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    14. Working toward Resolutions in Resource Management


    Environmental issues are complex and multifaceted. Educators and communicators play a critical role in providing information, building capacity among willing learners, and motivating action—all of which are useful in the development of creative and sustainable solutions. The Reasonable Person Model (RPM) offers insights about successes and potential failures of education and communication activities. This chapter explores how RPM could be useful in addressing issues on which there is little agreement, both in the cases when people wish to be engaged and when they do not. The processes of collaborative adaptive management (CAM) and social learning are used to supplement our understanding of RPM. Examples that use workshops, public forums, and working groups as platforms for information exchange and learning are provided to offer context for considering how educators and communicators can help the public become engaged in resolving resource management issues.

    An abundance of environmental problems and issues faces society in the twenty-first century. While the shadow of climate change eclipses some, there are also numerous local issues that require attention, such as land-use planning or managing forests to maximize biomass energy resources. When public lands are in question, resource managers might desire public participation, deliberation, and consensus, since human actions are likely to matter. Many such situations involve complex and multifaceted issues, often nuanced by location, and scientific findings. The job of providing enough appropriate information for citizens to come to informed judgment and voice an opinion may fall to educators and communicators. However, despite the good intentions and expertise conveyed in such situations, unsatisfactory results may occur for a variety of reasons: interested citizens are confused and overwhelmed with too much information, some people are discouraged because of their limited time and energy, opportunities to do something to help solve the problem may not be obvious, managers may avoid engaging citizens because they probably won’t know enough to be helpful, conflict erupts in discussions of the issue because of misunderstandings and different assumptions among stakeholders, and educators may believe they don’t know enough to engage others.

    The Reasonable Person Model (RPM) offers some suggestions for educators and communicators who wish to help the public work with complex resource issues (S. Kaplan & Kaplan, 2009). The model also begins to explain why some attempts go awry while others might be successful. Clearly it is important for people to build a mental model to understand the issue, and educators must provide that information in a facilitated exchange that is coherent yet not overwhelming. At the same time, this information must provide hope and opportunities for people to be part of a solution while acknowledging and building on the information people already have. Many educators begin by sharing information to help people understand the problem. For some audiences, however, a perceived lack of opportunities to make a difference may override other attempts to motivate interest, so addressing the action component early in the educational program is essential.

    Educators, communicators, and psychologists are not the only people who are interested in and concerned about the challenge of engaging the public in resource decisions. Systems ecologists have recently gained a new appreciation for the complexity of ecosystems and the challenges of resource management (Holling, Gunderson, & Ludwig, 2002). The strategy of adaptive management guides managers and scientists through a process of small experiments—of conducting management actions with monitoring systems in place to provide timely feedback to yield information that can be used to alter the management system if needed (Walters & Holling, 1990). However, applying a pesticide to eradicate an invasive insect, for example, is no longer a simple proposition for forest managers. Various stakeholders might contend that it may not be economically feasible, ecologically desirable, or socially acceptable. Understanding how to engage stakeholders in making better decisions thus becomes part of the challenge (Berkes, 2004, 2009).

    Experience with such complex systems and the nonscientist stakeholders who interact with them has led to collaborative adaptive management (CAM) as an important strategy to help create solutions. By including local landowners, resource-dependent communities, and other stakeholders in the process of reviewing options, establishing monitoring systems, collecting data, and prioritizing recommendations, CAM enables nonscientists to be part of a process of learning and acting (Berkes, 2009; Olsson, Folke, & Berkes, 2004). Because these are complex situations for which management experience is not available, small experiments may be useful to build understanding. Some believe that what makes successful CAM efforts effective is the process of social learning, a multistakeholder process fostered by the facilitated interaction and collective engagement of stakeholders and experts. A more global view of CAM suggests that success is a function of a number of interacting elements that also constitute RPM.

    Editors’ Comment: Structuring opportunities is akin to creating supportive environments (Chapter 1).

    This chapter tackles the arena of complex resource management issues and how educators and communicators might structure opportunities to engage nonexperts in deliberation, decisions, or resolutions. The chapter offers several examples of CAM (from the literature, my students, and my own work in Florida) that demonstrate how social learning and capacity building might move participants toward more satisfactory resource management. The RPM framework is used to suggest why some strategies have been successful and how future activities might be designed.

