Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Suitcase head

I used this representational picture to end my presentations this week because people kept asking about my main take-aways. It describes some of the ways my IPSP has had a significant impact on me personally. While my bags will certainly be a few pounds heavier on the return trip, most of the stuff I'll bring back to Arkansas will be intangible and essentially weightless. Here are some of my "learnings," as they like to say over here:

1)Better understanding of water issues, water policy and politics, governance, and community engagement in natural resource management-- in both practice and theory

2) Further confirmation that environment and natural resource management are where my passion lies

3) Clearer identification of the gaps in my knowledge about my own state/region/country, but also a better sense of what to look for, where to find the information, who to talk to, etc.

4) Variety of examples of both good and bad community engagement and more sophisticated understanding of how different stakeholders, levels of government, and government departments perceive different situations

5) Better sense of how academics, consultants, and other "outsiders" can fit into creating better systems and ideas on how to engage these types of people in Arkansas issues

6) Strengthened belief in applied academics

7) Confidence in talking to people in many different situations

8) Practice and confidence in public speaking:

9) Excitement about the opportunity to bring my new-found knowledge back to my community and potentially have it contribute to better, more inclusive and collaborative atmosphere for planning and regulation

10) Proof that enviros, farmers, and industry reps can work together, as well as some practical ideas to use in achieving this cooperation

11) Knowledge about a wider range of jobs that might fit my interests

12) Plenty of evidence of the importance of building genuine relationships, taking time to talk with people over tea or a beer and spend time on their turf rather than hiding behind the walls of the castle (whatever fortress that might be-- a government agency, university, corporate structure...)

13) Understanding of the gravity of the responsibility that governments have in creating systems that optimize outcomes for all residents and the environment within their jurisdiction

14) Observations of the danger of reactionary reform, which does not often allow the kind of high-level architecture that is easier under precautionary reform due to highly pressurized and political situations

What a useful 3 months! Can't wait to see you all!

Monday, August 29, 2011

From little things, big things grow

Enjoy three of my favorite Australian musicians performing an amazing song about an 8 year (8 YEAR!) strike by indigenous station hands for better pay and working conditions.

A lot of things I've learned this summer have confirmed that from little things, big things grow. For example, almost everyone I interviewed described the power of sharing a drink or a meal with someone, how such a seemingly insignificant act can break down great barriers. One person said that government officials often don't consider having a cup of tea with community members as "real" work, but in fact it can be one of the most powerful forms of connection, relationship building, and trust development. And as another suggested, "you can do anything if you have relationships." This came from someone who saw their bitterly divided community come together-- greens and farmers and local government and indigenous all working constructively together-- to stand strong and unified today.

My presence has been a little thing that sparked big things. Today I gave a presentation that one person liked so much he decided he would take my message up the chain of command from here on out. Several people have told me that I have completely changed their feelings about Americans and young people. Others have added a trip to Arkansas to their bucket list, when it wasn't even on their radar before. I may not have had adequate influence to transform any major systems, but I have clarified issues and brought solutions into view and provided some energy and encouragement to making things better. I'm feeling pretty satisfied with my work here. Time to come home.

Saturday, August 27, 2011


On the eve of my 24th birthday it seems appropriate to contemplate beginnings. I can now count my remaining days in Australia on one hand and it is making me inordinately sad. Mama suggested that I view it as a commencement rather than an endpoint. She is right on so many levels. This experience has turned me on to so many ideas and people that have without a doubt advanced my thinking about natural resource management and public participation. I think the contacts I've made here will continue to be useful in my work from here on out. My upcoming work on Arkansas water planning is really like Step 15 in a long progression of events and experiences that began way back when I was born.

The last official commencement ceremony I attended was Barnard graduation. It was a surprisingly good day. Meryl Streep made it amazing. She said, "I can assure that awards have very little bearing on my own personal happiness. My own sense of well-being and purpose in the world. That comes from studying the world feelingly, with empathy in my work. It comes from staying alert and alive and involved in the lives of the people that I love and the people in the wider world who need my help. No matter what you see me or hear me saying when I'm on your TV holding a statuette spewing, that's acting."

Studying the world feelingly. I like that. It's important for all people, but may come more easily to women because of the way we're maybe hardwired or because we have suffered less of the emotional repression that men have generally been subjected to throughout the centuries. I have put a lot of my heart into this latest episode down under, but it is really only one class in this whole long course of life study.

On a whim, in that last month as a Barnard senior, my friend Megan and I decided to audition to be the student commencement speaker. Together. It threw everyone off, but we charmed them enough to get a call-back to the second round. Even though we weren't chosen in the end, the experience sticks with me for several reasons. First, the speech we wrote was all about maintaining the burning curiosity ("staying alert and alive," thanks Meryl!) we valued in many of the Barnard women we knew, a philosophy that still plays a central role in both our lives. Second, it was the perfect continuation of both of our careers as perceived renegades. Megan had dropped out for a semester to rebuild houses and community in Buffalo. I had gone abroad for a semester without the approval of my Department. We both designed our own thesis projects, braving the criticism and sometimes ridicule of classmates and professors. Together, we constantly sought to make Barnard a better place by developing programs for a more sustainable campus and agitating for institutional change. So much so that a girl once asked Megan, "why do you hate Barnard so much?" We were shocked at the time, but laugh about it now. You can't help people who just don't get it.

