ELP II: Storytelling, Branding and Social Media

The Environmental Leadership Program had it’s second retreat weekend from August 4-8 with a focus on “how do we tell our stories to generate support for our work?” Half the program was exploring how to engage stakeholders, build community, and foster productive conversations so organizations and communities can thrive. The other half was learning how to use some social media tools (like posterous, facebook, and twitter) to help us both get our messages out there and to support communication between people in our networks, who care about our cause/org. The workshops were delivered by Jack Ricchiuto and Doug Craver, who combined form SocialMedia2Scale.com a cool consultancy on this stuff based in Cleveland, OH. They really gave us a lot to think about and some new tools to go forth with.

The ELP brings together environmental professionals from diverse fields to learn from each other and to get training to improve their capacity to lead and change society for the better. It also creates a community of practitioners who can share, help mentor each other, and generally support each others’ work. I have found it to be a very rewarding experience and have already learned a lot.

During the weekend, our fearless leader Errol convened the meeting of both 2011 ELP Cohorts – my group of 15 from New England and 20 from the East group – based in New York, Philly, and environs. I think we all really enjoyed meeting more ELPers and learning about the many more organizations and types of work our Fellows are engaged in. It was a clear example of the power of the network. And we all had a really great time in the evenings after the formal programs (Captain America Voice-over Dance-Party?!).

Some of the important concepts from the weekend:

Build community for better relations w/ you, but also w/ each other. Communities look out for each others’ welfare. They like to learn, to share, to trade gifts.

Rhizomic growth – growing at the edges – a customer finds the next customer, then they find the next, going outward beyond the original message maker/sales effort.

4 Kinds of conversations related to core themes in communities. If you are thriving, you are in the first column. If you are in decline, you are having the second-column conversations:

  • Dreams: what are the possibilities vs. Denial: what is wrong, what’s bad
  • Assets: what do we have, what are our gifts vs. Efficiencies: can we wring more out of the rag?
  • Action: doing things, even small, to move toward the goals vs. Permissions: struggling for consensus, waiting for permission
  • Invitations: who shall we invite, broadly; we choose vs. Blame: we’re innocent, someone else is the problem

These four conversations are around the themes of: Dreams, Assets, Power, and Freedom. I found this to be a useful framework. I reflected on many times I’ve been in communities that are not thriving, and indeed expressing various aspects listed above. I thought about the times I could have done more to steer conversations toward dreams, toward taking action.

One of the themes was to use conversations to build a community. We have to tune into the passions of our audience. A great example of this is the Electric Daisy Carnival that an old schoolmate of mine is involved with. But so is your (or my brother’s) farmers’ market, or any number of other successful online communities which reflect real projects and processes. Like my friend Susan’s Practically Green. Like our Fellow Rouwenna’s ACE – Alliance for Climate Education. Like MoveOn and various new-media political campaigns. Well, maybe references to Faux News is a stretch from this topic. But social media – linking social networks – is only getting more intense. Consider Google+ which I just started building out. Very interesting.

However, community is clearly more powerful in person and through voices, smiles & eyebrows, sharing meals, and dancing. One of our colleagues, Khalil, opened a window to the concerns of the domination of technology. Are all our [blog posts etc.] really benefiting us or are we getting ourselves stuck higher and higher up the tree. You remember the Pole-Turtle joke? Anyway. Jacques Ellul wrote in the mid 20th century (The Technological Society) that technology enforces efficiency. Rationality in thought serves mechanical technique, and our societies are caught in a reductionist logic of organization. This denies the interpenetrating and interdependent nature of reality. The more we participate and indeed succumb to the impositions of technology, the more we leave nature and the joys of the humanities and arts. I have taken some liberties in interpreting what little I have read of Ellul, but I believe I resonate with his themes even as I embrace social media. What is a good course? Please do comment on this.

I want to thank everyone who participated in the ELP Retreat ( #elpre811 ) and I look forward to our next gathering. I’d also appreciate any good photos and I’ll put them up here. Cheers!

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