    RPM and Collaborative Adaptive Management

    Editors’ Comment: In many contexts throughout the book, collaboration and participation are cornerstones of reasonableness. The notion of buy-in is relevant because it allows people to “own” their mental models of proposed plans. This in turn reduces negative affect associated with plans for which there was no understanding or agreement.

    To resource managers, CAM offers several distinct advantages over adaptive management. CAM increases the number of perspectives in the decision-making process, creating a more complete and diverse understanding of the system; it is a more democratic and fair approach, and empowering local people to help define the outcome often results in increased ownership and responsibility for implementing recommendations (Abelson et al., 2003; Berkes, 2009; Stringer et al., 2006). Learning, planning, negotiating, monitoring, and altering resource management practices, however, require commitment and a considerable investment of time. An entire community may need to select a small group of participants to represent them and lead this effort. As important as citizens are to CAM, scientific expertise is recognized as also essential. In some CAM efforts, multiple forms of expertise are acknowledged and respected.

    RPM would predict that the inclusion of citizen-stakeholders with ecosystem experts in planning for resource management would need to overcome several challenges. A better understanding of expertise could help identify how best to engage those with different types of familiarity and understanding (S. Kaplan, Chapter 3) and gain additional skills and perspectives. Such capacity building, especially in the context of new opportunities, is a central theme in the chapters by Bardwell (Chapter 7) and Gallagher (Chapter 8), reinforcing the importance of model building as groups build common understanding. In the context of CAM, three challenges are paramount: (1) respecting and effectively using the different sources of information that each participant brings, (2) building a shared mental model so that conversations are possible, and (3) providing information for a common understanding in such a way that is not overwhelming. These information-based needs revolve around the components of model building and being effective and will depend a great deal on how the process for discussions and decisions are structured.

    By definition, participating in CAM enables people to undertake meaningful actions: they recommend, decide, monitor, evaluate, and manage the resource, often on a small scale with the intention of learning from their small experiment. Despite these intentions, however, meaningful action can be undermined in the course of attempting collaboration, especially if agencies maintain authority and neglect other participants, if conflict increases within a community over fair distributions of resources, or if participants stop attending meetings (Berkes, 2004; Davos, 1998; Kellert, Mehta, Ebbin, & Lichenfeld, 2000; Pelletier, Kraack, McCullum, Uusitalo, & Rich, 1999; Stringer et al. 2006). Even when the process is deemed successful, there is often an ebb and flow to stakeholder participation, with experts leading in some areas of the process and stakeholders providing more direction in others (Stringer et al., 2006). So while meaningful action is possible, a successful outcome will be sensitive to matching what people want or need. Even in the best of circumstances, when a process depends heavily on expertise that citizens do not have, citizens’ motivation to participate is likely to vary over time.

    Plummer and Armitage (2007) found strong agreement among leaders of CAM processes that the inclusion of stakeholders in adaptive management creates multiple sources of knowledge and more acceptable—and therefore sustainable—recommendations. The challenges include inflexibility among resource managers to share power, insufficient resources to conduct the process, inadequate group dynamics (such as preconceived attitudes, conflict, defensiveness, and mistrust), and lack of capacity and information. These findings suggest that RPM insights could improve CAM by paying attention to building trust between participants and with the process, assessing and supporting the development of common mental models and understanding, and committing to following through on the types of actions that are feasible. While trust is not directly addressed in the RPM model, Ivancich (Chapter 5) points out that it is a key element in enabling people to function and communicate honestly in groups.

    Editors’ Comment: Trust in others involves predicting how someone else might behave. Trust in a process is based on having a mental model of how the process works and plays out.

    All three components of RPM must interact in successful CAM scenarios, but the degree to which the process creates or reinforces each component will depend on the capacity and history that participants bring. If participants in the CAM process already understand and engage with each other in a meaningful way, they will be more likely to communicate, discuss, listen, and understand. Their initial trust and mental models will support their participation (i.e., meaningful action) in identifying priorities for indicators and monitoring schemes, making recommendations for management strategies, and helping to assess the outcomes of management changes (Figure 14.1). If participants lack this capacity and shared mental model, however, they will not be perceived by the leadership to make “good” contributions to the discussions, which may result in an unequal distribution of power and decision-making authority.

