I’m Lisa Yeager, a program manager/business person at a leading cancer research center by day, with 10+ years moonlighting as an environmental educator. Recently, I joined forces with colleagues from the Applied Improvisation Network to form the Yes and Nature Collaborative and the Climate Conversations project. The collaborative brings together an interdisciplinary team working on conservation, environmental education, and theater to deliver training and services in support of the ecology and environmental justice movements.
In January, we launched a 5-week training series aimed at strengthening one-on-one conversations about a challenging and contentious topic – climate change (CC). Why? Because as Katherine Hayhoe lays out eloquently in Saving Us: A Climate Scientist’s Case for Hope and Healing in a Divided World – an important part of our climate resilience is making CC part of our everyday conversations, because “you can’t save what you don’t talk about.” As the Yale Program for Climate Communication has documented, a majority of Americans believe global warming is happening (72%), are worried about it (65%), and support stronger climate policy (64% – 77%). Yet, 64% of Amercians rarely or never talk about it.
The 5-week Climate Conversations series provided participants with the tools and practice to build the skills and confidence to have more effective conversations about CC. Topics included listening, talking, empathy, and presence.
Participants brought a range of backgrounds and perspectives, including environmental non-profits like EarthWatch and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, informal education settings like zoos, aquariums and museums, faith-based sustainability initiatives, government agencies like conservation districts, extension programs, and health departments. The cohort ranged in age from 20-somethings to octogenarians, and spanned the US. They all shared a concern about CC, a willingness to learn together, and try new things.
- Participants gained confidence communicating about CC.
After the series was completed, we asked participants to rate their confidence in talking about CC in one-on-one conversations before and after the course. On a scale from 1-5, they reported an average of 2.8 coming into the course and 4.1 afterwards.
Visual: Before and After taking Climate Conversations, rate your level of confidence in talking about climate change in 1:1 conversations:
- Most participants cited listening, empathy, and presence as the skills they used the most
We also asked which of the skills practiced in the series they were using in their real-world conversations at the end of the training. Most participants reported using their listening skills, followed by empathy and perspective taking, and being present during conversations:
- Interactive learning and being part of a cohort enhanced the learners’ experience.
The sessions were highly interactive, and as participants mentioned often, many of these are basic and necessary skills that are in short supply in today’s world. One participant reflected, “I think I expected more talking points. Instead, I learned to listen better. I think that is more important.” These outcomes align with the work of O’Neal and Hastings in “Teaching Genuine Dialogue: The Potential for Using Improv”. It also demonstrates the benefit that applied improvisation can bring to building the critical skills in listening, empathy, presence, all of which are needed for effective conversations that help to build dialogue in our increasingly polarized communities.
For this Zoom course, our evaluation benefited from being able to embed a brief survey at the end of the session. This allowed a quick pulse check without taking up time during the session. The survey was deployed immediately upon exiting the room. See Zoom’s step by step guide for how to set one up.
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