Oklahoma Blue Thumb Leadership Summits Report
Oklahoma Blue Thumb staff hosted three separate leadership summits during the summer of 2007 where volunteers shared ideas and opinions about how to make the Blue Thumb program more effective. One summit was on a Friday and two were on Saturdays. The locations were in different regions of the state.
July 13 Robbers Cave State Park
August 11 Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge
September 29 OK Scenic Rivers Commission Office
on the Illinois River near Tahlequah
Summary of Process and Comments
Each of the three sessions was well attended and the participants enjoyed the opportunity to talk about issues with other people interested in water quality. The daily schedule began at 8:30 a.m. with introductions, followed by a brief overview of the Blue Thumb Water Quality Education Project and its goals and descriptions of what each of the staff members does. Volunteers were divided into small groups and given questions to discuss and yellow “stickies” for their answers. When the conversation seemed to lag, the larger group reconvened and each of the small groups reported using the yellow stickies as a reminder of the discussion. The stickies were placed on a flip chart under appropriate topics so the Blue Thumb staff would have a record of the comments.
After a short break, small groups reconvened to discuss another topic. Some of these secondary topics were planned and some were the direct result of earlier comments.
Lunch was provided and the “round table” discussions ended between 2:30 and 3:00 p.m. each day.
After each meeting, the comments recorded on the yellow stickies were typed up and sent to each participant. After the last meeting, all of the comments were collated. Those comments are attached to this document as Appendix A.
This document is an attempt to distill the common ideas from each of the three summits. They appear to fall into the following themes:
Blue Thumb Overview
There were many kudos for the program and the staff. The program continues to grow and focus on water quality education. Blue Thumb provides a statewide network of people interested in water quality. Those people are generally well educated and come from a variety of backgrounds. We are raising environmental consciousness and empowering citizens, opening the door for citizen involvement in the state. The staff remains responsive, always available by phone.
- What is the role of the volunteer? Not everyone can monitor or wants to monitor. How can we phase new people into the program? Some suggested roles for volunteers are:
- information specialist,
- representative at other meetings,
- marketing specialist,
- website design,
- curb marker.
- Volunteers crave larger gatherings for networking. They have enjoyed the brainstorming this year and the statewide conference last year. They feel recharged after these meetings. There were many comments about the need for “social” activities associated with the quality assurance sessions that would include other Blue Thumb friends who may not be monitoring currently. In addition, there is a general consensus that we need a large annual meeting and more regional activities.
- Work-week volunteerism is a problem for many. How can we offer training and other activities without requiring taking time off from work?
- Blue Thumb must clearly define the goals and time commitment for each task. The time commitment could be as simple as work until the task is complete – as long as the tasks are small.
- How do we get people who have trained in the past involved and keep them active?
- Should there be a 501c(3) Blue Thumb organization?
The training session for Blue Thumb volunteers continues to be shortened as it is difficult to find people that have the time to devote two full days to training. Our volunteers like the training they have received, but request that it not be in the work week, that it be shorter still and that there be some sort of mentoring that will help new volunteers feel comfortable with the monitoring. (This mentoring will be discussed in more detail in the section on monitoring.)
The overwhelming suggestion was that we offer training in modules of not more than four hours. This would offer the opportunity for people to come to things that interest them and not require such a large block of time commitment. It would also offer opportunities for continuing education. It sounds like we could offer workshops in the evenings and on weekends that would draw from the community. Obviously, for some courses there would be prerequisites and those should be clearly listed in the publicity and on the website. Other courses could be attended by anyone in the community. Some of the topic suggestions are listed below.
- Stream Ecology
- Chemical Monitoring
- Fish ID
- Macro ID
- Data mining
- Watershed education
- Historical/cultural understanding of the watershed
- Site selection/landowner contact
- Educational tools/models
- Results – What happens to the data?
- Transition from training to field (mentoring)
- Related programs/conferences
- Rain gardens/rain barrels
- Conservation BMPs
- How to approach local government
- How to staff events
- Creek walks
- Bio-blitz of a watershed
If we went to a module approach to training, it would be possible to bring in outside experts to teach the session.
Comments on the monitoring portion of the Blue Thumb program were generally positive.
- like the test kits. The testing is “fairly easy” if you like to monitor and “hard” if you don’t like to monitor or are a new monitoring volunteer.
- like the fact that they get their own data back
- feel that they get a good “big picture” from the biological, chemical and physical habitat data (if they have participated in a data interpretation)
- feel Quality Assurance sessions
- are good,
- keep everyone on track and
- lend to the credibility of the volunteer collected data.
- like to know that someone is checking on the health of streams and
- feel they are establishing a baseline of data for the landowners
Issues brought up include:
- It is sometimes difficult to keep reagents stocked. If you miss a QA session, you can run out of reagents and we don’t mail them.
