Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Deepening our membership: the search for better strategies

Riddells Creek Landcare is presently the case study for 260 or so undergraduates at RMIT taking a course on Strategic Management.  Russell Best and Ross Colliver briefed them 5 weeks ago; it's now getting deeper into the semester and closer to the deadline for submission of their strategies for RCL, and we're meeting them again to talk some more.

Ross put this account together for our members..... 

When Russell and I sat down last Friday with their questions, we had two responses: one, to scratch our heads and say "oh, yes, now that's a good question"; the other to shake our heads and say "that question just isn't coming from the right place for us as Landcare."

It was strange to find myself in this situation.  As a facilitator of Landcare strategies, I've been exasperated and perplexed by Landcare's preference for action over reflection. The sense I've made of this is that people are clear enough what future they want—a healthy environment—so they don't see much point in talking a lot more about that, when there is so much to be done now, and precious little time to do it. Their attitude seems to be: "Let's begin. Let's take action, and see if we can't make a difference." 

Now I found myself thinking:

"Strategies? Strategic plan? We haven't got around to those, but we are purposeful, and we have plenty of action underway.  What value will strategies really add?"

So at last Tuesday's discussion I prefaced my answers with a challenge to the students: if you want to develop workable, effective strategies with organisations like Landcare groups, you need to spend as much time appreciating the present as you do anticipating the future. Strategies need to take account of what people are doing now, and why they do these things, and what is working well as they take action, and why. 

Once you look hard at this, people start to see where they might need to do things differently.  And so it was for me. As I worked through their questions, laying out what we were doing and what was working, I started to see gaps in what we were doing.

I took first our over-arching goal, to protect bushland.  We have pursued this goal (and I'm open to correction here) by documenting the splendid flora and fauna around us in Riddells Creek.  We've made friends of the technical staff of government programs like MRSC's environmental program (such as it is) and Department of Sustainability and Environment (DSE) (now DEPI—Dept of Environment and Primary Industries), who are very pleased to have an able organisation speaking up for the environment. 

Our documentation and publicity has also made community members locally (and at a distance) more aware of what is of value here.  That is all working well, as far as it goes.

Nested under that goal is one of increasing our influence, within our local community and within the government agencies which have the power and resources to protect bushland.  Submissions to new strategies, and putting on record our concerns about protection of unprotected bushland, have been our ways to press our case, along with seeking modest funding for immediate action to threatens to bushland, such as weed risk. 

This has gained RCL a foothold of recognition amongst the institutions that govern our natural estate. However, there are two things that strike me as underdone and potentially able to help along our work. One is to cultivate relationships with decision makers in government, and the other is to appeal more deeply to community members about the crisis facing our bushland.  Although we wouldn't want to be seen to be crying wolf, crisis draws attention.

At the same time, we need to draw Landcare members into active participation in the projects we see possible.  We really need a strategy here, a way of reaching out to our community and saying what we're doing and what we want help with.  Yes, a few of us will then have to do that strategy (!) but bringing in more enthusiastic people as active participants and managers of projects makes us more powerful and more sustainable.

I think we need to make better use of the people and projects we've already got.  We need to publicise what we are doing (as we are in this blog), personalise what we are doing (by showing the people behind our projects), and ask for what we want from our community.  This is nothing new - we get people onto the committee of management by asking them to join. We just need to do it a bit more, and target the skills we need for the projects we envisage.

As I worked through the students' questions, it was clear to me that they too thought we needed to up the wattage a bit.  I was very strict with them on this—we have only as much time and energy as our members choose to put into RCL.  So take this as a question on notice, and give us your ideas:

What will draw in more people to take responsibility for caring for our bushland?   

As we find answers to this, we'll get stronger.

1 comment:

  1. Regarding the perceived need to 'up the wattage a bit'....
    I think an important aspect of volunteer groups such as RCL to remember, and indeed with non-volunteer groups, is that wattage increases and decreases over time, goes up and goes down, has surges and down time....fortunately for RCL we have never had a black out. Having been in RCL since its inception I can point to its surges and its downtime and point to reasons for them. Perhaps worth thinking about looking at a group's longevity, looking at a group's 'activity' across time rather than at any one point in time....