Mass Media Ethics in Films and Videos

http://tedxtalks.ted.com/video/Confessions-of-a-Wildlife-Filmm

Early in my career I delivered snake programs with live snakes for people to touch or see at a state park. Each year my live snake show at the Illinois State Fair would draw four or five daily audiences of hundreds. I was trying to provide an alternate narrative to the misinformation about snakes delivered through movies, TV news reports and friends’ flawed stories, exaggerated over time. One of my examples from that time period, the 1970s:

 

Remember Tarzan movies with Johnnie Weismueller? Tarzan is walking through the African jungle, an Austalian cockatoo sings from the treetops, an American alligator yawns in the river nearby, a Central American jaguar growls from the underbrush and a South American boa constrictor falls 5,000 miles sideways from a tree landing right on Tarzan’s chest. The 200-pound man wrestles the 15-pound snake with only his bare hands and a 10-inch knife. Most of what we hear and see about snakes is just as bizarre and just as made-up as that scenario.

 

Movies back then employed stock footage from diverse sources to tell their stories. Accuracy and ethics were not discussed. But decades later, it seems little has changed, or has it? We expect movies based on fiction to present unbelievable events and we overlook things that are unrealistic since it’s supposed to be entertainment, but what if credible non-fiction videographers and storytellers do that same thing?

 

Animal Planet, National Geographic Explorer and Discovery channels provide cable programming on diverse nature and culture topics. From Shark Week to Rattlesnake Republic to Finding Bigfoot, these programs attempt to build an audience with seemingly real content. Are their producers concerned about accuracy, conservation issues and the ethical treatment of animals?

 

Chris Palmer is a successful wildlife videographer who teaches about his profession at American University. In a recent TED talk he spoke candidly about the ethical choices a filmmaker makes routinely. Much of what we have seen and enjoyed in video storytelling about wildlife is a blend of real footage shot in the wilds and staged shots that help tell the story. The public is usually disappointed when they find out that seemingly realistic views into the private lives of animals are often confections, not the amazing videography they seem to be.

 

Palmer points out that our very best cable channels about animals now tilt heavily towards overly dramatized dangers. Rattlesnake Republic on the Animal Planet follows four groups of rattlesnake hunters to varied setting for roundups that make a spectacle of animal cruelty. On another program, “researchers” seek the mythical creature, Bigfoot. Pseudoscience gets better ratings than real science and program executives give us what we want, not what we need. Chris Palmer ends his TED talk with his thoughts on what we might do to improve the situation. I urge you to listen to his talk and consider his ideas.

 

Nature centers, zoos, museums, aquariums and wildlife sanctuaries seem to be the logical alternative for people to learn about the real world and counter what they think they know from sensational but inaccurate and overdramatized cable shows. But it may be a challenge to draw people away from their videos and TVs to take part in activities based in the real world. How do you compete with and/or complement the virtual programming in your area?

 

– Tim Merriman

 

 

 

The Uncertain Future of Elephants

Earth’s largest land animals, elephants, have never been more threatened. Dozens, if not hundreds, of organizations and individuals are working on various tactics in hopes of turning the current very negative trend.

 

Sheldrick Wild Animal Trust allows daily visits to the orphaned elephants, a chance to tell the story of poaching and habitat destruction.
Sheldrick Wild Animal Trust allows daily visits to the orphaned elephants, a chance to tell the story of poaching and habitat destruction.

Since 1977 the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust has been devoted to protecting elephants. Their Orphans Project is noted for rescuing, raising and rehabilitating elephants and rhinos for eventual release at Tsavo National Park. Tourists are moved by seeing orphaned baby elephants at Sheldrick Trust’s elephant orphanage in Kenya and they chip in to help by “adopting” an elephant or rhino, helping to pay the costs of raising these big babies. It’s hard to resist these youngsters and certainly, we didn’t even try to do so on our visit there, promptly adopting two elephants and one rhino for a two-year period.

 

Females have tusks so they are at risk with poachers. The little ones will only survive if their mothers do also.
Females have tusks so they are at risk with poachers. The little ones will only survive if their mothers do also.

Safaris take people out to see elephants in the wild, but too often people enjoy the safari experience without understanding the unseen threat of poachers that is one of the causes for so many elephant and rhino orphans. These highly engaged tourists could be donors if their guides would share the stories of how populations are declining and options for where to make contributions.

 

An old bull is nicknamed a "tusker." This identity reminds us that their tusks are so valuable that these mature animals are especially at risk.
An old bull is nicknamed a “tusker.” This identity reminds us that their tusks are so valuable that these mature animals are especially at risk.

