Anne Murray Allen joined Gretchen Gagel on the Greatness Podcast to share how Conversant partnered with The Nature Conservancy to help them address a critical and complex challenge: improving the health of the Mississippi River Basin.
The Mississippi is the fourth largest river basin in the world, bordering or running through a third of the United States with direct impacts on agriculture, commerce and quality of life. It also runs directly into the Gulf of Mexico, contributing to its growing hypoxic zone, or 'dead zone' (a low oxygen area that can't support as many organisms, killing fish and other marine life).
Water from 31 states drains into the Mississippi River Basin. In order for TNC to take on the scale of this challenge, they needed all 31 to come together and collaborate, committing to shared goals and action steps for making a real impact. Prior to the Mississippi River Basin initiative, TNC's state chapters operated independently. With donors and funding separate for each chapter, a state-based focus on projects and goals was the norm. Independently-run initiatives with varied financial resources plus a complex land and water management community meant that state efforts weren't adding up to the impact they needed to see.
In this episode, Anne shares how Conversant partnered with TNC to help these multiple stakeholder groups learn how to work and learn together in a completely new way. The Conversant team started by teaching the basics of human interaction and building new skills for communication and collaboration. They also introduced the principles of Systems Thinking - an approach to complex change that requires a shift from linear thinking to viewing the system and all of its interconnected and dynamic parts as a whole.
Through 90-day experiments, System Mapping and tools for improved communication and collaboration, the TNC team went from "simultaneous monologues" to being able to build on and support one another's ideas, discovering where they could be collectively smarter than they were as individuals.
You can learn more about the Mississippi River Basin Initiative by watching the below video from The Academy for Systems Change, which you can find originally published at academystories.org/tnc. There you can also read a Chronological History of the Mississippi River Basin Program, written by Peter Senge, and a collection of stories exploring three core themes that arose during the development of the project: Stories from the Field, by Nathan Senge.
You can find this and all past episodes of Gretchen’s Greatness Podcast online here, or through Apple Podcasts, Spotify and more.