David Witzel, Director, Innovation Exchange, EDF
Today at the Packard Foundation, I had opportunity to have a conversation with Environmental Defense Fund's David Witzel, Director, Innovation Exchange and two colleagues , Beth Trask, West Coast office and Julie Stoffer, the person overseeing EDF's social media strategy (she introduced herself as blog czar and chief twitter officer as she's the person behind their EDF's branded Twittering). Along with Kathy Reich and Stephanie McAuliffe, we got to ask many questions about their network.
Environmental Defense Fund tackles the most serious environmental problems with four pronged approach: sound science, economic incentives, corporate partnerships , and getting the law right. (If you want to learn more about the organization, their CEO, Fred Krupp, is on Twitter and does his own tweets!) The Environmental Defense Fund or EDF is a grantee organization and also attended the Packard Foundation's recent Network Effectiveness Convening by the Monitor Institute in Washington, DC in May.
The objective of the The Innovation Exchange is to facilitate rapid and widespread adoption of environmental innovation in business. They hope to improve both the environmental impact of business (improve operations) and the business impact of the environment (improve products). They are in the process of building and growing a 'problem solving' network by convening thoughtful people inside and outside of EDF to review their thinking and then comment, critique, and contribute new information so they can improve their impact.
The network grows out of their ground-breaking work in partnering with businesses. Over twenty years ago, they partnered with McDonalds to test new packaging materials. (You can read more here)
Later, they worked with Fedex to develop the first hybrid truck. These groundbreaking partnerships with business continue, but EDF has established a network approach to scaling behavior change in businesses. As David Witzel observed during our conversation, "A problem-solving network is the only way we scale rapidly and effect change with limited resources."
This is an open and transparent network. For example, they have a Climate Corps program. Where together with their partner, Net Impact, EDF embeds trained MBA students who identify energy efficiency improvements that can cut costs and reduce emissions. The Fellows are blogging about their experience and learnings on The Innovation Exchange blog.
As Witzel observes, our strategy for scaling the network includes sharing of the learnings, modeling transparent behavior ourselves, collecting and diseminating results, trainings, and scaling the fellows programs who can infiltrate companies to acquire a green lens.
- Blurring the lines between internal/external: What does modeling transparent behavior actually look like on the ground? For one thing, the line between internal and external discussions is thin. Anyone can participate or contribute to their Network strategy planning discussions which are also shared on the program's blog. The Innovation program shared a draft of its elevator pitch. A college professor discovered it, and had the class review it as a project. Says Witzel, "Their input vastly improved it - and if we kept it locked up and under wraps until it was done, we would have the lost the opportunity for improvement."
Witzel says other transparent behavior includes:
- Creative commons licenses on the web site
- Sharing internal presentations on slideshare
- Strategy documents are put in google documents or blogged, they ask for feedback via Twitter
- Holding unconferences to invite individuals and busineses beyond their staff and partners to participate - and this serves as a important research/feedback mechanism
- Open conference callsWe are a laboratory for the organization - to pilot - we're first movers
This is thoughtful, authentic, and strategic transparency. As Witzel notes, "But it doesn't mean that we don't protect our relationships. So, we're very careful about making sure our conversations are respectful. We don't want to hurt our partners. That's not to say that constructive criticism is not offered."
What allows an organization or network to work in this way? Leadership and culture are important. To embrace transparency, it is important that:
- Leadership is Comfortable with Discomfort: Openness and transparency are hallmarks of the networked mindset. Leaders at EDF specifically brought Dave in because he thinks differently, he has a networked mindset. As Dave notes, "I often hear "everything you say makes me uncomfortable - but go do it." The leadership of the organization understands that social media and connectedness has an impact on the organization and they need to embrace it.
- A Learning By Doing Organizational Culture: Witzel says that there organization's DNA incorporates learning by doing. The culture allows the experimentation On the ground, Witzel says, his program group is experimentating. The method is simple - they test their ideas, if it works they build on it and if it doesn't they remix. Witzel notes, we don't have the barrier of "paralysis by analysis."
How is your network or organization embracing transparency and opennness? Have a story, please sign up for a guest post here or let us know in the comments.