Sustainable behaviours

What can I do, to calm the climate?

What can I do, to calm the climate?

If the IPCC’s Special Report on climate change made you want to do something – anything – to calm the climate, swiftly followed by a sinking feeling that you just don’t know what is both doable and meaningful, and you’d rather not think about it…. You can do something meaningful! Here’s a great way to find your contribution.

'Greening' our practice as facilitators

'Greening' our practice as facilitators

The two worlds I straddle - sustainability and process - interweave in all sorts of ways. And one of those ways involves challenging myself, and other facilitators, about the sustainability of our own practice.  And although I've called this blog post 'greening' our practice, of course there are the social and ethical aspects of sustainability as well as the environmental ones to consider.

All About Change! Discussing pro-environment behaviour change with psychologists

All About Change! Discussing pro-environment behaviour change with psychologists

It was great to spend a day with environmentalists and psychologists, at the IEMA/British Psychological Society conference on pro-environmental behaviour change. People with real insight into what's going on inside our funny old heads are bringing that expertise to these problems. 

Water wise: different priorities need different targeted engagement

For Diageo, the drinks company, agricultural suppliers typically represent more than 90% of its water footprint, so of course it's vital that the company’s water strategy looks beyond its own four walls to consider sustainable water management and risks in the supply chain. By contrast, what matters most for Unilever in tackling its global water footprint is reducing consumers’ water use when they are doing laundry, showering and washing their hair, particularly in countries where water is scarce. Asking office staff to report dripping taps will contribute to the firm’s water efficiency, but it is much less useful than innovating a generation of products that use less water for cleaning.

Once you know what the main water-using phases are in your product or service system, you can prioritise and target. the audiences you want to engage.

This article in the environmentalist looks at the questions you need to ask yourself, to work out how to engage people in water efficiency.  You can download it here or read it online on the environmentalist's website (you may need to log in or sign up for a free trial to read it online).

Changing travel behaviour

Here are some fascinating examples of staff behaviour change initatives, particularly about travel, which have been carefully thought through, using creative responses to the elements which might enable and discourage the new desired behaviours.  I've analysed them using the six sources of influence framework which still feels very intuitive and helpful to me, a few years after I first came across it.  (There's a very useful summary here.) This article was published in the environmentalist on paper and on line, last month. The article didn't have room for the table below, so when you've read it, come back and see this more systematic matching of actions to sources of influence in the case of Akzo-Nobel's sales team car travel.

Motivation

Ability

Personal

Using the sales forces’ existing strong competitive instincts and love of gadgets.  Not using eco-awareness as a motivator.

Provide targeted training.

Social

Popular simulator game, competing for highest mpg.

 

Not used for this behaviour change.

Structural

One for the future – considering how to incorporate a fuel-efficiency aspect into the reward scheme.

Fuel-efficient choices and real-time mpg displays in cars.

The article was written some weeks ago, before the encounter with a disgruntled staff member which I blogged about here.  (Neither of the organisations in the article is the one in that blog.)

Pondering on the approaches take by Lloyds and Akzo-Nobel would have avoided this response, I'm thinking that this is probably less about the specific initiative, and more about the sense of alienation that staff have from the organisation they work for.  If you're grumpy generally about your workplace, then an initiative like the low-carbon diet will exacerbate and provide a focus for that anger.

Greenwash or win-win?

Trewin Restorick at eco-behaviour NGO Global Action Plan has also blogged recently about staff travel.  A good period of internal engagement prior to setting up systems and initatives - to make sure that incentives and polices are aligned rather than contradicting each other - seems needed, given some of the insights he describes.  He makes an interesting point about greenwash - in this case, dressing up a travel reduction initative as an environmental benefit when it is 'really' a cost-saving measure.  This is in contrast with Paul Turner's experience, described in my article, of seeing the dual-benefit as a win-win which enables Lloyds' to appeal to different groups of staff.

 

(Dis)engaging staff

"Who do they think they are preaching to?"

A visit to a client's canteen earlier this week brought me face-to-face with one extremely disgruntled staff member. In the queue, my contact pointed out the points-based reward system staff can now choose to join, which incentivises choosing a meat-free or meat-and-dairy-free meal. Like a coffee-shop loyalty card, you accumulate points and get mystery prizes. The explicit motivation is calorie-reduction and carbon-reduction: a vegan meal has, it is explained, a lower carbon footprint and is better for you.

Bottled up discontent

I asked whether there had been any controversy about the scheme, knowing that promoting a lower-impact or reduced-meat diet is considered very hard in this Defra research.  Behind us, a member of staff neither of us knew spat out

"Well you're not allowed to disagree around here!"

She continued:

"Who do they think they're preaching to?  What makes them think they're always right? What do they think they're doing interfering with our private lives?"

She was clearly very angry about it.

The organisation in question is one which has a public and explicit commitment to a low-carbon future, and it could be expected that a high proportion of staff are personally committed to reducing their environmental impact.  So this reaction was surprising.

Unpacking the outburst

I think it's worth unpacking the points, to see if there's something to be learnt about engaging staff in this kind of impact-reduction activity:

  • 'Preaching' is a word often used when the recipient of the message considers themselves to be at least as 'ethical', if not more, than the person transmitting the message.  Perhaps this staff member considers herself to already have a strong personal set of ethics and practices, and resents the perceived implication that she needs to be told to do more.  Perhaps she is unhappy about the way the organisation approaches its corporate impacts, and resents being asked to make a personal change when she thinks not enough is happening at the bigger level.
  • 'What makes them think they are always right?'  I wonder if there was an opportunity for knowledgeable people within the organisation to challenge the underlying generalisation that meat-free is healthier or better from a carbon perspective, or to contribute to developing the project. Perhaps this person has specialist knowledge which leads her to be uncomfortable with this simplification?
  • 'Interfering with private lives'.  This is an interesting one. The setting for this initiative is a staff canteen, possibly (I don't know) subsidised by the employer.  People are not obliged to eat there, although it is cheaper and more convenient than going to local cafes.  The scheme is voluntary, and around 1/3 of the staff have joined it. the scheme includes small incentives for 'better' choices, but there are no disincentives for 'poor' choices.  Previous initiatives include asking people to use the stairs rather than the lift, and switching off equipment when not in use. These have been successful in reducing energy use in the buildings.  What is it about eating, which makes it feel part of this person's 'private life'?
  • 'You can't disagree around here'. This is a big problem in any organisation. When disagreement is counter-cultural to the point where a member of staff blurts it out to a stranger...  There's something unhealthy about a level of top-down orthodoxy which means that it does not feel safe to say no.  Every organisation needs mechanisms and culture which enable authentic conversation (this does not mean that every decision needs to be unanimous).

