Does it matter who gets the credit?

Hands watering a seedIt’s amazing what can be achieved if it doesn’t matter who gets the credit

In all my years as a manager/leader, the title of this piece has been one of my touchstones. You see, while I won’t turn the odd bit of personal glory down, I do not actively seek it; I am much more interested in change happening than who made it happen.

I was reminded of this mantra recently, when a funding opportunity slipped through my fingers – or did it? I had been working with someone towards a substantial sum that would have benefited The Aire Rivers Trust, which I chair, and the River Aire, which is (obviously) the target of our actions. For various reasons, the ‘dance’ going on between me and the potential funder did not lead anywhere and they decided to offer the funding to someone else. BooHoo… – or was it?

The ‘someone else’ to whom it was offered also works on the River Aire and if they get the money it turns out that they will spend it on more or less what we had planned and would like our Trust to work as a partner with them 😊

So whilst I admit to being slightly peeved that I didn’t pull off the deal, at the end of the day the right thing is going to happen, and for that I am grateful. Moreover, we have been cultivating the ‘other organisation’ for many years, building relationships, understanding each other’s capabilities and desires.

From the outside some might wonder what the apparently outcome-free meetings are about, going to meetings from which we get no immediate return, what is the point of taking Ms X for a coffee, or ringing Mr P up for a chat every now and again. “Wasted effort” they might say, to which my response is “Building long-term relationships that will pay off at some unexpected time”, as happened in the instance described above.

My wife says that one of the things I do as I stimulate change is to ‘plant seeds’. And as in a garden some of those seeds grow and some fail to germinate. Initially all of them need care and every one that germinates needs tending. Watering, fertilising, potting on, planting out. The rewards from a garden might not come for months, or even years and might even be reaped by someone else – but the rewards will be reaped if sufficient consistent care is given. The person who sees the first blossom on the bush you so carefully planted, cared for and sold on may not even know who did those early tasks – but when you walk past their garden and see it in blossom, you will know and you will continue laying the groundwork.

Buy that coffee, ring her up, send that interesting article, attend those ‘pointless’ meetings – it will pay off somehow, sometime, somewhere.

Flood Risk Management Strategy

Today Emma Howard Boyd, Environment Agency Chair, will be launching the start of the consultation on the draft national flood and coastal erosion risk management strategy for England. The draft strategy marks the culmination of engagement with over 90 organisations. The Secretary of State for Defra in his climate change speech last year recognised that we need to “explore new philosophies around flood and coast management”.

The draft strategy begins that process. The consultation is an opportunity to hear your views on those new philosophies and the level of ambition within the draft strategy.

The draft strategy sets out a vision for “a nation ready for, and resilient to, flooding and coastal change – today, tomorrow and to the year 2100.” It has three ambitions:

  • Climate resilient places;
  • Today’s growth and infrastructure to be resilient in tomorrow’s climate; and
  • A nation of climate champions, able to adapt to flooding and coastal change through innovation.

The consultation runs from today 9th May for eight weeks until the 4th July and can be found here.

Nature Connectedness

Young girl smelling sunflowerMany Rivers Trusts offer public engagement activities. This is partly in recognition of the need to involve local people in conservation, for reasons of sustainability, support and equity. It has always been assumed that the more, better contact, the more likely positive outcomes will result.

Recent research is showing what ‘better’ means, in terms of influencing pro-conservation behaviour. There is a growing realisation that a positive, connected relationship with nature leads to pro-environmental attitudes and well-being benefits. Having a positive relationship with nature is an important part of well being, comparable to other established factors such as income and education. The emerging research in this area can influence our approaches to engagement.

Recent academic research makes a compelling case for adopting a “pathways to connection” approach. RSPB, Natural England, the Natural Trust and others have been working with the University of Derby over the past two or three years and the thinking and practice that have emerged is compelling, robust, and cutting-edge.

Many public engagement activities focus on imparting knowledge in a variety of different ways, while others are more focussed on stimulating a creative or emotional response. It turns out that the former approach may be misguided.