- Data sheets sometimes sit around without being mailed and then sit on Jean’s desk. Could we get a way to enter data online?
- Is it possible to have a regional QA session?
- What are the security issues if you invite friends or neighbors to go with you to the creek for monitoring or other activities?
- Can we have opportunities to visit other Blue Thumb sites? Could we switch monitoring sites after a while?
- Monitors sometimes feel isolated.
- Can we help them understand their own data?
This section covers communication within Blue Thumb: between staff and volunteers and between volunteers.
Very few people read newsletters and/or long emails. They see that it arrived, put it aside for later, and then find it months or years later. The volunteers love the short hand-written notes from Cheryl and will read a short email, possibly even following a hot-link to a website.
Volunteers like the periodic larger regional and statewide meetings.
Volunteers would like a Blue Thumb Directory listing the names and contact information for volunteers. It should have all volunteers listed alphabetically and then several lists of names sorting volunteers by categories (e.g. location, skill sets or qualifications, regional leaders)
Blue Thumb should offer groundwater screening and educational tools.
Volunteers would like to visit other Blue Thumb sites around the area, region, and state.
Blue Thumb should provide volunteers with PR materials.
Blue Thumb should publicize other interesting events around the state.
Volunteers should contact their local Conservation District to let them know what is being done in the County.
Blue Thumb should teach volunteers how to contact their state and local elected officials.
There is very little awareness among the volunteers about what Blue Thumb does aside from training and monitoring. This is a clear indicator that we need to be “tooting our own horn” a bit more. Perhaps there would be a place on the website for staff and volunteers to post a short write-up and photos of community activities.
Community Education suggestions are listed below.
- Work with schools - elementary through college and university (consider the impact of empowering young adults to become environmental leaders)
- Work with landowners
- Make data public
- Personal use
- Available for science classes in the schools
- Offer Blue Thumb site visits
- Creek walks
- Rain gardens
- Rain barrels
- Best Management Practices (BMPs)
- Develop a magic show for schools
- Help scout groups with merit badges
- Get local businesses to sponsor creek cleanups
- Single event
- Keep a section of stream clean
- Get into other areas (like Ft. Sill)
- Sponsor a bio-blitz for a single watershed
- Use community service hour requirements and inmate populations for creek clean-ups
Blue Thumb publicity and marketing is definitely hit or miss. We should work to develop some skills and resources to do a better job more often.
- Get a Blue Thumb banner to be hung at events
- Target minority groups
- Farm communities
- Increase visibility
- Place brochures in public places: state parks, nature centers, tourist information centers, etc.
- Advertise our training sessions
- Provide environmental information to decision makers and voters
- Put out news releases
- Get TV coverage
- Offer groundwater screenings and educational tools
- Place signs on creeks: Monitored by Blue Thumb
- Tap into existing networks – master naturalists and civic groups
- Provide give-aways – coffee mugs, calendars
- Calendar suggestions
- Restoration before/after
- High flow (flood)/low flow (drought)
- Storm damage
- Good stream habitat (canopy, riparian area, roots, etc.)
- Get businesses/restaurants to sponsor cleanups of local creeks
- Re-connect people to their local water
- Make the Blue Thumb website known as “the” place to get data, data interpretation, information, etc.
- Develop better advertising, get free publicity
- Hire a professional public relations person
- Volunteers of America
Everyone (!) thinks we need our own Blue Thumb website that would be more flexible and creative. Below are specific suggestions:
- Blue Thumb data and data interpretations available to public via a map of OK
- Data entry (I think we should keep this on the state site!)
- Videos/powerpoint presentations
- What to expect for fish/macro collections
- Secchi depth
- How to test
- Intro to Blue Thumb
- Have a place for the public to request specific help like a booth or presentation
- Pages specifically for teachers, scouts, others (What’s available for schools? Community groups? Blue Thumb for Teachers)
- Post photos and articles about Blue Thumb activities
- Fill-in-the-blank press release
- Educational links
- Resource tools
- List of equipment and educational materials (like publications)
- Feature a Creek of the Month (coordinate with the calendar)
- Memos and newsletters
- Chemical levels that should be reported and reporting contact information (DEQ, Ag, OWRB, etc.)
- Map showing background levels of chemical data
- List of pre-requisites for training modules
- Link the state site and our site
The leadership summits were a very good way to evaluate what we are doing well and where we could improve. There appear to be three major things that will improve the Blue Thumb program considerably.
- Develop a Blue Thumb specific website for better communication with volunteers and with the public.
- Shorten the Blue Thumb training sessions to about 4 hours and offer modules more often. These modules could be used for continuing education for volunteers or could attract outsiders for a topic that is interesting to them.
- Work on development of better PR to announce upcoming events and tout the things we are doing.
Almost everything else that was suggested will fit into this framework easily.