HomeNewsDirector’s Almanac: Collective action, collective impact

Director’s Almanac: Collective action, collective impact

On September 28, IonE hosted its second annual meeting, the one time per year where the entire IonE community gets together to share ideas, inspire one other, and strategize. More than 150 people attended who are part of or connected to the Institute on the Environment. What brings us together is the mission of a future where people and planet prosper together – and a common desire to use our university expertise to do what we can, in an interdisciplinary way, to change the trajectory of the world.

This year I shared some important news that builds off last year’s annual meeting – news that bears repeating here. At last year’s meeting, many in our community asked: What can IonE do to help us operate not just as individuals but also as a collective force? There was a resounding sense that collective impact could become core to what IonE is and how it serves its community.

To all of our current and future community members, I want to say: We heard you. To enable collective impact and better serve the IonE community, I announced at this year’s annual meeting a new structure for IonE operations, a redesign emphasizing three core capacities:

  1. Knowledge initiatives, a home for work that fills those essential knowledge gaps needed to build a future where people and planet prosper together.
  2. Leadership and education, to create and support leaders with the soft skills and sustainability chops to put knowledge into practice including students and affiliates, but also legislators, community organizers and corporate executives.
  3. EM-Lab, a “laboratory” that will produce world-class storytelling about both knowledge and leaders, with reference to journalism and its duty to serve the public good.

Organizing IonE around these core capabilities will help clarify the unique role we play in advancing sustainability in Minnesota and the world. Going forward, IonE will have three new associate directors, each of whom champions a core capability while also building and strengthening IonE as a whole.

At this year’s meeting, we also shared a new approach to our work that we’re calling IonE Impact Goals. Impact goals are specific outcomes that IonE will support and that we will work on together over a three to five year period. Our first set of goals – in the areas of carbon neutrality, safe drinking water, and sustainable land use – resonate with many members of the IonE community, as we discovered through many focus groups this past year. At the meeting, we heard from our new IonE goal leads (Ellen Anderson, Kate Brauman, and Eric Lonsdorf) and began the process of co-creating the goals in our afternoon breakouts. It is my sincerest hope that everyone in the IonE community can find a way to connect with one or more goals, whether in a large way or in small ones – getting in on the collective action.

Taking a break with Fred Rose, Acara co-director, who’s adding a role as our new IonE Impact Goals program director.

There are few things that energize me more than smart and committed people brainstorming and strategizing together. I love living the life of the mind and believe we have a duty to use that mind power for positive social change – for the benefit of all. In the afternoon breakout groups, I was moved to see academics at the height of their careers intently listening to the perspectives of student attendees who are just beginning their own careers.

Another thing I love about the annual meeting is the many different ways of knowing and doing that are represented. At one breakout table, I found a group composed of an artist, two hydrologists, an ecologist, and an economist. Nothing can stop that combination of scholarship.

All of the ideas shared in the breakout groups will be collated by the Impact Goal leads and communicated back to the IonE community. We will use that information to refine the goals and identify subgoals, and we will create research, education, and action teams around those subgoals. My wish for the annual meetings is that they hold us together from year to year, so that ideas raised in one meeting sustain and propel us forward until we meet again. I’m already looking forward to meeting number three in September 2019.

In planetary prosperity,


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *