You know the story, right? The tortoise moves forward slowly but surely. The hare sprints, stops, gets
distracted, sprints again in a new direction, but doesn’t cross the finish line first. I’m here to say that you don’t always have to choose to be fast or slow. Sometimes you can do both. The trick is knowing when and how.
For the past year, Lightbox Collaborative has worked with the Bay Area Open Space Council on an initiative, now called Outdoor Voice. The idea seemed simple: the people who run our beloved parks, farms, and other outdoor spaces have long wanted to inspire our whole region to stand up for the spaces we all love. But the devil is always in the details. How can so many different people and groups agree on a unified effort? The Bay Area Open Space Council, taking on tough projects for 25 years, stepped up to take the lead on this ambitious effort.
What started as a bold but unfocused idea – to create a marketing campaign to raise awareness – has since become a strategic and action-focused movement. How did we get from there to here? By moving both fast and slow.
We co-created a collaborative, deliberative process to set a strategy for the project. While it was natural for everyone to want to jump ahead to the tactics – the name, the logos, the materials, and even the taglines – we asked folks to take a step back and think about what success would look like, and who we needed to engage to get there. We wanted a strategy before tactics. We spent a lot of time involving people, asking them questions, and inspiring fresh thinking from folks who knew the terrain best.
Now we can move fast on tactics because we collaborated on the strategy. By defining a clear theory of change, brand reputation, and message platform, we have a set of strategic filters that make it possible to make fast decisions. In fact once the core brand strategy was in place, it took only two months to launch the initiative with a name, logo, website, and social media presence.
Our experience proved that you don’t have to choose between a thorough process and timely outcomes. You can have both. Here’s what we learned:
- Commit to a good process, not an artificial deadline
Even if it seems critical to launch before your next conference or the end of your fiscal year, imposing these kinds of external deadlines can rush a process that could be more successful with some room to breathe. Deadlines are important because they force us to move ahead, but if collaboration is essential to success, you have to make time for the process. The process can be slow or messy, but the trust and relationships you build during it will hold you in good stead for the long term.
- Lots of people give input, a few people make decisions
Create opportunities for many people to be heard, because more people really do mean more brainpower and better ideas. But ultimately decisions need to be made by a few people who have earned the trust and respect of the broader group. If people have confidence their views have been heard and respected, they are more likely to accept the results of that process, even if it isn’t what they wanted. Transparency is key, so make the decision-making responsibilities very clear from the beginning.
- Clarity is contagious
We launched Outdoor Voice on May 14, 2015 to 400 parks leaders at the Open Space Conference. Within four days we had four calls from organizations wanting to partner. People understood exactly what we were doing and wanted to get involved. Because we had clarity on what Outdoor Voice is—and what it isn’t—people can join us and know exactly what they are getting into. Partners and funders are inspired, and know that their investment of time, resources and money will be well utilized.
Now we can all use our Outdoor Voice to connect with opportunities to support the Bay Area’s natural wonders. It took some time and a lot of work, but the Bay Area is going to reap the benefits of this effort for generations to come. And that’s good for all of us – tortoises and hares included!
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Annie Burke is the Deputy Director at the Bay Area Open Space Council, a regional coalition of nonprofits and public agencies that take care of the region’s 1.4 million acres of parks, trails, and working lands.
Lightbox Collaborative Partner Amanda Cooper loved working on Outdoor Voice because it meant the opportunity to make a big idea into a strategic reality.