Tag Archives: opinion

How to change minds

I’m a part of the March for Science Facebook group, for people that were in the Marches for Science all across the USA on April 2017 or that supported such. A lot of the talk on the group has been about science education and public relations. There are individuals and communities all over the USA – and the world – fighting against science-based decision making in public policies and science education in schools, and many on the group feel this is because of poor wording and poor outreach by scientists and those that support science regarding public relations. In my ongoing quest to be a better communicator, I’ve watched these discussions closely.

Recently, someone posted the following regarding how we communicate about science. I think it’s a great testimony regarding what works, and what doesn’t, regarding swaying public opinion, changing people’s minds and fighting misinformation. I’m sharing it here, with her permission, but without her name to protect her identity:

I’m not a scientist. I’m not afraid of science but I also don’t have a strong grasp of most science related jargon. I joined this group along with a few other science groups/pages as I heard more and more of anti-science rhetoric from our govt. Allthough I don’t understand a lot of scientific things that doesn’t mean I don’t realize the importance of science for our society and for our future.

I have learned SO MUCH from reading posts and comments. The reason I have learned so much? The reason I am no longer “afraid” of GMO’s? The reason I have changed my mind on other popular misconceptions? Because my fear was never the science. My fear was that I didn’t know what information to trust. Money talks. It’s hard to figure out who is paying. Do I trust a science study that was paid for by a big corporation? Do I trust a study that’s published but not peer reviewed? WHO do you trust?

The common thread I’ve found as I read posts and comments in order to learn more is how stupid I am. How dumb was I to not trust GMO’s. People’s comments were blatantly MEAN. And sure, I was completely uneducated about GMO’s. I read the wrong information. I trusted the wrong sources. But again, without hours of research to find out funding sources, etc HOW do I know what to trust?

This question was amazing. I always want to learn more. I want to understand about so many things – to give my kids the best future possible. The best food to eat. The best meds for my asthmatic child. The best environment for them to grow up in, etc. But here’s the thing. If I wasn’t determined to do the best for my kids . . . by the 100th ridiculing comment on a post I found interesting I would have stopped following and learning. Heck by the 20th I would have written off these sciences pages.

Even in this thread there are those using terms like “stupid,” “brainwashing,” etc. Very derogatory terms and grouping all people who don’t have a knack for science into one realm. I have a great head for business, finances and can analyze the heck out of any non-technical literature. I don’t make fun or ridicule those people who don’t have have that ability. It accomplishes nothing.

So thank you to those of you who answered this post thoughtfully. I’m certain there are many of you who diligently try over and over again to get your point across. Don’t give up. Changing peoples’ minds is never easy but in this case it’s worth the fight.

—end quoted text—

Also see:

Has the Internet democratized engagement?

This week, I’m going to blog and launch new web resources based on my experience as the Duvall Leader in Residence at the University of Kentucky’s Center for Leadership Development (CFLD), part of UK’s College of Agriculture,Food and Environment. My visit was sponsored by the W. Norris Duvall Leadership Endowment Fund and the CFLD, and focused on leadership development and community development and engagement as both relate to the use of online media.

First up for discussion: Democratizing Engagement. Specifically: has the Internet democratized community, even political, engagement? To democratize something is to make it accessible “to the masses.” So, my answer during the presentation in Lexington at the Plantory, to launch discussion in Lexington, was, “Yes… and no.”

On the “yes” side:

  • People can access information they need most, like weather forecasts, communicate with people remotely, even bank and community organize, through text messaging on a simple cell phone. This has been revolutionary for people in the developing world.
  • People with even more sophisticated tools, like laptops and smart phones, can do even more, like access pension information, journalism-based media sites, business information, etc., apply for college or jobs, even run entire organizations and undertake a remote career.
  • Even before smart phones, when cell phones were becoming popular in the developing world, text messaging played a key role in political movements in the Philippines, in helping AIDS patients in Africa remember to take meds, and in appropriate amounts, etc. See this paper from October 2001 for more on these early examples. Handheld, networked devices continue to play important role in political movements.

On the “no” side:

  • Social media has been instrumental in reviving incorrect and, sometimes, dangerous folklore that interferes with humanitarian efforts, government health initiatives, etc.
    Negative consequences for the opinion-sharer.
  • Government and corporate entities are monitoring and recording users’ online activities and sometimes using the information they find against citizens/consumers to curb their rights or voice.
  • Many web sites cannot be accessed by people without the absolute very latest, most advanced laptops and smart phone.
  • The Internet has never been slower.
  • People with disabilities are often excluded from being able to access Web-based resources – the site isn’t configured for people using assistive technologies, an online video has no subtitles, etc.
  • Not every organization is developing online tools for people who use only feature phones and text messaging, and that leaves out millions of people who don’t have smart phones.
  • Not everyone is on the Internet.

And I’ll add one more to the “no” list: many people are made to feel unwelcomed online, to the point of their being threatened with violence if they don’t refrain from saying certain things or even being online altogether. #gamergate is a good example of this. Also see this blog, Virtue & reputation in the developing world.

