Why Should We Form a New Professional Association? Learn from the Success of Others!

For a couple of years now, I have been arguing for the formation of a new international organization for environmental communication scholars and practitioners.  In my view, this organization would encompass, integrate, and strengthen a number of related but independent activities in the field, including the biennial Conference on Communication and Environment (COCE), the Environmental Communication Network (www.esf.edu/ecn) web-site and list-serv, and the recently-formed academic journal Environmental Communication:  A Journal of Nature and Culture (www.informaworld.com/renc).

My case for the formation of a new association is based in part on the success of a couple of other academic and professional societies that have formed and grown up around us over the past two decades, including:

  • Association for the Study of Literature and Environment (www.asle.org).  Formed at a meeting of the Western Literature Association in 1992, ASLE supports a biennial conference and other symposia, along with an academic journal and newsletter and other professional activities.  This organization has a membership of nearly 1000, including affiliates in the United States and 24 other countries, and supports an annual operating budget of over $50,000.  ASLE leadership has recently issued a draft of a new strategic vision for the organization (see http://www.asle.org/assets/docs/Draft_ASLE_SP.pdf).
  • International Association for Society and Natural Resources (www.iasnr.org).  This organization was started in 2002 after scholars from a variety of disciplines who had come together for biennial conferences known as International Symposia for Society and Resource Management (ISSRM) decided to formalize their relationship in order to provide permanent support for the Symposia and the journal Society and Natural Resources.

In 1999, Professor Rabel Burdge (then Executive Director of the Rural Sociological Society and active participant in ISSRM meetings) published an editorial in Society and Natural Resources in support of forming a new professional association for social scientists who focus on natural resource issues.  The editorial has been posted at http://www.esf.edu/ecn/downloads/Burdge1999.pdf).  In the piece, Burdge argued that a professional association would:

  • provide structure and permanency to the biennial conferences
  • provide a source of professional identity for agency people and academics who engage in social science research related to natural resource management
  • provide scholarly and professional leadership opportunities related to the organization and journal
  • enhance individual accessibility to the journal through membership subscription
  • provide institutional legitimacy for departments wishing to start or enhance interdisciplinary programs in natural resource management; and
  • magnify the visibility and importance of social science research for funding agencies

After acknowledging a number of challenges, including financial costs as well as the required investments of time and expertise, Burdge concluded:  With the formation of a new association, “social science research on natural resource issues will have a better home and hopefully will be in a position to actually influence natural resource management decisions.”  Three years after Burdge’s editorial, IASNR was formally launched, and the work of that organization and its members has flourished as a result.

Where are we in environmental communication today?  Ask yourself:  How visible is environmental communication in your own department and college or university?  Within our own larger professional organizations such as the National Communication Association or International Communication Association?  How much impact are we making in environmental policy making at the community, state, national, or international levels?  Could our efforts in research, teaching, and advocacy be strengthened by the formation of a new professional association?   Look at the success of ASLE, and consider the words of Rabel Burdge, and you may find some answers.

Advertisements

About Steve Depoe

Professor, Department of Communication, University of Cincinnati, USA Editor, Environmental Communication: A Journal of Nature and Culture (www.informaworld.com/renc)
This entry was posted in Environmental Communication, Professional Association and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to Why Should We Form a New Professional Association? Learn from the Success of Others!