One dissenter?

Perhaps it doesn't matter that this one person feels this way.  After all, staff take-up of the initiative seems pretty high, and the person I was meeting was an enthusiastic user of the points scheme.

Or this one person could be giving voice to concerns and needs which are shared more widely.  If it's really the case that people find it very hard to tell colleagues that they disagree, then it will be hard to know.

Engage with resistance

Peggy Holman maintains that we serve our goals best when we engage with those who disagree and dissent.  Seek out difference, listen harder, enquire into the needs and concerns which are being offered as a gift into the conversation, understand the common aims and see where a 'yes, and' response might lead.

Richard Seel similarly champions diversity as a critical condition for emergence of new ways of doing things.

Let's reflect together

What else might have been going on here? What could the scheme designers have done to avoid this? And what can they do now, to respond?

Let me know what you think...

 

 

Virtual meeting - up to my ankles

In November '09 I blogged that my toes were in the water, trying out how to integrate e-communications into workshops. Over a year later and I'm happy paddling up to my ankles: using cut-down post-its, a document camera and telepresence.  I was delighted to work with a client which had installed video-conferencing in many locations in the UK and US.  We were able to run a half-day workshop for a small team who were spread over three different locations.

This is a stock picture from Teliris on wikimedia commons, but it gives an idea of what the room looked like. In addition to the large screens, the people in the 'main' room had screens in the desk where images from slide shows or the document camera were visible.

Here are some very practical lessons and tips from that experience, firstly about things you can do before the meeting begins:

  • When designing the session, keep it interactive, don't feel that you have to make it one-way just because participants are on different continents.  Consider what might cause you to alter your design.  For example, I had expected there to be at least two people in each location, which would enable pairs / small group discussion.  But in the end one of our locations was used by just one person. So I adjusted the meeting design to include quiet thinking time, rather than pairs discussion. I asked everyone to make a note of their key points, so that everyone was ready to say something in the later round robin.
  • Make sure you check the time difference between locations, and double-check it!
  • Visit the room you'll be facilitating from, and play with the equipment.  How do you enable participants to view slides or an electronic document?  How do you dial up the other locations?  What do you do if the connection is lost? How much delay is there when people speak?
  • If you're lucky enough to have a ceiling-mounted document camera, can the camera pick up writing or diagrams on a flip chart sheet or on the desk?  How big does the writing need to be? Where are the edges of the camera's vision, and do these match the edges displayed to participants in other locations? Mark the edges with masking tape.
  • Make friends with the IT / facilities team.  What works well in their experience, and what trouble-shooting tips can they share.  How do you get hold of them during the meeting?

In the meeting

Having worked out how the document camera worked, and tested different sizes of post-it and handwriting, I was able to use small square post-its to record individual contributions and move them around until we had collaboratively created a timeline of the organisation's journey to this point.

Later in the session, I recorded contributions about people's vision of the future in a mind-map which was also broadcast live to the people in other location, via the document camera.  Unfortunately one of the locations lost the feed, so we ended up with some people not being able to see what the rest of the meeting could see: an imbalance which we were unable to correct before the meeting ended.

For my own use, I made a little map of who was sitting where, and used it to keep track of who'd spoken. This enabled me to invite contributions from time to time.

This was a half-day meeting, so I built in a comfort break which everybody really needed. Keeping focussed and engaged in virtual meetings are harder work than face-to-face, I think.

Improvements?

In future, I'd like to work out a practical way of integrating a running record into a meeting like this.  A simple word document shared live through google doc or a similar system might work.  You would need to check that everyone could access it - firewalls might be a problem.  Alternatively, a bespoke webmeeting package with a whiteboard could be used. I'm getting experience of both Huddle and Central Desktop in different client work at the moment.

No-fly zone: how's it going?

8.01 Left home just after the pips. 476 and then the Northern Line from Angel. Man with lacrosse stick on the bus makes room for woman with toddler and pram. Everyone trying to be accommodating. 08.40 Cup of tea. Plenty of time.

9.10 We set off from Euston, on a Pendolino. We don’t have seat reservations but since this isn’t the usual train which does this journey, I’m not sure anyone else does either. We will have to change at Crewe. Slightly nervous. New apartment blocks near Euston have solar panels on the roofs, each at a slightly different angle.

09.45 Lots of people get off at Milton Keynes, so we swap seats so we have a table and sockets for our laptops. Now we can work! Misty. We pass sopping allotments and horses dripping slightly in the fields.

09.50 Announcement reassures us that Crewe know we’re coming, and we will be helped to make our connection. Those who need assistance, those with lots of luggage, those with small children and pushchairs – it sounds like she knows us all individually. Reassuring.

10.27 Going through the Shugborough Tunnel, 777 yards according to the sign.  Signal down, of course.

Sycamore, willow, birch, oak. Freight train. Convolvulus.  Canal boat being manoeuvred through a small arched bridge.

10.31 passing through Stafford station. Vertical axis wind turbines on building by the station are not turning. Design flaw? Or grid problems leading to automatic shut-down? Or just not enough wind?

10.41 Mobile broadband connection on this laptop is SO SLOW. Everything takes much longer to do than I’d like.

10.58 Successfully changed at Crewe onto the new train. Which apparently divides at Chester. We think we’re in the right carriage. Table and sockets all present and correct. Weather slightly brighter. Beginning to think about the ferry – will it be rough? Wish I’d remembered to bring wrist bands.

11.07 More canal boats. They manage to look so much more attractive than caravans. Very small wind turbine whizzing round, powering who-knows-what on one boat.

