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Communication is the key

Only days after a deadly landfill blaze had been extinguished near Lviv in western Ukraine, close to 100 participants gathered in the city for a three-day training (June 15-17) titled “Communication Tools, Cooperation and Leadership to Promote Environmental and Energy Efficiency in Ukrainian Municipalities”. The training was part of the REC's Framework Programme in Ukraine, which, with the recent addition of two new member municipalities, now works with a total of seven municipalities: Berdychiv, Cherkasy, Fastiv, Ivano-Frankivsk, Lubny, Nizhyn and Poltava.

The landfill fire provided some meaningful, albeit tragic, context for the work and discussion to follow. It was a reminder, not only of the need to address environmental concerns before they reach a crisis stage, but also of the need for government authorities to work together with citizens in crafting sound and enforceable civic policy. CSOs, NGOs and the media play vital roles in procuring and disseminating good information, both to citizens and government authorities, and the Lviv workshop was dedicated to opening up and exploring more fruitful avenues of communication between these stakeholder groups.

The event took place in the framework of two different projects: the Ukraine LEAPs project, funded by the U.S. Department of State; and the LINK Ukraine project, funded by the Royal Norwegian Ministry of Climate and Environment.

Day 1

Sharing visions

After a torrential rain the night before, the training began under clearing skies in the Panorama Conference on the 9th floor of Dniester Premier Hotel in Lviv. Welcoming the participants with opening remarks were: Andriy Galushka, Head of the Environmental Department on the Lviv City Council; and Raffi Balian, Director of the Regional Environmental, Science & Technology, and Health Office, U.S. Embassy in Budapest.

Following the opening speakers’ encouraging remarks, the first order of business was to get everybody on friendly and open terms. Led by trainer Anna Valiensa, participants moved from person to person in a ‘quick dialogue’ format to exchange visions of what they imagined for their respective municipalities. Speaking for a few minutes at a time, participants moved on to talk to someone new each time. They learned from each other what was different about their municipalities and the nature of their work, and what they shared in common.

After these brief one-on-one discussions, the participants re-joined their hometown colleagues, while trainer and presenter Anna Valiensa instructed the seven groups to then test their artistic skills. Each group had al flipchart and special, three-colour felt-tip markers with which to illustrate a collective vision of their city. Afterwards, a spokesperson was appointed to present and explain their municipal vision.

Levels of dialogue

Anna Valiensa followed with a presentation of her “Developmental Age” model of communication. This work on types of behaviour in different target groups in communities—e.g. infancy, teenage years, adulthood and old age. The important message is to be able to identify different types of behaviour and to communicate accordingly. It is possible, for example, for adults to address particular issues in a childlike way, or for young adults to communicate issues in the manner of mature adults.

Following this presentation, and again using the ‘fast dialogue’ format, participants split into pairs and groups to identify different target groups in their own communities and to discuss social activities that might be best suited for each of the identified groups.

Day 2

The participants were split into two main groups (Track 1 and Track 2) for the first half of the day two, the theme of which was “Communication, Collaboration and Change”. Representatives of local authorities met on the second floor of the hotel for a training on “Ethical Leadership”. Journalists and NGO representatives met on the ninth floor for a session titled “Municipal Communication Strategies in the Field of Environment and Energy Efficiency”.

Promoting ethical leadership

Representatives from local government convened in the morning for a session led by Anna Valiensa that focused on addressing the region’s key challenges and problems more effectively by seeing issues from the points of view of different stakeholder groups. The end goal of the exercise was to identify a particular problem and to develop a campaign for delivering a solution to the problem. Each campaign had to involve three components: government, business, and civil society.

Poltava and Lubny teamed together on a campaign for landscape planning and design around lakes and rivers. Fastiv fashioned a plan to develop a local web resource on energy consumption. Ivano-Frankivsk came up with a plan to introduce electronic ticketing for public transport in order to better assess real costs and improve services. Cherkasy came up with a scheme to introduce modern, energy-saving measures in residential areas. Nizhyn set out to improve environmental safety and sanitation services in the city by introducing separate solid waste collection. Finally, Berdychiv explored the option of privatising boiler units in homes in order to improve quality of service and lower consumer costs.

NGOs and the media

Nathan Johnson, a Publishing Department Officer from the Regional Environmental Center for Central and Eastern Europe (REC) asked each of the 25 participants involved in the other parallel session to introduce themselves and to briefly share their impressions about the current state of interaction between NGOs and the media where they live and work. All of the participants made interesting and constructive comments, which prolonged the introductory session, but provided much food for thought during the two interactive presentations to follow.