    Figure 14.1. Stakeholder groups can discuss management options and provide recommendations when provided with resources, information, and environments as suggested by RPM. (Photograph by Larry V. Korhnak)
    Figure 14.1. Stakeholder groups can discuss management options and provide recommendations when provided with resources, information, and environments as suggested by RPM. (Photograph by Larry V. Korhnak)

    Supportive Environments

    Educators and communicators can draw on RPM to create environments that support effective engagement, facilitate communication, and create an atmosphere conducive to social learning. The physical environment for the CAM process is important. Does it allow for equal participant interaction (a round table rather than a stage)? Is it a comfortable temperature, with good lighting and a window? Is it perceived as neutral territory, or is the meeting in one stakeholder’s office? Another element is participant comfort. Refreshments, windows, bathrooms, and breaks in the agenda will help people renew themselves, their attention, and the ability to focus. Supportive environments can also involve participants’ cognitive comfort—planning a break that is long enough for friends to talk to each other and for casual conversation to arise. Facilitators can create an atmosphere in which each person feels that he or she has a contribution to make as well as insights to gain.

    Organizers can create opportunities to build capacity not only through information but also through skills for analyzing data, tracking information, and using systems perspectives to understand relationships between components in the system. Were each CAM able to include educators or communicators who adopted RPM as a guide, the meeting structure and process might enable participants to more readily learn from each other and move more quickly toward a successful resolution.

    A Key Ingredient of Effective CAM: Social Learning

    A core element of CAM is that it draws on multiple perspectives. In other words, individuals who have different ideas and experiences must interact successfully so they can learn from each other. The process that enables this interaction to be successful has been called “social learning,” building on Bandura’s (1977) concept of learning from observation and modeling to refer to the generation of new knowledge and sharing those insights across social networks (Reed et al., 2010). Learning means that mental models are changed. (A useful explanation of mental models can be found in R. Kaplan, Chapter 2.) To facilitate the process of social learning, it could be particularly helpful if the organizers and facilitators understood the diversity of existing mental models (Kearney, Chapter 16). Understanding the conditions that help nurture social learning, such as removing confusion or the fear of being perceived as ignorant (Ivancich, Chapter 5), can also offer insights into the environments that promote reasonable participation and therefore improve resource management.

    Social learning can occur when facilitated interaction between people brings out different types of expertise in an atmosphere that enables them to speak honestly and build trust, using a structure of repeated interaction so that these relationships are nurtured (Berkes, 2009; Keen, Brown, & Dyball, 2005; Muro & Jeffrey, 2008; Pahl-Wostl, 2006). Social learning can lead to outcomes such as increased understanding for others’ views, establishment of trusted relationships, improved skills (technical and social), and acquired information. As a process of sharing and building mental models, social learning is credited with facilitating increased understanding of complex systems and management decisions. Social learning is no doubt at the core of innumerable interactions that engage people in gaining insights. Table 14.1 identifies several characteristics of social learning that are often shared with both CAM and more typical adult environmental education opportunities, two strategies that can be used to improve resource management. The characteristics were chosen because they speak to the RPM components and can help identify what might make these techniques successful. Several examples follow.