  1. Pingback: Paul Ehrlich to AESS: It’s the Culture « Indications: Environmental Communication & Culture blog

  2. Bernardo Motta says:

    As I am trying to think about what both J.C. and Anabela, I think there is a point that we will need to decide either between a deep split in creating a “professional organization” or an “academic organization,” or come to terms with an organization that tries to embrace both academics and practitioners.
    J.C. mentioned that we should reach out to corporate practitioners and Anabela said we should keep it an academic organization.
    The problem is much more complicated than just looking at the purpose of the organization, as any choice (or other possibilities people will come up with) will radically affect how the organization operates. Even worse, it may become an original defect that might take most of the value of the organization away.
    I think we all know examples of successful and disastrous ways other organizations tried to tackle this situation. Some decided to be a “professional organization, with academic associates, others “pure academic associations,” and others chose to have both a professional side and an academic side that are visibly separated, but may come together in some situations.
    Reaching out to corporate practitioners means also to open doors to anti-environmental communicators. Some corporations do their “issues management” strategies by having their own opinion makers in organizations like the one we are proposing. Is it a bad thing? Should we actually accept it as being part of the “environmental communication field?” I don’t know, but I am pretty sure this kind of organization has already been created. Just look at all PR organizations with an environmental/crisis focus and you will see the corporate practitioners there.
    What we don’t have is what Anabela said, an academic international environmental communication organization that focuses not only in linking researchers around the globe, but also formalizing the field. We can reach out to practitioners under the “applied research” umbrella and make connections with other professional enviro comm organizations. I am pretty sure there will be members of this new organizations that are also members of “practitioners’ organizations,” like I am of the Society of Environmental Journalists. We can build the link and reach out to practitioners without trying to embrace too much and lose the functionality of the organization.
    In my opinion, let’s start with an academic organization that has reaching out to applications of research as one of its main focus. I am afraid that if we start as an all overarching type of organization, we won’t be of much value to either practitioners or academics. We can build the links with professional organizations as we establish ourselves as a legitimate organization.

  3. J.C. (John Clifford) Armbruster says:

    While I approve of the notion of developing an environmental communications organization, I would like to expand on the professional range of the participants.

    “Environmental communication is also how we advocate for change, raise awareness, collaborate to address environmental issues, change behavior, and pass legislation. Political, economic, and technological initiatives need effective communication to succeed.”

    There is a kind of cycle implied in how different members of society contribute to defining, assessing, and proposing solutions to social problems. The academics develop bodies of knowledge; advocates publicize the academics’ findings; based on advocated proposals, citizens develop mandates and campaigns to address these problem; decision-makers (read politicians) transform those social demands into legislation; and for-profit (corporate) and non-profit (governmental and non-profit) organizations build solutions.

    It is the corporate groups which, I think, are being left out of our further development (and offering of) environmental communications.

    How do we build up the use of environmental communications in the corporations that will build the wind farms, fund the local agricultural co-ops, or market carbon offsets?

  4. There are both costs and rewards in being a late responder. If on the one hand I feel that most of my ideas, concerns and aspirations for this project have already been (eloquently) expressed by others and I can add only relatively little, there is great satisfaction in realizing that so much is shared in this vibrant community.
    Last year Steve Depoe and myself organized a panel on ‘Forming an International Environmental Communication Organization: A debate on the future organization of the field’ at the conference of ECREA (European Communication Research and Communication Association) that took place in Barcelona in November. I have now looked back at the Powerpoint presentation that I prepared for that purpose and decided to transcribe some of it.
    On the social and academic context in which the creation of the organization was being pondered, I wrote the following:

    => Increasing social relevance of environmental communication
    – people around the world are concerned with the current environmental crisis;
    – social conflict over environmental issues is increasing;
    – communication/ ‘symbolic action’ as important contributor to amelioration.

    => Increasing academic relevance of environmental communication
    – publication of books, journal papers, new ‘specialized’ journal (EC);
    – submission of papers to conferences is augmenting rapidly;
    – emergence and consolidation of academic bodies (ECREA’s Section; US NCA Division; IAMCR Working Group).

    => Growing importance of cross-disciplinary dialogue
    – both research and teaching on environmental problems should be interdisciplinary – need to converse with sociology, social psychology, political science, etc.

    => Mounting need for international collaborations in research and teaching environmental communication
    – interdependence on environmental problems calls for a more integrated, cross-national analysis – comparisons, exchange and experience-based learning could further understanding and social practices;
    – need to involve developing countries.

    I then reflected a bit about the existing international institutional framework and pointed out problems like organisational fragmentation, lack of coordination between the different bodies and what I perceive to be a certain ‘political’ weakness of field (in the context of academia and beyond).
    I also mentioned various issues that should be taken into account when considering the creation of the organization, namely:
    – purposes and responsibilities of such an organization
    – possible consequences for the sub-discipline of environmental communication
    – membership: academics only or academics and practitioners
    – relation to existing bodies on environmental communication
    – relation to other disciplines and organizations, such as environmental sociology
    – funding.

