On October 15, 39 water quality professionals from across Southeast and Southwest Minnesota gathered together in Mankato to go deeper into their civic engagement practice. Examining civic engagement as defined in Extension's model, the two facilitators for the day provided examples of participatory practices that have worked to engage the public in improving water quality.
Dr. Ryan Atwell, currently with the National Park Service at Yellowstone as their Social Science Coordinator, shared his experience in using social science and civic engagement techniques to change land practices to improve water quality. His research highlights the layers of social complexity that layer on top of the ecological complexity, necessitating an engaged approach. He advocated for a style of work that allows community members to build a dream together rather than being forced to adopt a pre-determined plan. Dr. Atwell posed the question that if research suggests adoption of new practices is based primarily on subjective values and social norms diffused through interpersonal networks, what does that mean for the work of water quality specialists?
Extension educator Tobias Spanier reinforced those lessons with an overview of different levels of participation, referencing the Spectrum created by the International Association of Public Participation. He led participants through an activity to depict their engagement with people in their watershed and place it on the spectrum. He wrapped his time by providing participants with a Strategic Doing tool for use with community so that the community can collectively own the work that needs to be done to improve water quality.
At the end of the day, participants left the event with a vision for what civic engagement might look like in their watersheds.