    TABLE 14.1 Comparison of Social Learning Aspects of Collaborative Adaptive Management and Adult Environmental Education Programs with respect to RPM considerations
    Program Goals, Considerations, and StrategiesSocial LearningCollaborative Adaptive Management (CAM)(Adult) Environmental Education Programs
    Source of informationParticipants must be included as sources of information for social learning to occur. Presenters can be coached to provide limited information in a logical format that does not overwhelm participantsThose with expertise, which should be everyone, are sources of information. Field trips and presentations can supplement this collective wisdom. Small experiments may be implemented to gather new information.Experiential learning programs engage participants in learning from the experience and each other. There is a danger, however, of relying on the presenter to be the only trusted source of information.
    Enhancing mental modelsParticipants discuss, share opinions, and foster greater understanding to achieve the goal of building shared mental models—the goal of the social learning process. Since participants bring knowledge and ideas, activities are designed to elicit information.Additional expertise may provide information; participants listen to presentations, consider options, and work to come to a common understanding that will enable them to achieve the management goal, which may be prioritizing recommendations or designing a plan.Activities may be designed to engage learners in experiencing, reflecting, considering new information that is presented and applying it. This assumes participants are motivated to learn.
    Options for meaningful actionListening and communicating may be the meaningful actions that drive engagement, or there may be another ultimate goal that drives learning.CAM is often developed to provide stakeholder with a means for meaningful action, e.g., by making management decisions.Learning may be the action, but often the motive for attending and learning is a physical, personal action. People who want to know how to make a difference attend these programs.
    Fostering communication and respectA facilitator works to create an atmosphere that fosters communication and models respectful interaction with all participants.Being selected to attend may create a sense of respect among participants. Conflict and power differences may create challenges to respectfulness that the facilitator must address.An educator adopts strategies that increase participant interaction, which allows them to communicate. Nametags, small group discussions, experiential activities help learners find their voices.
    Trust buildingAn essential component of social learning, trust building relies on an atmosphere where participants are able to communicate effectively and listen to each other.Trust building should be essential, but may be overlooked if organizers are focused more on content than process.An educator often focuses on establishing participants’ trust in the educator, but may forget to consider trust among participants unless the activities revolve around interaction.
    Problem solving processVariable and depends on the purpose. Social learning can occur without the problem being solved.The goal. Participants are engaged in discussion and debate on management solutions.Variable and depends on the purpose. Programs may be designed to build understanding, build skills, or solve a problem.
    FacilitatorThe facilitator helps participants establish ground rules and designs interactions to increase quality communication.The facilitator is often a neutral party and manages discussions to achieve goals.The educator facilitates learning, engages people in discussion, and designs interactive, experiential exercises to help people discover important concepts.
    Participant diversitySocial learning does not occur when everyone already sees the issue the same way. Low diversity may create trust, but will result in missing perspectives. High diversity is generally preferable, but could create an unwieldy group.High, with resource managers, scientists, representatives from the local communities, and other stakeholders.If voluntary participation, diversity may be low.
    ChallengesTends to be an in-person, small group process. Can it gear up to engage more interested people? Can it accomplish its goals in a shorter period of time? Can online learning communities foster social learning?The time requirement may limit participation and interest, with only those who are required by their employment or livelihood to attend.
    Power dynamics can limit the usefulness of engaging a variety of stakeholders.
    Communication with non-participating stakeholders is essential, as many people may be left out of the process.
    Depends on motivated individuals. How can we reach less motivated audiences?
    Because adults will sit and listen, educators may expect this to be a useful way to share information. In the least interactive program (a lecture), how can learners feel respected such that they will ask questions?
    Groups could be much larger than in the CAM process since the goal is rarely to agree on recommendations and act together.

    Cormorant Conflict

    A thoughtfully orchestrated interaction among potentially conflicting parties can create social learning opportunities and have positive results for resource managers (McDaniels, Gregory, & Fields, 1999; Stringer et al., 2006). For example, the process of developing a management plan for breeding areas of colonial cormorants that border economically stagnant towns dependent on recreational fisheries and tourism spawned a deliberative social learning process along Lake Ontario in New York. A carefully designed participatory process used preliminary interviews to select thirty-two diverse participants for a two-and-a-half-day day meeting that included plenary and small group activities (Schusler, Decker, & Pfeffer, 2003). Observers, evaluation surveys, and follow-up telephone interviews suggest that participants gained information, increased their respect for others’ ideas, and moved toward areas of agreement. Social learning occurred. Comments such as, “It opened my eyes to see where other people are coming from, different points of view” (p. 316) and “I saw people talking with each other who I didn’t think talked” (p. 320) suggest that the interaction led to increased communication, which broadened the restricted mental models that advocates brought to the meeting. Noting that the process requires time to achieve change, one participant said, “The time taken to build rapport and trust where there was some suspicion resulted in a community that will accomplish something” (p. 322). While the meeting was successful at building understanding and generating a list of helpful actions, some of the recommendations were outside the mission of the agency developing the management plan. A second meeting with broader participation might have nurtured more of the recommendations. In this example, attention to social learning facilitated shared mental models and trust but not the component of meaningful action.

