Photo credit: Kirke Wrench, National Park Service
Call me sentimental, but I love the holiday season. I love the lights, the flavors, and the smells. I love that we make time in our busy schedules for friends, for family, for loved ones, and for our community. I also love the sense of perspective it gives me – the opportunity to reflect on what is important in my life and how my decisions reflect those values, both personally and professionally.
I won’t sugar coat it, the past month or two has been a challenging time for many of us. Whatever your political stripes, most people can agree that the rhetoric in 2016 was more divisive than ever, and that we are entering a time of uncertainty and transition. How the things we value may be impacted in the years to come is not yet clear. Now, more than ever, I seek solace and inspiration from those around me, the values that we all share, and the work we are doing to amplify those values.
Over the past year, the Institute team has dug deep into who we are as an organization, the key beliefs and values that motivate our work, and how those show up in what we do every day. One core value that has come through loud and clear is our belief in the role of parks as safe and healing spaces. We believe that parks must be welcoming and be available to all, no matter their background, ethnicity, religion, orientation, age, ability… the list goes on and on.
Parks have so much to give to society – they are places to build community, to engage in open and respectful dialogue, to deeply connect with people who are different from us, and to explore and overcome our common challenges. This belief is core to who we are as an organization.
In this time of change and season of giving, we’d like to share just a few examples of park-based programs that are building community and offering healing, growing spaces. We hope that you find them as inspiring as we do.
Please use the comment box to add your favorite to this short list, we know there are so many inspiring programs out there!
As the Institute continuously champions our beliefs that parks are for everyone, we know that our park partners are working tirelessly to make this belief a reality in the different communities around the Bay and country. Through our work in Healthy Parks Healthy People: Bay Area, we know that parks have been providing warm welcomes to new users for years through multicultural programming and First Saturday programming.
East Bay Regional Park District creates large, intentional walks that bring together many different ethnicities to share wellness, culture, and enjoyment through its Healthy Parks Healthy People Multicultural Wellness Walks. San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department offers gorgeous scenery while leading participants through Tai Chi and Qigong exercises.
With park leaders playing a crucial role in carving out space for meditation, interaction, and reflection, we hope that you follow their lead to ensure that parks continue to be a democratic space for health, both physically and mentally. If you see prejudice or hate happening in parks, or your neighborhood, speak up and protect your neighbors. Parks are for all, forever.
This past year has brought to the fore a number of challenges this country still faces around racial, economic, and social justice. Tied in with all of these is climate justice. Parks provide invaluable ecosystem services like carbon sequestration and are also uniquely threatened by climate change. Through the Institute’s Climate Education program we work with park interpreters and other informal educators to provide them with the necessary tools for them to be the best climate communicators they can be. This includes not only telling the story of how our parklands are threatened by climate change but also how it will affect neighboring communities, particularly groups that are most vulnerable.
There are a number of organizations working at the intersection of environmental challenges, public lands, and social justice, with one of the most prominent being Literacy for Environmental Justice (LEJ). LEJ is based out of Southeast San Francisco and provides local residents opportunities in urban greening, eco-literacy, community stewardship, and workforce development. The Institute looks forward to continuing to celebrate how parks and their partners can not only help heal the environment but also how maintaining these democratic spaces is central to building an inclusive community.
Lake Merritt, at the heart of Oakland, CA, is an obvious setting for a picnic, or a walk. As a proud resident of Oakland, Lake Merritt holds a special place in my heart. This park holds many fun memories for me.
This year, Lake Merritt has also been a site for healing. When Oaklanders were reeling from the loss of friends and artists from the devastating Ghost Ship fire, it was Lake Merritt where we grieved together. After an election filled with dangerous rhetoric, Oaklanders stood up against hatred at #handsaroundlakemerritt, a show of solidarity and appreciation for the diversity of Oakland. These beautiful moments of Oaklanders coming together proved that Lake Merritt is where the best of Oakland can be seen.
As I am still struggling to remember to end all of my dates with a “6” rather than a “5”, it feels like it is not yet too late to reflect on the past year and ponder what the next year may bring.
