Engaging stakeholder interest critical to communicating ecosystem services

Shenzhen, China, 12 December 2017 – By learning strategies to engage the interest of stakeholders and decision-makers, specialists in ecosystem services can better convey important data and information, a session on communications heard during the Ecosystem Services Partnership (ESP) world conference on Tuesday.

In the session, “Are you being heard? The value of communication for bridging the gap,” six international forest communication professionals associated with the Regional Forest Communicators Networks (FCN) hosted sessions on how to effectively translate scientific knowledge into compelling outreach materials that reach key audiences.

“It’s important to remember the significant value of communication,” said Ingwald Gschwandtl, Director of the Forest Policy Division in Austria’s Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, Environment and Water Management. In a joint presentation with Kai Lintunen, Head of International Communications at the Finnish Forest Association, he described how communication is often undervalued and confused with simple data dissemination, whereas the reality is that well-designed communication strategies have proven to be effective in reaching target audiences and in helping to shape opinions.

“Concepts that are applicable and understandable throughout the world are important,” said Kai Lintunen. “For example, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals can provide us with a common language.”

Maria De Cristofaro, Outreach and Capacity Building Officer for FAO’s Forestry Department, explained that, to be successful, communication campaigns should prioritize contact with the media, and outlined how such relationships should develop, principally by crafting and delivering the succinct messages that journalists require. She also explained why awareness of gender is important when developing an effective communication strategy, and provided practical tips to check for gender balance in communication campaigns.

Harnessing the power of social media to communicate information about ecosystems research and issues was also addressed. Kay Montgomery, Department of Environmental Affairs in South Africa, used case studies involving wildfires, wild-animal management and highly controversial messaging on invasive species for the general public to demonstrate how social media had been used to communicate scientific issues during conflict situations.

Researchers, students and academics need to fully understand emerging trends, opportunities and key challenges in the new media landscape in order to effectively convey key messages to an expanding global audience, added Patricia Sfeir, Manager, Rural Development Programs, Seeds International, Lebanon.

Detty Saluling of the Center for People and Forests in Thailand (RECOFTC) also demonstrated how participatory development communication can be used to not only transmit technical information to the public, but also to impact real change by engaging with local communities, stakeholders and other beneficiaries.

The session built on the overall theme of the four-day conference, “Ecosystem services for eco-civilization: restoring connections between people and landscapes through nature-based solutions,” and was organized with the financial support of Austria, Finland and Germany.

The FCN represent more than 500 professionals worldwide from governments, international and national organizations, and the private sector. Members liaise to improve forest communication and work to develop professionalism among forest communicators.

The FCN, which covers Europe and Central Asia, was set up by the UNECE Timber Committee and FAO European Forestry Commission almost 20 years ago. Five other networks based on the FCN model have since been created in Africa (francophone and anglophone networks), Asia-Pacific, the Mediterranean and the Near East, and Latin America and the Caribbean. A Global Group on Forest Communication was formed by FAO to improve communication on forest issues and to facilitate capacity development among the regional networks.

last updated:  Wednesday, December 13, 2017