Establishing Roots, Growing Community: Capacity Building with Finca Cántaros Environmental Association
The director of an environmental education organization on how Knology helped it advance its mission.
Finca Cántaros is a nature reserve located in the southern zone of Costa Rica on the Pacific slope, in Coto Brus county of the province of Puntarenas. It has a cool, comfortable, tropical highlands climate with temperatures ranging between 14-30° C (58-85° F) year round. The surrounding neighborhood is called Linda Vista, and the nearest town is San Vito, which was settled by Italians in 1952. San Vito is now the Coto Brus county seat, with a population of about 15,000 in a regional population of about 55,000.
Since 2020, the reserve has been home to Finca Cántaros Environmental Association (FCEA), which puts environmental education at the core of everything it does. Run as a family operation by its Canadian founder, her parents and brother, and her Costa Rican partner, the organization engages diverse community audiences through a variety of initiatives – including a weekly "Women Committed to the Earth" program, bird-focused outreach activities with elementary-aged children in local schools, and forest restoration projects launched in collaboration with regional partners (particularly the members of the local "AmistOsa" Biological Corridor committee).
FCEA invites community members to grow trees rather than simply to plant them: ensuring that the trees receive the necessary ongoing stewardship and maintenance needed to thrive is a long-term commitment that involves the entire community. It's also non-linear and messy, which can prove to be exciting and overwhelming in equal measure. As a young organization, FCEA requires the same kind of constant nurturing and patience as the young trees in its forest restoration projects. Navigating the early years of establishing roots has necessitated strategic thinking about FCEA's many different projects and directions. As the organization grows, it has been critical to set priorities, identify expected outcomes, and create clear pathways for achieving its goals.
Working with Knology has allowed FCEA to address these needs, through Spanish-language workshops, logic modeling, vision statement development, and more. To build the organization's evaluation capacities, the Knology team adapted workshops on logic modeling and evaluation methods for a Spanish-language audience. They also iterated logic models with the FCEA team, identifying relationships between various program elements and helping FCEA make connections between activities and outcomes. With Knology's help, FCEA was able to identify the strong and weak points for all its programs, and to systematically put these to paper. In tandem with that work, a member of the Knology team worked closely with FCEA Director Lilly Briggs to articulate the organization's goals more clearly for its varied audiences.
After two workshops, FCEA team members felt they could align their "gut" feelings about what thematic priorities to set for the organization. We could see forest restoration and birds clearly emerging as our primary cross-cutting pillars. We could also see that some activities key to our early growth (such as community festivals that give an organization an excuse to make some noise and reach out to other local partners for participation) were not necessarily aligned with our current needs or core values. FCEA will be able to continue using the tools and training provided by Knology over the years to come, with new and continuing staff alike.
Interested in Setting Up a Workshop with Knology?
Through interactive learning workshops, Knology equips organizations with the tools and techniques for evaluating the impact of their work. Knology's workshops are tailored to specific organizations' goals and needs, and consist of a series of capacity-building exercises in which members of the Knology team work with partners to co-create the evaluative strategies they need to assess and deepen their impacts.
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Lilly Briggs's background in the social sciences focused on environmental education, international development studies, and the human dimensions of conservation. As the founder and director of Finca Cántaros Environmental Association, she leads her team's work on a variety of projects in collaboration with local, national, and international partners. She is from British Columbia, Canada, and has been passionate about nature, birds, and environmental education her whole life.
Jena Barchas-Lichtenstein is a linguistic anthropologist who leads the media research at Knology. Shaun Field is a researcher and programs manager at Knology. Together, Jena and Shaun facilitated the workshops that helped FCEA set organizational priorities and build their evaluation capacities.
Cover photo courtesy of Lilly Briggs