Sure you have a great document. But do you have a dancing caribou?Social media can give new life to old communication vehicles

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For organizations with a strong policy orientation, turning out documents and reports is a pretty integral part of their existence. And often those reports are valuable contributions to the dialogue.

The problem is getting people to read and, even more helpfully, act on them - especially people whose engagement would broaden the conversation. Oh, the reports get to a slowly shrinking circle of the usual suspects: stakeholders, colleagues, competitors, opponents, policy wonks. Maybe they even get a brief flicker of news coverage. But breaking out of that circle is tough, especially if the organization's voice is, like most, and I say this with love... just a little on the staid side.

That's why I'm always happy to see an organization let its hair down. And get some green streaks put in for fun.

The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society has just released its 2009 Parks Day Report, an annual state-of-the-nation's-parks roundup. (Disclosure: CPAWS and Mountain Equipment Coop are the organizations behind The Big Wild, an online community we've worked on. And we offered some advice to CPAWS on hiring the caribou you're about to read about.)

Map of Canada's parksThe subtitle, "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly," cues you in to the mix of good news (they protected the Nahanni!) and pretty alarming warnings (like the intense pressure from all sides on tiny, precious Point Pelee National Park).

But CPAWS isn't content to turn out yet another document. They supplement it with a neat use of Google Maps that gives you an at-a-glance impression of what's going on in the Canadian wilderness protection scene.

Each item on the map links to more information; several link to campaigns. Even if web site visitors never open the report itself, they'll have learned a little about the issues affecting Canadian parks and had an opportunity to take action.

And they'll learn even more if they watch the accompanying video. Enter the aforementioned caribou.

CPAWS' campaign to protect Canadian boreal forest is represented by a talking woodland caribou by the name of Bou. And in this video, Bou presents the report's highlights and low points:

You might conclude that the video is pitched someone other than the usual report-reading crowd, and I think you'd be right. I also think there's a pretty decent chance that most of this video's viewers will never download that 14-page PDF, let alone read it thoroughly (although it's well worth the read, and comes across more as a lively magazine photo spread than a dry policy piece).

But they'll know about logging in Algonquin Park, federal inaction on marine parks and the Quebec government's inaction on Mont Orfort Park. And they'll have a chance to respond on those issues - through text comments, a video commentary of their own or by taking action on the CPAWS site. Which is a lot more than most paper reports can ever offer.

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Ellen Adelberg says

July 20, 2009 - 8:15am

Rob - thanks for the blog post about our first ever attempt to relay the findings of one of our reports through video. This is new territory for CPAWS and we appreciate the feedback from social media gurus like you and Alex at Social Signal. Kudos to Bou (aka Anthony Wong) who prepared the video for CPAWS with such creativity under incredible time pressure. We welcome all comments and hope it will spread far and wide!

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