Wednesday, 5 June 2013

To demonstrate or not to demonstrate

The Trust has considerable experience in organising and running demonstration events (we ran 22 separate events in one year alone!) and I believe that it is an under-rated method of communication.

I attended a Predation-Prey Associations workshop in Dunkeld, yesterday, that was organised by SNH (see the post on the Moorland Forum blog).  How best to capture practical experience of this topic and how to communicate the findings of a revised report was considered.  There was some support for using demonstration events for this purpose, and this was music to my ears.

I would like to see this idea developed further and it would combine with the interest being expressed in using demonstration events as part of the development of the Scottish Land Use Strategy Action Plan that will be considered at a workshop on 25 June.

So why do I like the concept of demonstration events?  There are many possible forms, but I believe that events can provide a unique opportunity to develop discussion amongst a diverse range of people in a non-confrontational way.  A 'talk & walk' format can include discussion on the ground, and I am fond of saying that the issues often come into perspective when standing on 'the purple stuff'.

The format provides an opportunity to establish and maintain communication with the people who manage the land, and local communities, who may not be members of the groups of 'usual suspects' that attend meetings.  Getting a diverse mix of people away from their ivory towers, computers and PowerPoint projectors, and perhaps getting them slightly wet and cold, can really help to focus minds and identify areas of consensus.

As a development of the concept, I believe that there is an argument to establish a small number of venues in each part of the country to represent a range of conditions.  The most appropriate venue could be used for each event and people would look for events that were relevant to their interests.  Several topics could be covered in an event to increase its appeal.

There would be benefit in not holding single, one-off events, as a series of events would allow confidence in the process and momentum to build.  When I ran demonstration events on four sites across England & Wales for Defra over several years, I knew I was making progress when people started contacting me to ask when the next event would take place.  Then the funding ran out and momentum dissipated!

I am not suggesting setting up expensive demonstration sites, the aim would be to demonstrate work that was already taking place or features that were already present, but some facilitation funding would be required to organise events and to fund external contributors.

With proper management I cannot see how such events cannot provide an invaluable opportunity to generate discussion and offer value for money.  We must not forget, that all the research or policy instruments are of no value unless there is communication to allow managers of the land to understand them.  People are important: do we put enough effort into thinking about how we can communicate our messages that we spend so much time developing?