2015 saw a lot of change at the Institute. We welcomed three new fulltime staff members and were excited by the opportunity to continue to support the growth and development of our existing staff members. We moved out of our Fort Baker offices and are grateful to our NPS partners who have offered us temporary office space at Fort Mason. Our climate, health, and urban programs continue to grow, evolve, and have a greater and greater impact. We welcomed our second class of Emerging Leaders Fellows and I am confident that we learned as much from their new perspectives as they learned from our team of mentors and friends.
Here is a brief synopsis of some of the Institute’s key programmatic milestones and our hopes for 2016:
Climate: In 2015, the Bay Area Climate Literacy Collaborative, for which the Institute plays the backbone support role, saw its first full year of activity. Over the course of the year, the Collaborative grew to include over 30 different environmental education organizations and worked through a strategic planning process, articulating a clear vision, mission, and priority initiatives. In 2016, we are looking forward to getting our boots of the ground and beginning to develop and implement a range of activities based on identified priorities. We are also excited to partner with the NPS Pacific West Region and NASA to host an “Earth-to-Sky” climate communications training at Golden Gate this coming spring.
Health: The Institute continued to support the development of the HPHP: Bay Area regional collaborative and strengthened the network through a growing partnership with Kaiser Permanente. As the collaborative moves into its fourth year, the Institute is looking forward to building the capacity of the region by creating trainings, toolkits, and further resources for the collaborative members. On the national level, the Institute is working closely with the National Park Service, the National Recreation and Park Association, and Dr. Robert Zarr, the NPS Park Prescriptions Advisor, to strengthen the network of and resources available for Park Rx practitioners. Stay tuned in early 2016 when we will be launching a National Park Rx web portal and a HPHP: Bay Area website!
Urban: Last April, the National Park Service launched its Urban Agenda. This report was the culmination of a long engagement process spearheaded by NPS’s Stewardship Institute, in close partnership with the Institute at the Golden Gate, the NPS Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance Program, the Center for Park Management, and the Quebec Labrador Foundation. As a part of the initiative, the Institute has been actively supporting a team of Urban Fellows who have been charged with activating the Urban Agenda in 10 model cities. In the coming year, the Institute is looking forward to continuing to build on this partnership work. We are particularly excited to leverage our network to dive deeper into the issues of authentic community engagement and to look at how we can support parks in their efforts to increase their relevance for urban communities.
Thanks so much to all of our partners, supporters, and colleagues who made 2015 such a success – we’re looking forward to continuing this exciting work in 2016!
Our new view for 2016 - life on the other side of the bridge. Photos courtesy of Paul Meyers.
Here at the Institute, we are BIG believers in collaboration. As a small but mighty team, we realize that to have the biggest possible impact and to create the change we want to see, we need to seek out, engage, and support other organizations to achieve our collective goals.
As such, a number of our programs focus on supporting collaborative efforts. Healthy Parks Healthy People: Bay Area and the Bay Area Climate Literacy Collaborative are two such projects. In both, the Institute plays the “backbone” role; supporting the collaborative through coordination, holding the vision, and ensuring that the group is functioning effectively in the pursuit of its goals.
Through both of these initiatives, we at the Institute have learned a lot about supporting multi-group collaborations (HPHP: Bay Area has over 40 members while our younger Climate Collaborative has over 20). By keeping an open mind and constantly striving to learn from those around us and our mistakes, we’ve picked up a number of tips and tricks along the way. This week, we thought we’d combine our collective knowledge and share our top pieces of advice for building effective collaboratives.
Kristin: The first step is always the hardest. Stop thinking about it and just do it.
Easier said than done right? Bringing together a group of individuals or organizations for the first time can strike fear in even the most seasoned collaborator. After ten years of community organizing and coalition building I’ve made my fair share of mistakes, stumbled over a few hurdles, and certainly learned some valuable lessons. Some of the biggest, and translatable, lessons I’ve learned for getting an effective collaborative off the ground are:
If you go in knowing the collaborative is a process not a project you’re already ahead of the game. Just don’t let perfect be the enemy of good. Have you had enough metaphors? Great. Get out there and do it and don’t forget to report back on your lessons learned.
Oksana: Manage structure without managing content.