Elephant orphanages and ecotours do not offer a panacea in the battle to save elephants. They are one piece of a complex puzzle that might build greater empathy among tourists for the plight faced by elephants. Better monitoring of populations is important to detect and interdict poachers. Research informs biologists how populations are changing. Enforcement officers must be on hand to catch poachers and get them prosecuted. Laws have to hold poachers and ivory buyers accountable. Sadly, the big money behind ivory poaching also contributes to corruption among government officials. Some are paid to look the other way and in many places this allows poaching to go unchecked.

 

Legitimate government and non-government organizational commitments to support habitat conservation, anti-poaching efforts, and education programs all require money and very often, that does not come unless there is broad understanding by people of the importance of the issues involved.

 

Most folks will never take a safari or see baby elephants in an orphanage. The zoo or a television program provides their one chance to learn about the plight of elephants in the wild. Can you imagine telling your grandchildren one day of the majestic herds of elephants that once roamed the forests and savannahs of Asia and Africa that have been wiped out? Although keeping such a large, social animal in a zoo is certainly controversial, we need opportunities to tell the elephants’ stories skillfully. Many zoos, even some without captive elephants, do that quite well. Some also take donations to protect habitat, hire rangers and guard remaining wild populations.

 

We live in a time when our knowledge of environmental threats has never been greater. And yet our political will and tools to protect elephants may not be adequate to the challenge. About 400,000 African elephants remain in nature with more than 35,000 being killed each year. About 40,000 Asian elephants live in their greatly diminished range. And the current rate of killing could reduce this noble animal to near extinction in a dozen more years at this level of poaching.

 

I think it has been shown over and over that we need ecosystems approaches to how we deal with the world’s environmental problems. Thoughtful policy, law enforcement, habitat protection, monitoring and interpretation each play a vital role. Some agencies and organizations choose one or two of these tools in preference to using all of them, but a balanced approach is needed overall. Strategic partnerships are vital in getting organizations working together to save the world’s elephants. Individuals can simply reject the purchase or display of anything made of ivory and help advocate for better support for elephant conservation.

 

World Elephant Day approaches on August 12th and it’s a chance for people from all over the world to speak up about the threat to elephants and the need for diverse approaches to protecting them. A balanced approach is needed if elephants are to be saved as keystone species in their natural ranges.

 

– Tim Merriman

 

Only elephants should wear ivory.

 

 

 

Great Things Happen to Good People

 

You often hear “bad things happen to good people.” It’s sometimes true and unfortunate, but sometimes great things happen to good people. Ange

Ange Imanishimwe
Ange Imanishimwe, a Mandela Washington Fellow and Intern.

Imanishimwe was selected to participate in the Mandela Washington Fellowships (MWF) this summer. We first met Ange when training Certified Interpretive Guides in Rwanda. Ange organized Biocoop Rwanda to defeat poverty in his region of Rwanda and to better protect the unique ecosystems in Nyungwe National Park where he guides. Their work has created more than 600 jobs for local people while improving community health, removing invasive species from the park and organizing beekeeping and milk production coops to assist local farmers.

 

Ange arrived in Berkeley this past weekend to participate in President Obama’s Young African Leadership Initiative (YALI) as part of the MWF program. It starts

Ange (upper right) met his Rwandan and Congolese colleagues at Kigali Airport for the trip to the United States just a few days ago.
Ange (upper right) met his Rwandan and Congolese colleagues at Kigali Airport for the trip to the United States just a few days ago.

with six weeks at a major university, University of California in this case, with intensive courses in entrepreneurship, leadership training and skills building. After the six weeks, the 500 Fellows convene in Washington, D.C. for a summit with President Obama. One hundred, including Ange, will remain another six to eight weeks for internships with major businesses and organizations. Ange will deliver public lectures at Harvard and Yale Universities during his internship with The Nature Conservancy in Boston.

 

The U.S. State Department invests an additional 5 million dollars in grants to these YALI participants over the next three years to assist with creating or improving non-profits that benefit communities. This kind of capacity building offers opportunities to young leaders who have already shown their ability to mobilize people and resources, helping to improve their African nations.

 

If any of our friends or colleagues in the San Francisco Bay area or Boston would like to meet Ange and show him around the region a bit, you will find he is interested to learn all he can from his visit to the USA. He is a very talented naturalist and guide with broad interests in people and the world. Let us know if you might share some of what our country has to offer and we can make the introduction for you but it must be soon as his time in Berkeley is limited. He is there now and moves on to Boston around the first of August.

 

Thanks to the thoughtful contributions of Marvin and Marion Kleinau and Tom Christensen, we recently sent three more new laptops to Rwandan park guides. Ange has one of those computers to use in his work. Access to the Internet is important to stay in touch with grant opportunities and colleagues around the world.

 

If you wish to buy a laptop ($260) or donate a gently used one to send to a guide at a national park in Rwanda, just let us know and we will handle the logistics of getting it to the hands of a guide after loading it with free open source software. You can help make great things happen for good people.

