Guest Post: What Exactly is The Problem?

A guest post by Damon Birchfield, CEO of Environment Trust:

In recent weeks EcoMatters Environment Trust has been accused of a range of almost nefarious sounding activities around our involvement in the production of a real world game called The Problem. I suspect the article from “a reader” in your Kiwiblog article from April the 3rd is a continuation of this particular person’s issue with ourselves and Auckland Council.

By way of background for your readers who may not be familiar with us, EcoMatters is a medium sized community Trust based in West Auckland. We undertake a wide range of environmental work together with the community, focussing in the areas of housing quality, environmental and stream restoration, waste minimisation, and sustainable transport through our cycle hub, which restores older bikes for people in the community who may not have the means to take their bikes to a professional shop to be repaired. A full summary of our annual activities can be found here.

Like all community organisations we receive funding from a range of funders, including Auckland Council, with whom we have a strong relationship that we are personally very proud of. The total pool of funding we receive from council in a year compared to their larger contractors is not high. Furthermore we work very hard for what funding we receive, all the while attempting to be a professionally run not for profit organisation that does a lot of community and environmental good, and which we believe provides an excellent return on investment for our funders.

EcoMatters is an apolitical organisation, and we don’t produce propaganda. We try to maintain a positive language with our supporters, and this can be seen on our Facebook page, which tells a range of community stories about our work.

The Problem your reader refers to is a real world gaming App that utilises a youth language framework to engage a normally disinterested audience. It is still in a very early development phase. EcoMatters helped to develop it, along with creative agency, The Agent-C, to engage with an 18 – 35 year old audience.

Based on research we had undertaken we found there are a lot of people in this age group who do not feel that traditional environmental messaging is speaking particularly well to them. We wanted to provide a way for a new audience to engage with socio-environmental issues, but to do that we needed a way of speaking their language. We also wanted to use technology to mobilise this community to be able to take action in the real world. That was the driving idea behind the project.

At EcoMatters we are worried about the future for our young adults, and we want them to be engaged in these issues. We know that a lot of the environmental news we hear these days suggests there are some compelling challenges ahead. The Problem attempts to use smartphone technology to engage with this audience, and most importantly, “give them a voice” and speak in their own language about the particular issues they see and are encountering.

The Problem was never intended to be partisan. However we do acknowledge that a very early piece of creative that was produced did contain some slides that could be considered politically offensive and we apologise for these.  We hasten to mention these slides were never used in public presentations, never taken to market and were merely representations of possible user generated content.

The suggestion that we are somehow busy with creating  ‘covert propaganda aimed at politicising youth to push its (our) beliefs on the public’, is simply untrue. EcoMatters and Auckland Libraries never signed off on any political messages being put to market, precisely for the reason that it went against council policy to do so. Ironically, your reader actually highlighted an example of Auckland Libraries filtering out objectionable and party-political messaging.

Meanwhile, any political user generated content created by the participants of the game is their right. We have no interest in suppressing freedom of speech and opinion. Neither EcoMatters or I suspect council will necessarily agree with what people define as “The Problem”, but that’s the whole point of the utility and it is surely sign of a healthy democracy that there is a willingness to give people a voice and be prepared to hear a range of world views.

In a crowded media marketplace, as I’m sure this Blog is aware, you do sometimes need to try something different, to be heard.

The Problem is there are still people out there who rather than mucking in and being part of the solution, prefer to shoot endless bullets from the sideline at people who are in the business of trying to make a positive difference.

Kind regards,

Damon Birchfield
EcoMatters CEO

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