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Blog item: Inventing for the Sustainable Planet, Chapter 16

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0 comments   Add a comment   Author:  stevehinton (Jan-14-2009)
Category: Sustainable Living

Community Action for Sustainability 

The story so far:

Reporter Max Wahlter has been visiting the sustainable city of Porena (see earlier journeys).  He discovered a new way of working based only on behaviour and what can be done today. He has attended two parts of the worshop. This is the third where they plan the transition, agree the steps and get ready for implementation. Can't be done? Read on ...

Tapescript Day #3

We have got to the point where we have completed two visits. We sought a methodology for acting community wide on sustainability. The first phase was analysis, the second preparation. We need now to understand about implementation. Hopefully groups which have met once a week to continue the preparation will be ready for implementation.
I am asking to go back to see the preparation turned into implementation.

Now to the Beachhead – a lift. The facilitator is sitting next to me on the bench. He says 'hi' and asks if I'm ready. I sure am.

'Shall we take the steps?' he asks. 'It IS possible.'

I opt for the lift.

I notice the cows and farmyard scene from earlier trips I wonder of these are significant. I push the green button again. The rush from the lift hits my stomach for a few seconds and with a bump we stop and the lift doors open onto the walkway.

All the big doors are open at the gate; it looks like a festival is going on. There are a lot more stalls here on the square than before. People seem to be having festivities or a market - local food maybe.

The town hall is on the left and I follow my guide into it. Everyone is sitting down getting ready to start. I sit on a bench at the back. Are there more people here than last time? I'm not sure. Tea and coffee looks to be prepared on the side for later.

The facilitator stands up, pulls down the map and says: 'Implementation'.

To the right is a list of what was decided already. It looks like we are going to look back, focusing on three different priorities decided in the first session. The facilitator summarizes. One: air quality, people were looking for solutions for transport. The behaviour related to it was driving in the city. The other was fizzy drinks as a health hazard. The third was to address growing more food at home. We are having a presentation of each group as a summary.

'Am I going to have to listen to all these presentations?' I say.

'Relax - they are very short,' a voice behind me whispers.

The fizzy drinks problem was the amount consumed by kids. The behaviour was they and their parents buying them. The approach was to replace the drinks with flavoured mineral water.
All shops have agreed to voluntary practices of equal display. The suppliers sell just as many drinks as before so they are OK with it. That is more or less agreed. The implementation plan is not done yet. They'll do it later. They do have initial voluntary agreements.

Driving. The approach is a green wave through the city, that is to say to keep the traffic lights at green for a wave of traffic to pass through, and reduction of speed. Reduction of the number of journeys is called for as well. The assets are walking, cycling and something about using a boat.

'Is the boat asset secured?' someone asks. 'Yeah. They need to do a business plan first, though.'  Growing food at home: assets were supermarket, garden centre, horticultural college and enthusiasts.

'We have a brochure ready, for distribution and we are ready for the study circles.'  People are sitting still, looking at the facilitator.

'Have you done this before?' I ask a guy next to me.

'Of course I have,' he says, unconvincingly.

'Have you?' I ask quizzically.

We divide up into groups on these three themes. It is all set up on the tables. I want to go to the growing table. I see again we have counters, but the questions are different. We have a stakeholder list, which should have been filled in by now. It might need checking.

I still get the feeling people haven't done this before. How come? They seemed to have done all the other exercises. It seems to have to do with losing confidence in what you are doing. The further you come to having to ask commitment from somebody, and to open your proposal to
scrutiny, the more you could lose face. I guess people here have been involved in this process before, but obviously, asking the community to do these things is something that they have never done before. This is more of a leap into the unknown. I reflect that although people know the answers, and answers are better than no answers, there is still room for self-doubt.

OK. We must move on. You have to fall forwards and use the obstacles. The main protagonists are the main people to be communicated to. You reach them where they are doing the behaviour in question.

We should concentrate on that point of behaviour. On the desk is a large board with a circular diagram on it. In the middle, a symbol: a foot on an accelerator or plant in a pot. Several circles are placed inside each other. A broad circle on the outside has smaller sections in it. The board has a green blue background reminiscent of a Monopoly board.

In the middle is the symbol for the targeted behaviour, at the top are a line of stakeholders. To the right are markers and counters. Around the symbol at the centre the systems are represented by small symbols. They have put in traffic lights, public transport, cycle paths and walking paths.

Stakeholders, systems, I realize I am staring at the board and not following the group. The facilitator asks if we have seen the table.   'What are we going to do?' I ask.

