The Art of the Possible: How an offhand remark became our conference theme for Communicate 2018.

Savita Willmott has been CEO of The Natural History Consortium since 2006, a charitable collaboration of 13 organisations who produce the annual Communicate conference as well as a range of regional and national engagement programmes.

Navigating change, avoiding burnout, thinking creatively, building partnerships, drawing on evidence and never losing sight of the need to connect people and the natural world: the role of environmental communicators has never been more important, or more complex.

Since 2004, The Natural History Consortium has been running the Communicate conference, bringing together a cross-section of NGO’s, policy-makers, academics, media content developers, and green businesses to explore the latest tools and techniques for engaging a wide range of audiences with environmental content.

We didn’t set out to run a conference for nearly 15 years (although we’re now not stopping anytime soon!) – but each year the community has grown stronger, the ideas have become bolder, and we hear again and again the importance of bringing researchers and practitioners together to share experience, programmes, tools – and worries.

As always, the formal and informal networking sessions before, during, (and late into the evening) move from organisations and campaigns to the realities of the roles that environmental communicators fulfill. Nature is still on the decline, climate change is back in the news, funding is increasingly stretched – and the social and political climate shows no signs of slowing down the pace of change.

Each year we run a series of national meetings across the UK to crowd source the conference programme, responding directly to what we hear from professionals at all levels – from CEO’s to career-changers. In 2017, the theme emerged early, loud and strong, and we took two days to explore “Navigating Change” from all angles. Some of the most popular sessions included communications views from outside the sector, and invaluable policy briefings

As we turned our attention to 2018, we still heard up and down the country about ‘Navigating Change’ – but this time with an undercurrent of resilience. Getting on with things. Accepting that the many uncertainties swirling around the sector weren’t going to be resolved anytime soon. A collective resolve to move forward, and continue finding new ways to connect people and nature.

“It’s almost like this year is about…something like…the art of the possible”, one of our committee members said back in April as we sifted through ideas from our workshop participants and the many suggestions by email.  A short discussion later, we made it the conference theme. We plan to spend two days with the Communicate community in October. We’ll be recognising, analysing and interpreting the external context, but with a healthy dose of making things happen in the sector at the same time. Getting smart, about what The Art of the Possible might be for the sector.

There are two ways we go against the grain of many of the events we go to, and learn so much from. One is that we turn off the cameras in many sessions, and allow attendees to share openly and honestly the real challenges, and barriers, to creating innovative programmes and change. The second is, despite many requests and the fact we sell out each year, we’ve deliberately kept the conference under 200 professionals each year, ensuring conversation is at the heart of the event.

We’d love you to be there. Join us at Communicate this October 23-24, and explore the Art of the Possible.

Communicate 2018: The Art of the Possible takes place at Bristol Zoo on 23rd and 24th October. You can take a look at the draft programme and book your space here.