- Social Science Resources for Restoration Outreach Programs
The University of Wisconsin–Madison Arboretum has been a leader in ecological restoration since 1934, as well as an important site for ecological research. The Arboretum's Earth Partnership program began in 1991 as community-based volunteer program linked to ongoing restoration projects. The originators of the program, outreach manager Molly Fifield Murray and former Ecological Restoration editor William Jordan III, envisioned the program as a way to restore people's connection to the land through the actual process of performing ecological restoration. They saw community building (sometimes called social capital) as an essential component of ecological restoration. In this program, volunteers are trained as "Team Leaders" to guide restoration work parties comprised of other volunteers, and these work parties are held at specific sites around our 504 hectares. At our work parties, we conduct a variety of tasks such as removing brush and invasive plants, preparing the site for prescribed burns, broadcasting native seeds, and providing educational information about natural history, ecology, and restoration.
Since I began as the Earth Partnership field manager in 2001, we have held four biennial trainings, and we [End Page 150] currently have over 20 active team leaders who work with 400–600 volunteers annually. My intention is that the Earth Partnership team leader training program should be a transformative learning experience; it is not just about environmental issues and restoration, but also about the process of learning from one another and from nature. From my experience, restoration practitioners can draw upon the best theories and practices in the social sciences to help us restore our connections to one another as well as to nature. The purpose of this article is to share a few concepts and methodologies that I have found to be particularly useful for our volunteer training program, namely, boundary spanning, logic models, integral ecology, and developmental evaluation.
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The Earth Partnership program integrates the overarching goals of the University of Wisconsin Arboretum: land care, research, and education and outreach. While the field of environmental education has been practiced and studied for over 40 years, outreach is a less well understood concept. Outreach is often joined with the terms "education" and "communications," and practices from these two arenas often overlap with outreach. I have found that outreach requires specific principles and practices, such as community organizing and development, social networking, social change theory, collaboration, team building, facilitation, and volunteer recruitment, retention, and recognition.
A concept I find particularly useful to describe and understand the unique character of outreach work is "boundary spanning" (Weerts and Sandmann, forthcoming), which often occurs in academic research institutions that are actively engaged in community projects. Boundary spanners are the people who engage with stakeholders outside the organization, and their role is to negotiate power dynamics and to communicate expectations and ideas between the institution and external partners (Weerts and Sandman, forthcoming). Boundary spanners communicate between people within a hierarchical institution, such as between managers and volunteers, and also across institutions, such as between researchers and community members.
Boundary spanning provides a framework to understand where and how interpersonal tensions arise, and where competing and conflicting needs and priorities may occur. For example, we experienced such tension when the volunteers at one site worked in an area that was not specified in our work plan. In another example, a volunteer who was following good restoration practices took the initiative to remove invasive brush around a bur oak, but field staff didn't have the time or resources to follow up in that area so that it quickly became overgrown again. This resulted in frustration for both volunteers and staff. In such cases, boundary spanners can intervene to recognize power dynamics and negotiate a compromise between the volunteers' judgments and initiatives and the field manager's authority. In another case, we train both students and community members to be team leaders, and...