Getting hillier. Red soil peeps through. Dramatic ruins on rocky hill which juts out of flat landscape.

11.17 Chester. Dapper gent sharing our table gets off here. Cheeringly large number of bikes at the station bike racks. Race course looks very well cared for, protected by the curve of the river. Surprisingly busy looking airport – runway lights look very bright as it’s still a bit overcast.

11.31 Judging by the length of the sign at the station we have just passed through, we must be in Wales. I was hoping for an announcement.

11.33 Tidal stream alongside us – tide’s out, lots of shiny mud with a very thin channel snaking through it. Lots of people in this carriage have bought crisps from the shop and there’s a crackling crunchy noise in front and behind me. Hungry.

11.36 Gleeful lady just popped her crisp packet! Unbelievable. They wouldn’t allow that in the quiet zone.

11.37 I can see the sea! This line is right by the water’s edge, with just a narrow stone wall on the seaward side. Sea level rise, anyone? One for the Climate Change Risk Assessment , I think.

11.41 Three grey herons in meadow – but no water for them to fish in. I wonder what they are doing there. Mountains stretch out ahead and to the left, silver in the haze. Blue sky on the seaward side – perhaps we’ll have a smooth crossing.

11.46 Rhyl.  Sun breaks out! People hunching over their screens so they can read despite the light.

11.52 Fortifications line the forested hillside, but this must be a folly – there’s no room for anything behind them!

11.53 Wind farm out to sea, gleaming white in the sunshine, but none turning. Bad news for electricity generation, good news for calm crossing?

12.03 Llandudno Junction. Gateway to Snowdonia National Park. Ah, to be in the hills.

12.07  Or in the river, like a dozen kayakers and four boatloads of canoeists.

12.16 Clouding over a bit.

12.22 Arriving at Bangor. Suddenly much noisier. Jolene being played on a very poor machine – perhaps a phone. Hope they get off.

12.28 Spectacular bridge crossing, and some kind of monument: not quite Nelson’s Column. Apparently we’re now on Anglesey. Lush and green; boggy fields; wind-twisted, low trees; sheep and cattle; glossy crows in low hawthorns.

12.38 RAF training flight zooms past and I wait for the sonic boom which doesn’t arrive.

12.44 Could that be a little egret in that pond? Black bill, otherwise snowy white.

12.45 White water rafters in channel between railway line and road. Annoying music is back.

14.01  On ferry. Luggage had to be checked in, which we hadn’t anticipated. Quick swapping over of essential items before we consign our cases to the conveyor belt. Once through security, we wait for a while on the little bus, regretting checking in so promptly. Cheery man from National Statistics Office of Ireland invites us to take part in travel survey, but fails to lift the mood, which is grey.

Once on board, the veggie dish of day is chick pea curry. Surprisingly good, although the naan bread is best avoided. Very glad, as I didn’t think we’d get decent veg-laden food on this rather convoluted journey. Wi-Fi working (faster than mobile broadband on train), spacious table by the window, weather good. 14.29 Fully at sea, though hills still visible if I crane my neck. Water steely grey, sky pearly grey, water a little choppy but boat still moving smoothly.

14.42 My phone tells me that making and receiving calls will cost me £1.30 a minute. Should have brought continental adapter as electrical socket need round-pin plug.

15.15 WiFi means I can follow Ed Miliband’s first speech as Labour leader on twitter. No mention of environment yet. Hmm.

15.16 There it is! Needs a new politics. I’ll say.

15.48 Google thinks I’m in Norway.  Shame that the only Norwegian I know is the finger counting rhyme: “Tommeltott, Slikkepott, Langemann, Gullebrand, og Lille Petter Spillemann”.

Transfer from ferry port to Connolly station is free, quick and easy.

Connolly station is small, tidy and shiny but eating options very limited.

19.14 Our Belfast-bound train crosses a lot of water on a narrow causeway.  CCRA again!

20.01 Dundalk.  Station architecture familiar from so many English Victorian stations: decoration iron columns and canopies, decorative brickwork with stripes and arches picked out in cream, green and terracotta.

20.14 Glad I brought a book (Peggy Holman’s Engaging Emergence – lovely) as well as my laptop, as I’m now out of juice and there’s no sockets on the train.

20.20 Passing Newry. Strings of orange streetlights netting over a bowl of hillsides.

Walked from Belfast Central station to hotel – about 10 mins – refreshing after the long journey.

In room by 10.00.

Feel fresh and ready for workshop.

During workshop, people who knew about our travel choices swapped their own stories and perspectives: ferry journeys disrupted by bad weather, the iniquity of untaxed air fuel, questions around the relative carbon intensity of a very full flight versus a mostly empty ferry.

Return journey

18.09 On train waiting to leave for Dublin.  Glorious blue skies and sunshine.

18.35 Golden skies and long shadows.

19.09 Sky pinkish and grey, mountains on the skyline.  Newry by daylight this time!

19.21 My phone tells me I’m in Ireland.

20.32 About 20 minutes late into Connolly station, but we get a cab straight away and there’s no trouble checking in.  Very few foot passengers.  Will there be any veggie hot meal at this time of night.

Yes!  Chick pea curry again, no mini poppadums this time, but mango chutney. Naan bread still inedible.

23.30 My phone tells me I’m in the Isle of Man.

Stupid O’clock.  Walk from ferry terminal to hotel in Holyhead marred by lack of signposting.  We can see the hotel, but it takes a couple of goes to cross the main road and actually get to it.  We spot a footbridge from the station which we’ll use tomorrow. Hotel cheap and cheerless.

08.15 Meet for the walk back to the station.  Marred this time by discovery that entrance to footbridge is firmly locked.  Weather good.

09.23 Train to Birmingham, we change at Chester.  Lovely morning, with pale sun illuminating semi-wild countryside.  Green fields edged with thick hedges and grey stone, with occasional peat bog breaking through.

09.55 Back across the bridge to mainland Wales.  Statue looks wistfully out across the short stretch of sea.

10.04 This stretch of track lined with nut trees.

10.14 Penmaenmawr The sea on our left gleams and shimmers, calm and sunlit.  To the right, rocky hills and screen slopes. The road and the railway line protect (separate?) the hills from the sea.

