Lessons learned and other inspirations
Written by David Roberts, Founder and Principal, Kulshan Services
We have the honor to work with some amazing people, committed to working together for the betterment of their communities and the environment. these are real troopers - people who have often been in the technical or policy trenches for many years.
Success: a scare commodity. One of our observations is that many of these people have yet to experience success as a result of all their efforts. Politics or significant disagreements on the fundamentals needed to resolve concerns have kept people from achieving lasting solutions. Many feel the processes are ponderous, inadequately focused and poorly managed. Others shared their frustration because people simply give up too soon.
We have found that looking at the world from a system's perspective with the intention of achieving a multiple benefit outcome has proven to be valuable to many communities. Often it opens up opportunities for shared financing and coordination that aren't immediately clear to any one entity.
At the same time, reaching out to a broad audience of potential interests is equally important. There are few things worse than thinking you have agreement with one group of interests only to find that it is diametrically opposite of what some influential group or individual has been trying to achieve. The result is the same - disappointment and conflict often in a highly public arena.
All of this takes time, fortitude, and commitment. Time is needed to plan, reach out, listen and learn. Time is also needed to bring people together to build workable relationships. Fortitude is needed to hang in there when conversations are tough and to listen, share, and debate ideas. Commitment is needed to continue the conversation even when things get tough or seem to be going against what you believe.
We are a society that generally doesn't like debate or negotiation. Our lack of comfort leads us to push forward to decisions even when it feels we don't have all the information we need. Our measure of success is often based on how much we get done - checking off t hat item on a list, getting the permit out, coming to final agreement on a contract. Time is often a significant driver frequently tied to funding deliverables. As a result, decisions are often reached in a way that people don't feel engaged or appreciated leaving lasting disappointment and sometimes animosity. Building long-term relationships is rarely a measurable outcome of any discussion or process - yet this is what is needed to sustain our communities and help us deal with both near-and long-term challenges.
Successful relationships are built on trust. Without a basic level of trust, no process can move forward or be successful. Trust is built through getting to know the people through storytelling or sharing of personal information. It also comes from p roving one's self through action and deed. Trusting relationships allow people to learn together - a first step to solving problems. They can identify their interests and explore ideas that are "outside the box" without fear of consequences. Only after trust is established can creative solutions be achieved.
Multi-benefit solutions require trusting, creative, open minds working together in a cooperative manner over time. These types of solutions to problem solving are a necessity in our complex modern world. As Albert Einstein stated, "The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them." We need to step beyond our usual ways of addressing issues, because the way we have done so in the past has resulted in limited long-term success.
A group I am currently assisting recently revisited their commitment to continue working together. This community has faced very difficult challenges related to land use and endangered species for many years. They cam together to change the way the community looks at conflict seeking a multi-benefit approach to resolving issues. While the group has made many strides together, at times, the group's process has appeared to have stalled or even moved backward. After some lengthy conversation about the challenges and opportunities of continuing their process, one of the participants asked a prophetic question:
"What will our children think if we just give up?"
A silence filled the room for a moment as everyone pondered his question. One by one they all shared the satisfaction they feel building positive relationships, finding opportunities, to share ideas and building a legacy for their community. Time and specific outcomes appeared less important than staying at the table. They re-committed to their efforts to address the issues most pressing and to innovating together. Their process is growing and working together has become a highly successful outcome.
Kulshan Services works with governments, non-profits, and businesses to create opportunities for addressing ecosystem management and restoration, climate change, and sustainability challenges. We possess in-depth environmental, facilitation, sustainability, and technical and field service experience and skill sets.