After a very provocative and productive introductory exchange, Johnson reviewed the subject of environmental journalism by reviewing the following: the contrast between objective journalism and advocacy journalism; how journalists can highlight an environmental angle within a wide range of other news topics; establishing source credibility; assessing current levels of trust in certain types of media; writing in a way that is suited to a selected target audience; the rise of the profile of environmental journalism in recent years in the ‘West’ through major publishing and media events; and, specific challenges involved in covering and writing about environmental issues.

Johnson’s second presentation, “the News/NGO Nexus” drew from feedback that the participants had provided earlier in the month in response to a questionnaire sent out by the LINK Ukraine project team. Using the feedback forms, Johnson guided the subsequent discussion through a number of points related to cooperation or lack of cooperation between the media and NGOs, allowing for ample participant feedback and discussion. While it emerges that the culture of environmental reporting is not nearly as developed as it is in ‘Western’ media, participants showed keen recognition of the problems that they are facing, and the open dialogue indicates that these two groups are making important efforts to improve the situation and improve the quantity of quality of information made available to the public. The end of the presentation, in fact, focused on existing and new ways that both NGOs and the media can work to raise environmental awareness.

After lunch, the participants were treated to a discussion moderated by one of Ukraine’s better known television and radio personalities, Andriy Kulykov. Some of the main points covered in the discussion were: What is the moral role of journalists in terms of providing information to the public? What are the differences in types of communication between national and regional media, and how can journalists promote environmental and energy issues? How can public authorities be persuaded to use the media to engage civic activists and to adopt and implement “strong” decisions related to the environment and energy efficiency? How can a community be “woken up” to environmental issues? How do journalists work to overcome special interests and other obstacles that stand in the way of publishing honest hard-hitting work?

With heads full of fresh information and ideas, the participants used the latter part of the afternoon to formulate messages on environment and energy issues that focused on different target groups. Working in small groups, this “partnership workshop” involved the participation of mayors and their teams.

Full group interaction

For the day’s final session, each of the municipal campaigns developed in the morning by the local government representatives were described to the full group of participants—NGO representatives and journalists included. A spokesman was selected from each municipality, and a “press conference-style” Q&A session was held to promote the campaigns, after which the participants voted for the one they would most likely support. The exercise provided an excellent opportunity for each group of stakeholders: for government authorities to explain a plan to the community; for NGOs to ask questions about environmental benefits or consequences; and for journalists to ask tough questions about the campaigns being promoted.

Day 3

Non-violent communication

Anna Valiensa opened the third day with a lecture on the concept of nonviolent communication (NVC)—also known as compassionate communication or collaborative communication. NVC is a communication process that was developed by Marshall Rosenberg in the early 1960s. It focuses on three aspects of communication: self-empathy (defined as a deep and compassionate awareness of one's own inner experience), empathy (understanding and sharing an emotion expressed by another), and honest self-expression (defined as expressing oneself authentically in a way that is likely to inspire compassion in others).

Nonviolent communication is based on the idea that all human beings have the capacity for compassion, and only resort to violence or behaviour that harms others when they don't recognise more effective strategies for meeting needs. Habits of thinking and speaking that lead to the use of violence (psychological and physical) are learned through culture. According to NVC theory, all human behaviour stems from attempts to meet universal human needs and that these needs are never in conflict. Rather, conflict arises when strategies for meeting needs clash. NVC proposes that if people can identify their needs, the needs of others, and the feelings that surround these needs, harmony can be achieved.

During the group exercise, participants practiced using the four components of nonviolent: Observations (clearly stating what you and your partner see); Feelings (how emotions relate to what is observed); Needs (recognising how needs and value produce feelings); and Requests (deciding which courses of action to take to address the needs of you and your partner).

Circle of affirmation

The three-day event concluded with all the participants forming a large circle. Each participant briefly shared their impressions of the workshop, and the overall impression was that everybody found the experience very positive and rewarding. It was clear that many new friendships were made, while existing friendships were deepened. Raffi Balian closed the event with some inspirational words of thanks (for all the hard work performed during the week) and encouragement (for all the difficult work to come). If this results of this event are anything to go by, stakeholders in these seven Ukrainian municipalities have learned some fundamental communication techniques that will benefit their citizens--hopefully well in the future.

All photographs by Julia Melnyk