Even with all that said, and the “no” list being so much longer than the “yes” list, I said that the Internet is playing a role in democratizing information for everyone, but it’s got a long way to go.

What do YOU think? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

(and I have to note that my favorite moment of the evening was when we went around the room to ask why people had come and if they got what they wanted out of the evening. One of the attendees said that, in fact, she was in the wrong room – she had come for something else – but once I started talking, she was so interested in the topic that she stayed!)

I’m thrilled with UNV’s 2015 State of the World’s Volunteerism Report – Transforming Governance

state of volunteerism 2015I’m thrilled with the United Nations Volunteers program’s recently published 2015 State of the World’s Volunteerism Report – Transforming Governance.

Oh, yes, you read that right. THRILLED. And , as you know, I am a tough audience.

Why am I thrilled? Because, instead of doing the usual – talking about the value of volunteers only, or mostly, in terms of money saved because they aren’t paid a salary – this report talks about the value of volunteers in the terms that are much more powerful and important, value that goes far beyond money. Excerpts from the reports introduction explain better than I can:

For the post-2015 sustainable development agenda to succeed, improving governance, tackling inequalities, and expanding voice and participation need to be addressed simultaneously. Volunteerism can help by giving voice to stakeholders and by mobilizing people and civil society organizations to contribute to solutions.

The report suggests that the ability of volunteers to support development progress depends on the willingness of national governments to ensure that the space and supportive environments which encourage their participation and initiatives are available. The Report finds that volunteerism can help to generate social trust, advance social inclusion, improve basic services, and boost human development. Volunteers and volunteerism bring the greatest benefits where enabling conditions like freedom of speech and association and an atmosphere of vigorous political debate are already in place. At the local level, the Report suggests that volunteerism can increasingly be a vehicle for people in excluded and/or marginalized communities to be heard, and to access the services, resources, and opportunities they need to improve their lives.

Examples of formal and informal volunteering attest to the fact that those who are marginalized, such as women, indigenous populations and disempowered young people, can create spaces where their voices can be heard and where they can affect governance at local levels. This report addresses the issue of women’s engagement, providing interesting examples of how women have been able to engage in spaces outside the traditional norms, hold authorities accountable and ensure responsiveness to their needs and those of their communities.

Further research and innovative strategic partnerships are needed for better understanding, documenting and measuring volunteerism and its contribution to peace and development. This report starts a conversation that can and needs to be deepened.

And this, from the executive summary:

This report shows, using a body of knowledge collected through case studies, that volunteerism provides a key channel for this engagement from the local through to the national and global contexts.

This report has identified key strategies, challenges and opportunities for volunteerism, focused on three pillars of governance – voice and participation, accountability and responsiveness – where volunteers have shown impact. Specific volunteer actions and strategies illustrate the diverse ways in which volunteers engage in invited spaces, open up closed spaces or claim new spaces.

Volunteerism spans a vast array of activities at the individual, community, national and global levels. Those activities include traditional forms of mutual aid and self-help, as well as formal service delivery. They also include enabling and promoting participation and engaging through advocacy, campaigning and/or activism. The definition of volunteerism used in this report refers to “activities … undertaken of free will, for the general public good and where monetary reward is not the principal motivating factor.”

Volunteering in this report is also understood as overlapping and converging with social activism; while it is recognized that not all activists are volunteers, many activists are volunteers and many volunteers are activists. The terms volunteerism and social activism are not mutually exclusive. The idea that volunteers only serve to support service delivery or are only involved in charitable activities is one that is limited and provides a superficial line of difference between volunteerism and activism.

The report recognizes that volunteering is highly context specific and is often not on a level playing field. Women and marginalized groups are frequently affected by this unevenness; not all volunteers can participate equally or on equal terms in each context. Volunteerism is harder in contexts where people are excluded, their voices curtailed, their autonomy undermined and the risks of raising issues high. An enabling environment that respects the rights of all enhances the ability of volunteerism to contribute to positive development and peace. The report shows that creating a more enabling environment that allows positive civic engagement in sustainable development is critical for success.

If you do nothing else, PLEASE read the report’s executive summary.

Every program or project manager in every local, regional or government office needs to read at least the executive summary: government workers that are focused on police, fire and emergency response, parks and recreation, environmental issues, agriculture, the justice system, education, public health, arts, library, historical sites, economical development – they all need to read this report, look at how they currently involve the community, and ask themselves lots of questions:

  • Could you do a better job involving volunteers in decision-making?
  • Could you do a better job involving a greater diversity of volunteers – women, minority groups, children, the people that are the target of government services, etc.?
  • Are there tasks that volunteers actually might be better at doing than paid staff, because they wouldn’t have any worries regarding job security or loss of pay?
  • Are – or could – volunteers help your organization be more transparent to the general public and improve services?
  • Could volunteers help you build bridges with hostile communities?
  • Have you handled critical comments from volunteers appropriately?

This report can help you start answering those questions.

For more on the subject of the value of volunteer or community engagement