'We are going to connect systems, stakeholders and behaviors.'

Yeah, systems stakeholders and marketing. The marketing is around the outside, a market effort for each system to support each change of the system. What we have to do now is to identify the system changes required, and then identify the marketing needed for each of those.

My group was the garden one but I am stuck in the air pollution group. I just want to join in, the exercise is very engaging.

One guy says – 'let's check all systems involved'. Another reads them up.

System Changes

  • Traffic lights:Green wave and 30 km/hr restrictions (for heaviest routes) and slip roads
  • Transport system: Routes developed etc. Setting up new public transport alternatives including water transport.
  • Bicycle: Cycle path connections improved, definition of routes improved.
  • Walking: Some structural changes in the paths. As above.

The cost and time needs working out for each systemic change. These changes are actually part of what the departments should be doing anyway, and what the voluntary groups see as their purpose. It is just that they are coordinated in this way to increase the promotion of sustainability.

Next, marketing. In order for the systemic changes to work how much marketing is needed towards people who use cars? The green wave is marketed through the local newspaper. Speed cameras will add discipline. People are moving pieces around – why? They are not sure either.
The facilitator comes over and praises our work.

'Next you have to bring stakeholders in to help with the marketing.'

Each stakeholder has their own color. One stakeholder has to do with an advertising agency. For each section of the marketing, group members are placing stakeholder pieces against them.  It is becoming clear that some of the stakeholders are system owners. I leave the transport table to have a look around, people can look at the others' tables and have a coffee and go to the loo.  I grab a coffee. I chat to someone; 'are you enjoying it?'

'I am nervous about how it will end up - I have a feeling it is not going to work in the end. I am worried that when it comes down to it nothing will happen. It makes me nervous, like about what could go wrong, that people will not change anyway and think we have been pie in the skying our time away.'

The other groups have written down what negative, counter forces would be in play. These are in the black circles around the marketing circle.  'Come and sit down,' the facilitator calls out.

He explains about the negative side. The closer you come to making a change the more nervous you feel. This is less fun than earlier. What you have to do is approach it systematically and use the energy in your reaction. Each group is asked to inventory threats and counter-productive forces.

Says the facilitator: 'let us put on our black hats to look at the forces that would stop this behaviour change'.

'Think what could go wrong and put it in the first square outside marketing. And then think of its impact and severity. Then discuss how to stop, prevent or reduce its impact.'

Going back to the centre. I am still on the driving one. I listen. They start with the system for traffic lights. It is calculable, and not very difficult. The only thing that could go wrong is that we cannot get the technician time to do it. The time has been allocated already so the risk is low.

The speed cameras are a larger investment, 100,000. To get the budget for that? Maybe we could get the money from somewhere else. If we don't get it we could erect the camera shells and not connect all of them. That is noted on a sticky note.

Next point: to get people cycling. The barrier is it takes a lot to change people's habits. The marketer suggests a cycle day to try out all the paths as a publicity stunt. The ad agency could help. It is not an asset more a stakeholder as….

I fumble to try to understand this … something about the information department of the local municipality having outsourced municipal information handling to the agency and therefore they are a stakeholder as they are overall responsible for the information put out in the municipality's name. Or something like that. For walking we do the same thing. Mark the paths out, plan a campaign.

Where will the money come from? If we do not get the money we have to prioritize things, and rank the impact in terms of priorities, rank the risks and the impact of not having the change and how to handle it.

The next part is time …when….

The facilitator pointed out that the closer to a decision the more nervous you get. I muse over this. That is where the stakeholders come in. I see! To get stakeholder representatives together to agree is the final part of implementation planning. And that would be at the next sustainability council meeting. Where all of this we are planning is to be presented. The costs for amelioration need estimation as well.

Someone is getting out a sheet for the 'I could's:
  'I could estimate the costs of the cameras.'   
   'I could estimate the costs of the signs.'
   'I could think about the cycle day.'
   'I could think about the walking day.'

Marketing activities are represented under the stakeholder list. These require a stakeholder analysis for who will be involved. The activities are given titles. In a box on the left the person responsible is noted and to the right crosses to represent which stakeholder to engage for decision and or marketing. I note that implementation is more difficult than inventing, which was rather simple.

I walk over to the plant people. The problem there is one of convenience to householders. You need to engage every consumer. To get over that, they propose ready-made home food growing kits and the study circles. We have stakeholders engaged. The supermarkets shouldn't mind because although they sell less food, they sell more growing packages. The brochures come free. The cost has been worked out for each deliverable. The main barriers are supermarket resistance, and people's resistance. Then a systemic, logistic barrier, you need wheelbarrows to move the stuff around.

