Innovation and the ‘normal no’
‘there is a need to identify innovative models for ensuring protected area success; in other words, to encourage the wider community to take collective responsibility for protected areas’ (in the pre-eminent “Nature” this week – Watson et al 2014).
This gold-plated publication has reinforced and confirmed my observations of, and concerns regarding, the institutional arrangements responsible for biodiversity conservation over the last 20 years of my professional interest, and longer, for my personal interest (in NSW, QLD and the ACT).
A couple of weeks ago, we published this for the Friends of Grasslands Forum, and presented it at Mulligans Flat during that forum. I seek to highlight the practical challenges facing leaders needing to develop innovative approaches to tired problems…
Innovation and the “normal no”
As the biodiversity crisis fails to abate, it is clear we need to reconsider historic approaches and try new ways of fixing tired problems. We don’t need innovation for the sake of innovation, we need innovation to make gains with dwindling resources. We need to do more, more effectively, with less…
When I presented the Friends of Grasslands at their mid-Winter session at Mugga in 2010 I outlined several barriers to grassland restoration in the region. These barriers fell into two groups – they were either related to ‘capability’ (we didn’t know or didn’t have the right tools) or ‘capacity’ (we didn’t have the volume of seed or enough land or people). In the five years since, Greening Australia has systematically broken down those barriers, and now has both capacity (including seed supply systems) and capability (field-experience and know-how) to start to reintroduce long-lost flora species to grassland sites.
On another front, and on a different scale, at the Mulligans Flat Woodlands Sanctuary, we are returning long-lost fauna species. In that science-led program we are branching out to diversify the ecosystem inhabitants we are returning and broadening community engagement program we are undertaking to garner stronger support. In the community engagement program we are repeatedly affronted with barriers to undertaking what is normal practice elsewhere – either on private land or in different States. However, it is pleasing to note that there too, we are making headway and knocking down those barriers one-by-one.
Taken together, these two programs provide some useful insights into the challenges facing innovation in a sector struggling for traction and resources. Let me introduce the concept of the ‘normal no’. Nobody naturally enjoys hearing the N-O. But, for those at the forefront of innovation and leadership, the N-O is as normal as the O-K. If you want to improve a situation, the normal first-response to new ideas is “no”. We need to recognise this ‘no’ is simply the normal first step on the path to improvement, just one of the barriers that needs to be side-stepped, tunneled-under or jumped-over – of course always with a warm smile of gratitude ;>).
Once you have swallowed and digested the ‘normal no’ you are on the path to innovation. In experience there are five ‘P’s in the mix that have consistently lead to the successful emergence of innovation: partnership, passion, persistence, pressure and people. Interestingly the Productivity Commission has recognised not-for-profit organisations as the hot-bed for innovation in the community sector (including environment). Mission-based organisations can provide the right balance of passionate people with drive and focus to solve problems, and by their very nature and usually corporate structure, they are partnership based.