Updated: Jan 14
Mobilising capacity in the Landcare movement starts with personal connections around personal passions.
Personal networks help individuals get more done. When collective networks grow around shared interests, they move ideas and practices around in social space. These networks are the connective tissue within which peer-to-peer learning happens.
That really matters, because peer-to-peer learning is the main way community environmental action stays vital and effective.
Training is expensive. Consulting experts is expensive too. Local Agriculture Department staff have disappeared and the best way to meet remaining specialists is now on a Zoom conference. It's low-cost, but it's not the same as walking around your property with a specialist.
Peer-to- peer conversations are low cost, fast and targeted. We talk together voluntarily. How are you managing water on your property? How are you handling a specific production issue? Peer-to-peer, we get to the leading, bleeding edge of practice. What are you trying out? Is it working? Normal everyday questions, between normal, everyday people, supporting each other and learning in the process.
Peer-to-peer is fast too, as fast picking up the phone, or dropping in. And it is targeted: if you have the right person to talk to, the knowledge shared fits your situation and takes root. You listen, and you take away something to chew on, a new angle to consider.
So ... what if we each got really good at finding the right people to talk to? This would be good for us individually, and it would mobilise the capacity we have in the Landcare community. And we've got more capacity in Landcare than we know what to do with.
Someone from South Gippsland got in touch recently to say she'd seen the CLEA site, and that she appreciated what was there. That felt good to me, and of course I was curious about her, so I googled her. She's on the leading bleeding edge. With her partner, she's set up a cell grazing operation with remote monitoring and control built into it. She's a writer too, and she's on the Board of South Gippsland Landcare Network.
Looking over the profiles of SGLN Board members, I was blown away! The depth of experience is staggering - accounting and financial planning, environmental science, teaching, cloud platforms, social media content, management or conservation, agricultural extensions. And of course, they are all working on their properties and doing rehabilitation projects in the landscapes of Gippsland.
Now imagine all the Boards and Committees of Management of Landcare Networks across the State, and the committees of local Landcare groups. I think of my own committee here at Riddells Creek. Each person on the committee has their own specific environmental interests, and they are prepared to help others out. They know the history of the locality, they care about where things are going.
For a while in the 1990s there was a lot of talk of 'building' capacity, as if it was somehow lacking in communities. But I think it's smarter to talk about mobilising the capacity that's there. Here's how it works.
I have a problem I want to tackle, an idea I want to test out, a bit of land I want to look after better - a paddock, a roadside or reserve, a biolink that seems possible. I push myself to act.
I look around for people with the same passion. In particular, I look for people prepared to share what they know and what they are doing. We talk, we visit. Sometimes we work alongside each other: we plan a working bee, we all show up, and we get a result.
In the simple act of pursuing a possibility, we create a commitment to each other. We put in because others are putting in. Their opinion of us matters.
We get more ambitious. We think of crazy, difficult things to do, knowing that others will back us or join in with the hard graft. We come to respect each other for the differing talents we bring. We are each following our own path, but we have companions on the way. And when we team up, we are a force to be reckoned with.
Personal connections around personal passions is the lifeblood of Landcare.
Landcare is built around what people volunteer to do, in voluntary relationships. A fine skein drawn through the water finds people who share our passion.
This works really well at local level, but it peters out across localities. I know my own group and my own locality really well, the groups around me and their localities a little bit, the groups two layers away hardly at all. We are connected inside our local networks ... what if tapped into wider networks between localities?
CLEA 2020 looked at how Landcare groups could do this. We took the biggest disruptor of our time, climate change, and looked into the networks emerging around climate adaption in the NE region. We looked for the conversations that need more attention.
That inquiry surfaced five ways to start strengthening networks for climate adaptation. These will need time and attention to get action organised. Thinking it through towards the end of CLEA 2020, I realised that there is another way into collective networks, and that's through personal networks. We make connections around our passions - what it we turbo-charged that, so we each started to connect up more skillfully? The personal networks would grow and start linking up to form collective networks of interest.
I've started to design a Short Course in Personal Networks, a focused time to meet with others in Landcare, maybe on Zoom, maybe face-to-face, to give attention and care to our personal networks.
Most of the time, our networks sit in the background. We rely on them to get stuff done, but we don't often stop to work on them. The Short Course would bring networks into the foreground. We could each make a personal appraisal, do some repair and redesign, and hear what others are doing with their networks. We'll do a little net work.
Net work. The fishermen come home, haul in the nets, unload their boats, get a night's sleep. The next day, they are outside, in the sunshine, repairing their nets. This doesn't have the drama of rough seas and winches hauling in the catch, but that drama won't happen without patient attention to the nets.
At the end of our first Covid year, we've come to know more deeply that the people around us matter. They buffer the waves of calamity, and help us stay on top of the information.
You can't wish the difficulties away, or shut down your in-tray, but with a good network, those difficulties won't drag you under.
When the pandemic eases, there's work to be done. Our personal networks are where we'll find the people we need to make headway on the passions that won't let us go.
Dr Ross Colliver, Organiser for the CLEA Project, 0411 226 519