Things in Burns, Oregon might get have officially turned ugly.
And while the folks at the wildlife refuge in Oregon aren’t your average opponents, their stance isn’t legitimate, there is an element of their stance that no public official should ignore…
Unfortunately, NO ONE is immune from anti-government attitudes.
(Ironically, especially in a democracy… But we’ll cover that topic on March 8th in Clinic #78.)
Because this attitude is something you either ARE dealing with or likely WILL be confronted with, we’ve adopted “Anti-Government” as our theme for all of our monthly Consent-Building Clinics in 2016.
In a self-governing society, it’s THE PUBLIC who decides — via our rules based decision-making process — what government institutions it wants to create and maintain.
If you encounter stakeholders who perceive an “Us vs. Them” relationship between the (them) public and (you) the government . . . something’s gone wrong.
Chances are it’s simply a misunderstanding . . . a misperception.
Because even “simple” misperceptions can be challenging to correct, don’t expect that lecturing these folks is going to change their view of the world.
Your stakeholders need to discover . . . they need to see — with their own eyes — and conclude on their own terms that it’s ultimately THEY, the people (i.e. all of us) who make all the decisions.
It’s WE, the people, who created your agency and it’s mission.
It’s critical that your stakeholders realize this paradigm-changing insight.
But how do you stimulate you stakeholders to have such a critical insight?
While there’s no quick-fix, there IS much you can do.
The first of which begins by answering 6 Questions
In addition to the recording of this webinar, we’ve created a follow-up video with 6 questions to help you make real headway in preventing such attitudes from being aimed at you and your organization.
Starting with the basics in this recorded webinar, we delve into every angle of WHY Anti-Government sentiments are ratcheting up all across the country, and WHAT you can do to diffuse them, and even better yet — PREVENT them in the first place — from impeding your ability to accomplish your mission.
In this session, we’ll cover something so SIMPLE and yet POWERFUL . . .
6 Points We Cover
1. How you DEFINE “public” and “stakeholder” plays a central role in anti-government attitudes towards you and your agency.
2. Whom should you INCLUDE and EXCLUDE in your definition?
3. Should your definition of your “public” and related “stakeholders” SHIFT from project to project?
4. How should you handle people who THINK they are affected?
5. What’s the appropriate ROLE of number of constituents, majority vs. minority opinions, and representativeness?
6. How to identify WHICH of the 4 Fundamental Points your team is failing to address.
Don’t be caught off guard by anti-government attitudes that are sweeping the country!
In winding up the August 14th Brownbag session, Hans promised to post an additional illustrative example on this blog. The points this example is illustrates:
Consent-Building has you focus your outreach efforts, your communications efforts, on your fiercest opponents.
Focusing on your fiercest opponents is counter-intuitive . . . which means that your brain will come up with a dozen excuses why – this time – it’s not necessary, . . . or not useful, . . . surely a waste of time.
Being committed to Consent-Building means you focus on your fiercest opponents in spite of all that.
We can illustrate these points without using the names of the parties involved (even though in the Brownbag session, Hans did mention the agency).
Journalist and Ever-the-Critic Mr. Z
The Director of Sport Fisheries in one a mid-west state Wildlife Department was routinely criticized by the columnist – the Fishing-Issues Columnist – of the state’s largest newspaper. Let’s call him “Mr. Z.”
No matter what the agency did in managing sport fishing,Mr. Z always knew better.In Mr. Z’s eyes, the agency – which really meant the director of Sport Fisheries – could do nothing right.
Because Mr. Z’s column ran not only in the state’s biggest newspaper, but was also picked up by newspapers throughout the state. This self-appointed critic had – in sense – a giant bullhorn, which he used tomake his living criticizing the state’s professional fish biologists and their work.
The Director of Sport Fisheries had long ago learned that it wasfutile to try to reason with Mr.Z. He wasn’t interested in the biological realities;he preferred to sling mud, make accusations, and deal in innuendos.
