we rely heavily on grants from large foundations like the McKnight Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation and for the peer organizations that hire us to help with their communications needs, we still depend on individual supporters to help cover the extra services we provide for free or at discounted rates to other nonprofits.

Please support our efforts today at

Biodiversity Project Communications to INSPIRE Environmental ACTION

4507 N. Ravenswood, Suite 106 Chicago, IL 60640 773-754-8900

Biodiversity Project Staff Connections is published Jennifer Browning by Biodiversity Project. Executive Director Send inquiries to

Rebeca Bell Communications Director Laura Brown Communications Coordinator

Board Chair: Sara Race Commonwealth Edison Evanston, IL

Megan Kelly Program Manager

Todd Cywinski Imagination Publishing Chicago, IL

Amy Sauer Mississippi River Program Manager

Rey Phillips Santos City of Chicago, Department of Law Chicago, IL

Annette Gomberg 1 Mississippi Outreach Coordinator

John Sentell Lake Forest Open Lands Association Lake County, IL Gary Wilson Grimard Wilson Consulting, Inc. Oak Park, IL

1 Mississippi is a public campaign of the Mississippi River Network, a coalition working together to protect the land, water and people of the Mississippi River region. Biodiversity Project manages the coalition and coordinates the campaign.

Biodiversity Project Spring 2013 Newsletter  

Biodiversity Project Spring 2013 Newsletter