Supporting collaborative initiatives is exciting work but requires unique skills, separate from those of collaborative members. One such skill that I have found to be incredibly helpful is the ability to manage structure without taking over managing the content coming out of the collaborative. For example, I may present on some best practices for drafting mission statements but will follow it with an opportunity for the collaborative members to use these tools to craft their own mission statement. Collaborative members must have the opportunity to share their thoughts, have their questions taken seriously, and make the ultimate decisions on the direction of the work, as they are the driving force behind the collaborative’s success. As the facilitator, I am best able to provide coordination and backbone support—setting the agenda, providing logistical support, keeping meetings on track, and jumping in if meetings are diverging dramatically from the agenda. However, the vision, goals, and activities of the group are decided by its members. Providing space for their input is crucial to creating a successful group where all members feel like they have buy-in.
Donna: Humility is crucial.
Humility is a crucial mindset to have when in a backbone position because it is the main bridge between a theory of change and its practice. As a backbone, it is often the case that you are not a practitioner in your topic of interest; for example, as a backbone to the Healthy Parks Healthy People: Bay Area collaborative, the Institute neither leads park programs nor prescribes time in parks. While being a backbone organization allows you to dive deep into the needs and future goals of your collaborative, this theory of change is colored by your role as a non-practitioner with a different set of agency constraints. When a collaborative’s practitioners implement these goals, they will necessarily adapt them to fit their own agency constraints. Humility and keeping an open mind is important when drafting these goals, but it is especially important considering that implementing these goals may look very different from the theory of change. Understanding the crucial role that humility plays in collaborative efforts ensures that there is flexibility and feedback when charting the course forward.
Catherine: Have patience!
Kristin’s sage advice that collaboration is a process, not a project, is something that has stuck with me since we first started thinking about forming a regional climate literacy collaborative. If I have learned one thing since then, it’s that processes take time! This is especially true when you want to ensure that all of your partners feel ownership of the process and are inspired by the results. In today’s grant-driven, output-oriented world, it can be scary and challenging to dedicate the time that it takes to make sure you have the right people at the table, that they’re all on the same page, and that they all feel connected to you, to each other, and to the work. While walking through the process can seem slow, creating a strong foundation is critical to the overall success and sustainability of the collaborative.
The Institute at the Golden Gate seeks to support park leaders in effectively stewarding the natural and cultural resources under their care, creating long-term methods for ensuring the sustainability of these important systems. With our increased dependence on technology and the growing distance between youth and our natural areas, parks must examine all of the tools at their disposal—both new and existing—to ensure that they are building authentic, valuable connections with the communities that they seek to serve.
Looking at this challenge, we have begun to ask: Which tools can parks best utilize in order to create future generations of stewards from an increasingly urban population? Might internships be one such useful tool in achieving this aim?
Our Emerging Leaders Urban Fellow, Ruth Pimentel, saw that both the Golden Gate National Parks and Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore had established internship programs that appeared to be successfully instilling a spirit of stewardship in many of their participants. Wanting to put these observations to the test, Ruth conducted research and collected data on the programs. She found that interns at these parks often go on to be engaged, informed, and active park users – showing that successful internship programs can cultivate future stewardship.
Firmly supported by the Institute’s belief in the value of studying and promoting such programs, Ruth collected her findings into the Institute’s newest report.
Building Stewardship through Internships uses these case studies to identify strategies for building a successful internship program and offers a roadmap for other park leaders seeking to strengthen their internships. We are excited to share these findings and encourage you to check out the report!
Last week, during the opening plenary of the City Parks Alliance Greater and Greener Conference in San Francisco, National Park Service (NPS) Director Jon Jarvis announced the launch of NPS’s Urban Agenda. The Urban Agenda lays out the Park Service’s strategy for increasing their presence and impact in urban areas. Three principles form the heart of the agenda and lay out a new, more sustainable and intentional approach to working in urban areas.
These three principles are:
Truly embracing these principles will fundamentally shift the way that NPS approaches and functions in new communities. It will force NPS to break down internal silos and to shift the paradigm from “How can communities serve our parks?” to “How can parks serve our communities?”
The announcement of the Urban Agenda spurred intense and thoughtful dialogue on the role of NPS in urban areas. It also began the critical discussion on how we activate and implement these principles.