When Disaster Struck
A time came when all it did was rain. It rained, and rained, and the rain just kept raining.
Rivers and streams flooded. One of the brown, swollen streams flooded the department’s fish hatchery where millions of tiny trout were being raised in preparation for release into all of the state’s trout streams a few months later.
This was a disaster; the hatchery was the only trout hatchery. If these fingerlings did not survive, there would be no trout season that year.
Could the fingerlings – even with the addition of the medication the agency added to the water — survive in the brown floodwater that had overwhelmed the hatchery? The headwaters of the streams where they were to be released later were less polluted, but the fingerlings were not ready to fend for themselves yet; they were still too dependent on the hatchery feeding.
The Director of Sport Fisheries – and his staff – needed tomake some decisions.
The options, as they saw them, were:
Keep adding medication to the polluted fish tanks holding the fingerlings; hoping they’ll recover from the shock and survive until their optimum release time later in the spring. (There was, of course, the distinct possibility that they’d all die before they were old enough to be released.)
Take the fingerlings out of the polluted hatchery now and, — in spite of their immaturity – distribute them all over the state to the many headwaters. (With this option too, there was the distinct possibility that they’d all die after being released.)
Even Experts Disagree
As is often the case,not even the experts– i.e. the fisheries biologists within the department –agreed on which of the two options was the better.
And, the external stakeholders – including the trout fishermen, the sporting goods stores and other businesses who depended on a good trout season, etc. were bound to be of many different opinions.
Of course, all the opinionated pundits in the various sport fishing media – including the perennial Mr. Z with the biggest of all bullhorns in the state – were going tosecond-guess the agency no matter what it did.They all were bound to have known better than the head bureaucrat.
What an Implementation Genius Would Do?
OK . . . Remember the Agreement / Disagreement Scale we discussed in the Brownbag session (the diagram on slide #11)? Well, the Director of Sports Fisheries clearly saw Mr. Z as being pretty much on the bottom of that Agreement / Disagreement scale.
If the state was going to wind up without a trout season –Mr. Z was going to have a hay-day trumpeting how this was just another example of the agency staff’s incompetence.
The Director of Sport Fisheries had our SDIC training. He understood theneed for focusing on the bottom of the Agreement / Disagreement scale.
On the other hand,he also knew – from experience – that Mr. Z was pretty much a lost cause.So, should he make an effort to reach out to Mr. Z? What was his communications strategy going to be – no matter which of the two options he chose for dealing with the flooded fingerlings?
Well, he put his Consent-Building training to work and reached out to Mr. Z.
He called Mr. Z on the phone. It was pretty much a one-way conversation in which he told Mr. Z something along the following lines: “Here’s what’s happening: the hatchery has been flooded, and the fingerlings are in serious trouble.
I see two options for dealing with this disaster, but the fingerlings are in trouble no matter what I do. There’s a good chance there will be no trout season this year.”
He went on to explain “There are two options that I think we as an agency have, both of which are risky…
We can try to medicate the fingerlings and get them to survive until their optimum release time.
Or, we can release them now, and hope they’ll make it even though they have had a shock and are way too young to be released under normal circumstances.”
The Director of Sport Fisheries went on to explain his decision and the rationale…
“I’m going to implement Option #2 even though – if there is not trout season – it will clearly have been my fault for rushing them out into the field prematurely.
I’m telling you all this because I know from experience that you’re going to criticize my decision in all of the state’s newspapers.
I don’t expect you to support my decision.I fully expect that you’ll do your level best to make me and colleagues look like a bunch of idiots – as you always do.
But, I’m calling you to tell you my reasoning so at least you’ll have the facts right and will have had a chance to understand my reasoningeven though you’re bound to find your usual ways of distorting it. But, having at least the basic facts, maybe you’ll do less of a distortion job on us than you usually do.”