    I think that ‘membership’ is actually linked to a larger matter: the nature or profile of the organization. Steve Schwarze pointed out in an email to the ECN listserv that two different paths were apparently being envisioned in the ongoing debate. He wrote: ‘One is an international path that is primarily focused on connecting scholars globally. The other is a professional path that is primarily focused on connecting scholars with EC practitioners (resource managers, public participation professionals, etc). To be sure, they are not mutually exclusive; both are desirable.’ Like Steve, I think that there has been some ambiguity regarding this aspect in the exchanges that I have seen and that this should be clarified.
    I must say that I would vote for the first option. I view an international academic body as important for all the reasons listed above and more. Connections with EC practitioners are certainly necessary but I have some difficulty imagining how a cohesive and purposeful body could be created if it was geared towards the interests of both researchers and practitioners (including national and international organizations of journalists and other professionals in this field). I actually would enjoy being proved wrong about this as I think that the future organization should have a responsibility of social and political intervention (from an academic basis, in my mind).
    I anticipate that an International Environmental Communication Organization could generate gains in three main areas: visibility, organization/coordination and action. Very briefly here is an outline of my hopes:
    – Increase the academic standing of the field
    – Increase perceived social value/social and political influence
    – Possibility of adopting common positions on specific policy-related issues, i.e. recommendations based on research
    – Enhance opportunities of research funding
    – Mutual knowledge and awareness
    – Sharing of resources (publications, information)
    – Cooperation in research (some problems are common or similar)
    But I also have concerns, which others have already voiced:
    – The extent is to which the organization will be truly international, and how the participation and appropriate representation of non-North American and European parts of the world can be achieved. Some work is already being done on this front but it will have to be a continuing mission for the organization in my opinion.
    – The environmental impact of adding to the existing organizations, which already organize national and international conferences. Several of us expressed this concern in the panel at ECREA’s conference and suggested a strong investment in virtual/online platforms. Chris Russill has already mentioned the example of the Klima conferences in an earlier post. There are also other possibilities, such as a hybrid of ‘in loco’ and virtual with national ‘chapters’ occurring simultaneously and being webcast to all.
    – The structure and functioning of the organization. I would prefer it to be a light and informal body.

    Overall, the expected benefits outweigh the potential downsides so I do hope that the organization comes to life in a not too distant future.

  5. Eric Eckl says:

    A good place to start with this might be a survey of environmental communications academics and practitioners — asking what associations they currently belong to, what needs those memberships do and don’t meet, and the amount of $ they are used to paying each year to belong.

    The rise of online communities is putting a lot of pressure on more traditional associations to demonstrate what value they offer their members. It’s no longer enough to offer access to peers. That’s easily accomplished now without a formal dues-charging organization.

  6. Establishing new organization is not a big deal but the sustainability of the organization is the big challenge. While establishing a new organization we need some committed and dedicated people. Financial stuff is also another challenge. So, considering the network, financial aspect, activities and sustainability.It is good to establish a new organization and personally, I like the idea.

    Dipendra Bhattarai
    Student/Junior Researcher
    Pokhara University
    School of Environmental Management and Sustainable Development.
    Baluwatar, Kathmandu
    Nepal
    email: emaildipen@gmail.com

  7. Chris Russill says:

    Hi All,

    I can see some real advantages to the association proposed by Steven Depoe and others on this list.

    My experience in developing curriculum supports the idea that improving the visibility and legitimacy of the field is important. I created Environmental Communication courses at University of Otago in New Zealand, and at University of Minnesota. I won’t share any particular tales of woe from those efforts – both of which were eventually successful – but an international organization would have helped in numerous ways. An organization could also be valuable for students doing Ph. Ds in non-US systems, such as the New Zealand, Australian, and Canadian system, where external readers could be more easily identified (and more selectively identified to match specific dissertation expertise).

