For the Conservation Curious

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Collaboration Works, but How to get it Started? December 19, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — newdomino @ 1:15 PM

Yesterday I attended the Pennsylvania Urban and Community Forestry Council meeting in order to make them aware of the sustainability-related projects I work on and administer through the Sustainable Lands Program (SLP) (www.pasustainablelands.org). Rarely do I leave a meeting so excited and energized, but yesterday that is exactly how I felt. So many passionate people are coming up with a wealth of worthwhile projects that promote sustainable landscapes and buildings. For instance, the Pennsylvania Horticulture Society is working with municipal park managers and maintenance staff to ensure that parks are maintained in environmentally-beneficial ways. The Department of Environmental Protection is working with Penn State Extension to educate municipalities about the importance of green storm water management. And the statewide partners I work with through the SLP have many irons in the fire, including a workshop to “green” corporate campuses, an outreach campaign for school campus managers in the greater Pittsburgh region, and a bus tour of green infrastructure sites in Lackawanna County, and much more. This is all very exciting stuff, but after the meeting I started to wonder how we all can collaborate better so we can maximize our reach and not duplicate services.

That is a difficult question to answer. For one thing, Pennsylvania is a large state. Communication between organizations in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia isn’t always easy. Organizations have their coverage areas and may not want to (or aren’t allowed to) step beyond those bounds. They may want to be the lead organization of a project and not willing to have equal billing with someone else. A history of bad blood between two organizations can keep them from working together, even if no one remembers how the animosity arose in the first place. Or they may not know that another organization is working on a similar topic and willing to collaborate.

All those answers weigh in to why there isn’t better collaboration between the various organizations in Pennsylvania (and beyond) that work on sustainability, although from my perspective I think more than fifty percent of the blame lies with a simple lack of knowledge. We work in a bubble, sealed off from the rest of our potential collaborators. That needs to end!

I’m talking about sustainability here, but the same holds true for other conservation work, educational topics, and probably just about any subject matter. I think we’d all like to be known as the __________ guru (fill in the blank with whatever topic you are most involved with), featured in publications and interviewed on the radio, but to be successful and effective, we must collaborate. If you have ideas and suggestions, or even real world examples, of ways to (1) let people know what you are working on and how they can contribute and (2) collaborate without turf battles, grandstanding and other bad group dynamics, please share them here. Anyone in any industry could benefit from that input. Thanks!

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