Making EE More Relevant Through Community Weaving

A continual challenge environmental education faces is how we can reach a wider, more diverse audience. From 2015 to 2016, through an EECapacity Project, the Colorado Alliance for Environmental Education sought to develop strategies to help Colorado EE organizations do just that. We started with a small but remarkable group of diverse community leaders. In addition to CAEE staff, our core team included Beverly Grant (Mo’ Betta Green MarketPlace), Dele Johnson (Groundwork Denver), and Deborah Fard (Justina Ford STEM Institute). With their expertise, insight, and leadership, we soon realized that environmental education is already happening in many communities throughout Colorado but in untraditional ways and by people who do not self-identify as environmental educators. Healthy eating initiatives funded by hospitals, urban gardening projects, spiritual “green” clubs, and the infusion of EE into art and even rap music were some of the ways EE was being practiced in local neighborhoods (see the stories here). Additionally, there was tremendous potential and interest from communities to collaborate with environmental organizations. Even with all of these opportunities, however, most environmental organizations still felt lost in where to find new partners, how to connect with those partners, and how to make the partnership successful.

To show us a new way to think about environmental education, one of our wise community leaders, Beverly Grant, interlaced her fingers and emphasized that we needed to go deeper than traditional partnerships and collaborations, that we needed to think of EE as “community weaving.” At the time, that was a phrase none of us had heard before. Many of us began visualizing a woven rug or basket in which many different strands come together in the creation of the whole. She further explained that we need to think of environmental outcomes in terms of community needs and that by addressing one, we could achieve the other as well.

We decided to dive deeper into “community weaving” and found several successful examples of community-environmental partnerships (view community weaving stories here). We based a workshop around these examples and with the help of 35 participants, we tried to boil down four best practices of successful community weaving partnerships, which included:

Create Organizational Value
Seek Reciprocity
Define Shared Vision
Build Consensus

On the CAEE website, we have further explained these best practices. There you will also find links to short video clips highlighting where to find new partners, how to incorporate youth voice, and how to evaluate whether your community partnership is effective. 

-Lisa Eadens, Career Development Coordinator, CAEE