 

– Tim Merriman

The Power of Real People

Using photos of real people on signs and exhibits is an especially powerful method of telling the stories of communities. Here are some examples we have seen around the world that were interesting choices connecting visitors to real people in the region.

The people of the Warm Springs area are shown on life-size cutouts behind the museum stage reminding you that the Paiute and Wasco people still live nearby.
The Native American  people of the Warm Springs area in Oregon are shown on life-size cutouts behind the museum stage reminding you that the Warm Springs, Paiute and Wasco people still live nearby.

The Warm Springs, Wasco and Paiute people of Oregon share their stories in the Warm Springs Museum and their images appear beside the projection screen in the museum theater. Cultural stories could be told just with artifacts and artist’s drawings as is done in some places, but photos of local people help visitors understand that this community is still here and the people in it serve as your hosts.

This sign at the Mamu Tropical Skywalk explains that you are visiting the traditional lands of the Mamu people. That alone would not make much of a connection to the community.
This sign at the Mamu Tropical Skywalk explains that you are visiting the traditional lands of the Mamu people. That alone would not make much of a connection to the community.
Other signs like this one have photos of elders and community members with text that interprets their community.
Other signs like this one have photos of elders and community members with text that interprets their community.
The signs are engaging and the photos really keep the Mamu people on your mind as you look at the beautiful landscape. The highly reflective material and text very low on the signs make reading a bit difficult. Those are design choices to be considered when placing signs along a trail. It is easier to read text if at chest or eye level.
The signs are engaging and the photos really keep the Mamu people on your mind as you look at the beautiful landscape.

The highly reflective material and text placed very low on the signs make these signs at Mamu Tropical Skywalk challenging to read, but the intent in using Aboriginal community members as spokespeople is sound. It would be easier for visitors to make the important connection to the stories of local people if text was placed closer to average eye level and sign material made non-reflective.

Dr. Chris Mayer worked with Vivamos Major, a non-profit, in the Santa Clara La Laguna by Lake Atitlan in Guatemala.
Dr. Chris Mayer worked with Vivamos Major, a non-profit, in the Santa Clara La Laguna by Lake Atitlan in Guatemala to plan and develop The Refuge Trail using local images.

The signs placed on The Refuge Trail at Lake Atitalan used artist’s images of local people to create a strong connection with the project. The planner  engaged local artists and artisans in designing and building the trail and signage so they had a great sense of ownership and pride in their creative skills.
(Photo by Chris Mayer from Put the Heart Back In Your Community.)

This sign in the highlands of Malaysia at a Semai village show one of the guides who lead ecotours into the forest nearby.
This sign at a Semai village in the highlands of Malaysia  show one of the local guides with a Rafflesia flower.

The Malaysian Nature Society assisted this Semai village economically in shifting away from selling bird-winged butterflies and Rafflesia buds from the world’s largest flower to museum shops with ecotourism training in guest experience design. When you visit this charming village in the highlands a guide from the community takes you into the forest to see the Rafflesia, the butterflies and amazing insects found only there. Income from ecotourism is much greater than the income from selling organisms and they are now protecting their local forests and its inhabitants.

In Singapore they have life-sized posters of local customer service agents with an inviting message.
In Singapore life-sized posters of local customer service agents invite guests to learn more.

In Singapore, the history of the community is shared on interpretive signs on the streets. These interesting cutouts of life-sized photos of local customer service workers made it clear that they are proud of their friendly welcome for visitors. Since staff cannot always be on duty, the sign lets you know that assistance is available.

It is important that representing real recognizable people on signs and exhibits is done tastefully and with permission of those whose images are used. Talking about indigenous communities and local guides may be good but photos of them provide a much more direct connection to the community.

– Tim Merriman

Your Message Could Be Many Places

Signs, exhibits, videos and TVs are the most common media selected for interpretive messages at natural and cultural heritage sites and in communities. There are some variations on these approaches that will convey a message powerfully and creatively. Here are a few to think about:

 

You find Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch card on an exhibit or in the hand of a volunteer but you carry around in your wallet because the message is helpful and business card size.
Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch cards are given out on an exhibit or by staff or volunteers. The card can be  carried around in a wallet so that the information is readily available when buying seafood after leaving the aquarium.
A well thought out message on a food lockbox at Yosemite reminds people to protect the bears and yourself by storing food properly.
Although the design could be improved, a well thought out message on a food lockbox at Yosemite reminds people to protect the bears and yourself by storing food properly.
Even the sewer grate in Monterey has a message about where dumped liquids go in the environment.
Even the sewer grate in Monterey has a message about where dumped liquids go in the environment.