A striking statistic coming from the research is that nature connectedness explains 69% of ecological behaviour while nature knowledge explains only 2%. Visit frequency was found to be less good a predictor of pro-conservation behaviours as connectedness. Wandering aimlessly along a riverbank is clearly nothing like as effective as actually getting involved either physically or emotionally.

The research identifies five pathways to nature connectedness:

  • Contact – The act of engaging with nature through the senses
  • Beauty – The perception of aesthetic qualities including shape, colour and form that please the senses
  • Meaning – Using nature or natural symbolism to communicate a concept that is not directly expressed
  • Emotion – An affective state or sensation that occurs as a result of engaging with nature
  • Compassion -Extending the self to include nature, leading to a concern for other natural entities that motivates understanding and helping/co-operation

I, for one, have yet to fully absorb these findings and to understand how they will be incorporated into the Activity Pan for our DNAire project to reinvigorate the Aire. Your thought will be very welcome.

 

Based on original research by Miles Richardson from Derby University, interpreted by me and Kate Measures of Heritage Insider who is helping develop our Activity Plan for DNAire.

Organisational politics in a rivers trust

Woman mediating between arguing colleagues“Politics are rife in our organisation” or “There are no politics where we work” . The truth typically lies somewhere in-between.

In my last blog, I said I would write another about the role of office politics in our organisations.

With all the hassle we see at national level with Politics, you might well ask why you need to think about organisational politics. Well, I suggest that you need to because they are inevitable and necessary in any organisation and particularly those who rely heavily on influencing third parties to co-operate, collaborate or even ‘just’ hand over funding. Indeed, one definition of organisational politics is that they are:

informal, unofficial, and sometimes behind-the-scenes efforts to sell ideas, influence an organisation, increase power, or achieve other targeted objectives.

Who among you would not recognise that as part of our way of operating? Who among you might want to be able to work more effectively in the inevitable world of organisational politics? Well, thanks partly to The Academy for Political Intelligence, there are ways of recognising what is going on and working differently.

So let’s start with another definition:

Politics is not what you do but why I think you do it

At risk of inflaming something unwanted, to use a current metaphor, Boris Johnson might be doing what he is doing for purely personal reasons (because he wants to be PM) or he might genuinely think that his approach to Brexit is best for the country or both! So here we have the two axes against which we can evaluate behaviour:

  1. The extent to which the individual is politically skilled – can ‘read’ a situation and apply relevant skills
  2. whether the primary driver is purely to meet personal goals, or whether it is also aligned with organisational needs

I’m a consultant, so we have a four box model based on these axes:

Four political animals

Are you a sly fox, a wise owl, the stubborn mule or a follower sheep? All have their place and your challenge is to be aware of them all, watch out for them (especially in your own behaviour) and play the appropriate role at the right time.

In order to flourish, you need political intelligence.

What is political intelligence (pi)?

pi is a distinct set of skills and behaviours that are needed by people working in organisations all over the world in order to manage effectively the political landscape.

In other words this means:

  • Recognising and understanding how your organisation REALLY works
  • Appreciating how decisions are REALLY made and how you can influence this process
  • Understanding the concept of power in an organisation and developing alternative and additional sources of power to become more influential
  • Following how information flows around your organisation and making sure you are ‘tapped’ into the key points on it’s journey
  • Making sure you have a network that provides you with a supporting framework to make things happen
  • Having absolutely first class communication skills ensuring crystal clear clarity at all levels
  • Appreciating that you will be perceived as a political animal in your organisation and learning how to manage that for your own and the organisations’ benefit.

How to be Politically Intelligent

The trite answer would be to go on a suitable course, but I’m not advertising here, simply offering you some high level tips. How you handle each of these (stereotypical, so beware that we can all do all of them to a greater or lesser extent) differs:

Sheep – want to follow the herd and do what the organisation wants them to do, so make it clear that this is company policy, that everyone else of doing it this way, this is the way to go, that this is a low risk option

Mules – are stubborn and want to do what they want to do the way they want to do it. They do what they do for their own reasons, so find out what those reasons are and make your request in terms that fit those personal reasons.

Foxes – sly, cunning, cleverly getting what they want for themselves. Establish what their real drivers are, use their cunning and resourcefulness to find new ways to deliver things, point out opportunities that they might be interested in.

