Full On: Engagement Organizing for Canada's Freshwater Leaders

Head, heart and hands. And knees.

The canoe, drifting in the middle of Blue Lake, seemed empty. So, Susi, Tim and I paddled over for a look. Eventually, we saw a pair of bent knees hanging over the stern seat, and that was all we could see, even when we tried to peer inside. Was it the lower half of a mannequin used by camp counselors as a prank? Nope, those knees belonged to a participant in last weekend’s Engagement Organizing workshop for Western water leaders who had nestled into the canoe’s stern for a well-deserved rest.

We felt bad for interrupting the pre-dinner snooze of Lee-Anne Walker of the Elk River Alliance; after all, this was the only down time in a day of training that had begun with a 8:30 a.m. session on developing a theory of change and wouldn’t end until 10 p.m. when “tipples and tools” featuring an in-depth look at databases finally concluded. All told, it was a very full weekend, yet the participants—who had come from Vancouver and Winnipeg and many points in between to be at the Blue Lake Centre in the East Kootenays--appeared to embrace wholeheartedly our ambitious schedule and didn’t seem to mind when sessions ran longer than expected.

The aim of this workshop, and the other two trainings we at the Freshwater Alliance presented over the past couple of weeks in Ontario and Nova Scotia (thanks to the generous support of Mountain Equipment Co-op!), was to train freshwater leaders in how to develop and build on successful public engagement programs and, along the way, foster connections with other leaders in the freshwater community. From the answers participants gave during the closing exercise—the aforementioned head, heart and hands—our aim was true.

We asked participants as well as the trainers-- along with the Alliance’s BC organizer Susi Porter-Bopp and our national trainer and senior advisor Tim Morris, we were joined by Matt Price, co-author of "Engagement Organizing: The Culture and Technology of Building Power"--to share the ideas and information (head), feelings (heart) and planned actions (hands) that we were bringing back home with us from the weekend. It was heartening to hear everyone’s takeaways and intentions, including plans to:

• explore the snowflake model of distributed organizing
• use public narrative to engage people through values and emotions
• incorporate theory of change into strategic planning
• reach out to the congregation and not just the choir
• make more phone calls (and not rely on online engagement)
• start using databases for supporters and prospects

When it was my turn to share, I said that my head was coming back with the creation histories told around the campfire Friday night by Ktunaxa storyteller Joe Pierre Jr. as well as proof that exploring the stories of Self, Us and Now is a great way for water leaders to develop their public narratives. For my heart, I echoed the sentiments of many others about carrying back the passion and love that the group has for freshwater. As for my hands, in addition to announcing an intention to write this blog, I said that the first thing I would do when I got back would be to hug my kids with renewed faith that the future of Canada’s freshwater was in so many good hands.

The participants in the three Engagement Organizing trainings will stay connected over the summer through biweekly community of practice webinars to delve deeper as well as explore some topics we didn’t have time to cover during the workshops. Thanks again to MEC for making these trainings possible and we look forward to the possibility of future ones.

David Minkow is communications specialist for the Canadian Freshwater Alliance.