 

Entry tickets become keepsakes at many places and the message stays around, a reminder of an important story.
Entry tickets become keepsakes at many places, a reminder of the important stories found at the site.
Bathroom messages at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo share relevant messages to where you are.
Bathroom messages at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo share relevant messages about solid waste management.
Murals share heritage stories in very public places like this one in Philadelphia.
Murals share heritage stories in very public places like this one in Philadelphia.
Even electrical utility box in Old Town Fort Collins is a location for a mural, a visual message.
Even the electrical utility box in Old Town Fort Collins is a location for a mural, a visual message.
The El Paso Airport places memorable messages from their tourists in the floor for new arrivals to read near the baggage claim.
The El Paso Airport places memorable messages from residents in the floor for new arrivals to read near the baggage claim, answering the question “what’s special about El Paso?
A museum in Philadelphia uses outdoor building walls as a place to share local poetry.
A museum in Philadelphia uses outdoor building walls as a place to share local poetry.
The Rainforest Cafe invites donations through a unique use of a parking meter with a clear message.
The Rainforest Cafe invites donations through a unique use of a parking meter with a clear message.
Rainforest Cafe uses messaging in varied creative ways with napkins, table tents and menus.
Rainforest Cafe uses messaging in varied creative ways with napkins, table tents and menus.
Kids are invited to create artworks that have a message and then they are used as the sign.
Kids are invited to create artwork with a message that is then incorporated into sign design.
Public sculpture in this heritage community near Perth, Australia, reminds guests of the fishing traditions of the area.
Public sculpture in this heritage community near Perth, Australia, reminds guests of the fishing traditions of the area.
This path near Perth explains the challenges of new immigrants arriving with limited personal resources.
This path near Perth explains the challenges of new immigrants arriving with limited personal resources.

Visiting natural and cultural heritage sites and communities will become more interesting if we broaden our view of where messages can be shared.

– Tim Merriman

 

 

 

Shark Bait – Revealing the Real Story

Sharks are always part of the attraction at a marine aquarium.
Sharks are always part of the attraction at a marine aquarium.

Recent shark attacks in Hawaii are the current subject of conversation when we call family members on the mainland. In the past few months, a shark attack on Maui and a surfer bitten by a tiger shark in the Big Island’s northern waters were reported nationally as major stories. The focus of media attention makes it sound as if Hawaii’s waters are somehow increasingly dangerous. And they are to a degree, as more people than ever are enjoying snorkeling, surfing, fishing, boating and other water-related activities in the islands. But drowning poses a far greater hazard for snorkelers than sharks. In 2014 there were 8 million visitors to the islands and only three reported shark attacks. Since 2013, only two shark-related fatalities, both around Maui. Compare that to an average of 60 drownings each year, which usually occur because someone entered the water without knowledge of how to snorkel, kayak, or surf safely.

 

The average of 29 snorkeling deaths a year in Hawaii are usually attributed to inexperienced people in unfamiliar circumstances in the ocean.
The average of 29 snorkeling deaths a year in Hawaii are usually attributed to inexperienced people in unfamiliar circumstances in the ocean.

When I was a state park interpreter in the mid-1970s and doing live snake programs routinely, I would ask my audience which was more dangerous to humans – sharks, venomous snakes, bees, autos, aspirin, alcohol or tobacco. Both children and adults would guess that snakes and sharks are more dangerous to people than the other items (all of which are more deadly). The news media at that time reported every venomous snakebite and rarely brought up the medical statistics related to it, about ten deaths a year nation-wide. Two deaths from sharks worldwide was the average. Compared to 350,000 deaths annually in the U.S. from tobacco use, the danger of snakebite or shark attack was minimal. Snakes and sharks provide benefits that far outweigh any dangers and they are essential in healthy ecosystems.

 

Fear is a powerful persuader. Just look at the sensational headlines and stories that grip the nation. We often don’t look beneath the headlines unless the reporter does a very responsible job of helping us understand the real dangers involved. Great journalists put stories in perspective but the tabloid press mentality of many digital and print media reporters leads to amplification of the dangers and make nature seem more dangerous than our personal drinking habits or driving behaviors.

 

Interpreters help reveal nature’s mysteries and important stories, but safety is always an important messaging opportunity. People want to survive the experience and ignorance of the real dangers in the environment can threaten that. We can help people understand the real hazards of recreation and how they might behave to be more safe and treat wildlife and the environment more responsibly. It’s a chance to teach some natural history and reveal the incredible benefits of predators in their natural roles in the ocean or on land.

 

Tourism is the big economic driver for Hawaii so various sources publish excellent information on the real dangers in the water and the value of sharks. Interpreters who are skilled at getting in front of the news cameras should let media sources know when they get the story wrong and help them share a better understanding of how we may all live, work and play safely in the outdoors.

 

– Tim Merriman

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We’re Nuts about Hamakua Nut Factory’s Tour

mac1We have driven by the sign pointing up the hill in Kawaihae, Hawaii, many times. Hamakua Nut Factory Tour is just one block off of the main highway from Kailua-Kona to Hawi on the Big Island of Hawaii. Having a guest with us, we were looking for a macadamia nut factory tour and the time was right to finally check it out.

