Walking our Talk: Creating a Community of Practice

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Throughout the world, biocultural diversity continues to decline, despite the growing recognition of its vital importance for the future of humanity and of all life on earth. The many on-the-ground efforts that are taking place worldwide to support and restore biocultural diversity are forging a new, integrated path toward sustainability. However, by and large these efforts happen in isolation from one another and tend to “fall under the radar”: they often remain invisible, and the people involved in them cannot benefit from one another’s experiences and form a common front. There have been no established mechanisms for making the interconnections among these efforts.
As a consequence, the lessons from all these activities remain dispersed in many different locales and cannot be learned easily. Their wide-ranging implications for policy and implementation—and indeed for an overall paradigm shift in how we think of human relationships with the environment—cannot be brought out as prominently as they deserve. Our current global predicament calls for giving much greater visibility to these efforts, so that we can share successes and solutions, and work together to better address the challenges ahead and promote a more favorable climate for biocultural diversity conservation.
One of the key goals of the Terralingua project that led to our book Biocultural Diversity Conservation: A Global Sourcebook is to support the development of a network, or “community of practice”, in biocultural diversity conservation, so as to create the conditions for greater direct interactions among researchers and practitioners involved in biocultural diversity conservation activities. Within such a network, people are able to share information, experiences, and lessons learned among peers, discuss what works and what remains a challenge, and build on this knowledge sharing in order to strengthen methodologies, expand the scope of the approach, raise awareness, and identify needs and opportunities for advancing biocultural diversity research, policy, and action.
This companion portal to our Sourcebook is our response to the need for such a community of practice. On the “Stories” page, portal users can read as well as post “real-life” stories of people who are working on the ground to conserve biocultural diversity.  On the “Projects” page, people can add to the gallery of biocultural diversity conservation projects, thus progressively expanding the network and its worldwide reach. The “Conservation in Conversation” discussion forum enables participants to post queries and comments and discuss relevant topics, ranging from the “nuts and bolts” of biocultural diversity conservation, to planning common activities and strategies, to creating sub-networks among projects in the same region, and so forth. The forum provides participants with the means to learn from one another and develop strategies for strengthening their own projects as well as for becoming collectively more effective in pursuing shared goals related to fundraising, policy development, and advocacy.

On this “Solutions” page, expert network members write about biocultural diversity conservation.  The articles found on this page present the best of our collective understanding of what works, when, why, and how in biocultural diversity conservation.  The authors look at some of the conditions that favour the conservation of biocultural diversity, as well as some of the challenges and obstacles that hinder it.  They discuss creative solutions for biocultural diversity conservation, as well as the gaps and needs that should be addressed.  This page is a growing resource that is available to all who are involved or interested in this approach.

Developing a community of practice in biocultural diversity conservation serves several important purposes. In particular, this network will:

  • Enable people to identify and contact others who have similar concerns, in order to discuss theoretical assumptions, on-the-ground work, problems and successes; establish partnerships; and learn from one another through sharing experiences from different points of view and from different local contexts.
  • Help Elders, community members, and project participants disseminate and discuss information about “good practices” and what works and what does not in specific contexts, thus potentially saving time, energy and resources.
  • Broaden our collective understanding of what contributes to successful alliances between Indigenous Peoples and those involved in conservation efforts, extractive industries, and other activities taking place in Indigenous territories.
  • Raise national and international awareness of the important role that Indigenous Peoples and local communities play in biodiversity conservation, and of the difficulties they face in maintaining their traditional control over and management of their lands and territories and their natural resources.
  • Promote more culturally sensitive and politically responsible behavior among outsiders operating in Indigenous territories.
  • Give greater recognition to the role of community-based resource management and the relationship between cultural affirmation and biodiversity conservation.
  • Increase access to funding opportunities for similar projects and helping governments see the need to provide funding for aboriginal language education and aboriginal curriculum rooted in the land and in local cultural traditions.
  • Spread awareness among policy makers and the general public about the issues of language and cultural loss and about the links between the loss of biodiversity and the loss of cultural values, beliefs, knowledge, practices and languages, as well as emphasizing the importance that biocultural diversity holds for the people involved.
  • Help place biocultural diversity conservation on the political agenda of national development strategies as a human rights issue.
  • Provide a forum to encourage international cooperation concerning biocultural diversity issues.

In short, an interconnected network of practitioners of biocultural diversity conservation will contribute to raising the visibility of this approach and to illuminating the relevance of the biocultural approach for sustainability. It will thus help create more auspicious conditions for the protection, maintenance, and revitalization of the biocultural diversity of life.

We invite and welcome your contributions to this vital effort!  There are many ways in which you can do this.  Join the forum conversation on this portal, add your biocultural project  to our project gallery, write an article for the Solutions page, send us a story about biocultural diversity!  We look forward to hearing from you.

Luisa Maffi, Ph.D., is co-founder and director of Terralingua. She is one of the pioneers of the field of biocultural diversity. She edited On Biocultural Diversity: Linking Language, Knowledge, and the Environment (Smithsonian Institution Press, 2001); co-edited Ethnobotany and Biocultural Diversity Conservation (New York Botanical Garden Press, 2004) with Thomas J. Carlson; and co-authored Biocultural Diversity Conservation: A Global Sourcebook (Earthscan, 2010) with Ellen Woodley.

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