10.49 Prestatyn. Warm hubbub of chat on this friendly train, as Sarah types up worksheets from yesterday's meeting and I catch up with emails.

11.32 On new train at Chester, waiting for the off.  Table and sockets mean we can work all the way back to London.  Hurray.

12.05 Speeding through gentler landscape, though rougher sedges still break through the grass in the sheep fields.

12.21 Passing large power station, not sure which one.  Modest clouds of steam emerging from cooling towers.

12.53 Getting hungry, but we’ll be back at Euston in less than an hour. Should I wait to eat proper food?

12.59 Milton Keynes.  Signal much worse as we approach London.   Very frustrating.

13.22 Shop closed, so food decision is out of my hands.

13.48 Leek and potato soup at Prêt outside the station.  Feeling revived.

Verdict: doable, cost relatively low, requires free day for travel on either side of assignment.  Preferable to have more than one thing to do to make full use of the time (and carbon) of travelling.   We had first draft of workshop record ready pretty much by the time we left the train. Take continental plug adapter for ferry.  Investigate staying overnight in Dublin rather than Holyhead on return leg of journey.

Making my work a no-fly zone

Last time I flew for work was in 2007, running a workshop in the Netherlands.  I had tried to find a way to go by boat and train, but couldn't make the timings fit in with other commitments. The last time I flew for pleasure was so long ago that I can't remember. I have turned down all work that involves flying since then, but without being up-front about this.  I say I'm unavailable or "I'm sure you can find someone locally" .  And I try to help them do just that: a great reason to network internationally and to keep in touch with people who I've come across over the years who understand both process and sustainable development, or may know someone who does.

Being up-front

On a coaching course this year, we did a pairs exercise about 'boundaries'.  We had to identify a time when we had noticed a boundary and maintained it.  We were invited to illustrate this.  As I drew the picture I realised that flying was emerging as a boundary for me.  It has been a value-in-action and I can choose to make it an espoused value too.  In that realisation I decided to make it an explicit aspect of my work.

The illustration I drew at the time shows this through the picture of sealed charter which makes 'not flying' a clear part of how I do business.

Since then, I've included this in the 'walking the talk' statement on this website, and in an updated discussion document which I share with new clients which sets out how I intend we will work together. (This latter also includes a range of other 'draft ground rules' for our consultant-client relationship: things like honesty, collaboration, learning from feedback, acting in good faith and so on.)

Testing my commitment

I've had a chance to test out this espoused value in two different situations recently.

One is a new client is based in the UK and the USA.  I set out up-front (before putting in a proposal) that I would not travel to the USA as part of this assignment.  I felt some trepidation in doing this: might I lose the work?  Reflecting further I realised that this outcome was not, surprisingly, such a big worry for me as I'm turning down work at the moment and I knew I didn't want the work if it meant flying.  The bigger source of my anxiety was that these people who I'd only just met might they think badly of me. They might interpret my refusal to fly as a criticism of them - they almost certainly are obliged to fly for work.  They might simply think me wildly eccentric.  (One day I'll blog on the EAFL meme : "environmentalists are **** loonies" ).  They might worry that association with me would make their colleagues think this about them.

I'm being very frank here - explaining my worries discretely even though I know they were quite murky at the time before I was able to pin them down precisely.

The new client was not put off, although I will continue to watch for the impact this stance has on our relationship, as well as the practicalities of the project.  Our first multi-continent workshop was run using impressive video presence facilities, and I'll blog about that separately.

The second challenge came about because I wasn't really paying attention!

I am working on stakeholder engagement for the UK's first Climate Change Risk Assessment. As part of this, there are workshops for stakeholders in the Devolved Administrations - Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.  I agreed to facilitate these workshops as part of a team, with the workshops distributed between us.  Only later did I realise that - of course - Belfast is usually accessed from other parts of the UK by plane, these days.  As luck would have it, the Belfast workshop is the one date that I could do.  Could I get there without flying?  Fortunately I had a full day with no meetings on either side of it, allowing slow travel.

I checked the cost of travelling by train and ferry, using the legendary Man in Seat 61 website.  I also checked the travelling times, and worked out that two nights accommodation were probably needed, not one.  I resolved that I would absorb the additional expenses if they proved to be higher than those of my flying colleagues, and not charge for the longer travelling time.

Armed with these mitigations, I raised my 'no flying' commitment with my immediate client (the consultancy I am sub-contracted by).  They seemed fine with it.  And - thanks Sarah, you're a star - one of my facilitator colleagues said she'd travel with me too.

I still feel a bit funny about this choice to go by train and ferry rather than flying.  It takes much longer.  And if we miss a connection, or there's a storm at sea, people may criticise me for choosing a less reliable way to travel.  It feels like an experiment which could go wrong.

And I have read and re-read this blog entry, afraid to click 'publish', for some weeks now!

Experimenting with 'being the change'

I know that for many people, deciding not to fly for work would be a seriously career-limiting decision.  The way we organise our working lives and our international organisations is now so dependent on being able to travel very long distances or across seas fast, that  using only surface transport would be very inconvenient.  Even within the UK, there are lots of journeys which involve moving from one island to another, where boat is slower and - ahem - more bilious than flying.

I have the great good fortune, though, to be in a position to say 'no' to flying for work even as I recognise that this is not an option for many of the people I work with.  So I can be an experimenter, someone who tries out what a world with seriously reduced dependence on aviation might look like.  And if I can do it, perhaps I should.

How are people taking it?

The reaction from people who I've told about this has been an interesting range.  Some applauded and said "I bet your clients love it that, because you're really walking the talk".  Some said "that's a long time to be away not earning".  Others said "that's really interesting, I'd like to experiment like that, tell me how it goes".

I'm going to actively reflect on this experiment, and I'll tell you how it goes.

Good for your skin, your figure and the planet!

If you're trying to get fashion-crazy teens and young people interested in climate change, it makes sense to start where they are.  And that's what Global Cool have done, in their Eighteen Degrees of Inspiration campaign. But isn't it superficial, missing the point, and above all not going to get the scale of change we need at a systemic level?

