Tag: Mike Vickery

FLOW in Focus: Doing the Next Right Thing For the Love of Water

Above: FLOW Board Chair Mike Vickery and Executive Director Liz Kirkwood gather with FLOW staff and board at The Workshop Brewing Company in Traverse City to celebrate Liz and her family before their planned journey in early January 2020. (Photo by Jacob Wheeler)


By Mike Vickery, FLOW Board Chair

While visiting my grandchildren during the holidays, I went with them to see Frozen 2. In the movie, Princess Anna confronts a moment of frightening and overwhelming uncertainty and sings her resolve not to give up, but to, “Just do the next right thing.”

“Do the next right thing” keeps coming back to me as I reflect on FLOW’s work in 2019 and on the challenges of this New Year.

Our staff, board, supporters, and partners all know well that FLOW has done more things in the last 12 months than an organization our size should even be able to imagine, much less accomplish. But we are all intensely aware that the challenges we face and the threats to fresh water in the Great Lakes basin are persistent and daunting.  Many, many things will need to be done next and done right if we are to be successful stewards and become good ancestors. 

As an organization, FLOW is now the living result of the right thing that founder Jim Olson did eight years ago when he got environmental attorney Liz Kirkwood to bring her singular talents and passion to bear on the task of building FLOW’s capacity to influence water policy through application of the public trust doctrine.

As FLOW’s Executive Director, Liz demonstrates the rightness of Jim’s decision every day. She is a courageous advocate for public water and the public trust, a champion of water justice and water literacy, and a valued counselor to many other professionals and organizations. Liz has earned every accolade and deserves every expression of respect and admiration that comes her way. 

Nowhere has Liz’s masterful leadership been more clearly demonstrated than in all the “right things” she has done to assemble and catalyze the talents and passions of an utterly extraordinary professional staff of five full-time and four part-time employees.

FLOW’s board and staff are thrilled (and pretty envious) that Liz and her family are able to take advantage of an amazing sabbatical opportunity to study, reflect, and renew during the first three months of 2020. FLOW has become an organization with the mission clarity, operational maturity, and organizational culture to keep doing the next right things during this incredibly exciting sabbatical period for Liz and her family. (Click here to read Liz’s article about where the Kirkwood clan is headed and how Liz views this inflection point at FLOW).

FLOW’s capacity, productivity, and influence are the result of many right things done every day by an organization of extraordinarily talented and passionate professionals who are also simply excellent human beings.  Kelly Thayer, our Deputy Director, along with Jim Olson, Dave Dempsey, Diane Dupuis, Nayt Boyt, Lauren Hucek, Jacob Wheeler, and Janet Meissner Pritchard will not miss a beat during Liz’s sabbatical.  We are profoundly grateful for FLOW’s amazing staff and for all of the dedicated supporters who make their work possible. 

We enter this consequential year of 2020 with a deep appreciation for your support as we confront the significant challenges ahead and a profound sense of earned confidence in FLOW’s capacity to meet those challenges. My mantra for the 2020, no matter what it brings, is “just do the next right thing”… for the love of water.

Mike Vickery serves as chair of FLOW’s Board of Directors and as an advisor on strategic environmental communication, community engagement, and organizational capacity-building. He is an emeritus Professor of Communication, Public Affairs, and Environmental Studies at Alma College, where he was founding chair of the Department of Communication and served as Co-Director of the Center for Responsible Leadership.

Mike Vickery chairs, Lisa Wyatt Knowlton joins FLOW Board

Mike Vickery

Mike Vickery recently became Chair of the Board of Directors at FLOW (For Love of Water), the nonprofit Great Lakes law and policy center based in Traverse City. Vickery is an advisor on strategic environmental communication, community engagement, and organizational capacity building. He is an Emeritus professor of Communication, Public Affairs, and Environmental Studies at Alma College, where he was founding chair of the Department of Communication and served as Co-Director of the Center for Responsible Leadership.

Vickery holds a PhD in Communication. His graduate work focused on public discourse and controversies related to technical and social value-conflicts. He has taught graduate and undergraduate courses at the University of Texas-Austin, the University of Arizona, Texas A&M University, and the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. His areas of teaching, consulting, and applied scholarship include environmental rhetoric, risk communication, public health communication, and organizational communication.

“We are excited by Mike Vickery’s ascension to serving as FLOW’s Board Chair, where his well-honed skills in strategic communications, public engagement, and capacity building are sure to strengthen our reach and influence,” said Liz Kirkwood, executive director of FLOW. “Our future is bright with Mike at the helm, guided by his deep commitment to the Great Lakes and safe drinking water for all.”

