Sometimes climate change communicators need to go beyond presenting to a general audience to brokering an environmental decision within a group setting. Many environmental decisions are group decisions, so it is vitally important for communicators to understand how people participate in group settings, whether public or “closed door.” Some of the variables include: the relationships that exist among the individuals and groups involved; the participants’ individual and group goals; the different ways people participate in groups; and norms concerning how the meeting should be run.
Understanding the Many Ways People Participate in Groups
Norms about what happens in meetings are important because they determine who speaks when, how information is presented, and how people should disagree. Some people are more comfortable presenting from their experience, and this information should not be devalued because it is not “factual.” There are also norms concerning language use: for instance, using technical language may seem rude when it makes the information being conveyed inaccessible to less-educated participants, essentially limiting their involvement in the discussion and, ultimately, the decision(s). There are similar norms concerning the meeting’s end goal—in some cultural contexts, reaching group consensus may have a higher value than representing differences and allowing everyone to express their opinion.62
Eliciting participation from all of the various stakeholders is extremely important when trying to broker environmental decisions. Stakeholders who feel like they were part of the decision-making process are more likely to support the outcome. Early participation in the decision-making process is also a vital step in identifying the key problems that require solutions.
The example above-left indicates how understanding each audience member’s particular form of participation can help communicators better judge if all members of the audience are taking part (in some form) in the discussion.
How To Set the Stage for Effective
Group Discussions of Climate Change
Presentations on climate change are often filled with dense information that may leave group members with numerous questions and concerns. When organizing meetings with a diverse group of stakeholders, the most vital thing to remember is to allow ample time for discussion. Anecdotal evidence suggests that breaking large groups into smaller groups can help initiate discussion.
The example above shows the successful application of participatory processes to natural resource management in Florida. The box below provides tips for encouraging group participation.
61 Roncoli, C., Orlove, B.S., Kabugo, M., et al. “Multiple Styles of Participation in Farmers’ Discussions of Climate Information in Uganda,” Agriculture and Human Values, (under review).
62 Peterson, N., Broad, K., Orlove, B., et al. Participatory processes and climate forecast use: sociocultural context, discussion, and consensus. Climate and Development, (forthcoming).
63 Florida spiny lobster transferable trap certificate program. Lobsterconservation.org. Retrieved June 15, 2009, from http://www.lobsterconservation.com/floridalobster/
The Lobster Bulletin. Retrieved June 15, 2009, from http://kodiak.asap.um.maine.edu/lobster/library/publications/bulletin/vol4num2.html