Owls – are wise, patient, principles and ruthless when necessary. They often work in mysterious ways, behind the scenes. Ask them for help with big challenges; appeal to their hard-held principles.

 

So there you are, a 10 minute introduction to Organisational Politics. It DOES happen in your organisation after all, doesn’t it?

Implementing the Eels Regulations

Eels being returned to a riverThe Environment Agency have just circulated briefing note describing how they are going about implementing the 2009 (YES!) Eels Regulations.

You can access it by clicking on the photo.

We know no more than is in this briefing, but see that there is an EA contact listed at the bottom of the briefing.

Enjoy!

Leadership in a Rivers Trust

Leadership is about orcestrating your resourcesSome readers may be aware that as well as being Chairman of The Aire Rivers Trust, I am also a specialist in organisational/personal development and leadership (that’s what earned me money for 30 years and what still contributes to the bank account). So I read this article from Harvard Business Review with increasing recognition of its relevance in the charity sector, including Rivers Trusts. It’s ostensibly about leadership in professional services firms, typical in the accountancy, legal and other consulting fields. So what’s the relevance to our areas of interest?

Well, I submit that in many ways  we operate on the same basis as those organisations. I have been a trustee of  3 charities and recognise that they are typically reliant on volunteers, sometimes at both grassroots and board level, those volunteers do what they do because they like it, we have to motivate them through their intrinsic drivers not those of the trust, may senior volunteers bring specialist skills upon which the trust comes to rely, we cannot rely on traditional hierarchical power structures, we quite often have a few highly opinionated individuals as part of the team, we often have people who are not willing to be led nor do they want to lead (they just want to get on with what they are doing)…  To quote the article

leadership is a collective, not an individual, endeavor, created through interactions among powerful peers.

So how do we lead in such an environment? That is where the article rang so many bells. Their prescription seems quite a good fit for us. I have quoted it below, and you will see the need for a little ‘translation’

Guiding Principles for Leading in a Professional Service Firm

INNS along the Aire

Every year, around now, our thoughts turn to how we are going to deal with the problem of invasive species in our rivers. We have been campaigning and acting for years on this topic, most especially in connection with the nasty Giant Hogweed. Other species pose a threat to wildlife, property of flood risk but GH poses a serious risk to human health. The sap, if it gets onto your skin, will cause long-lasting photosensitive burns. It needs totally eliminating.

Fortunately, thanks largely to funding by the Environment Agency, substantial progress has been made along the Aire and there are few occurrences above Esholt; the same cannot be said below there, so we were especially pleased to hear that the EA and Yorkshire Water are to fund ongoing work to control and hopefully eliminate not only GH but also other important species. The text below is from a briefing recently issued by the EA:

 

The Environment Agency have a Yorkshire INNS Strategy for Flood Defence Works. This targets three key species (Japanese Knotweed, Giant Hogweed and Floating Pennywort) for potential management.

As a result the Environment Agency will be undertaking the following INNS-related work in 2019/20:

  • Surveying for Japanese Knotweed, Giant Hogweed and Floating Pennywort on the following main rivers: Swale / Ure / Nidd / Ouse / Wharfe / Hull. There will also be additional discrete surveys for 5 more INNS on the headwaters of these rivers (Himalayan balsam, Orange balsam, giant butterbur, American skunk cabbage, monkey flower). All this data will be supplied to YWT by a bulk upload at the end of the survey year;
  • Treating Floating Pennywort on the main rivers of the Don, Calder and Aire. To this aim we will continue to work in partnership with the Canal and Rivers Trust to manage this species on all of Yorkshire’s rivers and navigations;
  • Treating Japanese Knotweed and Giant Hogweed on the following main rivers of south & west Yorkshire:
  • The River Aire (and associated main river tribs) from its headwaters in Malham down to the confluence with the Ouse;
  • The River Calder from headwaters to Luddendon Foot and also at Dewsbury;
  • The River Rother (and associated main river tribs) from headwaters to confluence with the river Don at Rotherham;
  • The River Don from (approximately) Rotherham down to the confluence with the Ouse;
  • The River Dearne (and associated main river tribs) from headwaters to confluence with the river Don.

