Something I took for granted while organizing meetings with horticulture professors or community members in the past month was their level of preparedness for our discussion.
I had planned in-person meetings, and also popped in to office hours to catch people who I thought could help OpenFarm. I would spend an hour mentally preparing for what I was going to discuss, what outcomes I was hoping for, and how to listen and see mutual ground between both of us. I know more about OpenFarm than 99% of the population after all, so I thought I would be adequately prepared for wherever our discussion would go. Instead, I found myself spending half of our time explaining what the heck this revolutionary new technology even was.
“Oh, so you want me to give you a list of places to find information on how to grow plants?”
“Well no, our goal is to encourage people to add that information themselves, and to make it fun, easy and engaging in the process.”
“But that information is already out there. Why are you trying to re-create the wheel?”
“Because it isn’t easy for the average person to find that advice, because most of that information is in English, because we don’t believe that there is only one way to grow something, because people don’t know if a plant grown in our area can grow in theirs.”
“So this site is just for novice gardeners? People who need generic advice?”
“Ideally the site is for anyone who grows plants. You can be as detailed as you like, and actually the more detail you include, the more helpful your guide becomes. You may know how to grow something perfectly in one way, but what if you wanted to explore other methods? Farmers will be able to use it to plan their crops based off years past climate data, conservationists will be able to use it to easily restore damaged habitats, landscapers will be able to see what plants in their area are drought tolerant, and professors can use it as a teaching tool.”
After a number of these conversations, I realized how important it is that the person I’m meeting has a good concept of what OpenFarm is before we can make any real progress together. Since OpenFarm is a software based solution, and since a picture’s worth a thousand words, it makes much more sense to prepare your contact with a link to the website and a link to the website’s vision (in this case our Kickstarter). Then they’re able to peruse and learn for themselves about OpenFarm.
It may also prove valuable to give them an idea of what commitment you are asking them to make ahead of time. Everyone’s time is precious, so it’s better to find out early on that someone is too busy to offer any help. People want to know what is being asked of them, and many of them genuinely want to contribute to the success of your project. So the easier you make it to receive help, the more likely it is that you’ll receive it. That means explaining succinctly what it is you’re trying to accomplish, telling them what you specifically need from them, how much time and effort will be required, and also being open to whatever help they offer.