 

Hamakua is a district on the northeast of the island, but Hamakua Nut Factory is in Kohala, the northwest district, over an hour’s drive from the mac nut orchards of Hamakua. The factory’s owner located in Kohala because it is a dryer part of the island facilitating more rapid drying of the nuts for processing. Also, the factory is less than a mile from the Kawaihae harbor that container ships use, the least expensive way to export products from the island.

 

macnut5We entered the Visitor Center and immediately were greeted by staff inviting us to try their varied flavors of mac nuts, mac nut brittle and mac nut kettle corns. They invited us to wash down the samples with a variety of Ka’u and Kona coffees made available for tasting. The food sampling display was exceptional and I even tried the spam-flavored mac nuts; not my favorite but not unpleasant. The coffee was excellent and demonstrated that good coffee comes from Ka’u District as well as Kona.

 

Down the hall from the reception area is a self-guided tour that begins with one of the best videos of an ag-industrial process I’ve seen. In less than five minutes, it told the processing story from collecting nuts to drying, cracking and on to the Hamakua Nut Factory kitchens and packaging plants. When the video was over, we turned around to walk along the windows looking into the kitchens where workers wearing protective clothing prepared the nuts in a variety of ways. They made batches of flavored and candied nuts from the raw product and packed the product into attractive sales bags or boxes. Similar ones were displayed along the hallway where the tour took place. Returning to the reception area of the macnut4Visitor Center, we had picked up more than a few items to purchase. The friendly sales staff rang up our purchases (with a kama’aina/local person’s discount) and then it was time to get out on the road to visit Hawi and Kapa’au, with just one more quick visit to the sampling table on the way out the door.

 

The charm of this self-guided tour was as appealing as the guided tour at Mountain Thunder I wrote about last week, in a different way. The tour invites visitors to stroll through at their own speed and ask questions of staff. It was just the right level of attention from well-trained staff, who were helpful without being intrusive. A visit could take five minutes or two hours, as desired. We have seen mac nut tours with viewing windows in other places, but not with the tour, tasting macnut3room and sales area under one roof. This approach tied the process, products and sales together very neatly. Mac nut ice cream and specialized coffee drinks were also available in the Visitor Center.

 

Interpretation of ag-industrial processes certainly makes sense from an economic perspective. They sell products to almost everyone who stops to look and taste. Ag tourism or agriturismo, as it is called in Italy, can transform a hard working agricultural district into one with literally hundreds of ag businesses that sell products and also deliver engaging experiences. Tuscany in Italy has more than 400 agriturismo businesses in that one province. They help visitors learn about farming practices, wine and cheese making, and local culture and provide charming places to stay with wonderful food.

 

The Bergdahl family enjoyed the humorous postcard photo opportunity.
The Bergdahl family from California enjoyed the humorous postcard photo opportunity.

I grew up in agricultural country in Illinois and saw few tours or experience-based ag businesses. Many farms sold their apples or peaches from roadside stands but few ever made the effort to tell their story in a way that engaged visitors more deeply. Engaged guests stay longer, buy more and tell their friends. Kids on ag tours learn that nuts, fruit, vegetables and fiber come from important processes after growing and harvest of ag products. At a time when many of a child’s experiences with the world are virtual, these real experiences have great attention getting and holding power.

 

We enjoy the agricultural ambiance of the Big Island. And we’re loving the sophistication of some of the agricultural tour opportunities we’ve seen. I guess it’s fair to say that we’re nuts about these macadamia factory tours.

 

-Tim Merriman

 

 

Mountain Thunder Coffee Tour

I have been hearing about the Mountain Thunder Coffee story from various friends since we moved to the Big Island of Hawaii. This morning we took a trip up Kaloko Drive to the main coffee mill located at 3,000 feet elevation in the cloud forests on Hualalai Volcano. As you leave the main highway at 1,500 feet elevation you immediately notice the change from coffee farms, banana trees and macnut groves to grassy horse farms and then into ohia lehua trees and tree ferns at higher elevation. It is a gorgeous drive and we missed the tiny sign to turn right onto Hao Street, so we saw more of the beautiful estates and landscapes than expected until we came to the dead-end on the road.

 

mt4I usually enjoy industrial interpretive tours and love Kona coffee so I was looking forward to the experience. We were 10 minutes late for the free tour that starts each hour but one staff member invited us to join the tour with Mary Ellen Legay that was in progress. She encouraged us to try a sample of the Private Reserve and/or Black and Tan coffees in the thermos dispensers. I liked both and loved the black and tan, a mix of American roast and French roast, a bit toastier than the usual light roast coffee dubbed American. Oddly the lighter roast coffees have more caffeine because prolonged roasting times and temperature required for dark roast break down the eye-opening caffeine in coffee.