The next step is the sustainability council, with a plenary meeting as a formal meeting with a chairman etc. Everyone needs to have their deliverables ready. The boards are filled in and the information transferred to an electronic text document. It is written up in a standard format to as a report, with the diagrams etc. Someone in the group has volunteered to write up the application which goes to the stakeholders' representatives to get the formal decision.
It needs to follow several headings.

Next time we will look at preparation for the council meeting. The nerve-racking side of this interests me. People seem to be worried about asking others for things and asking formal organizations to change their systems. You reduce the impact of that feeling by breaking it down into short enough steps. That helps to reduce tension. And also looking the risk straight in the eye and breaking that down into details until you feel you are on top of it. It's getting real, much more real.

There is one more meeting before the plenum to polish all this up. Some coordination to be done. It is all photographed so everything is put on the web. I figure I have had my time here, and covered everything so I leave the Town Hall.

Funny, this last exercise has been a bitof a strain. I need to walk around to clear my head. I pick up a juice at one of the stands.

'See how it helps to have a market place to focus activities!' says the lady at the stand.
I can see that, a physical site to focus activities.

'The local newspaper helps and a place where you can go in and see what is happening and to plug yourself in to different groups.'

I could always look into the plug-in aspects of this.

I leave the facilitator cleaning up after the session, he seems to be dealing with people's concerns that they are going too fast, and biting off more they can chew. I take the lift down to the departure hall and park myself on the bench. The facilitator turns up.

'I'm not sure about the worry and tension in all this,' I say.

'That's just you. It is what you have to work with. Not everyone can handle every different phase. Your difficult phase is preparing for implementation. I look forward to seeing you at the next phase.'

What surprised me

Reasonableness is better than setting stretch goals. I think it is a more natural approach. Natural systems all have levels that if you keep within stress is minimized.

Verification needs

Is water transport more efficient than motor transport on land? Yes!

Questions remaining
•    Being able to add up time and money
•    Being able to put time limits on activities and coordinate them together.
Practical uses seen already
•    I like the 'I could' idea.
•    I also like the idea of having a fixed project structure you 'fill' with content. This would work with regular or often-repeated multi-stakeholder projects where the stakeholders get used to delegating assets for this type of work.

Reproduction of tools encountered
I tried to draw the 'board' as encountered in the exercise.

I think you start from the center and identify the systems involved in the behaviour. You then rank the impact and identify changes that could be introduced. From that you identify effect and cost. To market the system change and its behaviour you identify activities and their cost, barriers to change, their severity and ways to minimize them.

Next week

Oh dear! Actually making a change, and standing up for your idea is harder than having it. Are there ways to get by this barrier. You can bet Max meets a whole load of new approaches.  And has a hard time adapting!

Can't wait for next week?

Then go buy the book on-line here.


Related reading:
  From Farm To Fork (Feb-1-2014)
  Green Is The Only Way To Go (Dec-4-2011)
  'Sustainability' Crunch: Dropping The 'S' Bomb (Jun-29-2011)
  Transfiguration (Oct-22-2009)
  Santa Barbara Students Lead the Way to Sustainab... (Jul-26-2009)
  Inventing for the Sustainable Planet, Chapter 17 (Apr-11-2009)
  Make Do and Mend (Mar-11-2009)
  Government and Sustainability: a How-To (Nov-30-2008)
  Inventing for the Sustainable Planet, THE MOVIE (Oct-12-2008)
  Inventing for the Sustainable Planet, Chapter 9 (Sep-11-2008)

Click one tag to see readings related specifically to that tag; click "Tags" to see all related readings
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About author/contributor Member: stevehinton (Stephen Hinton) stevehinton (Stephen Hinton)
   Web site:

Member: stevehinton (Stephen Hinton) Started out as a Science Teacher, went over to management training and then Program Management. Was Managing Director of a sustainable drinking water company for nearly two years. He is now offering his services as change agent and releasing his book INVENTING FOR THE SUSTAINABLE PLANET.

Some environmental credentials:
  • trained in internal environmental auditing at Ericsson
  • Worked as specialist reporter for technical magazines, covering environmental issues
  • Familiar with GRI reporting, ISO systems in general specifically 14000 and the work environment methodology
  • Attended numerous environmental seminars in Sweden including the pivotal "After the peak of oil"
  • One of three original founders of Oil Awareness Stockholm

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