Conserving Energy: Activism or Action—Motion or Movement—Reaction or Results?
American Association of Zoo Veterinarians Conference 2001
Leslie A. Dierauf, VMD
Alliance of Veterinarians for the Environment, Santa Fe, NM, USA


Activism means different things to different people in different positions. Yet the processes involved in taking action and moving forward to result-driven solutions are generally the same.


The word “activism” originates from the word “action,” meaning “to impel by causing change” or “expressing movement rather than a state of being.” Webster’s Dictionary defines “activism” as “a theory or action based on militant action.” Activism does mean different things to different people in different positions. To Congressional staffers working on Capitol Hill and to professional staff working in Executive Branch agencies, activism often has negative connotations.


This presentation provides ways in which the author believes you, as veterinarians, animal care professionals, and scientists, can effect change—constructive change—on issues of interest to you, your organizations, Congressional staff and Members, and Executive Branch professionals at the local, regional and/or national levels. You can take the tips provided here (which are mine alone) and embrace them enthusiastically or erase them from your memory, or something in between—whichever you prefer!


Impelling or influencing someone to effect the change you desire begins with communication. Following are 10 communication tips that I appreciate today, as a professional staffer (7 years) with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Albuquerque, NM), and that I appreciated as a scientific advisor (3 years) for the U.S. House of Representatives (Merchant Marine and Fisheries Committee). These are also the tools I use in everyday situations.


The Basics

  • Learn to listen very carefully
  • Learn to speak only after really listening and thinking; use the “20/90 rule”


  • Know 360 degrees of the issue; do your homework
  • Make scientific information/data clear, applicable and accessible


  • Attack the problem/solution, not the person
  • Check your ego at the door


  • Find a clear window of time and space once or twice a day to do nothing by thinking
  • “Go to the balcony” frequently

Decision Making

  • Invent and pursue multiple options and alternatives
  • Fight for what’s important to you; you cannot fight for everything; focus your attention

Make time for people. Have fun. Know the buzzwords of the day. Take risks. Know the purpose of your visits (for attempting to influence whomever), and communicate that purpose clearly and succinctly in one to two sentences.


In preparing your presentation for influencing the person(s) with whom you plan to visit, answer three basic questions: (1) What is the issue? (2) So what? (3) Then what? (i.e., explain what you are there to accomplish, what doing so could accomplish for the person to whom you are talking with, and what will be the result if this person chooses to base one or more decisions on your suggestions). Quiz yourself on any and all possible questions you might be asked and know the answers. Know your point of view—even more importantly, know what all the other points of view are, why they exist, and who holds those views. This is what builds your credibility and opportunity.


Be open. Do not hide your agenda. Check your egos at the door (I cannot emphasize this point enough!). Do not play games. If you do not know the answer to a question, say so. Do not make us an answer. If you lie or fudge with just one person, remember that you will have to correctly remember that lie over and over again; it will catch up with you. Always speak the truth.

Science and Politics

Be completely aware that when dealing with most scientific issues nationwide, no matter at what level, that you will often lose. Don’t get discouraged, because where science and politics mix, “winning” for your cause 25% of the time is great success (e.g., when good science and good politics coexist).


When you begin a negotiation process, know that different people (including yourself) are affected in different ways by different approaches to influencing. There are at least 10 different methods to use (Table 1).

Table 1. Methods to use in a negotiation process


Building alliancesa

Interpersonal, building support


Appealing to friendship



Appealing to others’ valuesb

Interpersonal, inspirational






Intuiting, determining values and questions



Interpersonal, building flexibility


Persuading with logica

Managing details, problem solving



Asserting with facts



Managing details



Persisting (Bacon 1994; Dalton 1998)

aMethods I am most comfortable with
bMethods I need to recognize and practice more frequently

In setting up a negotiation strategy, you must know where your endpoint is on the particular issue “continuum.” Be realistic. If you have not pondered what your purpose is, when you reach your negotiating or influencing endpoint, you won’t know you’re there! Often with science, this is the biologic goal you wish to achieve and beyond which you cannot tolerate.


Run toward action and challenge with facts. Know who you are speaking with. Make them like what they see. Keep your process clean.

Do not be confrontational, emotional, biased, cynical, or egotistical. Do champion your cause, support ongoing efforts, and pick your issues.


Before you begin your discussions, it is important to think about what it is you are trying to achieve, explore reference materials,1-8 access different points of view, understand (if you can) the personality of the people you will be speaking with in order to choose some applicable negotiation styles, and then take action, which hopefully will move the issue forward to the decision-making mode and results!

Through the political and social changes that are normal in a democracy, I hope that you will always remember the reason that you first became Forest Service employees. Continue to advocate and teach the imperative of conservation and restoration. Enjoy yourselves and have fun. Get into the woods...or just enjoy the wild places with your family. Share with young people the love and respect for nature. Take in the splendor of an old growth forest, a prairie grassland, or jagged mountain. Follow your hearts and never allow your lives to be controlled by the desk bound. Above all, allow your commitment to your conservation ethic and the lands and waters that sustain us to take precedence over other political or organizational realities.
[Michael Dobeck, March 27, 2001]

Literature Cited

1.  Bacon, T.R. 1994. Leadership through Influencing. International Learning Works, Lore International Institute; Durango, CO: 158 pp.

2.  Cormick, G., N. Dale, P. Emond, S.G. Sigurdson, and B.D. Stuart. 1996. Building Consensus for a Sustainable Future: Putting Principles into Practice. National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy; Ottawa, Canada: 135 pp.

3.  Covey, S.R. The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Franklin Covey Co.; Salt Lake City, UT: 360 pp.

4.  Dalton, M.A. 1998. Becoming a More Versatile Learner. Center for Creative Leadership; Greensboro, NC: 26 pp.

5.  Fisher, R., W. Urey, and B. Patton. 1991. Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In. 2nd ed. Penguin Books; New York: 200 pp.

6.  International Association for Public Participation.

7.  Urey, W. 1993. Getting Past No: Negotiating Your Way from Confrontation to Cooperation. Bantam Doubleday Dell; New York: 189 pp.

8. (VIN editor: This link was not accessible as of 2-23-21.)


Speaker Information
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Leslie A. Dierauf, VMD
Alliance of Veterinarians for the Environment
Santa Fe, NM, USA

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