 

mt1I missed the introduction but Mary Ellen was great about bringing new arrivals up to speed quickly. She was explaining how coffee cherries are transformed into coffee beans by fermenting off the cherries, drying, dehusking and grading in preparation for roasting. She walked us through the warehouse where very noisy equipment overpowered our ability to hear, but she picked up a battery powered amplification unit and continued so all could follow the process. I usually don’t like to hear guides using amplifiers, but this was absolutely the right timing and appropriate for the environment. She went back to a more conversational unamplified approach when we left the grading equipment room for the roasting room. She had small children, adults and some older folks in her group and was careful to be sure all could see and hear at each move on the tour.

 

mt2Our original group of ten or so had swelled to twenty or more people by the time we reached the end of the tour in the gift shop. Mary Ellen invited us to try coffee cherry tea as we entered the small shop and then explained how each of the grades of coffee are packaged and sold through the shop. She asked for a team effort to answer a question related to the tour content and rewarded the entire group with chocolate covered coffee beans before inviting us to browse the rest of the shop and ask questions. She stayed as long as anyone had something to ask and then headed back out to the plaza for the next group. An hour had flown by and we were happy to participate in the flurry of sales as almost everyone in the group found coffee, macnut treats, t-shirts and other appropriate souvenirs of the visit. From discreetly observing the sales, we estimated the shop took in somewhere around $1,000 plus in sales as a direct result of the quality of the “free” tour.

 

mt3Mary Ellen found the right balance of information about the coffee process and the appeal that high quality coffee has in Kona District. At $30 to $50 a pound, organic Kona coffees are some of the most highly valued coffees in the world. The Mountain Thunder story on their website explains that Trent Bateman, an “oil-well doctor” and machine shop owner, sold his businesses twenty years ago and bought a 20-acre coffee farm on Kona. His family-owned business now includes a dry-milling operation for their own farms and other small coffee farms in the area and multiple retail outlets and tours (some free, some for a fee). US Dept. of Agriculture certifies their coffee as organic and makes regular inspections.

 

As trainers of guides, we like to visit commercial operators such as beer breweries, tea factories or coffee mills that interpret unique human stories blended with the agricultural or industrial processes involved. Mountain Thunder produces a very high quality product, shares their unique story well and adds a wonderful attraction to the Kona tourism experience. If you get to the Big Island, check out their cloud forest coffee mill on Hualalai. And enjoy their award-winning coffee during your visit. Once you see what it takes behind the scenes to bring you your daily dose of caffeine, you’ll never look at a cup of coffee the same way again.

 

– Tim Merriman

 

 

The Markets Game – A Mixer, Icebreaker and More

Created at Wordle.net.
Created at Wordle.net.

If you are training, putting on a conference or bringing people together who do not know each other for a meeting, the markets game can be a good start. It brings people together to chat about who they are (demographics), where they are from (geographics), and what they enjoy and care about (psychographics). I first saw it at a storytellers gathering, used as a mixer for new members, and we have since adapted it to the many varied settings in which we work. We have used it with as few as ten people and as many as 200. It can be done in as little as five minutes or as long as you wish, but planning fifteen to twenty minutes usually allows plenty of time.

 

Here’s how it works. You invite everyone in your group to stand in a large space that allows folks to spread out a bit, indoors or outdoors. The instructions are simple. Ask questions and let people move to your left or right in response to each question. After they move, invite them to gather in groups of two or three and spend a minute getting acquainted. Each question will split them up differently so they will meet new people very quickly and learn a little about them. I prefer to start with demographic questions, and then move into geographic questions and then psychographics. Question examples:

 

Question 1 – If you remember where you were on the day of the Kennedy assassination, stand to the left. If you don’t remember it, stand on the right. This generally puts those over 60 years old in the “remember” group and under 60 on the other. It’s a way of asking age without asking people to identify their specific age. You can also use the 1986 Challenger accident because most folks will remember it well, even if they were children when it occurred. This would put those over 35 in one group and under 35 in the other. Any significant national or world event that occurred during the age range of your group would work.

 

Question 2 – If you own a car, move to the left. If you rely on public transportation or your bicycle to get where you’re going, move to the right. Some questions will put almost all of the group in one location and few or none on the other side. It tells you something about the economic background of the group.

 

Watching this activity you can get a sense of your group’s ages and living circumstances. I avoid questions that might make people uncomfortable such as “if you make more than $50,000 annually . . . or if you have college debt . . . or have ever been divorced?”

 

Geographics

 

Question 3 – If you were born and raised west of the Mississippi River over to the left, east of the Mississippi to the right. Obviously this is a U.S. oriented landmark. If you work with an international group, you might divide the group into east/west or north/south hemispheres instead. We live in Hawaii so I might ask here if my participants were born and raised in the islands or moved here.

 

Question 4 – If you live in a city or suburban area, move to the left. If you live on a farm or in a small town of 5,000 or fewer, move to the right. I might also ask if they grew up in the country or in the city or went to college at a western school or an eastern school.

