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Our thoughts about things that interest, inspire, and motivate us.


Main­stream­ing Bio­di­ver­sity through Design

The United Nations COP13 Bio­di­ver­sity Con­fer­ence con­cluded last week on Decem­ber 17, 2016 in Can­cun, Mex­ico. For 10 days offi­cial del­e­gates as well as sev­eral other bio­di­ver­sity experts and prac­ti­tion­ers gath­ered to share ideas and dis­cuss the inter­na­tional Con­ven­tion text that would pave the way for Main­stream­ing Bio­di­ver­sity. DE was in atten­dance and the key ques­tions com­ing out of the con­fer­ence are: Was it a suc­cess? What, in prac­tice, does Main­stream­ing Bio­di­ver­sity mean?


Flags of Par­ties to the Con­ven­tion on Bio­log­i­cal Diver­sity — Wide global representation.

This COP Bio­di­ver­sity con­fer­ence can be con­sid­ered a suc­cess for a few rea­sons but most impor­tantly because it rein­forced the idea of ‘main­stream­ing’ bio­di­ver­sity and ecosys­tems in very prac­ti­cal ways. Main­stream­ing in this con­text means bring­ing bio­di­ver­sity issues into deci­sion mak­ing in pol­icy and plan­ning in dif­fer­ent indus­trial sec­tors. The focal sec­tors were fish­eries, tourism, agri­cul­ture, and forestry. The suc­cess here is that agri­cul­ture, forestry, and fish­eries are resource sec­tors that in some cases have oper­ated in direct oppo­si­tion to the man­date of the Con­ven­tion on Bio­log­i­cal Diver­sity. By pro­mot­ing the idea of main­stream­ing real progress can be made in sus­tain­able nat­ural resource use. Spe­cific atten­tion was also focused on key the­matic areas such as urban plan­ning, rights of IPLCs (Indige­nous Peo­ples and Local Com­mu­ni­ties), and For­est Land­scape Restoration.


DE pres­i­dent, David Oswald, with rep­re­sen­ta­tives from South and Cen­tral Amer­i­can Indige­nous Groups

Indige­nous peo­ples were strongly present at COP13 and one mes­sage came through loud and clear at the Múuch’Tambal par­al­lel con­fer­ence: they need to be heard and respected in devel­op­ment deci­sions. The COP deci­sion regard­ing main­stream­ing bio­di­ver­sity (UNEP/CBD/COP/13/13/L.31) rein­forced the need for TK (Tra­di­tional Knowl­edge) to be inte­grated into deci­sions and cus­tom­ary sus­tain­able use and diverse IPLC approaches to be employed to main­tain genetic diver­sity, reduce habi­tat and bio­di­ver­sity loss, and to pro­mote an equi­table and par­tic­i­pa­tory approach to the man­age­ment and restora­tion of crit­i­cal ecosys­tems[1]. It is reas­sur­ing to see for­mal recog­ni­tion of Indige­nous Peo­ples’ rights in the deci­sion but what was even more mov­ing was to see the strong pres­ence and com­mit­ment to self-determination and sus­tain­abil­ity of the indige­nous groups that attended the Múuch’Tambal. It was inspiring.


Pre­sen­ta­tion by Indige­nous Group from Mex­ico — Cow­boy hats in tow …

Urban Plan­ning and Bio­di­ver­sity and For­est Land­scape Restora­tion were focused on in par­al­lel events fea­tur­ing expert pre­sen­ta­tions and dis­cus­sions. ICLEI was one of the main par­tic­i­pants in the “5th Global Sum­mit of Cities and Sub­na­tional Gov­ern­ments” at which city munic­i­pal offi­cials, pol­icy mak­ers, researchers, busi­nesses, and civil soci­ety rep­re­sen­ta­tives pre­sented and dis­cussed var­i­ous ini­tia­tives that related to bio­di­ver­sity con­ser­va­tion and aware­ness in the urban con­text. Sean Southey of the IUCN/Media Impact Group deliv­ered an emo­tive and inspi­ra­tional pre­sen­ta­tion of the #Nature­ForAll pro­gram which is a global move­ment that is work­ing in urban set­tings to inspire a love for nature in youth. The FLR (For­est Land­scape Restora­tion) agenda was fea­tured at the Rio Con­ven­tions Pavil­ion. A panel chaired by Peter Besseau of the Cana­dian For­est Ser­vice and Chair of the Global Part­ner­ship on For­est and Land­scape Restora­tion out­lined how FLR activ­i­ties can con­tribute to bio­di­ver­sity con­ser­va­tion and sus­tain­able use goals and that ecosys­tem and land­scape based ana­lyt­i­cal approaches will be imper­a­tive for estab­lish­ing evidence-based pol­icy along these lines.