Lisa Wyatt Knowlton

Lisa Wyatt Knowlton has joined FLOW’s Board of Directors. Wyatt Knowlton’s Education Doctorate includes specialties in management and policy. She holds a Masters of Public Administration and Bachelor of Arts in International Relations. Twice she has served as CEO; with a trade association and a foundation. Additionally, her work history includes extensive assignments as senior counsel for a broad range of management and leadership issues in the private and public sectors. Past clients have included the Gates, W.K. Kellogg, Ford, and Ball foundations, as well as renowned associations, non-governmental organizations, and network charities such as Feeding America.

Wyatt Knowlton has managed complex change initiatives and has served as a strategic planner, facilitator, and trusted advisor. As a Kellogg Leadership Fellow, she worked in Central America, Europe, and Asia focused on microenterprise. Her areas of specialization include organization effectiveness, leadership, change management, systems thinking, and strategy. Wyatt Knowlton is a learning leader. She speaks Spanish, is an adjunct university faculty (Notre Dame and Grand Valley State University), and authored a text on logic models used by Harvard University, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, World Bank, Packard Foundations, and leading development institutions worldwide. Wyatt Knowlton is managing principal for Wyatt Advisors, a resource for effective people and organizations. She is an advocate for adoption, Great Lakes protection, and an avid cyclist. Wyatt Knowlton is a board member with a refugee-serving collaborative. Recently, she established an education fund for girls in Peru.

“Lisa Wyatt Knowlton is an extraordinary agent for change,” said Kirkwood. “As FLOW enters a period of growth and opportunity, Lisa is just the leader we need to help us tackle complex problems, identify systemic solutions, and maximize our impact in protecting the Great Lakes and the public’s right to clean water.”

Public Trust and the Story of Water

byzantine-empire-public-land.-trusts

At the core of its plain meaning, public trust means that future generations depend on us – trust us – to protect the water, air, and land upon which their wellbeing will depend. Public trust principles are enshrined in law. The people who serve in positions of leadership and authority are legally responsible to all of us and to our children for protecting the vital natural resources that we all own in common. It’s really not that hard to understand. If only being able to grasp the principles of the public trust doctrine was the end of the story.

Here’s a big-picture story that, for me, underlines the value and importance of public trust principles and public trust law to help protect the natural, social, and cultural resources upon which healthy and prosperous human communities depend:

The global population is booming. The global climate is changing, becoming warmer. Demands for fresh water are increasing and fresh water is becoming increasingly scarce. Water is becoming increasingly commodified, monetized, privatized, and politicized. Not every influential leader and organization believes that water is a human right, so there is a real and growing struggle for simple access to water. Even if people believe that access to fresh water is a human right, we don’t have in place shared protocols that will protect the water commons from tragic misuse.

We read this story locally in the affronts to public health, social justice, and responsible leadership that the water debacles in Flint and Detroit have tragically revealed. We read it in proposals to operate concentrated fish feeding operations – fish factories – in our lakes and rivers. We read it in actions by Nestle and other water-raiders that come back again and again to capture and carry off Great Lakes water. We read it in the protection of land-use practices that contaminate groundwater and feed toxic algae blooms in the Great Lakes. And we read it very clearly in the lethargic leadership that seems more willing to protect corporate interests in using Great Lakes water as a host for oil pipelines than to protect Michigan’s public interests in the ecological and economic value of water itself.

It is clear that many of the most important chapters in the story of water are being written right here in the Great Lakes basin. The Great Lakes encompass 20% of the fresh surface water on the planet. The waters of the Great Lakes directly service 40 million residents of the U.S. and Canada. Risks to the integrity and viability of the Great Lakes as a hydrological system are increasing. Those of us who live in the Great Lakes basin today have an affirmative duty to protect water, and the risks to that water are global and systemic. Public trust doctrine and law are tools for the execution of that duty.

The public trust doctrine tells us and empowers us to act as stewards of the unique and irreplaceable repository of fresh surface water. The Great Lakes watershed, in a very real sense, is a proving ground on which human leaders and communities are testing the proposition that it is either possible or not possible to create water-smart blue communities and vibrant blue economies. The proof of the proposition and the story of water that we leave to our children rests on our ability to empower ourselves and our fellow citizens to become water-literate lovers of waters, to educate and support water-responsible leaders, and to demand that decision-makers in the public and private sectors exercise their duties as trustees to protect the natural resources and public beauties that future generations will inherit.

What do you think?


Mike Vickery serves as vice-chair of FLOW’s board and as an advisor on strategic environmental communication, community engagement, and organizational capacity-building.  He is an Emeritus Professor of Communication, Public Affairs, and Environmental Studies at Alma College where he was founding chair of the Department of Communication and served as Co-Director of the Center for Responsible Leadership.

Mike holds a PhD in Communication.  His graduate work focused on public discourse and controversies related to technical and social value-conflicts.   He has taught graduate and undergraduate courses at the University of Texas-Austin, the University of Arizona, Texas A&M University, and the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.  His areas of teaching, consulting, and applied scholarship include environmental rhetoric, risk communication, public health communication, and organizational communication.