 

Psychographics – I spend most of my time on these for they help me learn the most about the group’s current interests and preferences. These questions can be tailored to reflect activities common in the local area or relevant to your setting.

 

Question 5 – If you would rather read a good book than see a good movie, move to the left. If you prefer to see a movie over reading a book – move to the right.

 

Question 6 – If you prefer hiking over bicycling, to the left, bicycling over hiking to the right.

 

Working with interpreters and guides, I usually end with asking extroverts to move to the left and introverts to the right. Contrary to my expectations, I almost always end up with about two-thirds in the introvert group. People who are passionate about protecting the Earth learn to guide, present and overcome shyness to interpret what they value.

 

The Markets Game used with a large group gets people a bit acquainted and finding out what they have in common with others present. It starts conversations and breaks the ice of being in a new place with strangers. With a small group it helps you see that we segment markets differently using psychographics than with demographics and geographics. The questions can be framed a lot of different ways and some folks will go to the middle and ask if that’s okay (it is).

 

This activity gives the facilitator insights into who the group is and what they prefer. Most importantly it gets folks out of their chairs, moving around and chatting. The game gets people engaged and wanting to know more about each other and that’s a great start at any conference, workshop or social gathering.

 

  • Tim Merriman

What’s in a battery?

It is an exciting time in the energy innovations business. And I am wishing I had paid more attention in high school during physics class. It was my worst subject. I just did not know how to relate it to the real world. After a lifetime of applied physics lessons, I am actually learning how electricity works. Battery design and use has become my most recent study. Since we are building an off-grid solar house, batteries are required. Battery research has led me down many rabbit trails.

 

Right away I learned that lead-acid batteries have a limited life. They require regular inspection and addition of distilled water. They should not be drawn down too often or too far in stored energy. They must be recycled to keep the lead in them from being a hazard after they are no longer useful. Some innovative folks have been working on other, more environmentally-friendly options.

 

Nonagenarian Earl Bakken, inventor of the pacemaker, is converting his 17,000 square foot house to off-grid solar on the Big Island and getting away from diesel generators. His 176 kilowatt solar panel array will charge into a new battery type based on saltwater, not lead-acid. RES, our solar contractor is also working on his project and has taken on distribution of the new line of Aquion batteries to do his project and others. Our modest 1180 SF house will use their new S-20 batteries designed for small projects.

 

m100-ls81-homeThe Aquion story is innovation at its best and Dr. Jay Whitacre tells the story well in his 2012 TED talk. He worked for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) as a post-doc after earning a Ph.D. in physics from Oberlin College. He became a senior staff scientist involved with the Mars Science Laboratory development team. His research into energy storage led him into experimentation with batteries based on using the most common elements on Earth. He invented the Aquion battery when he left JPL for a professor position at Carnegie Mellon Institute in Pittsburgh in 2007.

 

Eight years later the battery is in production and distribution with Hawaii being an important demonstration location due to the Bakken project, a microgrid-sized application. Aquion has attracted major investors in the past two years including Bill Gates of Microsoft fame. In 2011 Gates posted a blog article entitled “We Need an Energy Miracle.” He explained in that blog the need for a low-cost energy storage system to make solar and wind technologies more useful in diverse settings. Aquion is one of several approaches that show great promise so he invested.

 

Aquion makes a battery with no Haz-Mat implications. It requires no maintenance such as adding water. It lasts for 10 to 20 years and can be cycled up and down thousands of times. It is more expensive than a lead-acid battery system at the start, but should not be over the total cycle of 20 years. And it will be less expensive to buy each year as sales volumes increase and production costs are reduced.

 

In the early 1980s I was a nature center director employing solar hot water, composting toilets and a solar greenhouse to demonstrate new technologies. Many new trends we thought would endure did not, but nature centers are a great place to demonstrate and explore new technologies that show hope for a more sustainable future for the planet. New technologies offer a good opportunity for grants funding because they are one-time purchases with a sustainability value in support of the nature center, zoo or aquarium.

 

Batteries never looked exciting to me before, but they do now. And I am learning some of the basic physics principles I missed in high school. If you operate a facility or home in a sunny location, take a look at the options to go off-grid and start learning more about batteries. It really is an exciting time in the energy innovations business.

 

-Tim Merriman

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seven Tips for Getting Grants

A wordle.net creation
A wordle.net creation

Sometimes grants seem to be the perfect solution to every need at nonprofits. I learned early on to be careful what you wish for when you apply for grant monies. Here are a few guidelines when thinking about going for grants.

