Join the Chorus: Uniting Voices for People and Nature

    April 23, 2018
    by Angie Chen & Christina James

    Blue Sky's staff is excited to share an update on our shared narrative initiative. This initiative is being co-led by a task force, made up of leaders representing the Children & Nature Network, the Gray Family Foundation, the George B. Storer Foundation, Grist, NAAEE, Outdoor Afro, Outdoor Foundation, Patagonia, the Pisces Foundation, and the Sierra Club, with guidance from Blue Sky's board.

    If you’ve ever heard voices join in four-part harmony, you know that the beautiful, full sound produced is something special. A chorus of high and low voices joining together moves us to stop and listen, producing a sound more powerful than a solo voice, and richer than many voices singing in unison.

    Blue Sky’s shared narrative initiative reminds us of the power of unique, individual voices coming together—not in unison, but in perfect harmony. The field that connects people with the outdoors is broad, made up of many voices, perspectives, and experiences. Funders and nonprofit leaders alike message the importance of their work and define their impact in diverse ways, ranging from conservation, to education, to health & wellness, to social justice, to youth development. This diversity is incredibly valuable, however it presents challenges for unifying the field around a vision and strategy for achieving shared goals. An opportunity remains to amplify and unite voices across the field into one chorus, advancing equitable access to opportunities to learn, play, and grow outdoors.

    In 2017, Blue Sky focused its convenings on identifying shared priorities for funders, practitioners, researchers, and partners to increase access to environmental learning opportunities in all communities. Ultimately, these stakeholders articulated a need for a shared narrative around which the field could unite. In late 2017, Blue Sky’s board drew upon these discussions to propose a strategy that would co-create a shared narrative with partners in the field, increase the relevancy of people and nature, grow funding, and ultimately increase equitable access to outdoor opportunities that lead to multiple benefits for people, communities, and the environment.

    In early 2018, we started to take some important steps toward the creation of this narrative. Blue Sky brought together key partners to form a task force of leaders representing the Children & Nature Network, the Gray Family Foundation, the George B. Storer Foundation, Grist, NAAEE, Outdoor Afro, Outdoor Foundation, Patagonia, the Pisces Foundation, and the Sierra Club to guide the development of this narrative. With guidance from this task force and the Metropolitan Group, Blue Sky collected over 300 survey responses and conducted over 50 phone interviews with stakeholders to inform this effort.

    These stakeholders represented funders, nonprofits, educators, businesses, government, and academic institutions across 29 states and Washington, DC.
    Survey respondents by sector

    Survey respondents by geographic focus

    Survey respondents by impact area

    Our stakeholder survey responses and interviews uncovered some of the field’s challenges, opportunities, and shared values.

    Challenges & Opportunities:

    • This issue is still seen as a “feel good” or “nice to have” issue. How can we create a sense of urgency?
    • Organizations have existing brands and talking points, and may not always look beyond their individual missions, making collaboration more difficult. How can we bring the field together, without diluting the work and messages that are already out there?
    • The field is at the nexus of many sectors. How can we engage and integrate the disconnected parts of the field, and ensure that we understand each other’s work?
    • There is a desire for a shared vision of long term success. What is the future that we are all hoping to create?
    • Opposition was not identified as a barrier to connecting people with the outdoors, indicating there is no counter narrative standing in the way of this work. How can we take this opportunity to catalyze action and collaboration across the field?

    Common themes:

    • Connection to place: Strengthening the relationship between people and nature; increasing environmental know how
    • Education: Closing the education achievement gap; rooting education in the outdoors
    • Health: Nurturing healthy people, healthy places, and a healthy planet
    • Civic engagement: Strengthening our democracy, contributing to community development
    • Equity: Ensuring equitable access; including and honoring diverse perspectives
    • Next generation: Equipping young people as leaders of change
    • Peace: Promoting joy and prosperity

    We envision the creation of a powerful narrative, based in these shared values, that pulls interests together, elevates the priority and urgency of the field, and catalyzes a movement for equitable access to the outdoors and its many benefits. All of the organizations that make up this diverse field will be able to find their place in this narrative, adapting it to their unique context and perspective, adding their own voices and harmonies to our growing choir.

    Thank you to all who took time to speak with us, respond to the survey, and share insights. We hope that you will stay engaged as we continue to shape this initiative together. 

    Angie Chen is executive director of Blue Sky Funders Forum, and Christina James is Blue Sky's program coordinator.

    Looking forward to

    Looking forward to participating!


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