Well, according to Chris Rose's VBCOP theory, starting where people are and eliciting changed behaviour for non-'green' reasons is the most effective way to build up political space for systemic change.

Want to know more?

I've written about this in the environmentalist, and you can read that article here.

What does growth look like, for an alternative enterprise?

Growing Communities is an inspiring social enterprise which grows and trades organic, seasonal fruit and veg in Hackney, North London.  Transparency alert: I'm the chair of the Board. It has three core activities:

  • growing food, mostly salads, in its urban market gardens.  The salad bags and other produce are sold through its own outlets, which are...
  • ...a weekly organic 'veg box' scheme, with food going to around 3,000 people...
  • ...and the UK's first weekly organic Farmers' Market.

The organisation was first set up by a small group of friends and neighbours paying in advance for produce to be produced on a single farm: a classic community supported agriculture scheme.  Later, grant funding from sources like the National Lottery, the Esme Fairburn Foundation and the Bridge House Estates Trust provided the capital for starting up new initiatives.  Hats off to all of them!

Trading fruit and veg through the box scheme, and an entrepreneurial can-do attitude meant that Growing Communities could, after a short time, move to being self-funding.  This freedom enables it to be nimble and to change rapidly as it learns about how to make this alternative local food system work.  Its work has always coupled a radical and strategic vision, with a deeply practical approach.  Standing on its own two feet financially is a value as well as a tactic. It demonstrates to customers, members, suppliers and the wider world, that an alternative food system can work even in the current context.

It also makes growth possible - bootstrapping rather than dependent on grant funding and subsidies.

Good growth

But what does growth mean for an alternative enterprise like Growing Communities?

Its principles and structure (its box-scheme customers are voting members who attend AGMs in surprisingly large numbers and elect the Board a.k.a. 'Management Committee') mean that it is community-led.  So a growth model which involves moving into a new area and opening up a mirror image of the Hackney original isn't good enough.  What about simply opening more outlets in Hackney, and growing the local customer base?  Yes, Growing Communities has done some of that, and intends to do more, with its satellite pick-up points for the weekly veg bags.  The things limiting the growth of the Farmers' Market include limitations on the space where it is held, limits on the amount of produce small farmers and growers can grow, and a dearth of small producers who fit the exacting criteria: e.g. local, organic, and producers / growers who sell their own produce, not someone else's.

Growing Communities wants to keep the community-led, local value while providing a stable and reliable market for sustainably-produced food which will enable more growers to build strong (albeit small) businesses.

The growth model also needs to be very lean - Growing Communities can't provide capital funding or flashy materials, and it can't expect fat franchise fees from the new organisations - which, like Growing Communities, will be social enterprises or some other form of not-for-profit structure.  And because every community is different, an emergent learning approach makes sense.

Mentoring and action learning model

So it's adopted a growth strategy which involves closely supporting other organisations which want to set up their own version of the Growing Communities model. The first few 'start ups' will be intensively supported with workshops, training, resources (things like copies of the ordering system, model contracts) and hands-on problem solving.  As the 'start ups' get going, their learning and experience will be captured in a series of on-line briefings, which will then be available to the next tranche of start-ups.  There will also be on-line discussions, so everyone can learn from each other.

This programme is being funded partly from the organisation's own resources, and partly by UnLtd, the social entrepreneur's organisation, which has provided some funding already. As it progresses, the idea is that successful start-ups will also help to fund the programme of live support and detailed guidance materials, and deliver parts of it.

Interested?

If you're interested in setting up a transformational pioneering food organisation, then check out the start up website here.

If you're interested in what it means for a sustainable organisation to grow, without being beholden to short-termist shareholders, being in debt to a bank or being dependent on grant funding, then keep an eye on Growing Communities.

Now the ash has settled: eleven questions to get insights from the shutdown

Was the shut down of air travel a right pain for you and your organisation? Now that the ash has settled, there's a great opportunity for you to use the recent disruption to discuss sustainable development with your colleagues. [And as if to prove the point that it's a good idea to be prepared, it's back - as of 08.52 @BST 4th May 2010.]

Whichever way you look at it, a low-carbon economy (whether forced on us by peak oil or chosen as a planned way of mitigating climate change) will mean a drastic reduction in cheap air travel.  Your colleagues may feel this is too far off, or too fanciful, to plan for.  But the shut down actually happened.  So it's a great way in to discussions you might not have been able to have before April 2010.

Here are 11 questions to structure a discussion about your organisation's dependence on air transport - and how you can reduce it over the long term.

  1. What was disrupted?
  2. What was enhanced?
  3. What did we do differently, that worked really well?
  4. What did we do differently, that was a right pain?
  5. What contingencies did we have in place, or put in place, in case the shut-down had lasted for twice as long?
  6. Or ten times as long?
  7. What would we have done if we'd had a week's notice?
  8. What would we have done if we'd had a month's notice?
  9. What would we have done if we'd had five year's notice?
  10. What will we keep doing differently anyway, because it worked better?
  11. What will we build into our medium and long term planning, to help us be ahead of the game when air travel again becomes more expensive and less available?

Volcano getting in the way of your vital meeting? Go virtual!

With the skies over Europe still (rather blissfully) free of planes, more people will be thinking about meeting by phone, video conference, telepresence or web-meeting. Like Fay Ripley and this groovy crowd in the dothegreenthing video strange meeting, part of their stay grounded strand.

On the cheap

If you have skype then teleconferences for a small number of people are possible at very low cost. If there are only two of you, you can video call using skype.

I expect that providers of web meeting software will find their free trials taken up a lot this week.  Free trials are available on Citrix GoToMeeting , Webex and DimDim (which also has a totally free product).   Acrobat Connect is free for small meetings - three people maximum.  Elluminate.com is aimed primarly at a teaching / training situation, but their vRoom product is free for up to three people to meet.

Top tips

If you aren’t used to this way of meeting, but have been forced to change your plans, here are some top tips for teleconferences.