One key component of this will be the roll out of NPS’s Urban Fellows program. The Fellows are ten mid-career professionals that will be placed into ten model cities across the country. Their mandate will be to demonstrate the principles of the Urban Agenda, capturing best practices and lessons learned and acting as a model and inspiration for NPS parks and programs in other urban centers.
We at the Institute find this announcement particularly exciting as we have been collaborating closely with NPS’s Stewardship Institute, the Center for Park Management, and the Quebec-Labrador Foundation to help roll out this initiative. After months of behind-the-scenes work, the launch of the Agenda and the announcement of the Fellows represent a key milestone in our work to promote parks and public lands as a key player in building sustainable, healthy, equitable urban communities.
We look forward to continuing to model the “Culture of Collaboration” with our partners within and outside the NPS as we continue to build and support this critical movement!
Recent research shows that national park visitors do not accurately reflect the changing face of the American people. While the general population is growing ever more urban and diverse, the range of visitors to the national park has not kept pace. A 2008-2009 survey showed that 13% of the US population identify as Latino and 12% as African American. However those same groups made up only 9% and 7% (respectively) of park visitors.
In looking to the next generation of park stewards and advocates, this represents a serious concern for the health and future of our national park system. The Institute’s newest report examines one potential solution to this challenge: targeting diverse, urban youth through programming designed by and for the youth themselves.
Engaging Diverse Youth in Park Programs highlights two such programs that have successfully engaged new audiences in urban areas. In the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, the Crissy Field Center is an effective model for reaching more diverse audiences. A youth environmental education and leadership development center, it focuses on “engaging people who traditionally have had little—if any—access to national parks.”
The Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area near Los Angeles also has been implementing innovative programming to reach new audiences, including a downtown LA outreach office, targeted transportation support, and a suite of youth programs aimed at diverse students.
Based on methods and approaches used in these two locations, the Institute at the Golden Gate has identified best practices, devised a roadmap, and created a “how-to” guide for engaging with new audiences and communities. While recognizing that there is no “one size fits all” model, we hope other parks will find these tools useful in their own diversity efforts.
We would love to hear about your efforts to reach new communities through park programs. If you would like to connect with us about this report or our Urban Program generally, please leave a comment or contact us directly.
The issue of climate change presents unique and oftentimes difficult challenges to those of us working to combat it. Given the controversy and scale of climate change, it’s easy to see that effectively teaching about the topic would present its own set of barriers and challenges. But what exactly are those challenges and barriers in our region? And what are the greatest needs facing environmental educators grappling with climate change in the Bay Area?
Over the past six months, the Institute has conducted over 75 interviews with environmental educators representing 44 different organizations within the Bay Area to try and answer these questions. The purpose of these interviews was to paint a picture of the current landscape of climate change education in the region, identify common needs and challenges, and explore opportunities to support informal educators in tackling this topic.
In this effort, we are excited to announce the release of our newest report: Bay Area Climate Change Education Needs Assessment Report.
This report shows that environmental educators in the region are deeply committed to climate education. Seventy-eight percent of assessment participants reported that they are either currently implementing or are in the process of developing some form of climate programming. However it is interesting to note that these programs ranged from entire outreach initiatives based on climate change to one docent-led hike per year or lecture on the topic.
At the same time, environmental educators are facing a number of similar challenges to implementing effective, high-impact climate literacy programs. This assessment found that the primary needs and challenges could be broken into the following categories:
While these challenges may seem daunting, Bay Area educators are also committed to working as a group to address and overcome these barriers. We plan for this report to spark conversation, analysis, and action around how we can work as a community to support each other in addressing this crucial topic. We ask that you read this report with an eye to identifying opportunities and solution, and that you share it with your network of educators, engaging your colleagues in the discussion.
In this, the Institute is helping to lead this charge and playing a support and coordinator role in the formation of a Bay Area Climate Literacy Collaborative. To join or learn more about this collaborative, please contact us or sign up for our mailing list.
Nearly one year ago, the Institute hosted a multidisciplinary conference that explored cutting edge research and best practice around climate change education and communication. Parks: The New Climate Classroom provided a wide-ranging, high-level discussion on how practitioners can engage new audiences and move people to take action on climate change.
Since then, the Institute has been exploring how we can take these lessons and use them to support and elevate place-based, informal climate change education in the Bay Area.
