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Blog item: Inventing for the Sustainable Planet, Chapter 17

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0 comments   Add a comment   Author:  stevehinton (Apr-11-2009)
Categories: Pollution, Sustainable Living

Community Action for Sustainability. Day #4

The story so far:

Reporter Max Wahlter has been visiting the sustainable city of Porena (see earlier journeys).  He has discovered a new way of working based only on behaviour and what can be done today. He has attended three parts of the workshop. This is the fourth, where they get ready to go before the committee to present their proposals for change. Can't be done? Read on ...

- Tapescript: Day #4

I have just drawn out the worksheet for the previous exercise. I still need to test it. In our quest to find a methodology for how the good forces in a community could work together for sustainability we realize they take it in several steps, each phase has different inputs and outputs. Last time we saw an implementation diagram and an I COULD (action) list.

We did not get as far as them actually engaging or preparing to engage stakeholders. I am fascinated how that will happen and how to take care of nerves.

The Journey

The facilitator is on the bench looking at his watch. 'So you are ready for another round of punishment facing your demons?' He says. 'Yes I am, of course' I reply. He hurries me over to the lift. On the right side of the lift is a window looking down onto the departure area.

Maybe the farmyard scene painted on the rear wall of the lift and met in a previous trip, relates to helping people find that natural ability in themselves to implicitly understand and interact with natural systems. A good and powerful thing. We have been given the impression by the people around us we cannot do it, yet I believe we have this ability. 'Stop philosophizing,' says the facilitator 'push the button'.

The lift bumps to a halt onto the walkway over to the entrance to the town. We turn left over the courtyard to the Town Hall. Two doors loom large over me. I put my hands on the door handles. I brace myself because the doors act as my 'beachhead' where the solution is behind these doors. I need to open them quickly for best effect. 'Come in,' someone says.

I notice it looks more like a church, or a converted church with the pews still intact. Church-like walk in music is playing on the organ. People look to be in a contemplative, serious mood. I wonder if I actually ASKED to see preparation or just put the tape recorder on and if that will affect the output of the exercise. A ceremony seems to be taking place.

To do with being in touch with the earth. It's non- religious, but people are appealing to their higher selves. A priest is saying 'to our highest power whatever that means to us we ask that we can bring together… to make a change and that we are…' Can't hear the rest.

People go and sit around the tables. The facilitator pulls the map down and people quieten down. 'Implementation, implementation, implementation' he says, 'is everything'.

'What are we going to do now?' he asks.

'We have to get the plan ready' someone says. '

How are we going to work together to turn the plans into proposals?' 'This is something we KNOW how to do, we have been doing this all our working lives. The question is, shall we leave each group to manage this section for themselves, or shall we give guidance?' A

group member replies; 'because we like working with the board and pieces, we would like guidance'. 'Why did you like the pieces?' 'It helps to have something more concrete to touch and feel!' 'The more you can to touch and feel and visualize, the better you can plan'.

But you still have to convince these stakeholders that the plan is going to do what you set out to do, to make an impact on this behaviour. What about testing, trying the idea out on a small scale? So that is the first exercise, work up an idea of how to test so you can be absolutely sure it will work and convince the stakeholders. I join the group working on growing food at home.

The plan is in front of us, but we have another sheet to fill in for testing. We are testing the idea that people will grow more if they have the components available with training and help. 'Let's run one course' says a volunteer. 'Invite a few people'. The group concurs.

Shall we have a draft of the brochure to try out on the group? But what about the things needed? We'll get one shop to supply everything and run the course near the shop.

We'll run it for 3-4 weeks and review then. I start to think…rings on water effect spreading of ideas. And notice the facilitator staring at me harshly, with a 'don't jump the gun' look. I slink off to the transport group who are in deep thought. 'How can we test the green wave?' '

We can do a walk though on paper, then the traffic office has software to do the simulation' That is to test it will work with the journey time and the traffic flow. Someone suggests having a camera to film the traffic flow in time-stop before we do anything. We can use this to visualize flow if we play the film. Then we could try a few bits of town, film that.

Anything else? Working with people's driving skill. How to drive in the green wave. The driving instructor could put instructions on the Web for driving in the green wave. 'How could we test that?' We could do tests on a Sunday with a green wave driving testing day. The driving instructors would do this as a freebie to get publicity for their eco driving courses.

Already allocated resources! The fizzy drink group is debating the voluntary agreement. Do agreements really work? People are talking about the 'measure' part of SIX SIGMA. (This is a management tool not known to most people. But…I realize all tools and experience can be used.) They want to measure the impact on sales by changing the display – they can test the agreement just on the display changes. T

he schools want to ban fizzy drinks, which will signal something to the parents. 'We can try the ban in one school,' a suggestion comes.