Panel for the Cities and Sub­na­tional Gov­ern­ment Par­al­lel Con­fer­ence on Urban Bio­di­ver­sity. Sean Southey deliv­ered an impas­sioned pre­sen­ta­tion of the very impres­sive #Nature­ForAll initiative

The afore­men­tioned exam­ples and desired goals call for new devel­op­ment tra­jec­to­ries and this will require design think­ing in many dif­fer­ent areas. Ms. Teresa Solis Trejo, the Under­sec­re­tary for Tourism Plan­ning and Pol­icy of SECTUR (Mex­i­can Sec­re­tariat of Tourism) explained how her agency is fos­ter­ing this approach in how they are re-thinking plan­ning and devel­op­ment for the tourism sec­tor in Mex­ico going for­ward. This requires infra­struc­ture deci­sions, eco­nomic plan­ning instru­ments, new tech­nolo­gies, and pub­lic aware­ness cam­paigns. The DE team lives and breathes design think­ing. It is cen­tral to our exis­tence and part of our mis­sion “to solve prob­lems using design and envi­ron­men­tal sci­ence”. It was re-assuring and inspir­ing to see this mes­sage com­ing through at COP13. For all extents and pur­poses the con­fer­ence was a suc­cess, but there were some areas for improvement.

The main prob­lem that I observed was the fact that there was great enthu­si­asm for bio­di­ver­sity and main­stream­ing amongst con­fer­ence par­tic­i­pants but the event was essen­tially invis­i­ble to the out­side world. The com­mu­ni­ca­tions team of the UN CBD Sec­re­tariat had a great han­dle on press con­fer­ences and did a great job with social media but still, why did the global media not light up for bio­di­ver­sity? I gave a work­shop on com­mu­ni­ca­tions and design for main­stream­ing bio­di­ver­sity and ecosys­tems in Mex­ico City on Novem­ber 15, 2016 and I think some key points we dis­cussed may help us with this problem.

Here are the core insights that came out of the work­shop, and how they may apply to COP13 in Can­cun, Mexico:

  1. Pro­duc­tion Value

Prin­ci­ple: We need high qual­ity com­mu­ni­ca­tion out­puts to engage audi­ences. Bet­ter qual­ity pro­duc­tion, bet­ter recep­tion and respect for the message

Appli­ca­tion at COP13: This was not a prob­lem at COP13. The qual­ity of the visual mate­ri­als pro­duced was very high. The social media engage­ment was of high qual­ity as well.

  1. Cul­tural Context

Prin­ci­ple: Adapt mes­sag­ing to the local con­text. Under­stand the norms and unique qual­i­ties of where you are deploy­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tions or gath­er­ing content.

Appli­ca­tion at COP13: This was well han­dled. The lan­guage and cus­toms of Mex­ico were embod­ied in much of the com­mu­ni­ca­tions and events. One really had a feel­ing that they were in a spe­cial place dur­ing the con­fer­ence. Addi­tion­ally, Mex­i­can projects and ini­tia­tives such as BIOFIN (Finan­cial val­u­a­tion of bio­di­ver­sity project) were highlighted.

  1. Engag­ing Expe­ri­ence, Then the Message

Prin­ci­ple: Give the audi­ence an expe­ri­ence – some­thing they remem­ber, often inter­ac­tive, and then deliver the mes­sage through the experience.

Appli­ca­tion at COP13: On site at the con­fer­ence this was well man­aged. The ses­sions were good and there were many side events, cock­tails, con­tact groups, and activ­i­ties that were highly inter­ac­tive. The prob­lem was reach­ing the gen­eral pub­lic with the mes­sage of the event. There did not seem to be much in the way of out­reach to the masses with any form of inter­ac­tiv­ity which could get the word out, aside from social media (which as men­tioned, was well-handled)

  1. Bring Story / Nar­ra­tive to the Message

Prin­ci­ple: Peo­ple remem­ber sto­ries. Myths, oral his­tory, and var­i­ous forms of tra­di­tional knowl­edge trans­fer hap­pen through the telling of sto­ries. In order to make ideas and mes­sages ‘stick’ we often need to use some form of nar­ra­tive which evokes an emo­tive response.

