By Connie O'Connor, Director of Education
It’s exciting to learn something new about nature. And it’s even more fun to share that knowledge with others. “If only they knew more about it,” we might think, “then they’d value this (snake, bird, plant, action, etc.) as much as I do!” But what if the other person isn’t as enthusiastic as we’d hoped?
Often, we try to influence others by “educating” them. For years, conservationists thought education was the solution to environmental problems. But knowledge only leads to behavior change if a lack of knowledge is holding a person back.
If your neighbor continues applying pesticides to her lawn despite the facts you’ve given her or if your family continues to eat beef even though you’ve explained the carbon footprint, maybe it’s time to develop a more sophisticated approach.
In the words of famous leadership coach Franklin Covey, “seek first to understand.” When we understand the barriers people face and what they care about, we can have values-based conversations. The better we understand human nature, the better we can influence others.
Why does influence matter? Environmental problems involve many people doing the “wrong” things, and solutions require many people doing the “right” things. If we have power (lots of money or lots of people) we can make others do the “right” thing.
Most of don’t have that kind of power.
Instead, we can influence or persuade people to do the “right” thing using concepts from behavioral economics, conservation psychology, and community based social marketing. Influence is a very powerful way to achieve conservation impact.
Cincinnati Nature Center’s Education Philosophy, Making Nature Personal, states that sharing your values for, knowledge about, and experiences with nature are essential. Therefore, our new course tells you how to do so, even when your audience doesn’t seem to care. You’ll learn more about yourself, your family, friends, and even that extremely oppositional Facebook friend, and develop empathy and empowerment along the way.
The course is called Impact! How to Accelerate Your Efforts in Conservation. You’ll learn how conservation is as complex as nature itself, consisting of a rich tapestry of interpretation, environmental education, psychology, politics, science, technology, and economics. This primer is intended to evoke deeper thought and understanding of how and why your contributions matter. Along the way, you’ll be challenged to investigate environmental issues and assess your ability to contribute to their resolution, either as individuals or collectively.
Through lectures, readings, discussions and projects, you’ll discover ways to influence, not alienate. Learn what to do, and what NOT to do, when sharing your values, experiences, and knowledge about nature with others. This course represents the evolution of our educational philosophy, as we train nature enthusiasts to inspire conservation in the wider community. The successful way to do this is by working with people that know and trust you, and by linking what matters most to them with the conservation actions you are hope they will take.