Coast care conversations and stories

On a sunny winter’s day at the end of August, around 50 people gathered for conversations at the Fairhaven Surf Life Saving Club.

People from community groups and government agencies who are passionate about our coastal environment spent the day sharing stories and their ideas for the future.

I was privileged to help the Coast Action – Coast Care team at DSE design and facilitate the event. Matt, the state manager of the program, does a great job at nailing the purpose of the forum.

The Harvest

My friend and colleague Chris Corrigan has re-shaped my approach to the design of these events. Chris says “Don’t just design a workshop … design a harvest”. By harvest he means …

“There is no point in doing work in the world unless we plan to harvest the fruits of our labours. Harvesting includes making meaning of our work, telling the story and feeding forward our results so that they have the desired impacts in the world.” Source – Chaordic Stepping Stones from the Art of Hosting website

And more recently … “Just as important as designing the process for participatory engagement is the imperative to be clear what you are harvesting from the effort. Harvesting refers to taking what has value from the process.” Source – Recent thinking on Participatory Engagement

And so for this volunteer forum I encouraged the hosting group (Jess at DSE, Gail at GORCC) to plan for a harvest so that we could continue the conversation with the workshop group and people beyond.

Here is one example of something we created to share and carry forward …

Another way of sharing (and better understanding) the fruits of our labour was to ‘blog about it’.

Rather than create a boring pdf report that no one would ever read, we committed to writing a series of blog posts that summarised what emerged from conversations and group activities.

Here are the links to various posts written on the GORCC Blog … (and great work here by Gail Chrisfield of GORCC and Jessica Brown of DSE to bring this to life!) … these are mostly a collection of stories that were shared and explored by group members and now open for anyone to read and comment on.

And these blog posts came from a process (at the end of the video clip) we used called Jumpstart Stories – where participants share stories with each other and select the most compelling to communicate forward …

Guest blog post by Geoff Brown, Tangent Consulting

Sending a message

Surfrider Foundation is a non-profit organisation dedicated to the protection and enhancement of Australia’s oceans, waves and beaches for all people through conservation, activism, research and education.

Marine debris is a key Surfrider initiative due to its detrimental impacts on marine and coastal environments, particularly animal and bird life. The foundation’s focus is on empowering individuals and community groups at the local level to proactively remove and reduce the amount of marine debris through local beach cleanups and community education activities.

The initiative engages volunteers, community groups, industry and government agencies, and other environmental organisations in making a positive and sustainable impact on marine debris. Locally-based Surfrider Foundation community groups are responsible for beach clean-ups in their own areas, including along the Surf Coast.

These activities help to protect and conserve our precious marine and coastal environments for future generations, which includes safer habitat for indigenous fauna. There is also a strong emphasis on creating awareness in the community.

The initiative highlights:

  • the importance of data gathering and analysis in helping to address sources of marine debris
  • the value of social responsibility and education, and
  • the need to actively engage with the community to create positive social change.

Story provided by Kristy Theissling, General Manager, Surfrider Foundation (Australia)

Boxthorn no match for community enterprise

Boxthorn is a highly invasive weed that poses a very serious threat to indigenous vegetation. Its seeds may germinate at any time of the year and quickly establish a deep extensive root system, making it very difficult to remove without concerted and sustained efforts.

The Princetown Landcare group in Victoria’s south-west decided enough was enough and started to take direct action against Boxthorn infestations in the area. After much discussion, the group:

  • researched, including looking at best practice control methods
  • assessed and mapped infestations
  • networked, created interest and worked towards changing attitudes amongst local landholders
  • obtained funding, and
  • sprayed and burned infestations.

All this work has since been followed by further mapping and regrowth spray works currently underway.

Through these efforts, Princetown Landcare has achieved so much more than it initially expected in terms of addressing the scourge of Boxthorn. Although the group’s work is still a long way from being finished, the project is already seeing positive movement toward a more cooperative, cohesive and caring community that is united by a common issue.

The project’s many learnings include:

  • actively demonstrating just what can be achieved through persistence, and
  • the value of community education, including the ways in which it can feed back into the project.

Story provided by Judy Spafford, Princetown Landcare

Playful whale heralds in a great day for forum goers

The Community Forum for Coastal Volunteers last Sunday, 29 August 2010, turned out to be quite an experience for all concerned.

Throughout the day, Fairhaven Surf Life Saving Club was abuzz with the conversation and laughter of some 40 voices as a playful whale made the most of the glassy waves on offer, delighting and sometimes distracting participants from forum proceedings.

With some arriving after very long drives from as far away as Princetown, the first order of the day was morning tea and pit stops before Coast Action/Coastcare Facilitator Jess Brown welcomed everyone to the forum and introduced facilitator Geoff Brown.