Some additional points:

As before, all our INNS work will be undertaken by our framework contractor the River Stewardship Company;

  • Yorkshire Water are now a formal partner with us, and contribute financially to the above programme;
  • There will be targeted engagement with key landholders throughout Yorkshire (mainly Local Authorities);
  • There will be some additional targeted treatment of giant hogweed on the River Don upstream of Sheffield;
  • Will Kitts (Asset Performance Catchment Officer) and I sit on the steering group of the Yorkshire Invasive Species Forum (YISF), and we share all our INNS work through this forum;
  • Erica Adamson and I sit on the Yorkshire Floating Pennywort Forum and we share all our pennywort work through this forum.

For further information on invasive species work that the Environment Agency are undertaking please contact Andy Virtue at andrew.virtue@environment.agency.gov.uk

Sometimes the cost is too high – refusing a grant

Refusing money
Sometimes the cost is too high

I have just done something rather unusual for a charity. I have turned down the offer of a £23,766 grant.

Why would I do that? Firstly because the grant awarding body was not prepared to pay the cost of the work required. Secondly because they would not contribute to our corporate overheads (Full Cost Recovery). Thirdly because the contractual conditions were such as to expose a small charity to unacceptable risk.

For months now we have been working in partnership with Yorkshire Wildlife Trust and The Wild Trout Trust to develop a bid to the Water Environment Grant (I won’t link there because you really do not want to know about it!). We have spent days, probably weeks, working out the finest detail of the scheme in order to satisfy the somewhat onerous requirements of the submission. Anyone familiar with the Rural PaymentsAgency (who ultimately ‘own’ this fund), or who has heard tales from farmers of the inefficiency, nitpicking and intransigence of RPA, may know how difficult a process it has been. Anyway, we put together our partnership project valued at ca. £170,000 and sent it off. Detailed queries were responded to and we waited, then waited, then waited some more. Indeed, we waited over three months after the decisions were expected and were delighted when we got an offer. Until we opened the letter that is, when we found that we had been offered only £100,000 between us. One partner, us, were offered only 35% of our bid with a requirement to deliver 75% of the required outputs!

To say that I am outraged, annoyed and frustrated is being polite. VERY polite!

So why am I upset?

Part, £250, of our bid was rejected because we did not have competitive quotations for refreshments for volunteers.

Part, £8,500, was intended to provide for social media and other advertising, promotion to aid volunteer recruitment and recognise the contribution of the funder. ZIP. We don’t need to do this apparently ,even though volunteers were core to our bid and they WERE prepared to pay for brand development (but where would we then use the brand?)!

Some of the contractual terms were outrageous:

  1. You will accept unlimited liability in perpetuity for your work
  2. If we run out of money we do not have to pay you
  3. You must do exactly what you said you would and any variation, even in an emergency, needs approval in advance.

Would you accept such an offer? Do these people have any understanding of the impact of their decisions on small charities? Who hold them to account for the consequences of their action?

I would like to pay tribute to the several colleagues in YWT, WTT and the EA who helped us through a challenging time. I won’t name them because this is my rant not theirs, they know who they are and they know how much I value their help.

The only upside – we now have some well developed projects in respect of which we can apply for funding elsewhere.

Mitigating the impact of riverside works by the Environment Agency

Lothersdale 2

Sometimes it is necessary for the Environment Agency to do works along our riverbanks to reduce the risk of future flooding. These can include removing poorly rooted trees (so they do not subsequently wash downriver and block bridges), removing vegetation from flood banks (to enable proper maintenance and to reduce the potential for breaching the floodbank) and so on.

These works have caused problems in the past and, whilst things are improving, we believe that there is room for further improvement in how the EA mitigates for any adverse effect of essential maintenance. The report available via this link illustrates some of the mitigation already being undertaken, and they should be congratulated for this work. However, I have to comment that “Retention of occasional overhanging willow for fish cover” or “Retention of cover for fish” does not in my opinion count as mitigation.

Mitigation is a positive action designed to reduce the effects of some other potentially detrimental action. It is not doing nothing somewhere else.

We share The Wild Trout Trust’s concern that insufficient work is being undertaken to mitigate the local effects of these works, and will be talking with the EA about how to make further improvements in their operations.