    As we look at arguments and inspirational models for building an organization, I would like to add two ideas involving online technology. The first is the “Flow TV” model, found at: flowtv.org. It is envisioned as a more accessible (student oriented, public oriented) outlet for timely academic publishing with contemporary relevance, and I wonder if an EC version could supplement the existing academic journal and this blog in a way that encouraged further development of a crisis discipline. A second more conventional idea is represented by the online conferences, Klima 2008 and Klima 2009, which can be scanned here: http://www.climate2008.net/?a1=clen The conference does not involve air travel or conference fees, it is designed to be participatory, and the contents remain accessible online.

    Cheers,

    Chris Russill
    Carleton University (Ottawa, Canada)
    chris.russill@gmail.com
    613-520-2600, ex. 7415

  8. Stacey Sowards says:

    Hi all,

    I am in agreement with many comments here – I support the idea of an international EC organization for a few reasons.

    I think Nils’ point about having an organization that people can go to for information is an important one, and probably one of the best reasons to form such an organization.

    I also think that some structure would facilitate the hosting of COCE, and benefit our journal, since there are no guidelines to follow for either right now (as far as I know). I have agreed to host COCE at the University of Texas at El Paso (my institution) in 2011, and already I can see that there would be significant benefit if we had a little more structure in how to organize the conference.

    I am also hoping that this COCE at UTEP will be international in nature – given UTEP’s border location, I think we will be able to draw scholars from Mexico. UTEP also has a new master’s program in communication with a focus on environmental communication offered in China, Indonesia, Mexico, and Washington DC, and I think we will be able to include participants from this program.

    As for funding for the international organization, there are a number of grants that we can apply for. For instance, I just applied for a USAID grant that would cover many of the expenses for COCE and international travel for a number of participants to come to the US for COCE. I don’t know if I will get this grant, but it’s just one example of the many grant opportunities that are available, often as part of a bigger project. USAID has a number of university partnership grants that focus on research, and a conference is a good way to spotlight such research collaborations. Because it’s USAID, the focus is international – they want US universities to partner with universities in other countries to promote research (my application was for partnerships in Indonesia, but I have also seen reports for countries in Africa and Latin America).

    Another example would be Title VI money – these grants are to help universities establish research and teaching about Latin America, and are usually themed. I know we (at UTEP) will be applying for one of these grants, and at a meeting last week we were speculating that the theme might be about the environment in Latin America. This would be a perfect opportunity to fund COCE and make COCE more international at the same time.

    I am sure that there are other grants that we can apply for, but these are just a few ideas that I am familiar with.

    Stacey Sowards
    Dept. of Communication
    University of Texas at El Paso
    ssowards@utep.edu

  9. Julie Doyle says:

    Ever since Stephen raised the idea of an international organisation (a year ago) I have been thinking about this. At first I was not convinced of the need for such an organisation, mainly due to concerns over increased international air travel (that it may bring) and also how international the organisation would really be (i.e. would it simply be, at the end of the day, a predominantly North American/European representation). I still have these concerns, however, I can now see the benefits of working towards an international organisation that brings togther existing environmental communication sections/groups (such as those in IAMCR and ECREA who I am most familiar with), without compromising their identity within their respective communication/media organisations, while also reaching out to other groups across the globe that may not have the same representation that N.American and European ones do.

    In the context of the UK, environmental communication within UK universities is small but growing. This year, I was involved in the development of a new undergraduate degree, at University of Brighton, in BA (Hons) Environment and Media Studies, which brings together cultural/human geography, science and communication/media studies to enable students to have an undertsanding of how environmental issues are both material and cultural. There are only a few other degrees like this in the UK, but I can certainly see the market growing. At postgraduate level I teach a module on Environment and the Media within a Masters programme on Creative Media, so again there is a growing number of young and upcoming scholars/practitioners interested in this area.

    In terms of an international organisation, I like the idea of it, at first, being an umbrella group where existing environmental communication sections in larger organisations can be linked together (not just those on the ECN network) in some way. My big concern however remains that we simply recreate a North American/ European perspective. Therefore, would it make sense for a list of existing environmental communication organisations to be drawn up and circulated, to be able to ‘map’ the spread of these? This way we could move the discussion beyond ECN to see if existing groups (that we may not all be aware of) would benefit from an international organisation. What groups/organisations exist in Africa, South East Asia and the Middle East, for example. If we had a ‘bigger picture’ of what exists, this may help decide what the purpose of an international organisation might be in relation to the international environmental community. Does anyone already have such a list, or knowledge of the range of existing groups/organisations?

