Vision & Mission

The vision of Dialogue Earth™ is increased shared understanding between the public and experts drawn from across society on Earth’s most critical issues, especially as a strategy to defuse contentious debates. Our mission is to increase public understanding on timely issues related to the environment by delivering engaging, trustworthy multimedia content to large, diverse audiences.

 

History

Dialogue Earth™ began in September 2009 as a collaboration between the Institute on the Environment (IonE) at the University of Minnesota and Foundation for Environmental Research. Both organizations contributed seed funding, with IonE also housing the Dialogue Earth team.

Two key observations led to this collaborative effort. The volume of dialogue on the Web—principally in social media—has exploded in recent years. Another recent trend is that the tenor of many discussions and debates—especially on matters connected to the environment—has become highly polarized.

Of course, there is a good bit of online dialogue that is nothing more than chatter between friends and colleagues, and, certainly, participation in social media is varied and plays out in different ways for different people. Some share trivia like menu items from recent meals, others share heart-felt emotions across a range of topics, and others still are seeking to develop large followings with an appetite for the latest news or thoughts in a particular area. Yet, the sheer volume of activity in the social media suggests that there may be value in attempting to filter the wheat from the chaff. This observation has led to the ongoing development of Pulse, an interactive platform for tracking both the nature and drivers of trends in the social media.

We can change the tenor of debates by finding common ground between the opposing viewpoints surrounding these contentious topics and further working from there. Dialogue Earth has deep ties to a project that worked for over a decade (1996-2008), across two presidential administrations, doing just that. The State of the Nation’s Ecosystems was a path-breaking project with a vision for widespread adoption of environmental indicators to complement economic indicators. They employed a strategy of engaging experts with varying cross-societal experiences (industry, academia, environmental advocacy and government) and dynamically differing views, both professionally and personally, to identify areas of agreement in order to pave way for dialogue. Dialogue Earth is working in much the same way to identify common ground, immune of political spin and advocacy, to further useful dialogue and debate around topics of environmental importance. We will be organizing a network of experts, again drawn from across society, to develop key points for science stories that will end up as the basis for highly-engaging, widely-distributed multimedia content.

People

Kent Cavender-Bares

Kent currently serves as director of the Dialogue Earth program at the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment (IonE). Kent also is president of the nonprofit Foundation for Environmental Research that is a partner with IonE in launching a new nonprofit, Dialogue Earth, Inc.

He formerly served as assistant director for bioenergy systems with the Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment (another program at IonE), providing strategic leadership in the area of algal-based energy systems. Prior to joining IonE, he was the Midwest liaison for Climate Central, a nonprofit science and media organization with a goal of providing clear and objective information about climate change and its potential solutions to general audiences. His experience working at the interface between science, policy, and communications began with an eight-year position at the H. John Heinz III Center for Science, Economics and the Environment. Ultimately, he was deputy project director for a project focused on measuring the condition and use of U.S. ecosystems.

Kent holds a bachelor’s degree in agricultural and biological engineering from Cornell University, a master’s degree in environmental engineering from Stanford University, and a doctorate in civil and environmental engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.