Before the call

Ensure that someone takes responsibility for preparing and chairing the call - including

  • confirming start and finish times.
  • compiling an agenda and circulating it to everyone in advance.  The agenda should be descriptive - that is, for each item, it should be clear what the ‘task’ is to be undertaken in relation to that item (hear an update, share views, reach a decision etc).
  • ensuring that it’s clear what preparation is expected for the meeting (e.g. circulating a paper, reading the paper, etc).
  • sending round details of the number to call, any associated PIN, and whether the number is toll-free.
  • ensuring that someone has agreed to take a note of key decisions and action points.

All participants should make sure they are calling in from somewhere quiet and with minimum distractions.

Let the chair know if you cannot make the call.

At the start

When you join the conference, announce your presence.

At the start of the call, make time for

  • a round of introductions
  • confirming the agenda and altering it if needed
  • confirming the end time
  • discussing and agreeing any ground rules

During the call

  • During the teleconference - and this may sound laborious, but it really helps - for each item or point, the person chairing should give everyone a chance to contribute by going around the group in a set order, e.g. alphabetical order of first name, (with people ‘passing’ if they like).  People should say when they’ve finished on each point, so that others don’t interrupt or get twitchy about how they’re going to catch the chair's eye.
  • If the conversation is flowing more freely, people should state their name when talking.
  • Keep interruptions and distractions to a minimum - rustling, snuffling, chewing, tapping, side conversations all add to the background noise for everyone.
  • Some conference call systems have a ‘mute’ facility, which automatically mutes people’s phone lines when they are not talking.

At the end

At the end of the meeting, make time for

  • a final round of checking that there’s nothing else people would like to raise
  • confirming action points
  • confirming the arrangements for the next meeting
  • feedback on anything that needs to be done differently at the next meeting (process review)

Others' tips

Gillian Martin Mehers has blogged about preparing for a video conference.

Facilitate Proceedings blog about virtual meetings.

If you’re interested in exploring how to facilitate really good group interactions online, there is also a curriculum for an online facilitation course, developed by Nancy White.

Practising for transition?

After the 7-7 tube bombings in London, there was a surge in the number of people cycling.  This rise was sustained, and London still echoes to the swish of cycle wheels.  Over the next few days, as people are forced to find ways of doing business without flying, perhaps some of the experiments will be so successful that they’ll be added to the set of options which are considered ‘normal’.  Maybe we’ll look back and discover that we were experimenting and practising for transition to a low-carbon economy.

Have fun with your experiments.

Small print: I don’t have any business connection with any of the products mentioned, nor does their presence here imply any endorsement etc.  Just blogging to be helpful.

Community and behaviour – when critical mass makes all the difference

I was pointing people towards the six sources of influence in some behaviour change training recently, and went back to some original sources to remind myself about the distinctions between the six sources. To recap, the six sources are arranged into a two-by-three table, with ‘motivation’ and ‘ability’ divided into personal, social and structural.  In this explanation on the VitalSmarts blog the two ‘social’ sources of influence have been merged.  This bothered me – is there really so little distinction between social motivation (peer pressure) and social ability?

It seems to me that the distinction is brought most sharply into focus when critical mass is needed to make a behaviour viable.  Want to buy more locally-produced food?  A farmers’ market or a local veggie box scheme needs a critical mass of producers and customers to be viable.  Setting up a lift share scheme?  You’re going to need more than two members.  Freecycling?  Hackney Freecycle has over 17,000 members (yes, really) generating about 1,500 messages about free stuff for giving and taking a month.

Now this kind of critical mass isn’t going to be important for all the behaviours you want to change, which is probably why the distinctions isn’t so clear in some of the descriptions.  But where it is, then special attention needs to be given to recruiting the mass.

  • How will you make it as widely-known as possible?
  • How will you make it simple for people to let you know they’re up for it?
  • How will you make it easy to store information about a pool of people and then ‘activate’ them you have enough mass to start things?
  • And how will you use their good ideas and information to shape the system, so that it works for enough of them?

There’s a virtuous circle which can come into play here.  This was brought home to me by a stakeholder engagement planning meeting which I ran last week with a community organisation which has been awarded substantial funding through the Low Carbon Communities Challenge.  We did a quick brainstorm of all the non-carbon related ‘social capital’ in their village – the formal and informal organisations which bring people together and build a sense of community.  The population is about 2,000 and the group came up with over thirty formal groups, clubs or regular events (one for every 67 people!) and a host of informal groupings.  Active community organisations build community channels and hubs for conversation.  Members will have more connection with each other, and more trust, than people who are merely residents of the same place.  So a critical mass of ‘warm’ people is much easier to find.

I was bowled over by how many active societies there are, and we all felt very positive about the potential for drawing on this wonderful resource for the low-carbon activities the group has planned.

Actions we take which help build community – in our neighbourhoods or workplaces – all add to the web of interconnections which form fertile soil for future behaviour change.

Community and behaviour – when critical mass makes all the difference

I was pointing people towards the six sources of influence in some behaviour change training recently, and went back to some original sources to remind myself about the distinctions between the six sources. To recap, the six sources are arranged into a two-by-three table, with ‘motivation’ and ‘ability’ divided into personal, social and structural.  In this explanation on the VitalSmarts blog the two ‘social’ sources of influence have been merged.  This bothered me – is there really so little distinction between social motivation (peer pressure) and social ability?

Who can help me influence them? Mapping the players and pressures in a system of behaviour

Strands of work on stakeholder engagement and behaviour change have been woven together in a couple of different pieces of work I’ve been doing with public sector clients recently.  I’ve ended up developing some new frameworks and adapting some existing ones to help people clarify their aims and plan their campaigns. If you want to influence someone to change their behaviour, there are models and approaches which can help.  For example, the six sources of influence help you identify the right messages and pay attention to the surrounding context which supports and enables – or discourages and gets in the way of – the desired behaviour.

When you are working for a public body (the NHS, a Government department) and you are trying to influence the behaviour of people who you have at best a distant relationship with (mothers, or people who buys cars) then you will go through a multi-stage process:

  1. Should we be trying to encourage this behaviour change, which we see as desirable?
  2. If yes, what role(s) should we be playing (legislator, educator, convenor, funder etc)?
  3. If yes, what are the most effective ways of influencing the behaviour?