    Forest Management Planning

    Depending upon who is drawn to CAM and what skills they bring, capacity building can be the goal of specific, planned endeavors. In Bolivia, for example, forest villagers are eligible to manage newly granted community forests if they have approved forest plans. With technical assistance from nongovernment and agency staff who conduct planning workshops, community members are contributing to a management vision that includes Brazil nut and timber harvesting. Despite variations in workshop membership and facilitation style, participants’ beliefs and attitudes about forest management after the workshop were different from those who did not participate—among both community members and other nongovernment and agency staff (Biedenweg & Monroe, 2013), suggesting that new knowledge was generated from the interactive experience. Again, social learning occurred. The elements that appear to be most important in building this knowledge were taking various ideas into account, equal participation, and trust. In this example, the promise of better resource management was the meaningful action that propelled community managers into the process, so attention on effective model building was appropriate.

    Both examples suggest that model building in a manner that is respectful of participants and their perspectives is a key first step. In both cases, participants were motivated to attend by additional possibilities for meaningful action: the promise of reduced conflict over cormorants or community income from forest harvesting. Both examples emphasize the importance of building trust and an atmosphere of respect. These multistakeholder activities promoted social learning and resulted in the development of reasonable, engaged, and forward-looking participants by focusing on building a common mental model for the clear purpose of improving a common resource that provides benefits to participants. Both examples echo the RPM framework and suggest that social learning may be a useful goal when the promise of meaningful action helps motivate participation.

    Moving toward Reasonable Management

    The length of time that CAM requires (many months or years) and the size of the geographic region that might be involved often preclude large numbers of citizens from participating. It may even mean that educators and communicators do not consider CAM as a useful tool for public education. This challenge suggests two options: (1) opportunities to share the CAM outcomes more broadly, perhaps through media releases or training for representative members to communicate with constituents, and (2) strategies that provide information and a chance to participate without requiring a burdensome investment, a type of quasi CAM. The latter, illustrated by the next two examples of educational platforms, represents exciting possibilities that could build citizen capacity for future CAM endeavors.

    Wood for Energy

    A quasi-CAM opportunity occurred when researchers at the University of Florida created a series of community forums to help the general public learn about the possible use of woody biomass to generate electricity in Gainesville, Florida; provide their informed opinions to local decision makers; and evaluate the process. A team of experts were coached to create short, visual presentations that introduced their topic (e.g., forest management, wood supply and cost, carbon cycle, electricity production) and then respond to questions from the audience. They were also encouraged to acknowledge important considerations in the questions and to respond with humility. While the experts took a total of twenty minutes (five minutes each), the conversations with the audience lasted from forty to ninety minutes and enabled participants to learn more about what they wanted to know. The importance of responding to participant questions is explored by R. Kaplan (Chapter 2). This was a markedly different process from a typical public hearing where community members have three minutes to express their concerns and no one responds or answers questions. In a postforum survey, participants were invited to rate their concerns about the proposed facility and the characteristics that would be important for them to approve it. The compilation of survey results was then shared with city commissioners, who ultimately required that future woody biomass facilities draw resources from sustainable managed forests (a significant concern from participants in the forum). Results from the evaluation suggest that participants increased their knowledge, changed their attitudes, and appreciated the facilitated question period with experts (Monroe, Oxarart, McDonnell, & Plate, 2009). The community forum was not designed to engage all the stakeholders, build expertise, or negotiate solutions, so it did not meet the CAM criteria. But as an approach to public education that was open to anyone, did not require an onerous amount of effort, provided the answers to questions that people raised, and offered a painless opportunity to participate in a meaningful action, it was a useful strategy in the ongoing discussion of community energy resources.

