In 2014, Eric completed his MEM in the Environmental Economics and Policy concentration, focusing on federal agriculture policy. Prior to starting at Duke, he worked as a Project Associate at the Meridian Institute, a nonprofit environmental consultant. At Meridian, he supported multi-stakeholder problem solving and strategic planning projects. He has a B.A. in environmental policy from Colby College.
What motivated you to complete the Community-Based Environmental Management (CBEM) Certificate program?
Before starting at Duke, I worked for an organization that used stakeholder dialogue to find solutions to environmental problems. While I understood that their techniques worked, I did not understand why. I started the Certificate program in order to learn the theory behind collective problem-solving and environmental management.
What were some of the most interesting courses or projects you were involved in as part of the CBEM Certificate program?
I particularly enjoyed the opportunity to work on client projects as a part of the Certificate program. I have gotten to know the Durham community, applied the tools and theory from class, and made a real difference in the operations of a small organization.
I have also appreciated the diversity of projects I have worked on. For example, the clients and projects I have worked with the in the core CBEM courses are very different than those in the Environmental Law and Policy Clinic.
Tell us about the project that you did for the CBEM Practicum and about your MP, particularly any aspects that were CBEM-focused.
For my Masters Project, Sara Overton and I worked with Benevolence Farm, a local nonprofit farm, to interview community members and conduct a social network analysis of the farming community in Alamance County, NC. By understanding and mapping the key connections within this community, our results will allow the Farm to better integrate itself within the community and leverage existing resources. Social network analysis was a tool I was introduced to in the core CBEM courses and it was exciting to be able to apply this tool in-depth in my MP.
My Practicum project also allowed me to apply a tool I had been introduced to earlier – program evaluation and indicator development. I worked with Carolina Farm Stewardship Association to develop a monitoring and evaluation framework for their Food Systems Program. This project let me dive into the details of how an organization creates change in a community, from external factors and resources, to programs activities and outcomes, and finally measuring impact.
What are the three most valuable “lessons” you learned from the CBEM Certificate program about how to work with communities to facilitate the process of environmental change?
- It takes time. It’s easy to tell a community what they need and how to get it. It takes a lot more time, however, to help a community discover what they need and empower them to get it. Taking the time is more than worth the investment though when it makes the difference between a project’s success and failure.
- It takes trust. So many of the problems we face are rooted in a lack of trust. If community members don’t trust one another, they will never be able to overcome collective challenges. Sometimes, investing in building trust and social capital is much more valuable than any other “intervention.”
- It takes diagrams and maps. Everyone loves something to look at. Conveying information through a flowchart, map, or picture can be more efficient and more powerful than words alone.
How has your participation in the CBEM Certificate program informed your career decisions?
I’m interested in the way community-based management tools can be applied to the federal policy process. At the federal level, communities of interest exist among people and organizations working on specific environmental challenges. Using the theory, skills, and tools I have learned in the Certificate program, I want to help empower these communities to collaborate on durable policy solutions.