Community Corner: Transparency is key to preserving relationships in an era of mistrust

Photo of Betsi Oliver, outreach coordinator.

By Betsi Oliver
Outreach Coordinator

Clean Pacific, a conference for the oil spill prevention and response community, added a track this year with the theme of “communications.” I attended the conference to host the Council’s booth. In sessions and conversations throughout the event I heard one message coming through, loud and clear, about community relationships and trust:

The key to effective communications during a crisis, such as an oil spill, is long-term community relationships. The key to meaningful community relationships is trust. This trust is built on transparency, listening, and engaging key stakeholders in planning and preparation well in advance of any crisis.

The liaison from Canadian pipeline company Trans Mountain, for example, said that their practice of radical transparency met resistance in the company at first. Over time, however, it has proven effective. Sometimes the public misconstrues their messages, but with clarification and mutual dialogue, the community relationships are growing stronger.

This echoed a similar message I heard at an International Association for Public Participation training a few months earlier. Presenters wrestled with how we engage and inform communities in this era of mistrust. Businesses, government, and media are no longer regarded as reliable sources of accurate information. Even non-profits are losing credibility with the public. The recommendations were to seek deep ties to community members, to listen, and to share information, good or bad, transparently.

This sounds like old news to us. From the beginning, the Council fostered deep community ties, transparency, public engagement, and long-term relationships. Our interactions with industry, regulators, and our communities are based on science and the best interest of all stakeholders. We are a unique partner for industry, giving them a platform to provide information, answer questions, and listen to stakeholders, which helps them also develop long-term relationships.

The Council is ahead of the curve. We were created in part to be a model for the development of similar citizen oversight organizations across the country, so it makes sense. Our knowledgeable and active volunteers continually reinforce our deep community ties by sharing the message of who we are and what we do, and by listening to their member entities’ concerns.

Sharing the Council’s mission and message can be fun. Already this year volunteers have mentored teens, judged an ocean sciences quiz bowl, rode bikes in Washington D.C. between visits with legislators, eaten dim sum together, told stories about their lives’ impacts, shared photos, rode a Southwest Alaska Pilots Association boat, toured the pipeline terminal, and more.

Outreach by our volunteers is also effective. Our best social media responses come from posts that show our volunteers having fun while spreading our mission. The Council is most effective at sharing its message when volunteers connect us to their local community’s happenings, spread the word, and bring their friends. When a Council volunteer who is a trusted member of the community shares an informed message, others listen and believe it more readily.

I’m proud to be a part of this Council that has led the field in cultivating community relationships, transparency, and trust for almost three decades.

Community Corner: Council fosters pathways to engaged citizens

Photo of Betsi Oliver, outreach coordinator.

By Betsi Oliver
Outreach Coordinator

What makes the difference between youth who develop careers and other roles protecting our ecosystem versus those who don’t?

When youth develop a personal connection to the outdoors, an understanding of and interest in science, and civic engagement experience, they develop into young adults who are engaged, informed, and passionate.

In previous jobs I implemented youth education programs that were supported by the Council. As a mentor for the young participants, I saw that a web of interconnected experiences provides a strong foundation for their development. For a young person, finding a next step gives meaning to the fun field trip they did in elementary or middle school, turning it into their context for participating in Science Bowl, an internship, a volunteer effort, or an academic path.

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Community Corner: Devoted to the cause of safe oil transportation

Lisa Matlock

By Lisa Matlock
Outreach Coordinator

The Council is exceedingly lucky to have volunteers who spend precious time and provide invaluable expertise toward our mission, some of whom have volunteered for decades. Their dedication to the safe transportation of oil through Prince William Sound is both remarkable and essential to the Council’s mission.

Long-term volunteers can see projects through from beginning to end. They possess a unique perspective on how changes in the region’s prevention and response system have improved over the years. Long-term volunteers also help preserve the Council’s history, reminding us all of how, and why, our positions and policies have been shaped as they have over the years. Many examples of how these volunteers have influenced today’s Council are exemplified in their personal stories, especially those who have spent over 20 years working on behalf of the Council and its mission.

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Community Corner: Citizen scientists help the Council monitor our region

By Lisa Matlock, Outreach Coordinator

Lisa Matlock

One of the Council’s federal mandates involves environmental monitoring. With a small staff and vast geographic area, this monitoring takes many forms. Monitoring is often done by staff or contractors, but some monitoring takes place thanks to the Council’s volunteers and interns – all citizen scientists.

Since 2014, the Council has had high school interns in the community of Cordova who help monitor for aquatic invasive species. Three interns, Sarah Hoepfner, Cadi Moffitt, and currently Cori Pegau, have volunteered to hang sturdy plastic “settling plates” in the Cordova harbor each spring, to be picked up in the fall. The interns check the organisms that accumulate on the plate for critters such as invasive tunicates and bryozoans.

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