    Springs—Basin Working Groups

    Another example of quasi-CAM education is the springs-basin working groups, which meet quarterly in northern Florida to share information to help individuals and organizations protect and enhance local, popular freshwater springs. The structure of the meetings limits participation to those who have a relevant job or do not work (a weekday, often from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.) and those who are very interested in springs protection, since the bulk of the meetings is a series of lectures by scientists. Despite the possibility of overwhelming participants with complex information, fewer than 20% of participants responding to a survey (n=105) admitted to receiving too much information, and over 50% credit the working group with enabling them to work on springs protection, improving their ability to contribute ideas, valuing their ideas, and playing an important role in promoting springs protection (Monroe, Plate, & Oxarart, 2013). Although meetings are open to the public, most participants are knowledgeable and dedicated to restoring or maintaining the health of the springs. This select audience may explain the surprising survey results. As a model-building strategy, the working groups appear to be very useful at informing interested citizens and building a constituency of springs advocates who recognize Springs Champions, host springs festivals, and distribute posters of the springshed (Figure 14.2). Even among the general public, the springs-basin working groups are seen as trusted sources of information (Alenicheva, 2012). The working groups were established to share information, but if the agency were to shift the working groups’ goal to include management recommendations, these participants would be good candidates for inclusion. The process of model building would need to start anew, however, if the groups included more diverse opinions, such as those less committed to springs protection and more interested in farming or selling bottled water.

    Figure 14.2. Participants at a Springs Festival learn about water-quality challenges and ways they can help make a difference. (Photograph by Ondine Wells at Normandeau Associates)
    Figure 14.2. Participants at a Springs Festival learn about water-quality challenges and ways they can help make a difference. (Photograph by Ondine Wells at Normandeau Associates)

    Because experts think about and engage in complex problems with a denser mental model (S. Kaplan, Chapter 3), educators might be inclined to begin the process of filling novices’ heads with information. It would be easy to overwhelm them with too much information. These two examples suggest, however, that nonexperts may not need all the information to be able to feel competent and contribute to a discussion. They do need their questions answered, and they need opportunities to learn more. It would be valuable to explore other ways to provide information or to organize information for them, such as teaching systems thinking—a strategy of making sense out of complex interactions. Such a perspective may help nonexperts appreciate the system being discussed and see where relationships matter.

    Editors’ Comment: This is a nice summary of some important elements of a supportive environment.

    The woody biomass forums were developed with RPM and systems thinking in mind, aiming to create a program that would enable people to learn about a complex system and still feel confident enough to share their opinions and make a difference. The RPM framework suggested several key elements: visual, short, introductory presentations; humble, gentle, nonadvocating experts; facilitated, inviting, question-answer session; and the promise of reporting opinions to the city commission. Thinking about the RPM components helped us assess the ability of springs-basin working groups to build capacity for CAM endeavors. The perception of their effectiveness suggests that a little engagement can go a long way toward creating a population of motivated volunteers. In both cases the structured environment—the forum and the working group—established an atmosphere that enabled people to attend, learn, trust, and exchange ideas even though the most meaningful actions of resource management would be taken by others. Yet in both examples, participants were able to take minor actions that they might have perceived as meaningful enough—completing a survey, sharing opinions, voting on an award recipient, distributing posters, or gaining knowledge. Similarly, their knowledge level may only need to be able to support this action. For some, the mere act of building a mental model may have constituted meaningful action. Educators and communicators may be able to use these strategies to engage more people in environmental issues and build capacity for future CAM endeavors.

    When Motivation Is Missing

    Each of the previous examples attracted volunteers or invited participants who were motivated and able to attend. What about reaching those who are not initially so inclined? Compulsory adult education programs do not exist, and persuasive messages that are commonly used in advertising or voter registration drives to motivate recalcitrant adults often backfire when the issue is controversial or complex. Wells and Pillemer (Chapter 10) and Bardwell (Chapter 7) offer some suggestions for nudging adults to expand their mental models; finding a way to motivate other needs could be key.

    The lack of motivation may have several sources. Some people may be relieved that others have the time and interest to address the problems and are happy to be given the answer whenever it appears. Others may not be motivated to learn about the issue because they believe that it does not affect them or would not benefit from anything they could do. They may believe themselves to be helpless, perhaps because they are not aware of others’ actions or because they do not have the capacity to see the problem in such a way that solutions make sense to them. Relying on others to create solutions is not in itself a bad thing, but problems may arise if those who are not engaged are not happy with the recommended outcome; they may become unreasonable.

