A ladder to get out of the well


Designing an activity to raise environmental awareness and enthuse the participants towards action is an art and science. It requires both a passion and dedication.

Many “environmental communicators” (a cadre I wish is recognized in the environmental profession) have experimented and presented several pedagogical techniques and tools to make the activity interesting, meaningful and impacting. There is however relatively less documentation of experience and sharing.

The pedagogy is often a mix or a concoction of tools and techniques and you blend depending on the audience, objectives of the engagement, expected outcomes and the resources you have. The chef or the bartender or the conductor of the orchestra “in you” does the right blending and sequencing!

In India, most of us use tools such as PowerPoints, stickers, posters and video clips for environmental communication. Posters have now matured in the form of Infographics that are often creative. My post on Enfographics will give you some examples. You may also like to access the various communication tools we developed on Climate Change. Visit the site to view and download posters, PowerPoint presentations, fact sheets, stickers, children activity books etc. all free. Painting on the walls in the streets (a graffiti) is a recent technique. See my post on Creative Fusion that talks about the graffiti created by Dr Love on the subject of urban air pollution.  Holding exhibitions that display green products, show case innovative solutions on pollution control and monitoring and educate people on sustainable lifestyles is another powerful way to spread awareness on environment. Mobile vans are also used to move into rural and peri-urban areas carrying exhibits for holding demonstrations.

Video clips are now relayed through internet reaching a global audience. Few years ago, I launched a competition for making videos to communicate good stories on saving the environment under a caption “Anvaya” (means positive in Sanskrit). This resulted into some exciting video clips on the themes of waste and water management created by ordinary citizens – old and young. Visit our YouTube channel to view and download a collection of 11 select videos on the theme of waste management.

Street plays are now getting increasingly popular to communicate environmental issues mainly in schools and colleges. I would recommend you to view Street Play on environment ” Parivartan” by students of DAV Pushpanjali and the Nukkad natak on environment awareness. We should do the street plays more often and on a regular basis in local languages. These plays should address not only the local but global environmental issues and introduce good practices and responsible behavior. There is a lot to learn in scripting the street play, participating in it and handling reactions from the audience.

“We should seriously consider developing a course on environmental communication at postgraduate level and give the students an exposure and experience in this important area”. I said to my Professor friend when I was in his office on Sunday morning.

I saw that Professor was already busy. There were several papers on his desk that were piled and crumpled around with lot of scribbling done. He seemed to be writing some kind of script.

“Well Dr Modak, you are asking this question when I am just finalizing a design of an awareness and action event on the subject of Air Pollution” He said this while lighting his cigar.

I was curious when Professor used the term “design”. “What do you mean by the term design Professor?” I asked

“Well, a lot of thinking needs to be done if you want to organize an awareness event Dr Modak?” Professor now moved to the white board to explain to me the “design”. And in the next 5 minutes, this is what appeared on the white board

It appeared to me that Professor was planning to conduct the event in steps. The structure looked fascinating and so I asked Professor to explain.

“Well Dr Modak, this event is for all those interested and for those who want to know and take action on the challenges of urban air pollution. I plan to restrict the participation to only 40 and not more. Interested participants will have to pre-register giving their short profile and interest. All those who register will be able to see profile of other registrants and thus get e-introduced.  More importantly, I will use this information in forming the work groups.

The hall I have chosen can accommodate around 70 participants in a theatre style and so 40 will be accommodated very comfortably. The room has a separate entrance and a good illumination. Besides it is located in a central place in the city and convenient to reach. We will start the event at 2 30 pm and wrap up by 5 30.

The first step is to begin the event in a theatre style sitting.   Here I propose to introduce the challenge of urban air pollution using only picture slides with not  more than 10 words on each. There will be 20 such slides and I will take only 10 minutes (2 30-2 40). This presentation should do the job of “levelling up” the subject, provide a systems perspective on urban air pollution and its connect with Climate Change, a perspective not generally spoken. Having shown the slides, we will devote not more than 5 minutes for any “burning questions” from the audience.

Next, I plan to show three video clips not exceeding 3 minutes each. I have selected the video clips that are essentially statements made by the politicians (like the Premier of China), directors of key global institutions (e.g. UN Environment and WHO) and by citizens who appeal and showcase their efforts on combating air pollution.