Facilitator says 'rings on water, rings on water'. You can see how the behaviour change could spread like rings on water. In the test there should be the seeds of the spread to a wider audience. In the test you sow the seed to create the spread. Next exercise: how can we use the test to spread the results wider?

A group member of the horticultural group says if they could do one good circle first, then they can do a 'teach the teacher' circle to turn delegates into circle leaders themselves. Just setting up everything at home is the most difficult thing. Once you get going it is easy. The circle does not have to last a growing season. I start to mention when and how long but the facilitator encourages us to just concentrate on the way the rings would work.

'Really think about how you can reach out to people to reach out to others.'

Instruction leaflets can be printed out and spread. The supermarkets are a chain so someone there could spread the idea.

One supplier of all needed equipment could sell all equipment etc. 'Any ideas on marketing the availability of these home growing kits?' asks the facilitator. 'We could mass market though the local newspaper. We could do a neighbor thing, invite people in for a demo! Ideas are being written down. I try to see how they are writing it, a simple list seems to suffice. The other stuff was complicated with the circular diagram. Not this bit.

The apartment block owners are listed as assets. The plan is to invite residents to see home growing in action. The ideas will spread, it is hoped, by word of mouth, 'Rings on water' for the transport group is more difficult. I go over to them to see what they have thought. Walking poles. It is the family and friends.

Walking together. Let's have a walk day. That is repeatable. And a transport-less day to close off the city. What would get one person to mimetically pass the idea on? That is, like network marketing systems. The walking routes map? Give the map to a friend. It is a nice present. They continue discussing. If people see people walking more that will have an effect, and people will realize it is easier than to drive through the city. You could make it harder to drive through so people want to walk.

Someone suggests testing the paths. They will need test walking carried out by enthusiasts. They report back to the infrastructure side. They can organize a sponsored walk-in, backed up commercial assets. I am getting a picture here of a list of companies as assets. Next to the company name and contact person is detailed the type and amount of resources they are willing to commit to the action. I suppose at this point we break or what?

The facilitator says the other groups are finalizing their 'rings on the water' ideas. We need now to debrief what have we learned. It is important to test the idea, and how to spread it like rings on the water.

A question comes up about management: 'Does it need a general management approach or do we need to manage per group, meeting once a week to keep it on track or would you need extra ways of managing this?' 'I could put that question to the group,' says the facilitator. I go to the fizzy pop group. They seem to have the idea that reporting back once a week during the trial is enough. They would do a weekly report to the steering group.

The plant group seems to be of the same opinion. A weekly report to the stakeholder rep., meet once a week to put the report together and then send it off to the representatives. The transport group does not really see they have any responsibility over traffic. The thing they need to do is to engage the resources from the transport section of the municipality to do the test. Then they need to do a presentation of the results for all municipal representatives and other stakeholders before introducing the green wave, before testing. It all seems fairly logical and a reasonable answer to the management question.

The facilitator again: 'Are you ready to make the proposal?'.

We know what will happen, we know how it will be managed. The sheets in front of us are about what will happen during the test phase - activities, who is involved and what the reporting is. I see squared paper. Is it filled in by week or by day or what? It is flexible maybe? Nope, the granularity of planning is down to days and weekly reporting and what is being done where. I get the feeling of 'a day's work'. That is to say, work is divided into what shall be accomplished on any one day. That seems to me to reduce stress a little and make work more pleasurable.

There is a space for a stakeholder report and meeting. I am not sure if I am there, and am seeing the whole plan. This is just for the trial. The rings on water are not yet planned; it will be planned at a separate planning session. This must be planned in as well. They fill that in. We have the report, because the heading areas are; what's the problem, what are we trying to achieve, what systems are affecting it, what will it cost, etc. We need to plan for when the report will need to be ready. One meeting will be held next week after that the report is sent to the steering group. The steering group has three days to read the report before the council meeting. So we have one meeting to prepare the council meeting. You have until that time to work out who is going to write the report, to send it among yourselves. Then you need to fill in the plan to complete the report to work out when the planning of the 'rings on the water' will take place. Work out the budget by taking the figures from the circular diagram and put them into a spread sheet and then into the report. If assets are not engaged you need to have a discussion between the asset's rep in each group to get the engagement. What more?

The facilitator asks if this feels better Everyone: 'YES'.

'It is because you are getting down to details and you can see what you will say to people and how you will handle their questions and you know you are doing something important that you know it and feel it.'