    Climate Change

    The complexity and uncertainties about future impacts of climate change have fueled a deepening divide in the United States and reinforced a sense of helplessness. Communication about this issue has violated many of the assumptions for creating reasonable people. Conflicting information is rampant, complex information is overwhelming, there are few suggestions of valuable strategies for making a meaningful difference, and the immediate reaction to being told that fossil fuels—the foundation of our comfortable lifestyle—are the problems that lead people to resist, deny, and ignore the evidence. RPM certainly explains the likely prospect of frustration and of holding on to the mental models that have worked in the past.

    Although rising temperatures and sea levels have been observed around the planet and climatologists agree that this is extremely likely to be the result of anthropogenic greenhouse gases, a large number of Americans do not believe that people are changing the climate (Leiserowitz, Maibach, Roser-Renouf, & Smith, 2010). Amazingly, among extension faculty in the U.S. Southeast, all of whom develop science-based programs and educate the public, a full 60% are less than concerned about the changing climate (Wojcik, Monroe, Adams, & Plate, 2014). Among all the types of extension faculty, those who work in agriculture are least concerned and most doubtful of anthropogenic climate change.

    Climate Change and Farmers

    That extension agents doubt the existence of climate change is unfortunate, because row crop farmers are among the first to feel the impacts. Farmers not only experience seasonal variability in precipitation and temperature patterns but also must be able to make smart decisions to change their varieties, planting times, irrigation system, and fertilizer schedule or risk economic ruin. Those who lean toward a conservative perspective may be inclined to ignore the climate problem but may be convinced to think twice if they realize that they actually have a possibility to undertake meaningful action. Such a strategy of promising information to make important decisions may provide enough motivation to engage farmers in learning more about climate change.

    Researchers at the Southeast Climate Consortium are interacting with row crop farmers through a series of workshops to listen to their questions, understand their climate-related concerns, provide information and web-based decision-support tools, encourage knowledge exchange within peer groups, and engage them in exercises to prioritize new directions for research (Bartels et al., 2012; Bartels et al., 2013). This ongoing learning network is strengthened through experiential components to maximize interaction and dialogue among participants. For instance, a recent workshop featured a suite of adaptation options whereby farmers could hear from their peers about technologies and management strategies that reduce climate-related risks. When coupled with information about what they can do, these farmers could expand their mental model by asking questions and incorporating information that is relevant to their situation. Many of the workshop participants are repeat attendees who enjoy hearing about the results that their peers obtain after implementing various practices, a vicarious version of small experiments. One “innovative” farmer who attends these workshops is featured in a 2012 NOAA story (Kahn, 2012).

    Climate Change and Forest Landowners

    Unlike the annual cropping strategies that farmers undertake, forest landowners in the southeastern United States have precious few possible meaningful actions for managing their trees in the face of climate change. Every twenty to thirty years they decide whether to harvest and what to plant. Available funding through federal incentives can influence which species are planted, and some landowners consider using improved genetic varieties. Discussions at two focus groups (Krantz, Monroe, & Bartels, 2013) revealed some of the perceived barriers to adaptation. For instance, landowners rarely irrigate or fertilize, since their profit may not cover this investment. A few opportunities for change were identified, however. For instance, if there was a market for young trees (such as woody biomass) or a financial incentive, they might consider midcycle thinning to increase the resilience of their forest.

    Perhaps because there is so little they can do, many forest landowners devote little mental energy to thinking about climate change (Krantz et al., 2013). It isn’t even a sense of helplessness that paralyzes them, because they simply do not think about this problem. Other aspects of their operations are more immediate. Landowners who have questions about climate change and are seeking information are already motivated, and some voluntarily attended an extension workshop about forests and climate in Tallahassee, Florida, in June 2012. The Florida Forests and Climate workshop provided information about El Niño, weather patterns, water availability, and insect outbreaks and then answered participants’ questions. Landowners were initially hesitant to speak but eventually asked important questions about prescribed fire, invasive species, future projections, and pest management. An evaluation of the program suggests that unlike their row crop neighbors, these participants are less interested in what peers do and more interested in information from experts. This may suggest that they have a less developed mental model of future possibilities and thus seek input from credible, trusted experts before they alter their thinking. Like the farmers, however, the forest landowners care about the risks to their forest and are looking for ways to protect their investment.

