The ACPF provides a menu of conservation options in the form of output maps that can help facilitate conservation discussions on farms and in community halls. But what are the keys to success, when it comes to working with farmers, landowners, drainage inspectors, crop advisors, local government personnel, non-profit professionals, community volunteers, and all the stakeholders who are critical to watershed planning in your community?
Researchers at Purdue University spoke with GIS technicians, watershed coordinators, and conservation planners from across the region to learn what has worked for them when engaging diverse stakeholders around conservation using the ACPF.
WORKING WITH ACPF OUTPUT MAPS
The ACPF users took several different approaches to incorporating ACPF maps into their conservation work including:
- Preparing the data sets, running ACPF, and creating a variety of maps ahead of time to help identify priority areas in the watershed. ACPF output maps helped users determine which producers to visit, and what to discuss before meeting with stakeholders.
- Sharing ACPF output maps with groups of farmers, landowners, or other community members to engage stakeholders in conservation planning and give landowners the information they need to make decisions about effective and strategic conservation practices.
- Sharing ACPF output maps one-on-one with producers to enable risk-free conversations about what conservation practices might work and where. ACPF output maps demonstrate how landowners fit into the larger landscape and why some practices make sense in some fields and not others.
KEYS TO SUCCESS
The ACPF users identified several keys to success in engaging a community:
When possible, do your homework before engaging stakeholders. Create ACPF output maps that identify watershed priority areas prior to visiting with landowners or attending producer meetings and bring them with you as visuals.
Engage trusted leaders
Getting buy-in from farm leaders, trusted crop advisors, or county personnel can help ensure producers feel comfortable getting involved in the conversation and the watershed planning process.
Keep it Local
ACPF output maps are generated on the HUC 8 scale facilitating conservation on the small watershed, or subwatershed level. Also, ACPF results are not meant to be prescriptive, and are instead intended to be modified based on the local context for your community.
Data can help explain why you are talking to specific landowners, so they don’t feel singled out based on their practices. Let them know that based on the topography of their land and location in the watershed, they have an opportunity to put practices in place to manage the numerous risks that farmers and other rural landowners face.
We all play a part in current water quality conditions and the future of our watershed. Encourage positive conversations within groups, and recognize current efforts instead of pointing fingers.
Use diverse settings
Connecting with producers and watershed stakeholders in group settings such as regional meetings, local conservation district board meetings, or open houses can be a great way to reach diverse groups and gather support and interest in watershed planning. At the same time, one-on-one meetings can provide a space for conversations about specific farms and fields, and allow risk-free brainstorming and project implementation planning. Be sure to use both settings to reach your goals!
Show producers and stakeholders ACPF output maps and describe how you are interpreting the results, and then ask for their interpretations. The more ownership producers feel about the practices you collectively agree on, the more likely they will be to implement them and stay engaged.
Rely on their knowledge
Each stakeholder will know their land, their role, or their area. Acknowledge their experience and observations,and ask them to help you improve the maps and use them to work together.
Make it simple
While GIS can be complex, you don’t have to be a GIS technician to understand and interpret ACPF output maps. When possible, try to avoid information overload and keep it simple.
Coordinate with partners
Coordinating with other conservation partners can ensure multiple groups don’t reach out to the same producers and create confusion. By working collaboratively you can make sure you are using all the resources available through different agencies and organizations.
Use multiple strategies
It’s rarely one and done! Group conversations can lead to individual meetings, engaging trusted sources can lead to community meetings, presentations, or farm tours. Its best to use a combination of engagement methods based on what you feel is right for each situation.
Be honest and transparent in your engagement. When meeting one-on-one with farmers and other land-managers, reassure them that you won’t share your conversation, and the ACPF output map of their land without talking to them. When meeting in community settings, be clear about the goals of the meeting and overall watershed management efforts, and establish ground rules for engagement that keep the conversation respectful and productive.