This isn't just any exercise it is important and connected to you as a human, and connected to your genes, to alleviate a very serious situation. The rings on water will have a real impact if done properly. The other things were about how marketing can support rings on the water. That needs to be done before next time and to have a full marketing section in the report.

The report needs to cover what is unsecured, this section asks for the securing of assets and that is argued plus and minus in the council meeting. Questions? 'What about the report format?' 'Write it any way you like as long as it has those headings,' replies the facilitator. 'You have the tools, i.e. the plan and the other bits.

Tell the story, if you like, of how it all should work when the behaviour changes.' 'What is marketing actually, in this case?' I ask. 'The use of mass communication devices to the public about what you are doing.' I was asked to ask about plug-in opportunities – how others can become volunteers. The facilitator; 'a sustainability office is there to offer plug-in opportunities but you could also invite colleagues.'

He continues; 'think also about the effect of these activities. When we get a result. What about when we are finished? Could we make this work permanent? 'And how THAT would have rings on water. How could we spread this methodology, having several of these going on and coordinated?' That might be the subject of a separate café-type workshop using this methodology. The facilitator has a sudden need to drink a non harmful fizzy drink; 'You can stay behind to chat if you like - otherwise we can break here.'

Some groups are finishing up the time planning, how they will be doing the preparation work for the coming days. Next week's session will tie everything up and prepare for the meeting with everyone in the so-called in plenum session.

'Do we need a preparation for the in plenum?' 'See how you feel when you have typed it all up.' I think to myself that I would like to know what happens pre-plenum so I will try and do it. A report responsible person comes over.

'They will read the report before the meeting. You will do a quick presentation of what you want to do. They will listen. You will be asked for how much you want and the status of what you have and the impact of having the resources unengaged. You will come with a recommendation as well.' 'You have to have everything ready. Including saying when the stakeholder committee would meet, who they are etc.

So it is not difficult. As there are pre-engaged resources, suggested changes should be brought up. In some cases you might need more or even less. You should attend one to see how it would work.' The council is moderated by the chairman of the sustainability committee. I wonder about the committee.

They have actually not been involved in prioritization, but we have already arrived at proposals for implementation of actions in prioritized areas. The priority decision was made in the first session. The stakeholder reps are in the group so they accepted the decision. Each member organization is still working on its own priorities.

They will disengage if they are not interested in the priorities of the community group. Hence the voting must be done correctly at the first session to accurately reflect stakeholder organization's priorities. People are discussing getting the report writing done. 'Writing always helps you think better,' the facilitator says. I agree. I move to go but something is keeping me here. I can always come back, a lot of verification needs to be done. I am quite satisfied. I know about the in plenum session, I can document this including reports, engagement, budget etc.

I drag myself away from the proceedings; people are still making telephone meeting appointments. I go out to the second day of the festival. I thank the woman on the stall for her advice from last time. A volunteer plug-in stand is next to her.

They have a brochure about what is going on in the community to support sustainability. 'Is it not premature to have a brochure about all this?' I ask 'Not really, the assets are pre-engaged, we are saying we are working on it. If we end up not doing it we will communicate why.' 'We have some prototypes of growing at home, people are already trying. There's nothing to stop enthusiasts having a go.' I stroll over to the exit I see a portcullis over the door - not seen that before - or is it fake? The sea breeze hits my face as I walk over to the lift. In the lift, then down to the first floor, I go back into the lounge.

But it is not over. 'Oh no!' says the facilitator. He is sitting there on my bench. 'You are not going yet because you have forgotten something.' 'PowerPoints?' 'Yes you need a nice PowerPoint for the internal presentation. A five minute presentation of the vision, with pictures. You need to spread the vision, it is not enough to have a report. You need a vision - a shared vision helps the spread of the idea, you can show it, communicate it even on the web.' Everyone will be asked to do one of those in the plenum. Don't forget it, bye.


Next time: Max takes part in the final session of Commuity Action; the presentation to management. He has taken us from a community recognising the need to change towards sustainabiltiy to concrete action plans, in just a few facilitated sessions. Is it possible to do it in real life, not just in Max's world of Porena? Read the next chapter, coming soon!

Can't wait? Buy or download the book from

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)
  Inventing For The Sustainable Planet, Chapter 18 (Apr-1-2010)
  Transfiguration (Oct-22-2009)
  Santa Barbara Students Lead the Way to Sustainab... (Jul-26-2009)
  Make Do and Mend (Mar-11-2009)
  Inventing for the Sustainable Planet, Chapter 16 (Jan-14-2009)
  Inventing for the Sustainable Planet, Chapter 15 (Dec-8-2008)
  Government and Sustainability: a How-To (Nov-30-2008)

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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