Collaboration is at the heart of floodplains

By Heather Cole

The moment was clear, March 5th, 2020, during our regular Culture and Capacity (C&C) Action Group meeting. Part of that meeting was to plan the Floodplains by Design in-person spring gathering.  At that time, we all thought COVID, may quickly pass and by June we would be back to “normal”. At the very end of the meeting, Morgan Ruff, Tulalip Tribes Snohomish Basin Capital Program Coordinator and C&C member, said, “is anyone thinking about how we’re going to collaborate with each other, if we all have to work online?” My first thought was that I just got a Zoom account, so I should be fine. But what Morgan was really saying was how would we work together when we physically couldn’t be in community? 

The Floodplains by Design network is a group of floodplain practitioners and floodplain influencers that are changing the way we look at floodplains from a siloed approach to an integrated holistic approach to river management.  While each floodplain may have their own players, drivers and next steps, the common thread is we all use collaboration as a primary tool to find agreement on achieving healthy rivers systems and healthy communities. To achieve the type of outcomes that we want, goes way beyond having a Zoom account and it dawned on me that my colleagues and I were in desperate need for new tools to adapt to this “new normal.”

A photo of Morgan Ruff, back when we could collaborate in person. Photo by Courtney Baxter/TNC.

For the last year and half, we have been operating in this online environment; learning, experimenting, acquiring new skills, connecting with existing partners and making new connections.  We leaned on Nancy White, a skilled online facilitator, who led us through our first virtual coffee series where we got familiar with the basics – creating breakout rooms, learning how to manage the behind the scenes technology and supporting floodplain practitioners with their immediate challenges and then inviting others from the network to learn alongside them.

Cheryl Baumann, North Olympic Peninsula Lead Entity for Salmon Coordinator, after participating in a virtual coffee workshop remarked, “the timing of that training was great! We hosted our final project presentations yesterday & had 40 people on Zoom & 36 today.  I have so much more to learn but at least we are on our way!”

The Culture and Capacity Action Group didn’t stop at the virtual coffees. We built on this learning and hosted a Virtual Collaboration in Practice series and then followed up with a Collaboration Campfire series. We learned from each other, we laughed when we didn’t get it right, we helped each other, we leaned into our discomfort – some of us facilitating virtual techniques for the first time and others learning how to tech host – and most importantly we asked for help.  We were building the capacity of our network in real time.

Collaboration Campfire event graphic. Designed by Courtney Baxter/TNC.

In July we are poised for the State of Washington to be fully open. Some of us will be returning to the offices and going back to in person meetings and in person events.  We don’t know what the future will bring, but having more tools in your toolbox – learning, adapting and being open to attending to emerging needs, like Morgan’s question last year, can lead you down a path of greater resilience. And it has given me a renewed sense of readiness to face the next challenge.

For a full list of the virtual trainings and workshops hosted by the Floodplains by Design Culture and Capacity Action group, click here.

Floodplains by Design is a public-private partnership led by:

For more information, contact: INFO@FLOODPLAINSBYDESIGN.ORG