Fulbright travels in the U.S.

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on 03 Jan 2016 
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How fast can time go? Let me count the ways! I’ve been based in the US for 3 months now working on my Fulbright scholarship. It feels like I arrived yesterday. But all the green leaves have fallen and there are Christmas lights everywhere so something doesn’t quite add up. Lots of people have been asking about what I’ve been up to and who I’ve been meeting with, so read on if you are interested. Otherwise, just read the pictures.

It didn’t take long to settle in to life in DC – in some respects it’s much like Melbourne, with leafy suburbs and good restaurants and easy to get around. But the similarities run out pretty quick, when a walk in any direction passes by huge embassies and global institutions and all sorts of symbols of power.

I’m being hosted by the Conservation Measures Partnership, or more particularly Nick Salafsy from FOS and Dan Salzer from TNC, looking into how a range of conservation organisations manage their work. My focus is on how people are using the Open Standards, and its supporting software Miradi, to do better conservation. If you want to know the finer details, my project is documented here.

While in DC I’ve been making good use of a desk in the offices of the Measuring Impact project team, thanks to their leader Liz Lauke who has squeezed me in to their busy space. They are working on a huge project helping USAID to use the Open Standards to design, monitor and evaluate their programs, and to build the evidence base that informs their programming decisions. I don’t have any direct involvement with their work, but it’s great to share their space and hear of the progress they are making.

However most of the time I’ve been travelling all around the country, meeting with fabulous groups of people who are working hard to save the planet. There’s been lots of virtual travel too – hooking in to meetings with folks in Asia and Africa and Europe.

First trip was to the west coast, to spend some time in Portland Oregon with the Miradi developers, Warren and Brian at Sitka Technology. This set the scene by learning more about how their development process works, and sharing ideas on possible improvements to the systems. The visit set me up with the types of questions to ask of other groups to help define new features that people are looking for in the software tools. It was also an opportunity to spend time with Dan and meet again with David Berg – a TNC volunteer who has built the Miradi database that we at Bush Heritage exploit. I’ve since learnt that everyone wants these capabilities.

Next stop was Seattle to meet with Kari and colleagues at the Puget Sound Partnership. They have a huge responsibility in co-ordinating and funding the work of hundreds of local groups all focused on restoring and protecting the ecosystems around Puget Sound. It’s a complex mix of terrestrial and marine ecosystems, big industries, and over 4 million people. They do a great job of involving and informing the community, with reports like the State of the Sound report and their Vital Signs indicators. They are a great working example of a “backbone organisation” for those of you familiar with the Collective Impact model.

A cross-country flight took me back to Boston, to meet with the folks at Ecologic Development Fund – Barbara, Dave, Gabbie and Melissa, amongst others. CEO Barbara is keen to continue growing the organisation and wants their projects to be not just effective but also to run efficiently, hence their interest in exploiting Open Standards and Miradi. We met with their board to discuss the options, and then spent a few days mapping out a possible implementation path. They run projects in central America, empowering communities to restore and protect their local ecosystems, mainly forest and fisheries. Their website has great stories illustrating how their work goes well beyond biodiversity conservation to improve the daily lives of people. When I think of threats to conservation work and workers I don’t usually factor in things like civil war zones and drug-running corridors, but at times it’s a reality for these folks.

Next trip was to Toronto to meet with Nature Conservancy Canada, good friends of Bush Heritage. They work in similar ways, protecting lands across Canada, but are quite a bit bigger in terms of staff numbers and their volume of activity. I worked mainly with Charles who is interested in improving the efficiency of some aspects of their work; we both learnt a lot by meeting with folks from their various conservation groups as well as people from finance, fundraising, HR and IT. A meeting with their executive team has helped to set the scene to explore this work in more detail, with further meetings planned later in January.

Another trip took me back to the west coast, to Middlebury Institute at Monterey, to work with some students who have just completed an Open Standards course. It was interesting to get their perspectives, and see more indications of a generational change in terms of comfort with standard processes and technology. Then it was on to San Diego for a 4-day Fulbright seminar on “Advocating for Human and Civil Rights for Minority Communities” – a fascinating exposure to people working hard to advance the prospects of communities that struggle to get fair treatment in broader society. It was a wonderful antidote to the rhetoric being thrown around in the current presidential debates – which are fascinating and frightening all at the same time. It was also a chance for some volunteer work and planting of trees, a first-step towards offsetting my carbon miles.

My most recent trip was to work with Erica at the International Cranes Foundation, based in Wisconsin and running projects all over the world. Their seemingly simple vision of “saving the world’s 15 crane species” becomes way more complex in implementation – it means protecting wetlands and habitats over inter-continental flyways, and often in areas where human development pressures are high and growing. They have started using the Open Standards and Miradi through their new Siberian Cranes project, which was a requirement of their funders – Disney Conservation Fund. ICF are now looking at another pilot project to further test the benefits of this approach for their broader work.

Scattered throughout these trips have been on-line discussions with a range of organisations, including folks from the Jane Goodall Institute, the Asian Species Action Partnership, and CMP members, amongst others. It’s been an amazing ride.

So now there’s only two months left. Seems the fun part is over and now the real hard work is underway – I have to smush together all the things I’ve learnt and write it up in a way that hopefully proves useful. Wish me luck!

Many thanks to all the folks who have been helping me here in the US, and to the sponsors of my scholarship – Origin Foundation and Australian Scholarships Foundation – and to the Australian American Fulbright Commission who lay the path to allow all this happen.

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