Geoff got straight down to business working with the group to map out the connections between the various groups and agencies represented, including by inviting everyone to ‘find their tribe’. A number of tribes quickly formed, primarily along geographic and/or organisational type lines (e.g. Land Manager Tribe, Community Volunteer Group Tribe). Queens Park

It was fascinating to see which tribe people saw themselves as belonging to, with the sole Princetown representative welcomed into the Anglesea community tribe and Friends of Queens Park ending up in the land manager tribe.

This exercise highlighted the different types of connections and the benefits of building constructive networks – a perfect introduction into the three guest speaker presentations that followed:

  • Graeme Stockton outlined the achievements of his group, Surfers Appreciating the Natural Environment (SANE), in protecting and conserving the many values of the Bells Beach Surfing Reserve  Bells Beach
  • Gail Chrisfield described how one little hooded plover helped to introduce the Great Ocean Road Coast Committee to the possibilities afforded by social media to connect and engage with people online, and
  • Margaret Macdonald used a case study to illustrate how the community connections between Friends of Eastern Otways and other groups were having a positive impact on the coastal environment around the iconic Great Ocean Road Memorial Arch. PR Plover and his missus

Then it was time for everyone else to share their own stories with others via a ‘Jumpstart Story’ process that enabled one to quickly listen and share with at least half those gathered before identifying the five or six most inspiring stories for further investigation by the whole group.

The conversations continued flowing throughout a very lively lunch, interspersed with visits to the top of the grassy knoll to view the whale who, by now, looked to have taken up residence out the front of the club.

Fed and watered, the group soon settled down after lunch into the task of future gazing, using a magic wand to look at goals and hopes for the future. The stories from the morning session proved useful in identifying the ‘X factors’ for success, including the skills, capacities and connections among the volunteer groups that are already in place and can be built on. Moggs Creek

Meanwhile the various land managers worked on simple but enlightening role statements to support them in communicating and connecting with others.

Finally, the home straight was in plain sight (as was the whale – still!) as the discussion moved to the next steps needed to making the future a reality, with the first step being to share what happened at the forum via this blog.

In all, the day provided a fantastic opportunity to connect and share with others whose passion is caring for the coast. A big heartfelt thank you to Coast Action/Coastcare Facilitator Jess Brown who put in a lot of hard work and effort to put it all together and make it happen.

Over the coming weeks, the stories emerging from the forum, the lessons we learnt, the goals and wishes for our various groups and our coast, and the next steps we need to take will be progressively added to this blog for participants to refer to and comment on, and to share with those who weren’t there, including people we don’t even know from coasts in other parts of the world.

We look forward to sharing these experiences with you and invite you to post your impressions, thoughts and ideas to this blog – and to spread the word to others.

Good connections hold the key

Traditional wisdom has it that good connections are vital to getting on in life. For us however, good connections are critically important to our beautiful coast, both now and in the future.

As coast managers, we share a strong connection with the coast and are passionate about its ongoing care, protection and conservation. Such passion also connects us with the many local coastal volunteer groups and individuals involved in caring for the coast, and with government agencies and other bodies who, like us, are responsible for managing the coast.

Sometimes it can be confusing to know just who is responsible for what on our coast. Good connections between the different managers are vital to building the foundation for an integrated approach to coastal management. Good connections between coastal volunteers provide the basis for sharing knowledge, skills and experiences, and for working cooperatively on various coast care activities.

Such connections also play a crucial role in helping to connect the ordinary person on the beach, or in the street, with the coast and hopefully contribute to raising their awareness of why they need to play their part in looking after it.

Over the past few months, we have been working towards building our capacity to connect with people in the online environment, via this blog for example, our website and popular social media tools. While this is an exciting, new thing for us, we recognise that it is certainly not the ‘be all and end all’ when it comes to connecting with people to connect them with our coast.

Consequently, we have also been working to improve the way we connect via more tried and tested means. We know for example that the strongest connections come from sitting down and talking to people face-to-face, which beats technology every time.

This is why we are looking forward to the upcoming Forum for Coastal Volunteers on Sunday 29 August 2010, which is being organised by Coast Action/Coastcare, in partnership with ourselves and Otway Coast.

We see this important forum as providing an invaluable opportunity to strengthen connections – between ourselves, our partners and our volunteers, and between the many coastal volunteer groups themselves – which will benefit the entire Great Ocean Road coast from Torquay to Port Campbell.

The forum promises great food and great company while providing opportunities to share, celebrate, connect and look to the future. We can’t wait to be there and to see what comes out of it in terms of building the good connections so vital to our beautiful coast.