Our first stop on this journey was assessing the current landscape of informal climate change education in the Bay Area. What climate education programs currently exist? What are the challenges? What are the needs? And is there a role for us to support environmental educators in developing and delivering these programs?
To find the answer to these questions, we embarked on a formal needs assessment. From June to September, the Institute interviewed over 70 Bay Area environmental educators from over 40 different organizations. These included park and other government agencies, museums, aquariums, place-based and sustainability-focused education organizations, and more.
While we are still analyzing the results, one outcome was clear: Bay Area environmental educators are passionate about increasing the quantity, quality, and impact of their climate change programs. There is a strong sense of urgency and broad agreement on the importance of addressing this issue. At the same time, many educators are struggling with challenges unique to climate change. How do we discuss climate change in a way that empowers rather than overwhelms our audience? How do we talk about climate change in a way that is age appropriate? How do we inspire our learners to take action and how do we measure those impacts?
To help environmental educators tackle these and other challenges, the Institute is facilitating the formation of a Bay Area collaborative whose ultimate vision is to build climate literacy and action throughout the Bay Area.
While we are in the very early stages of our collaborative formation, the Institute has found the level of interest and passion for this initiative to be inspiring. Over the coming months, we will be working with these environmental education organizations to develop a common agenda, collaborative structure, working groups, and shared outcomes.
It is a very exciting time for this group and we can’t wait to see how it all develops. Watch this space for the results of our needs assessment, due to be completed next month, as well as regular updates on the progress of the Bay Area climate literacy collaborative!
Last November, over 140 professionals representing parks and public lands, education, communication, academia, and advocacy came together to explore ways that we can engage new audiences and move people to take action on climate change at our Parks: The New Climate Classroom conference.
With a broad range of experience in the room, the conversation touched on a variety of best practices, case studies, and current research around designing education programs that empower, rather than overwhelm, audiences. Following the conference we heard from many of the participants that while the breadth and depth of the content was thought provoking and inspiring, at times it was also challenging to see the direct link between such a broad range of concepts and the on the ground work of educators and communicators.
To address this challenge and to make the main concepts from the conference available to all, the Institute is pleased to announce the publication of our latest report Insights for Climate Change Communication & Education. This report captures the main themes, lessons, and resources that emerged from Parks: The New Climate Classroom. We hope that this newest report will be a useful tool for our partners and beyond as they continue to innovate and design effective, impactful climate change communication and education programs.
We would love to hear your thoughts on this report and encourage you to share your experiences in designing and implementing climate change programs. Have you experimented with any of the practices from the conference? Do you have your own strategies that you would recommend? Feel free to share your thoughts below or contact with us via email, Facebook, or Twitter – use #teachclimate to connect!
Additionally a big thank you goes from the Institute team to all who participated in Parks: The New Climate Classroom. In particular, we want to recognize Julia Townsend, who not only shared her own experiences with those of us at the conference but who also joined our team to author this report.
Last Wednesday, the Institute team got an inspiring look at the Project WISE program, a partnership between the Crissy Field Center, the Urban Watershed Project, and Galileo Academy of Science and Technology that gets high school students out of the classroom and, literally, into the field. Throughout the school year, students from two environmental science classes at Galileo spend one afternoon a week conducting field studies around the Presidio and beyond.
The program culminates in a series of evening presentations, where the youth strut their stuff. They showed us what they’ve learned about the scientific process, how science can impact our communities and inform our behaviors, how people are impacting and impacted by our environment, and what we can all do to become more responsible environmental and community stewards. It was an evening full of inspiring presentations and impressive youth.
The individual projects ranged from looking at plastics in our beaches and oceans to bacteria in our burgers to smoothies made from a bicycle powered blender. The students picked issues that were near and dear to their hearts and communities, designed compelling experiments, and presented not only the results but also what they tell us about how we can shift our behaviors to better serve the environment and ourselves.
The Institute team wants to congratulate the youth presenters on this amazing and inspiring evening and to extend a shout out to the partners that made this happen. Because of the hard work of the students, partners, and their amazing success, next year the program will expand to 120 students – doubling the number of participants from this year. We can’t wait to see this program continue to grow and flourish!
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