    Thanks,
    Julie

    Julie Doyle
    Principal Lecturer, Media Studies
    School of Arts and Media
    University of Brighton, UK

  10. Ikem Victor says:

    Dear All,

    I think that the formation of a Professional Association to pilot the affairs of E-Communicators is most timely and desirable. The demand for a global enforcement of environmental knowledge vis a vis awareness / education is huge thus the need to galvanise and push a comMon front beynd borderS. I vote for this!

  11. maura troester nunez says:

    Re: Bernado’s comment: I will happily be a pawn in a new organization, too.

    I think people have given very persuasive arguements in favor of a new organization, and have done a good job identifying potential landmines. I’m excited about the possibilities.

    Regards,

    Maura

    Maura Troester Nunez
    Assistant Professor
    School of Journalism and Mass Communication
    University of Colorado-Boulder

    Maura.Troester@Colorado.edu

  12. Mark Meisner says:

    I would echo Arthur’s point about it resting on the efforts of a few dedicated individuals. That’s absolutely true. But, we have the talent!

    Second, Bernardo’s point about the costs is important. One way to keep costs down is to use something like Club Express http://www.clubexpress.com/ to help manage the organization, rather than creating a whole new infrastructure. That’s what the Association for Environmental Studies and Sciences is doing.

    – Mark

  13. Bernardo Motta says:

    I forgot to say: answering Jen’s question, if we are getting an organization, I am volunteering to help as much as possible as a pawn. I think we all have a good idea who the leaders should be. After all, they are already leading the process.

  14. Steve Schwarze says:

    I support the formation of an int’l org, but I’ll play devil’s advocate for a minute.

    When this conversation first started a couple of years ago, my main reservation was that there was not a critical mass of people beyond the usual NCA folks to launch this successfully. I’m not sure we’re there now, either. Our individual connections with EC professionals and international scholars have yielded little by way of ongoing participation at COCE, for example. I have some concern that we will be leaning on the same people to make this thing go….not only an issue of which people will do the work but whether we have an sufficiently broad base to accomplish our goals. Broad initiatives are more likely to be sustainable the more that there is buy-in/commitment from various constituencies ahead of time. In other words, Jen’s “who?” is a critical and complicated one.

    The flip side is that Steve Depoe, among others, has been actively developing connections with top-notch scholars internationally who have an interest in building bridges. So, I do think we are moving in the right direction. I still think of it as a chicken-and-egg problem of, do we try to build a critical mass first, or do we build an organization first in the hopes that it will attract people who would benefit from a new professional ‘home’ like Nils and Jen are suggesting (and facilitate other opportunities like those described in the Burdge essay). My sense is that “we” are leaning toward the latter.

  15. Bernardo Motta says:

    Well, as the lawyer in the group, I think I will play the devil’s advocate. Just keep in mind that I am for the creation of an international environmental association. However, since our meeting in the last NCA, there are a few questions that should be answered:

    1. Coming out of a doctoral program very recently and starting in a new position, I must keep in mind the money factor. How much do we really need just to start creating this association and how much will that weight in our pockets? If (and assuming a big if) we really start the association with 600 members, can we get enough to pay for an executive manager to get the ball rolling? Add that to all the physical costs. Can we get grants to cover those? If we aim really high, I’d say most student members and many international members would be really conscious about how they invest that money. Can we get grants to cover special memberships for international students, at least?

    2. I agree it must be an international association. Therefore, how can we make it truly international? I mean, not wanting to offend anyone, but I see ICA as a failure in that area. IAMCR is better, but ICA is much stronger in the eyes of communication departments in the U.S. How can we really include, from the beginning, real international participation and not only participation of international scholars who work/study at an American/Canadian institution? Especially if we go back to the cost issue. I am pretty sure most rich countries pay professors enough to join, but how about the not-so-rich ones? Environmentally speaking, they probably need an association more than anyone else. How can we not only reach out to them, but actually get them to be a part of the process in its entirety?