How Opponents Respond
As you can surmise, this wasn’t the most friendly conversation. The Director meant what he said; he was convinced Mr. Z would do one of his usual distortion jobs on him. Nonetheless, if Mr. Z had at least the basic facts right, he might do a little less distorting of the the truth.
This was a pretty humble objective: of trying to make a critic do a little less of a hatchet job with the truth!
Well, that’s not what happened. Instead of a milder hatchet job on the facts,Mr. Z wrote a very good — and more importantly FAIR — column!He wrote about the director’s agony of trying which of the two terribly options was better – actually – “less bad.”
In fact,Mr. Z did a very good job of explaining the pros and cons of both options,the courage and dedication to mission that was required to make the decision that he did in the face of critics in the media like himself.
Overcoming the Reflex to Avoid Opponents and Conflict
Not only did that rather desperate (and most likely futile) phone call to Mr. Z move him way up on the Agreement / Disagreement Scale, the Director of Sport Fisheries felt thatit caused a significant change in his relationship with that particular stakeholder.
Even when an opponent seems unlikely to change their unfair and biased view of your work, don’t give in to the temptation to avoid that person.
Instead,follow in the footsteps of Implementation Geniuses and see what happens. You too might be pleasantly surprised!
A fellow planner from Alaska asked the following:“How does one identify people who CANNOT be moved up from the ‘Over-My-Dead-Body’ position?”
Because this is a question we often hear from public officials, we think it deserves an answer on the Blog.
If our friend in Alaska had gone through our SDIC course, he probably would not have asked that question, and here’s why. . .
He would understand that:
If you are addressing a serious problem – or opportunity – one that just has to be addressed (i.e. it meets the 1st and 2nd Laws of Public Administration), and
If you are the appropriate entity to address the problem (i.e. Your mission, which was established by the public through its political process, requires you to address the problem), and
If the Problem-Solving/Decision-Making process (that you are using to analyze the problem and generate the full range of alternative solutions) is reasonable, sensible, responsible, and
If you not only listen to your various Potentially Affected Interests (PAIs), but also make your public realize that you are listening to them . . . especially to those PAIs whom you are impacting negatively, then, . . . it IS possible to move the “Over-my-Dead-Body” opponents up to where they become at least “Grudging Consenter.”
Whether you move them up or not is up to you; it’s not up to them. More specifically, it depends on how good a Consent-Builder you are!
Implementation Geniuses are like Professional Athletes
Asking us, your Consent-Building coaches:“What about those PAIs who will never go along?”
Is a lot like asking a golf coach:“What about those golf-balls that just WON’T go into the cup?” . . .
That coach would probably tell you what we’re telling you:“Don’t blame the ball, or the wind, or the course . . . If you do YOUR part right, the ball WILL go in.
And so similarly, we will tell you:“Don’t blame the PAI who doesn’t change their tune from being an ‘Over-My-Dead-Body’ Opponent, or “politics,” or our system of government. Instead, figure out how you failed to get their Informed Consent, and then keep working to get it!”
This analogy is no exaggeration. After all, if you see phenomenally good golfers, it is UNBELIEVABLE the control they have over that ball! (Friends who had tickets to the US Open at Pebble Beach – which is just a couple of miles from our house – gave us tickets for the day they could not attend. And, that’s what we did: we followed a couple of these phenomenally good players around the course. The skill these people have is stunning!)
Well, that’s what it’s like to watch Implementation Geniuses communicate with their publics . . . which, of course, always means . . . how they communicate with their OPPONENTS — their fiercest opponents. Like professional golfers who flock to the hardest courses, Implementation Geniuses put most of their effort into themost challengingPAIs.
Because it IS stunning to see what Implementation Geniuses do, that’s why we have been studying them and their methods for the last 40+ years. There’s NO COMPARISON between their approach to public outreach and what most agencies do . . . !!!
Avoid Confrontations with High-Level Officials March 9th @ 10am PT
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