30 October 2015

Marine coLAB #5: Value in Lisbon

Marine coLAB Lisbon tour_copyright FOAMMarine coLAB Lisbon tour

Two days in Lisbon near the sea with the Marine CoLABoration group, visiting the wave-swept Peniche-Nazaré region (site of the Gulbenkian Oceans Initiative study), meeting Gulbenkian colleagues, researchers and marine NGOs, gazing into the ‘Forests Underwater‘ aquaria at the Oceanário de Lisboa, talking on the bus, in the Gulbenkian canteen, over dinner, at the Lighthouse, in the workshops – how inspiring, how pleasurable…

How useful?

If outputs are a useful measure, then so far pretty useful. An emerging vision and mission for the group, a firmed up list of issues/initiatives, a joint funding application for a London marine plastics campaign utilising combined networks and skills (more on this shortly), and a diagram mapping how, where, why the work might evolve. As for outcomes, notoriously difficult to measure, especially over the short term, for me, so far, there are two headlines.

First, a recognition of the value of spending time and taking time…

Visiting the Peniche study site entailed a whole day out of a two-day schedule, hours on a minibus, and ad hoc meeting venues, including a room in the Nazaré Lighthouse (“the dungeon”) and some more-or-less sheltered coves on the shore. The rationale for the Foundation was clear: to build understanding of the work in Portugal and connections with Portuguese marine NGOs. But for the CoLAB group – was this a wise use of an increasingly precious resource: their time?

This indeed has been an underlying concern in all the meetings of the CoLAB this year. Yes, everyone agrees, it’s important to have time for reflection, away from the day job, for discussion and new ideas and trying things out, but really, with the crises facing the ocean now, today, isn’t this a luxury we can ill afford?

On the contrary. The acute sense of urgency which feels widespread (and legitimate) across the environmental sector risks stifling ambition, a long-term view, and critical resources for inspiration (freedom, leisure, collaboration with unusual partners, idle conversation) at the same time as it demands fresh and more effective ways of effecting change. The focus and energy of the CoLAB group following a day out by the sea (and chatting in the bus, meeting Portuguese counterparts, exploring in contrast their own assumptions and opportunities) was palpable and highly productive.

Second, an understanding of the value of values…

In other words, a developing consensus that underpins the CoLAB’s work is an interest in systemic change, which will require a long-term shift in values or perhaps, rather, a shift in what we think we value. In other words, a commitment to ‘valuing what matters’, also known in the group by the shorthand “Sue’s stuff”, because it’s a focus of Sue Ranger’s work at the Marine Conservation Society, identifying and communicating the shared values that join people to the sea in order to build collaboration and consensus for change.

The shorthand is revealing. This work is complex and nuanced, difficult to articulate in concise, compelling ways, pretty new to marine conservation, often contested, time-consuming to do, and hard to measure. Taking on values feels risky and ambitious for all these reasons. But isn’t this just the sort of work that an independent foundation is uniquely placed to support? And, if it makes possible significant change, the value in trying is clear.

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See the Marine CoLAB website for a full document of the trip: http://lib.fo.am/marine_colab/workshop_20150923.

The Marine CoLABoration is a key initiative in the UK Branch’s Valuing the Ocean strand. The LAB is exploring how we communicate the role of the ocean in human wellbeing and increase the environmental sector’s capacity to influence the management and protection of the ocean in the best interests of society for the long term.

Nine organisations are involved in the LAB at this stage, each selected for their distinctive experience, interests and networks: Client Earth, Fauna and Flora International, Forum for the Future, Institute for European Environmental Policy, IPSO, Marine Conservation Society, New Economics Foundation, Thames Estuary Partnership, Zoological Society of London.