Should we encourage this behaviour change?

Given current discussions about social engineering, this question is important.  It might seem entirely obvious and uncontroversial to us that wanting to promote energy efficiency that more efficient light bulbs should be promoted.  So obvious that we don’t stop to consider possible unintended consequences or misunderstandings.

So an important early stage is to engage stakeholders in helping to inform the decision about whether to encourage a particular behaviour change at all.   For this, classic stakeholder identification and mapping techniques (e.g. see figure 1 in this paper from WWF) will help ensure that you hear from more than the usual suspects.

Stakeholders can share perspectives about the policy goals, identify which behaviours might help to achieve them, and whether action to encourage those behaviours is a good idea.

What role should we be playing?

Some public bodies draft new legislation and regulations, others deliver services.  Some enforce regulations and others provide advice and public education.  Some bring other organisations together, convening conversations and partnerships.  Others commission and fund research.  There are lots of roles that public sector organisations could play in a given situation.  Which role or roles make the most sense, in meeting the policy aim in question?

Listening to the views of stakeholders in relation to that question is enormously helpful.  And those stakeholders may be professionals who work in that field of expertise - but removed from the coal face - or they may be practitioners on the ground whose direct experience can bring a dose of reality to the conversations.

A great example of this is the Low Carbon Communities Challenge, launched on Monday 8th February.  It will (amongst other things) draw on the experiences and insights of 22 communities which are being funded to install energy efficiency kit and renewable energy equipment en masse in their areas.  They’ll also be encouraging people to adopt low-carbon behaviours.  Each community will be doing something different, guided by its particular circumstances and enthusiasms.  Excitingly, each community will also be asked to identify the barriers to and enablers of progress, in particular what government could do differently to make this kind of low-carbon push as successful as possible across England, Wales and Northern Ireland. I'm delighted to be a facilitator on this project.

What are the best ways of influencing this behaviour?

A cool analysis of the system of players and pressures which lead to the current patterns of behaviour is a good starting point, and involving a team (including some stakeholders) will help ensure that the picture built up is rich and complete.

In a workshop a few weeks ago, we used the classic ‘pestle’ headings to brainstorm the pressures and players which influence a particular behaviour which my client is interested in changing.  Let’s say that the behaviour is keeping one’s car well-maintained, so that it runs as fuel-efficiently as possible.  Specific behaviours include keeping the tyre pressure optimum, and removing the roof box when it’s not needed.

In the workshop, people identified players and pressures and wrote them on post-its, sticking them up under the headings of Political, Economic, Social, Technical, Legislative, Environmental and Other.  The headings and team-work both help to ensure that no aspect of the system is forgotten.

Once that was done, we stood back and looked at the results, and pictures were taken on a camera phone.  Then I invited people to bring the post-its to a big blank sheet of paper, and to begin mapping the relationships between the players and pressures, starting with “the most interesting” element of the system.  [The idea of asking for ‘the most interesting’ came from a book about coaching which I’ve been reading.]

One post-it was brought to the empty map, and was soon followed by others.  Lines of connection were drawn, and amid the chaos some patterns emerged.  Most importantly, the team realised that these behaviours were more like DIY and home maintenance than like ‘eco’ behaviours, so when targeting different audiences they should seek our market research which segments people according to things which are relevant to that kind of behaviour, rather than segmentations which have been developed with an environmental purpose in mind.

Mapping stakeholders for behaviour change

This brought us smoothly to looking at which stakeholders to engage as a priority, to add muscle to the campaign to  influence people to adopt (or reinforce) the desired behaviours.

Many of these stakeholders were ‘players’ identified in the earlier exercise.  Some were organisations and people who the team thought of as the system was being mapped.

As a variation on classic impact /influence matrix, and building on the ‘who can help me’ matrix which I use with organisational SD change champions, is this diagram.

Brainstormed onto post-its, stakeholders are then mapped according to the team’s view about their influence and attitude.

You then overlay the coloured ‘zones’ onto the matrix, and these are linked to typologies of engagement like the ladder of engagement.

The people and organisations which are the highest priority to engage with, are those who are highly influential and have the strongest opinions (for and against) the desired behaviour change.  In-depth engagement which involves them directly in designing and implementing the behaviour campaign will be important.

Those in the ‘enhanced’ zones need to be involved and their opinions and information sought.

Those in the ‘standard’ zone can be engaged with a lighter touch – perhaps limited to informing them about the campaign and the desired behaviour.

The workshops helped these clients to identify new stakeholders, reprioritise them, and consider more strategically who to engage and to what purpose.

New Year, new you?

I've been mulling over the meaning of  'resolution' as the New Year crept up on me.

Plot resolution

Sometimes, a resolution can be the end of something - like when Poirot gathers everyone together to explain who the murderer is.  The threads are drawn together, the loose ends are tied up.  The plot is resolved and that chapter of the characters' lives closed.

Perhaps, as Auld Lang Syne is sung, some New Year's resolutions are to do with leaving family feuds behind as people close the old year neatly.

Resolving dilemmas

In the field of stakeholder engagement - particularly the part of the spectrum I'm happiest in, where the aim is co-enquiry and co-creation, and the approach is closer to dialogue - resolution is often about understanding dilemmas and choices, and finding the win-win.

I'm not sure how this might apply to New Year Resolutions.  I guess there would need to be a lot of exploration and reflection in the autumn and winter months in order for a resolution of this kind to emerge bang on schedule on 31st December.  This kind of self-imposed yet public deadline can help coordinate the efforts of the various people involved - although it doesn't seem to have been useful at Copenhagen.

Making your mind up

Related to resolving a dilemma is the idea of coming to a conclusion about a choice or decision.  When you resolve to do something, you are consciously committing to a particular course of action.   When Lady Macbeth urges her wavering husband to "screw your courage to the sticking-place" she's encouraging him to strengthen his resolve and take an action which is irreversible.   The scene ends with Macbeth reassuring her "I am settled".

This kind of resolution must surely lead to significant and rapid action - delay might 'unsettle' the resolution.