Following the videos,  there will be four questions that will be projected on a slide for discussions. These questions will “force” participants to “think out of box”. Participants will spend 10 minutes to express their views. Example, are electric vehicles solution to the problem of urban air pollution? Are the policies on letting vehicles to ply based odd-even number plates or retiring of old vehicles of more than 15 years of age effective? And how about encouraging telecommuting (working from homes)  (2 40 – 3 00)

At this point I expect that the participants are charged enough to get into some action. We therefore break out of the theatre style sitting and ask participants to move to the walls of the room. We plan to place a number of flip charts in the room with thick tip color pens. Each wall takes on one of the questions raised and elaborates using a network diagram, following the technique of “mind mapping”. This wall session puts all participants in some physical action, provides an opportunity to interact and help in a deeper understanding of the challenge! We need to give good time for such a Wall Session of Mapping. I would give a time between 3 to 3 30 for each group for this exercise.

What follows the Wall Session is the presentation by each group leader elaborating their analyses. We give 5 minutes to each group leader followed by an overall discussion (3 30 – 4 -00).  This concludes Step 3.”

I enjoyed the strategy. I could see that the participants were slowly graduating from awareness to action mode and this was happening rather implicitly.  Moreover, it was also a process of collective learning with guidance by the Professor.

Professor lit the second cigar

“Dr Modak, have you used software tools like Mentimeter?” He asked.

I had not come across this tool and so requested Professor to tell me more.

Mentimeter is an easy-to-use presentation software to create fun and interactive presentations. Each participant downloads on a Mentimeter app (that I do before hand) on his/her smartphone. Based on the real time questions that I would put, all participants respond from their smartphones and the Mentimeter creates a word cloud, histograms, 2×2 matrices etc. instantaneously to show the group opinion. Of course, there are several such products available today.

Mentimeter will be a short session say over 10 minutes where some top end questions will be put for a group opinion. I will basically get the priorities understood e.g. Indoor Air Quality or Outdoor Air Quality or priorities towards action e.g. wetting of roads, introducing higher vehicle tax as the vehicle ages or promoting use of electric vehicles etc.  The session will end with a 5 minute discussion (4 00 – 4 15)

Air quality improvement is often viewed narrowly and hence many of the interventions have not been found to be successful. There is a need to address the urban air pollution problem at a regional level (e.g. pollution traversing into the city from “outside” ; forge collaborations or partnerships, push phase outs e.g. of Volatile Organic Compounds and introduce ecological modernization across the polluting industries. Further an integrated approach to address both indoor and outdoor air pollution is necessary. I plan to give a 30 minute presentation as Step 5  (4 15 – 4 45). We don’t give here any time for discussion.

Step 5 maintains the theatrical style and I propose to end by screening a “transformational” video that shows the participants some success stories when a comprehensive and regional approach is followed. I plan to screen video on how Beijing improved the Air Quality over the last 3 years. This video of 5 minutes will be followed by a 15 minute discussion session facilitated by some of my colleagues questioning why cannot India follow the China model? (4 45 – 5-15)

It’s a good idea now to end the event with a feedback and “pledges” what the participants would like to do post the event and their expectations from us on the follow up and any propositions on “joint projects” of action. The event will be wrapped up by 5-30. The participants continue their interactions on Ekonnect’s collaborative platform.

If you do a day long event, you can include a workgroup session (1 hour) to develop action plans. In the workgroup, participants start developing an air quality action plan for the city by not just listing the actions but identifying who should be responsible. Another possibility is to use the Fish Bowl technique where participants take turns to “enter the fishbowl”, express their views and leave the fishbowl for someone else to get in (1 hour).

There are other possibilities as well such as keeping a dust jar outside the room and weighing the dust fall during the meeting period or putting a computer in the foyer with a GHG emission calculator to give participants an idea of the carbon footprint of their lifestyle”

I liked the overall design, especially the logic and creativity. As I was about to leave, I could not resist asking the Professor, “why is your event design of various Steps is showing up like a ladder? – any special reason?”

Professor extinguished his cigar and said

“Dr Modak, pardon me  but to me the participants to the event are sitting or trapped in a “well” of isolation and some ignorance. They don’t see the outside “world”. They only listen but stay inactive. All I am doing is to provide them with a ladder to step out of the well and get motivated towards taking action with all the excitement and knowledge”

“Oh, understood. So, the event is like a ladder to get out of the well” I exclaimed finishing my coffee.

Cover image sourced from Image https://pngtree.com/freepng/with-one-ladder-to-climb-out-of-the-well_2383850.html

I will be conducting such an event on Urban Air Pollution on Thursday, December 13 in Mumbai between 2 30 to 5 30 pm at the Veer Savarkar Smarak, Shivaji Park, Mumbai as organized by Ekonnect.

An announcement will soon be made on Social Media.

In 2019, Ekonnect proposes to conduct such events on various topics once every month.

Please contact me on prasad.modak@emcentre.com if you are interested to know more.

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