Is the Environment Agency fit for purpose?

According to Unearthed, possibly not.

According to the Environment Agency, yes.

According to me, well read on and see…in particular I want to comment on the Unearthed article which, while having a core of truth is guilty of misrepresentation in places.

Staff reductions

Let’s start with the gross misrepresentation of

“nearly 1,000 EA staff – all of which were in corporate services such as finance, HR and IT – have been transferred to the department since July 2016.”

In practice this doesn’t represent a loss to EA field staff (the ones who collect samples, investigate pollution incidents and inspect premises) and doesn’t really represent a loss to the EA as these people are still providing the same services to the EA. What bothers me about this particular aspect of the arrangements is that they may not have the same priorities as directly employed staff. You can bet your bottom dollar that once in Defra any flexibility of movement or interpretation or creativity will quickly get knocked out of them.

A paradox resolved?

The article makes a big play on the number of inspections being reduced. So what? Our drinking water is self-monitored by the privatised water companies and is generally (and correctly in my informed opinion) considered to be amongst the best in Europe. A good self regulation scheme, with strictly controlled sampling regimes, quality assured analysis and routine reporting of results to both the regulator and the public can lead to a massive improvement in quality at negligible cost to the regulator. Maybe, just maybe, this is what lies behind the apparent paradox of reduced inspections yet also reduced non-compliances? I would welcome a comment from the EA (or perhaps some recently departed member of staff) on this proposition.

Enforcement

A big play is made about the reduced number of prosecutions and a shift towards Enforcement Undertakings. (I will overlook, no I will not, the factual error suggesting that the EA imposes fewer fines. The EA does not impose ANY fines, they are matters for the independent court system).

I personally support the concept of Enforcement Undertakings and want to see them used much more extensively. Believe me, from the discussions I have had with the EA they do not regard them as “less-costly and less-risky”, in fact I see the parts of the EA putting obstacles in the way of their use rather than facilitating them. The great advantage of an EU is that the money, which as to be of a similar amount to that which would have been levied as a fine, goes directly to environmental charities to spend improving the environment rather than into the ‘chancellor’s back pocket’. The recent emergence of Environmental Liability Notices is a development that we should follow with interest.

 “Things are (not) getting worse”

The article propagates the oft repeated view that

“Only 14% of the rivers in England are classed as having ‘good ecological status’, down from 27% in 2010.”

I read statements such as this with dismay. Having spent the last 42 years of my life dedicated to improving our rivers, let me tell you that they are better than ever.

When I started on the River Aire in 1974, the prospect of fishing the river in the centre of Leeds was laughable, now we have reliable records of salmon being caught there and we are starting on a major project (DNAire, a partnership project with the EA) to return salmon to the headwaters and hence stimulate a sustainable migratory fish population.

Nearly all of these reported changes are to do with standards so low as to be unachievable (e.g. Phosphate in sewage effluents) or recategorisation of water bodies using rules drawn up to report compliance in line with European Legislation, many of which are much more lax in other countries. If any of the complainers can truly convince me that matters are getting worse, then I promise to pack up tomorrow and consider my life’s work to have been a waste of time. 

Investigations and Sampling

Now let nobody get the idea that I am not critical of the EA, for I am indeed critical of certain aspects of how they go about their work (and not just in the environmental field, as a member of the RFCC I have been a persistent champion of getting more from the FCRM programme). We can quote examples of grossly inadequate incident investigations, damaging riverbank maintenance, inadequate levels of sampling and monitoring of their  own capital schemes and of baseline environmental data (the silence on the long standing Strategic Monitoring Review is worrying) etc. These are to some extent caused by staff and money shortages and need challenging. The prospect of many of these functions being handed over to an even less well resourced Civil Society is worrying. Catchment Hosts are already expected to draw up Integrated Catchment Plans using the grand sum of £15000 per year (yes, thousands of pound not millions!), the funding we might receive to do some of this other work fills me with no enthusiasm whatsoever.

Summary

Yes, by all means criticise the EA for their weaknesses, but the argument is diluted by inaccuracies and misrepresentations.

Your thoughts are welcome, I have opened Comments on this post.