St. Croix River Association
What has been most instrumental to your progress?
Strengthening existing partnerships and actively seeking to build relationships with new partners. There are a few organizations within our Midwest region that work towards solving similar issues within their own communities. Each new and strengthened partnership brought lessons learned, strategy templates, project oversight, and more. With shared resources, we were able to build off of lessons learned from our partners and adapt to them specifically to our community.
Getting to know our target audience. The first part of our project was to identify the social and economic barriers to forest protection in the Kettle River community. The basis of our project was built on our own assumptions of the people that live in that community. It wasn’t until we gathered survey data that showed our original hypothesis for their behaviors was not correct. Because of this, our strategy has drastically changed from intensive peer-to-peer engagement to a broad sweeping, purposefully targeted campaign. Future success and effectiveness will rely on our new understanding of who our target audience is.
Refining our overall strategy based on data collected regarding social and economic barriers to forest protection. Once it was understood that our original assumptions about our target audience were false, a new direction was taken to better direct project activities to meet overall goals of protecting forestland from conversion to more intensive land uses. It was believed that woodland owners have land for economic investments, therefore making it more likely they would convert their land to agricultural commodity crops that offer higher, short term payoffs. Since we now know that woodland owners own their property for wildlife, experiencing nature, and to leave a legacy, it is clear our perceived risk is not as imminent. Woodland owners are already prime targets for conservation. A model that provides increased, timely services to woodland owners is more appropriate than a model based on intensive peer-to-peer engagement used in agricultural communities.
Key lessons learned
Lesson one: Identify and address all assumptions you may have before developing a strategy for your work. Our overall project and subsequent strategy was based on false assumptions about our target audiences. It was assumed that economic value drives woodland owner’s behaviors, similar to agricultural land owners. We found that is simply not true. The majority of woodland owners do not acquire their land for income purposes. Phase one of our project allowed us to explore landowner motives and behavior prior to launching actions to promote change. We were able to take what we learned from phase one and adapt our outreach strategy in phase two to ensure project effectiveness.
Lesson two – Understand that people’s motives for behavior are diverse. We often base our opinions on personal experiences and our own belief systems. In the field of environmental protection we are bombarded by the consequences of unsustainable resource use and consumption. Often times there is a huge financial gain for a few, while the majority endure the consequences, such as unsafe drinking water, polluted air, and toxic algae blooms in our lakes. Over time this sends a clear message that money is the driver of people’s behavior. Although at times this may be true, characterizing the majority of the population in this way, is failure. It’s simply not true. Survey data shows that financial gain is one of the lowest ranked reasons that people own woodlands. Leaving a legacy, wildlife, experiencing nature, scenic beauty, recreation, and conservation rank higher.
Lesson three - Evaluation and adaptation are critical for success. As our project has progressed, the role of evaluation and adaptation has become increasingly important. If our project continued down the path that was originally outlined, we would not be moving towards as great of an impact to our community. Taking the time to reevaluate the basis of our project and each strategy taken has been critical in redirecting our work to maintain a path towards our overall goal of protecting forestlands in the Kettle River watershed for water quality protection.
Reflections on the community innovation process
The element that was most important was increasing the collective understanding of the issue. Bush Foundation support has played a critical role in allowing us to expand our understanding of our issue and the audiences that we work with. Often times support for projects come with work plans that are concrete, and require tedious updates and amendments to make any changes, even if they are for the best and time sensitive. By encouraging us to follow the community innovation process, we were able to continually adapt and make our project the best that it could be. We were not penalized for redirecting our activities that ultimately lead to our best possible solution. We continually increased our understanding as we progressed.
Progress toward an innovation
Our original strategy was innovative in that it adapted a Farmer-Led Council model, successful in Iowa and other agricultural parts of the county, to a forested community. This peer-to-peer approach is very intensive for the smaller amount of people that it serves. In agriculture settings, where you are attempting to greatly change the behavior of a population, much work needs to go into creating relationships, and trust, and promoting alternative methods. We learned that in forested settings, our efforts do not need to be spent on changing behavior, but ensuring that the existing behavior is sustained. Our breakthrough solution is to actively reinforce positive behaviors that already exist and provide an increase in services that assist woodland owners to do so.
Once our innovation was reached based on our new understanding of our community, we began building our strategy to launch a targeted campaign that ultimately will help woodland owners to gain access to tools, resources, and services to further sustainably manage and protect their forests. Over the next year we will focus on launching our campaigns in priority areas, seeking additional support to expand this work into more areas of the St. Croix watershed, and supporting an increase in forest stewardship planning and on-the-ground forest improvement and protection activities through our partnering organizations.
If you could do it all over again...
If I could go back in time, I would encourage myself to get to know my target audience in greater detail right from the start. Instead of assuming that a peer-to-peer model that works for agriculture producers would work on woodland owners, I would encourage myself to explore each of those audiences. Specifically, what similarities they have, and what makes them different. In addition I would encourage myself to identify and address any assumptions I may have from the start and to be more objective in developing project strategies.
One last thought
Support form the Bush Foundation has been instrumental in ensuring that this project is successful. I have never received as much encouragement and supporting resources from another grantor as I have from the Bush Foundation. The community innovation process truly allows for the best possible solutions, as it recognizes the reality of ideas that fail, and supports learning and redirection without penalty. Thank you, thank you, thank you!