Appli­ca­tion at COP13: This could have been improved upon. The main mes­sage of the con­fer­ence was ‘Main­stream­ing Bio­di­ver­sity’ but I don’t think this was well under­stood to peo­ple who were not involved with this line of work. Friends and col­leagues in other lines of work would be slightly mys­ti­fied as to what exactly that meant when I men­tioned it to them. What could have been use­ful is some sort of run­ning story or nar­ra­tive that embod­ied this mes­sage and that could be com­mu­ni­cated to the masses.

  1. Make it Interactive

Prin­ci­ple: Mem­o­rable expe­ri­ences and mes­sages involve interactivity.

Appli­ca­tion at COP13: For on-site activ­i­ties this was well done. Plenty of events and activ­i­ties helped to engage peo­ple. This same inter­ac­tiv­ity needs to be brought to the masses. Per­haps through dis­trib­uted events in other loca­tions that run in par­al­lel. Maybe social media could sup­port dis­trib­uted events.

  1. Make it Cool

Prin­ci­ple: Things need to be cool to get trac­tion and get atten­tion. In many cases we are try­ing to reach youth with these mes­sages. We there­fore have to com­pete with var­i­ous other media that are likely more engag­ing than your aver­age bio­di­ver­sity content.

Appli­ca­tion at COP13: There was some inter­est­ing footage being shown on large screens and the qual­ity of graphic design was good, but there was noth­ing that really jumped out as being ‘cool’. Per­haps get­ting some local pro­gres­sive Mex­i­can bands involved, or hav­ing a film fes­ti­val run in par­al­lel, would bring more inter­est to the con­fer­ence and give it broader attraction.

  1. Use Fame’s Appeal and Reach

Prin­ci­ple: Try and use the reach and impact that respectable celebri­ties have in order to cap­ture the atten­tion of a broader audience.

Appli­ca­tion at COP13: This tech­nique was not uti­lized as much as it could have been. I was not aware of any celebri­ties that were attend­ing or even aligned with the event. Edward Nor­ton, a good friend of the Con­ven­tion for Bio­log­i­cal Diver­sity was even silent on Twit­ter about the event. There could have been much more align­ment and out­reach done here. This would have most def­i­nitely increased the reach of the event and the core message.

The team at the UN CBD, namely David Ainsworth (Over­all Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Lead) and Julian Belle­more (Social Media Spe­cial­ist), did a fan­tas­tic job. The above are some obser­va­tions that could be drawn on for the next CBD Host coun­try as much of these issues would ide­ally be addressed by them.


Group photo of rep­re­sen­ta­tives of dif­fer­ent indige­nous groups in atten­dance at COP13

As we are end­ing another year and prepar­ing for Christ­mas and ‘reset­ting’ for 2017, per­haps there are lessons learned here for sus­tain­abil­ity. The UN COP13 Bio­di­ver­sity con­fer­ence focused on the need to bring con­ser­va­tion and sus­tain­able use to ‘main­stream’ processes. This will ulti­mately require a lot of change in var­i­ous sec­tors. In order to achieve this we will need to use ‘Design Think­ing’. Addi­tion­ally, we need to bring this mes­sage to main­stream audi­ences and in order to do so, we need to fol­low some com­mu­ni­ca­tions prin­ci­ples that have proven to work in other circumstances.

In 2017 we cer­tainly have our work cut out for us. There will be change; there will be new projects, new rela­tion­ships, and new sur­prises to deal with. Being cre­ative, agile, respon­sive and open to change will be essen­tial. Hard work will also be key.

In the mean­time, how­ever, it is time to relax and enjoy the hol­i­day sea­son with friends and fam­ily. On behalf of the DE team I would like to wish you a happy hol­i­day and pros­per­ity and suc­cess in 2017. We look for­ward to hear­ing from you in the New Year and let’s all work together to main­stream bio­di­ver­sity and ecosys­tems in order to make the world a more sus­tain­able and health­ier place.



Call to close the meet­ing and give respect to Mother Nature at the Múuch’Tambal par­al­lel ses­sion at UN COP13 Bio­di­ver­sity Conference.

[1] IISD Report­ing Ser­vices, 2016. Earth Nego­ti­a­tions Bul­letin. Sum­mary of the UN Bio­di­ver­sity Con­fer­ence: 2–17 Decem­ber, 2016. Vol. 9 No. 678.