What a week! Last Monday was my first day on the job as an intern at CSPO DC, and I sure hit the ground running in preparation for the World Wide Views on Biodiversity global discussion on September 15. And when it was all said and done, it was extremely rewarding to be able to see the fruits of my labor before my eyes.
When I got to the CSPO office for my first day of work, Mahmud gave me the rundown on what the World Wide Views on Biodiversity project was all about. Within minutes, I was off to the post office to send out some last-minute information packets to our citizen participants. This first task defined what I would be doing in my first week: ensuring that everything would be all set for our conference on Saturday. I made calls to participants, sat in on an ECAST conference call, assisted in purchasing supplies for the conference, printed and stuffed packets and worked out technical issues with our Skype feed and videos at the Koshland Science Museum. Best of all, I met my intelligent and easy-going colleagues: Travis, Brian, Jeanne (from the Koshland), David and Jay. I was immediately and profoundly struck by their efforts to make me feel like an integral part of the team. After working well into the evening Friday to set up the conference, I was full of anticipation and nervous excitement about how things would go the next day.
When I arrived early Saturday at the Koshland, I must confess that I didn’t quite know what to expect. Would the discussions be lively and productive? Would there be any obstinate participants who would detract from the conversations? These were a just a couple of the questions swirling in my head as the doors opened and the attendees began to fill the lobby for our catered breakfast. At the time, though, I needed to focus on my assigned task, which was to serve as a “head usher”, directing participants to the registration tables and redirecting anyone looking confused to our volunteer ushers responsible for escorting people to their respective tables.
Once the conferees were comfortably seated with coffee and breakfast, I was responsible for making sure that there were no A/V problems on my side of the museum. I also served as a “roving facilitator”, observing discussions from afar and substituting for any facilitator who needed a break. I soon realized that each one of our facilitators were able to connect with the participants young and old and got so wrapped up in their discussions that none of them needed a “substitution” during each of our five discussion themes. Another observation I made was that the attendees young and old spoke from the heart, were exceedingly well-informed about biodiversity issues and respectfully disagreed with one another in a manner that made me feel extremely hopeful about the power and promise of future discussions such as these.
Overall, both the preparation for the conference as well as the conference itself were extremely gratifying experiences in and of themselves. Needless to say, I’ve become a huge fan of citizen engagement with policy issues. What remains to be seen is how policy makers will react when confronted with the results from this exercise in deliberative democracy.
By Steve Sander (firstname.lastname@example.org)