 

  • When someone from a foundation or family trust offers money to your organization for their pet project, go slowly and be sure what they wish to support is something you would be doing if they were not helping at all. Be strategic even if it means turning down a large sum of money that is assured or risk drifting away from your mission.
  • Be sure you have the skill to manage a grant before you land it. Applying for funds with an exaggeration of your skills and abilities as a staff and board can backfire. If you get the grant and the granting organization is not happy with the level of competency at which you perform, your credibility with them will suffer.
  • Use grants to start new projects, especially those that create earned income, but do not expect to sustain the projects with grant funds. Most foundation executives will warn you in person or in their grant guidelines that they do not wish to provide ongoing operational support of your work. They want to help you become more self-sufficient or achieve important dreams. They worry and withdraw support when they see an applicant attempting to bridge the gap in operations year after year with operating grants.
  • Be sure you have the ability internally or with hired accounting services to carefully track grant funds. Most granting organizations will audit your work at some level and finding you did not spend their money as promised can result in damage to personal careers and the organization’s reputation.
  • Thoroughly research potential grant sources before applying. They publish guidelines that give you a clear idea of their priorities and you will not change their strategic directions even if your need is very compelling. Most foundations also have specific geographic regions within which they fund.
  • People give to people so personal relationships and thoughtful communication matters. Invite grant givers to your site to see what you do whenever they are in your area. I once asked our Congressman to invite statewide foundation representatives to our community, a region that few foundations had visited or supported. Each of them began giving in the community after seeing our local non-profit organizations in action. The congressman was the perfect host because he served on the Joint Congressional Budget Committee and they would not consider turning down his specific invitation.
  • Write a logic model for your project or program that identifies the impact, outcome and output objectives clearly. Many funders require them but most will appreciate knowing the measurable results you expect. A logic model that is well written clearly identifies how the results will be evaluated, another common requirement of grants.

 

Charitable foundations, government agencies and even corporations assist nonprofits greatly through grants, but dependence on them can be a problem. Their ability to help your group grow will decline in a recession economy. It’s important to balance grants with earned income, individual philanthropy and other sources. Remember that grants are not gifts – they require thoughtful shepherding throughout their life cycle, from initial research to final reports.

 

–Tim Merriman

Thematic Events

Master Gardners answered questions for guests about plants and pests.
Master Gardners answered questions for guests about plants and pests.

Last weekend we attended the 11th Annual Grow Hawaiian Festival at the Amy B.H. Greenwell Ethnobotanical Garden in Captain Cook. It was a celebration of Hawaiian culture and traditional foods. Almost everything at the event supported the theme. They made a point of focusing on the original 27 “canoe plants” known to have come with the early Polynesian immigrants to the islands. The first Hawaiians chose those plants carefully for the great value each provided as food, oil for light and fiber for clothing. This thematic event landed particularly well because the coordinators so carefully keep the booths and activities closely aligned with “grow Hawaiian.”

 

Making poi was popular with guest of all ages.
Making poi was popular with guest of all ages.

One booth invited visitors to make poi from kalo (taro) or ulu (breadfruit) by pounding it on a papa kui ai (wooden board with a trough shape) using a pohaku kui ai (stone pounder). People of all ages were trying the traditional Hawaiian method of preparation to make a smooth starch poi and each one could take home the resulting creation in ziplock bags. The gardens show the kalo growing so visitors make the connection between the food and the plant.

 

The lunch served at the event was a traditional plate lunch with Kalua pork and cabbage or lomilomi salmon along with macaroni salad, poi or rice and a tomato salad for $10, including the beverage. It was delicious, cooked and served by local families.

 

Parents captured their child's lauhala lesson by an elder of the community.
Parents captured their child’s lauhala lesson by an elder of the community.

I watched many parents of children using a cell phone to take a video of their child learning hands-on lessons on lauhala (pandanus fiber) weaving or making poi. The focus of the event is learning by doing and selling items is not permitted until the event has concluded at 2:30 PM. This well-planned and attended event will bring us back year after year.

 

The Big Island of Hawaii has a number of festivals year-round. The climate, scenery, culture and tourism make it profitable and useful to create outdoor events that tell a story, but some tell their story better than others. We have written about the Chocolate Festival and Coffee Festival in the past because they exemplify the power of thematic events to tell community stories.

 

The 27 canoe plants were selected for their usefulness on a long journey by canoe from the South Pacific to the Hawaiian Islands.
The 27 canoe plants were selected for their usefulness on a long journey by canoe from the South Pacific to the Hawaiian Islands.

We have also attended recent agricultural festivals where the thematic identity was present in name only. The many artisan booths could have been set up at any marketplace to sell their wares. They are festivals in name only and do nothing for the community or branding of the host site.

 

Non-thematic events are not bad. They simply lack the personality that a thematic identity brings to the table. They are not very engaging for the community or the attendees except as economic events. Themes deliver a message, a reason to connect with the idea behind the festival.

 

Thematic events that match your natural and cultural history help in branding your organization and community. Think about your events and whether they help create your sense of place.

 

– Tim Merriman