Upcoming event: Green museums!

I just finished a conference call with the organizers of JFKU’s annual Museum Studies Colloquium: “People/Planet/Profitability: Museums and Sustainability.”  I’ll be facilitating the break-out group on Community Engagement with JFKU faculty member Margaret Kadoyama, as well as speaking on an afternoon panel. Other facilitators will include staff from the California Academy of Sciences and The Center for Ecoliteracy.

This will be my second time participating in an event organized by museum professionals and museum studies scholars.  The last one I went to was a lot of fun – I had a great time thinking about how museums could become centers of environmental learning that serve vibrant, diverse audiences.  I hope to see you there!

Download a flyer here.

People/Planet/Profitability: Museums & Sustainability
November 17, 2012
9:00 AM – 4:00 PM

John F. Kennedy University, Berkeley Campus
2956 San Pablo Avenue
2nd Floor
Berkeley, CA 94702-2471

New presentation software

I know there’s a lot of Powerpoint haters out there but I’m not one of them.  I remember using it for the first time towards the end of college and being thrilled with how easy it was to show photos, and I still enjoy it as a visually rich medium today.  Yes, some powerpoint presentations are terrible, but many other kinds of presentations are terrible too.  I’ll risk following the lead of the gun lobby to say that ‘Powerpoints don’t bore, people do.’

Nonetheless, I was excited to see a different kind of software in action for the first time at a recent conference, and used it in a presentation of my own on Friday.  Prezi let’s you create one big canvas and zoom around on it to focus on different aspects of what you want to say.  Your presentation lives online so you can access it from any computer with an internet connection, and you can e-mail people a link to your presentation for them to view on their own.

That said, it seems just as easy to go wrong with Prezi as it is with Powerpoint.  The zoom effect is fast enough that you could easily get overzealous and end up with a roomful of disoriented audience-members.  The canvas-like starting point gives you more leeway to present your ideas in a non-linear fashion, but it still won’t organize them into something meaningful for you. If your presentation doesn’t have a clear organizing thread there’s nothing the software can do to help.

Check it out yourself! Clicking here will take you to the online version of what I showed on Friday.  If you have any suggestions for improvement, let me know!

Advice for working with environmental justice groups

I gave a “virtual guest-lecture” this week for Liz Shapiro’s class on community-based environmental management at Duke University.  The class is part of one of the more appealing distance learning programs I’ve come across in a while.  The students are environmental professionals from various parts of the globe who are earning masters degrees in Environmental Management while continuing their careers.  Our class session had students participating from California, Hawaii, Chile, Texas, North Carolina, and who knows how many other places.

About two minutes before our time was up, someone asked for advice on how to work with environmental justice groups.  There is often tension between environmental groups and environmental justice groups, so it was an important question.  I did my best to answer it, but a question like that deserves more than 120 seconds worth of response time.  Here’s a slightly longer reply, drawn from things I’ve seen, done or heard about:

Find out about their experience with people like you. Whether you are a researcher, a planner, a scientist, an elected official, or some other kind of professional, it is likely that the environmental justice group will have had experience with someone more or less “like you” in the past.  Environmental justice groups make a point of claiming the expertise that comes from their lived experience of the issues, and don’t take well to professionals who try to talk over them or pull rank based on their professional credentials.  Learn from the successes and mistakes of these prior experiences.

Don’t hurry the getting to know you process.  Don’t approach a community group you don’t know with a project right before the grant proposal for it is due.  Take time to build strong relationships and meaningfully discuss how to collaborate before jumping into a new project.

Make time for face-time. Especially in the beginning, make an effort to meet and talk in person instead of on the phone or by e-mail.

Plan meetings that people can attend. Hold meetings on their turf rather than yours, in their language, at times of day convenient to them.  Provide child-care and food when possible.  If you are asking people to travel a long distance to attend, reimburse them the cost of getting there.

Be willing to change your plans. If you aren’t willing to actually change your plans based on their input, there’s no point in trying to work with environmental justice groups in the first place.

Don’t compete for funding. Prioritize applying for grants that the environmental justice group aren’t eligible for.  Apply for grants they are eligible for together.

Communicate, communicate, communicate. Don’t start a project and then leave them wondering what came of it. Seek input on your plans and activities as much as possible.

Don’t be afraid to get personal. Knowing the people you are partnering with personally makes it a lot more likely that you will trust each other, work well together, and overcome the inevitable bumps in the road.  Plus, it’s a lot more fun!

Don’t use, co-opt or tokenize. Successful partnerships are built on a sincere desire for collaboration, not a belief that it is something you need to do just to get the grant, the political good-will, or to look good.

The environmental justice advocates that I’ve gotten to know in my own work over the last few years have enriched my life enormously, and seem to be willing to forgive me when I make mistakes (I hope some of them will send in suggestions to improve this list!).  I wish you luck in your own endeavors!