    These experiences suggest that for people not seeking information, an important starting point for participation would be to recognize that they have the possibility to make a meaningful difference and thus may wish to learn more. If landowners perceive their situation as “not able to change the weather,” there is little incentive to learn. If they are reminded of many options they have for adapting to an uncertain forecast, however, they may be motivated to learn more about the value of these options. As with other examples of effective communication, that information should be based on experience, should be locally relevant and concrete, and should be related to what they know. It should be presented so that the concepts unfold in a sequence that makes sense and at a rate that does not overwhelm. Furthermore, the information should also answer their questions, based on a prior audience analysis or question-and-answer session. Small experiments that enable them to discover their own answers may be ideal. If a facilitator or an organizer can provide interactive exercises that are playful or fun, this is even better.


    The process of providing information and engaging people in helping to resolve environmental issues is the essence of environmental education and communication. While professionals have worked in this area for forty years (and educators have addressed ecological science for over a century), situations in which the problems are poorly defined and the solutions are not well accepted represent particular challenges to educators and communicators. RPM can provide a framework for creating more successful programs, an explanation for why things may not go well, and some clues about promising strategies.

    In situations where great uncertainty and a variety of perspectives, experiences, and values lead to little agreement about the problem or solutions, it is necessary to provide information that is relevant, enable audiences to participate in the learning process, provide examples of and opportunities for action, and be mindful of not overwhelming learners. Such situations often entail a lengthy process of building trust and understanding through social learning to collect data, consider options, make recommendations, and monitor indicators—to learn through small experiments. The successful legacy of CAM suggests that using facilitated, multistakeholder processes to enable participants to expand their mental models generates new understanding and helps them work toward solutions (Collins & Ison, 2009; Keen et al., 2005; Muro & Jeffrey, 2008). The willingness to engage may be a function of the importance of the problem or the promise of meaningful action (the CAM process itself), supporting the notion that the RPM components are closely linked (Basu & Kaplan, Chapter 1).

    When motivation is lacking, however, different challenges arise. Here, the possibility of meaningful action may be the most critical strategy for reaching audiences who are not otherwise motivated to work toward solutions to complex problems. Becoming aware that some behavior changes are practical and that others are implementing them and then seeing the results of those successes may help nudge recalcitrant individuals into greater interest to learn about those actions, initially. In the context of a complex world with too many things to worry about, finding out that there are ways to usefully and feasibly make a difference is itself a huge success. This information would be useful to those who are already motivated, of course, if they are not already aware of possible meaningful actions.

    RPM suggests that all of these elements can help create better programs for all participants. As Kearney (Chapter 16) implores, it is important to know where people are starting and how they perceive the issue. It is also important to understand what motivates their interest in engaging in solving the problem. If motivated advocates are already taking action, success stories will not be necessary to launch their activities, but feedback from those actions may be helpful to sustain their energy. If a group of like-minded souls are seeking information, a lack of trust may not be a barrier, though maintaining a comfortable and supportive atmosphere for honest and open conversation would help. Educators typically do not reach individuals who do not take the time to attend programs. Perhaps meaningful action is a useful key to attract their interest.

    All of these examples of engaging the public in resource management have several common components that echo the RPM framework and social learning. People are motivated to learn because they care or because they need to improve their situation. Some may be motivated to care by their sense of responsibility or curiosity; others will need to know that there is something they can do. People need information that makes sense, that answers their questions, and that does not overwhelm them. People need to receive that information from people they trust in situations where they are heard and respected. The environment that best supports effective model building may be one that establishes or demonstrates engagement in small experiments with participants who are able to share their expertise and learn from others.


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    I am grateful for the assistance of Richard Plate in the preparation of this chapter as well as colleagues and students at the University of Florida who have advanced these ideas: Wendy-lin Bartels, Kelly Biedenweg, Lara Colley, Shelby Krantz, Annie Oxarart, and Deb Wojcik. Students at the University of Michigan and coauthors of this book were also instrumental in offering additional insights and improving this chapter.