    3. As mentioned, there are many other organizations around the world that touches the issues in environmental communication in some degree. How is the new association will establish its notoriety, difference, and relevance? How are we going to relate to all other organizations? Are we planning an overarching organization that will work as an umbrella? Are we planning to be just another one to add to the mix? Are we planning to be a systemic one that work together with all others and build something new and unique from the process?

    I probably can think of a few more questions, but I would like to see these worked out first.

    Keep in mind that I am just answering Mark’s call for arguments against the org. Please do not throw eggs at me, it would be environmentally incorrect to waste them like that. 😉

    Here at Bridgewater College, they are talking about creating an Environmental Studies minor/major and they see environmental communication as the glue to the whole process. So, yes, we need an association, but we need to be careful about the process of creating one.

    Bernardo.

  16. Arthur Sacks says:

    Having co-founded an international professional society in 1981 (International Society for Environmental Education: “Education for Ecolologically Sustainable Development”) which ultimately failed in the late ’80s for a number of reasons, and having helped to build one that succeeded (the North American Association for Environmental Education), I am familiar with the joys and sorrows of establishing and growing a new organization. Such organizations get established if there are a few really dedicated people willing to put aside other things, and throw themselves into it. The effort is not light or casual. However, if there is leadership, a niche that is not currently filled, and a base of enthusiasm sufficient to kick start it, a path forward can be found. Personally, I would support it. It is one way to build or stregthen a field, but it can be a career maker or a career breaker for individuals.

    Arthur Sacks

  17. Jen Schneider says:

    Hi! Been meaning to comment for a few days but have been buried under the beginning of the semester madness.

    I’m ALL FOR us forming this organization, for a number of reasons. As an untenured faculty member who has worked hard to inform my colleagues and administrators about EC (my adopted field), it would certainly add some legitimacy. I’m at an engineering/science university, so all nod their heads when I talk about the importance of environmental communication. But, at the same time, when it comes to reviews and such they already see this work as “soft”–having a professional organization would help in this fight a bit. So, that’s a selfish, personal reason.

    Secondly, I think the argument about pooling resources is a good one. I’m fairly new to this group, and understand there have been some debates around keeping things loose, not getting too “disciplined”–I’m from Cultural Studies, so I get those arguments! At the same time, it seems to me that what is to be gained from formally organizing–a stronger sense of community, a voice in policy and other debates/conversations, more focused meetings and initiatives–are all potentially quite positive.

    And, there are good things about “disciplining.” I’ve been thinking a lot about Adrian’s recent post, and about arguments about an EC “canon,” or EC “approaches.” I’m not defending canons or trying to reify particular approaches, but there are useful things that come out of these discussions. Boundaries should be permeable, of course, but they can be quite helpful when we’re trying to bring EC perspectives or methods to other debates or disciplines (which for me are sci/tech policy, usually. “But we do what you do,” those folks say. “Uh, no.”).

    I suppose the question for me is, who? How? How do we, as a group, go about beginning something like this? Is one of you volunteering to do the legwork? Asking to be nominated? Asking for open nominations? With 600 members, someone will have to take the reins…

    Jen

  18. Mark Meisner says:

    Thanks Steve for pushing this discussion forward. I am of the view that a formal organization of some sort is warranted in order to continue to build on the work already done by scholars, teachers, practitioners, conference organizers, etc. The field of environmental communication is a reality. Establishing a professional association to foster it makes sense for several reasons that you have outlined very clearly.

    It is my view that a formal organization will bring greater credibility, prominence, and opportunities to those working in the field. I also think it could be used to foster greater cooperation and collaboration between academics and practitioners.

    Much as I appreciate the Environmental Communication Division of the National Communication Association and the hard work by those who have served as officers, I don’t feel that NCA is the best use of the money I spend on professional memberships. I get much more out of my $30 membership in the new Association for Environmental Studies and Sciences and my $25 membership in the International Society for Environmental Ethics than from the NCA which asks for $165.