I'll give a commencement speech of sorts on Monday, when I present my findings to DERM and facilitate a conversation about them. Hopefully I'll provide some fresh insights that will spark new ideas and lead to new ways of operating. I know my findings make a difference in the way I will operate in the future, but making a difference in the wider world is still the goal.

Megan is one person who is definitely making a difference to a lot of people. Here's a great story she recently posted on her blog: "When my Granddad was not well a couple of weeks ago, I rushed to see him after working on a demolition crew all day. I was COVERED with soot from head to toe. Everyone was cracking jokes about my appearance, etc. but Caroline my 3 year old cousin walked into the room, took one look at my soot covered face and dirt stained clothes and her eyes lit up as she yelled, "Princess Girl Fighter!" Apparently she had told her mother that this is what she wants to be when she grows up, and so she carries around plastic tools in her toolbelt while wearing a sparkly princess dress!"

Hopefully I'm well on my way to Princess Girl Fighter status. Happy 24th to me!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Rebuilding trust

I've been thinking a lot about ways that trust in government can be rebuilt, matched with government existing in a form that is worthy of its citizens' trust. One of the best approaches, I think, is better engagement of citizens and stakeholders in policy making and implementation. I was checking out the International Association for Public Participation's blog the other day and came across a couple of really interesting things along these lines.

One was a link to the Open Government Partnership, which the US is taking a lead role in initiating. Its formal launch is coming in September and I will be keeping an eye on its progress to see what, if any, practical advancements come out of it.
The Open Government Partnership is a global effort to make governments better. We all want more transparent, effective and accountable governments — with institutions that empower citizens and are responsive to their aspirations. But this work is never easy.

It takes political leadership. It takes technical knowledge. It takes sustained effort and investment. It takes collaboration between governments and civil society.

The Open Government Partnership is a new multilateral initiative that aims to secure concrete commitments from governments to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption, and harness new technologies to strengthen governance. In the spirit of multi-stakeholder collaboration, OGP is overseen by a steering committee of eight governments and nine civil society organizations.
The other really interesting link was to GovLoop, a social network for people working in government to share ideas, build relationships, and engage in policy discussions. They also welcome students and individuals interested in public service. I've only found one of my classmates on there so far, but hopefully this blatant evangelism will get others to sign up!

We really need more happening in my part of the world (meaning Arkansas; Australia seems to be more on target) around deliberative democracy, public participation, etc. There are IAP2 chapters all around the US and the world... except the mid-South. Other than the Clinton School, I'm having trouble identifying schools with any sort of similar program closer than Indiana. Maybe some of those Oregonians and DCers who seem to have it down should come our way. Spread the love.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Warm fuzzies

Just a few cute animal pictures from our recent travels...

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Last fortnight

My last two weeks will be a bustle of data analysis, report writing, and presentations. Yes, I said my last two weeks. I know there have been some rumors floating around that I might stay, but I'm both pleased and disappointed to announce that I'll be returning to Arkansas this fall for my Capstone work. Both options were equally exciting and ultimately I decided it was time to get back and keep laying the foundations for a life of service in natural resource management and environmental protection in the Natural State.

One of the things I'd like to do when I get back is give a series of presentations to some key groups who may benefit from hearing about what's going on in the Murray-Darling Basin. I'd also plan to connect key lessons learned to Arkansas's state water planning process. The point of these presentations would be two-fold: to impart information and get people thinking about alternative modes of operation, and to allow me to continue conquering my fear of public speaking. Sometimes you just have to throw yourself in the deep end. Talking about subjects you're passionate about seems like a good first step.

I've been reminding myself daily to be FRANK AND FEARLESS-- a phrase that's thrown around a lot in the Australian public service. I've also been considering exactly how frank and fearless I can be without getting myself fired or seeing my career plateau because I'm seen as too much of a risk. Not that I have a career yet, but I imagine it's in the cards somewhere down the road ;)

Speaking of the future, the Dean emailed last week to remind us that although graduation is a year away, now is the time to start thinking about post-grad education and job applications. I have been really pleased with the cross-breed of action and theory the Clinton School has introduced me to and in a way I'm curious whether there are any PhD programs that value action and field experience in the same way. Perhaps Applied Anthropology? If I went on to a PhD, it would need to be VERY hands-on. None of that armchair philosophizing for me!

Alright, off to hike the Carnarvon Gorge and spy on platypuses for the weekend.

P.S. I love the continuing use of the word "fortnight" in conversation here. What a useful noun!