Members of the California Roundtable on Agriculture and the Environment (CRAE) recently took some time to reflect on what strategies help CRAE function at its best. Five key strategies, which draw on ten years of collaborative problem solving in food systems, surfaced:
1. Setting clear objectives
CRAE members try to maintain a clear sense of why they have come together and what they are trying to accomplish. Objectives must be mutually agreed upon and reiterated regularly. That clarity of purpose enables them to move in a common direction in both dialogue and group action. CRAE members agreed to the following objectives in 2015:
- Increase the depth of members’ knowledge about pressing issues at the intersection of agriculture and the environment (build intellectual capital)
- Increase members’ skill and capacity for collaborative problem solving (build human capital)
- Build relationships between leaders in agriculture and the environment (build social capital)
- Identify and act on areas of common ground, influencing decision making and thinking in California and beyond (have impact)
2. Finding the right mix
CRAE works on pressing issues at the intersection of agriculture and the environment. While it is critical to have broad representation from each of these sectors, it is also important to identify and include missing voices. These voices may add value to a particular dialogue, or they may be needed in an ongoing way. The issues are constantly changing, which makes it important for CRAE to continually examine the mix of its membership and be sure to include the perspectives that enrich and inform its work, such as voices representing social justice or the urban food movement.
In addition to the right mix of stakeholders, a strong membership commitment with consistent participation is imperative to establishing trust within the group and making progress toward the agreed-upon objectives. Because of that comradery, many members noted that one of the most important aspects of their involvement with CRAE was the meaningful relationships they had developed with those whom they might not otherwise have constructively engaged.
3. Fostering a learning environment
CRAE’s purpose is to bring leaders together to resolve conflict and find common ground to support agriculture and improve environmental outcomes. While a formal topic selection process is used to determine where the group will focus its efforts, learning about one another’s priorities is key to building a shared understanding of issues at the intersection of agriculture and the environment. This understanding is fostered during the “information share” that takes place at the beginning of each meeting. Issues raised during the information share often become topics for group dialogue and action.
Once a topic has been selected, a learning session is organized to ensure that all members share a base level of understanding about the issue. Members then share their diverse perspectives, honing in on the areas of common ground. From there, the group identifies opportunities to engage on the issue, often designating a subgroup to return with a proposal for group action.
4. Creating impactful outcomes
“CRAE has been around a long time and has influence,” said one member. “In order to preserve that influence, we need our voice to be heard outside the room.” CRAE is about much more than interesting dialogue; it is about producing high-quality, impactful products that influence decision makers. CRAE circulates the results of its collaborative problem solving through the media, letters to legislators and agencies, and reports with principles and recommendations on topics ranging from food safety to environmental regulations and pest management to immigration. See CRAE’s Results.
5. Relying on a strong backbone
CRAE’s success relies, in part, on the skillful convening, facilitation, and administrative services provided by Ag Innovations. These essential backbone services – developing membership, crafting objectives based on the group’s input, carefully creating agendas, and promoting the group’s outcomes – empower CRAE to focus on the work and accomplish its goals.