    I would also ask readers and users of the Environmental Communication Network web site and LISTSERV to reflect on this. You get all that for free and I run it for nothing. Imagine what we could do with some more resources.

    I also think an environmental communication organization needs to be international in order to develop the critical mass needed for it to succeed. That will make it more challenging to establish though.

    I was a founding director of the Environmental Studies Association of Canada (ESAC). We created ESAC as a scholarly organization to serve environmental studies academics in Canada. In turn, ESAC is a member organization of the Canadian Federation of the Humanities and Social Sciences. Establishing ESAC has brought credibility to the field of Environmental Studies in Canada and expanded the opportunities for funding, etc. I think the group is struggling a bit with its relationship to practitioners and I remember a number of debates about whether it should engage in advocacy. Those are issues that an environmental communication organization will have to consider carefully.

    Finally, I hope we will also hear from people who don’t think this is a good idea. I, for one, want to hear the counter-arguments.

    Mark Meisner
    Founder and Director of the Environmental Communication Network

  19. As a Human Dimensions of Wildlife (HDW) researcher, I find the idea of establishing an environmental communication professional association (ECPA) compelling for several reasons. First, an ECPA is desperately needed by the conservation biology and wildlife management fields. Wildlife conservation leaders have realized the central role of communication within the discipline, mandated communication training for certification as a wildlife biologist, and repeatedly voiced the value of communication in professional journals. The closest most wildlife professionals get to EC, however, is a public speaking class. Despite recognizing a need for EC nobody knows where to turn for expertise. There simply isn’t a recognized voice for EC. I realize the National Communication Association has an EC division, but divisions or working groups within a professional society typically don’t make the radar screen for other disciplines, society’s, or even interdisciplinary research efforts. Practitioners and researchers in many natural resource management fields need both EC information, and an ECPA to turn to for help with position statements, advocacy efforts, and perhaps even moving EC training beyond a public speaking class.

    I also think an ECPA would facilitate greater stability for the Conference on Communication and Environment (COCE), which I love for pragmatic and personal reasons. In government agencies and natural resource related academic programs service at/for meetings without an associated professional society is questioned. For most agency employees and some academics this translates into difficulty obtaining funding to attend COCE. It also makes it harder for agency employees, graduate students, and young faculty to contribute because they need to worry about bean counters or tenure and promotion committees. Making the current and ongoing service associated with COCE “official” may cause the people who have worked so hard to carry on the COCE tradition blush and say they don’t need credit, but it won’t hurt. Even if COCE continues to rely on the extraordinary volunteer organizer system, having an ECPA would make it easier for the volunteers in terms of requesting logistical support from their employer or other entities potentially supporting the meeting.

    An ECPA may also facilitate international development of the EC discipline. If justifying EC meetings, collaborations, and other work is difficult for people within one country, one can imagine the difficulties associated with justifying similar international ventures.

    The bonuses of organizing, such as shared identity and increased structure, may be seen as downsides by some professionals associated with COCE, the Environmental Communication Network web-site and list-serv, and Environmental Communication: A Journal of Nature and Culture. In my experience they are perfectly happy with a patchwork of identities loosely connected by a desire to address environmental challenges through improved communication. Further, the lack of structure I’ve experienced at COCE has made networking easier for me, led to unexpected and fascinating blending of ideas in session presentations, and allowed me to engage my entire family in the meeting. I’ve never been to another professional meeting that would welcome toddlers, at least without the $400 registration fee. An ECPA, however, does not need to be a traditionally bureaucratized organization.

    In the end I support formation of an ECPA because I believe the people who organized COCE and Environmental Communication (journal) can organize a professional society that isn’t obsessed with structure, protocol, and forming a unified voice to back up absolute position statements. I can see an admittedly ironic situation where the structure of an ECPA serves to protect and perpetuate the disorganized, organic, and desperately needed movement expressed by COCE and Environmental Communication.

    M. Nils Peterson
    North Carolina State University
    Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources
    Fisheries & Wildlife Program
    Turner House, Box 7646
    Raleigh, NC 27695-7646
    Phone: 919-515-7588; Fax: 919-515-5110
    email: nils_peterson@ncsu.edu

Comments are closed.