Looking forward together with optimism, imagination and hope - Reflections on COCE 2015 and beyond
As the Boulder Coloradan sunshine settles on COCE 2015, and we return to the demands of our lives and jobs, it seems the perfect moment to reflect upon the experiences of COCE 2015, before preparations for the next instalment at the University of Leicester (UK) get underway. Writing on day three of the conference, founding IECA Board Chair, Steve Depoe, reflected on both the differing and mutual journeys of COCE and the IECA, calling for our communit(ies)y to say ‘Yes’ to getting involved further. This inclusive ethos is indicative of Steve’s approach, and that of the IECA, and it is also the overriding message I took home from COCE 2015.
COCE 2015 wanted to bridge divides (some real, some perceived) between environmental scholarship and practice. As a result, we had scholars, educators, artists, performers, charities and businesses offering thoughts on how we might bridge those gaps. Representing the arts (Ackroyd and Harvey), research and consultancy (Susanne Moser), business (Hunter Lovins) and academia (Edward Maibach), the keynote speakers helped establish and reinforce the need for greater interdisciplinarity and collaboration. Across all the keynote presentations, four key themes emerged (you might wish to identify others): 1) the need for hope as a motivational force for positive change – or ‘Grounding Our Hope in the Hard Work Ahead’, as IECA Executive Director, Mark Meisner recently put it! ; 2) the importance of emotion and feeling for more meaningful communication and engagement; 3) the need for all of us to move out of our (disciplinary) comfort zones and to challenge our own thinking and practice; 4) the necessity of imagining and creating new stories about the world we live in and the futures we wish to inhabit. Some of these may feel esoteric, yet they all require something similar - the need to work respectfully together, within and across disciplines and practices. We all need to learn from each other.
These themes were also reflected in many of the formal presentations, workshops, and artistic interventions that constituted COCE 2015. Whilst some participants may have felt slightly uncomfortable with the expansive range of environmental communication on offer, others were thankful that our community was able to reflect the wide range of communication about the environment that occurs across disciplines and practices. For me, in particular, the inclusion of arts and creativity was an important dimension to the conference, and one that I hope will continue to be an integral part of COCE and the IECA in the years ahead.
Disciplines are important. They help to create and sustain communities of practice, knowledge, as well as belonging. Indeed, in areas such as environmental communication, creating disciplinary expectations has been important to help establish this field in the first instance. Yet, as we expand and grow as a field and practice, and as the challenges of addressing climate change become ever more pressing, the need for hopeful, respectful and imaginative collaboration is prescient. It is only from working together that we can hope to effect change, from within ourselves and in collaboration with others.
(COCE 2015 Programme Co-Chair and recently departed IECA Board Member).
Photo © Mark Meisner, Rocky Mountain National Park, June 2015