Conference, I move

Many years ago, I had the dubious honour of being part of a team organising the formal annual conference of a UK NGO.  Its particular semi-democratic structure meant that every year we had 'motions to conference' which, if passed, became 'resolutions'.  Some people took the standing orders of the conference very seriously, and were helpful in making sure that we stuck to our rules.  Others found the debating and voting process old-fashioned and restrictive, frustrated by the way it turned interesting choices and genuine puzzles into win/lose combats.

These sorts of resolutions bind an organisation - they settle arguments and commit people to action.  Some organisations are very good at wriggling out of the commitments quietly at a later date.  Perhaps the resolution was worded loosely, and is open to interpretation.  Perhaps the process was flawed allowing the resolution to be set aside.  Perhaps the people charged with actioning the resolution have new information which wasn't available at the time, and feel justified in ignoring it.

These are excuses - if the people implementing the resolution really agreed with it, they wouldn't find ways of wriggling out of it.  They'd find ways of pushing it through.

This is beginning to sound a bit more like most people's experiences of New Year's resolutions : commitments which aren't really commitments, where even weak excuses are seized on as explanations and justifications for broken promises.

New Year's resolutions as explicit commitments to change behaviour

I'm working with two different clients on behaviour change at the moment, so I'm particularly interested in the parallels between New Year's resolutions and other ways of encouraging or supporting changed behaviour.

There's an important point to notice here:  New Year's resolutions are, in theory, voluntary.  They are related to a change in behaviour of the person making the commitment.  For both my clients, the behaviour they want to change is other people's behaviour (staff, contractors, consumers).  This seems to me to be a crucial difference, and one which I'm keen to explore more with them and in my wider practice.

Having acknowledged that, what are the parallels between New Year's resolutions and behaviour change programmes?

One striking parallel is the relatively low chances of success combined with a kind of complacent optimism!

I notice over and over how people go into behaviour change work as if they believe that making a commitment and announcing it means that it will happen.  Too often, very little effort is put into preparation, planning and prior engagement. The supporting activities, positive feedback and physical resources are missing.  (See here for a posting about the six sources of influence which help catalyse and reinforce new behaviours.)

Fortunately for us all, the appropriately named Prof. Richard Wiseman, psychologist at the University of Hertfordshire, reveals the secrets of keeping your New Year's resolutions.

Prof. Wiseman's four top tips are:

  1. Break your goal into a series of steps, focusing on creating sub-goals that are concrete, measurable, and time-based.
  2. Tell your friends and family about your goals, thus increasing the fear of failure and eliciting support.
  3. Regularly remind yourself of the benefits associated with achieving your goals by creating a checklist of how life would be better once you obtain your aim.
  4. Expect to revert to your old habits from time to time. Treat any failure as a temporary set-back rather than a reason to give up altogether.

There are six more tips on his blog.

Incidentally, it's worth noting the two categories of resolution: acheiving a goal (in our case, let's use the 10:10 campaign goal of  'cutting carbon emissions by 10% in 2010') and changing a behaviour (for example, not eating meat on Mondays).  Paul Maisey's blog on New Year's resolutions concentrates on setting well-formed, congruent and authentic goals.

One of the comments on the Prof.'s blog astutely observes:

You have to really want the new behaviour, not just the ultimate outcome.

So it's crucial to find behaviours which you enjoy (or could come to enjoy) which contribute to meeting the goal.

My resolution

So I'm off to do my dull old exercises which will, in time, allow my knee to recover sufficiently that I can get back on my bike and feel the wind in my hair as I travel fast and carbon-neutral to meetings.

  1. SMART - do them five times a week.
  2. Tell people - well I'm telling you now.
  3. Remind myself of the benefits - hang my cycle helmet on the back of the office door.
  4. Treat lapses as temporary set-backs not as a 'broken' resolution - I resolve to do this.

And the bonus - how can I want to do the exercises for themselves, as well as wanting the ultimate outcome?  Listen to the radio, award myself a star each day.

And I further resolve to share the Prof.'s research with my clients, when we come to develop approaches to behaviour change.

Happy New Year!

Update

25th Jan - and I'm keeping up with the exercises.  The stars I put in my diary each time I do the stretches are proving motivating.  So far I'm slightly ahead of my goal, which was to do the routine five days out of seven.  And the outcome?  I cycled up to the farmers market on Saturday!

e-meetings - my toes are in the water

I'm keen to use more 'e' in meetings. Teleconferences mean live conversation without the travel.  Add in some kind of live editing of a shared document (like google docs), and everyone can see the notes being written in real time, just like flip charts in a workshop.  Share some video or slides, and everyone is viewing the same input.  Include video calling (e.g. using  skype), and we can see each other as well.

I can see that there's loads of potential to reduce participants' carbon footprints (probably) and include people whose other commitments mean that adding travelling time onto meeting time would mean that they couldn't attend at all.

Toe in the water

So I'm making a concerted effort to experience e-meetings of all kinds as a participant.  I joined a webcast (lecture and panel discussion) a couple of days ago, and I'm attending a webinar on how to design good webinars next week.

I'm also adding in some virtual elements to meetings which I facilitate.   Some tips on good teleconferences, built from that experience, are available here.

Spontaneous blending

Trainers sometimes talk about 'blended learning', which includes traditional face to face workshops with virtual elements like a web-based discussion space or a module delivered by email.

In a workshop I ran over the summer, there was a fascinating example of spontaneous blending of methods.  The group is a community stakeholder group, set up to represent local interests during the early phases of developing plans for a flood defence.  During a half day workshop, the group was looking at maps showing alternative sites for the defences.  Timescales for the project are very tight, and this workshop was taking place during a very short window of opportunity for people to feed comments back to the organisation which is developing the plans.  So the pressure was on the participants to ensure that they were accurately reflecting the views of the wider constituencies that they were there to represent.

One innovative participant whipped out a camera phone and took pictures of the maps.  Within seconds they could be sent to people who weren't at the meeting, and their comments relayed back.  I don't know whether this meant that their views made it 'into the room' during the meeting, or whether it simply gave them a head start in discussing the plans after the meeting.  In any case, it set me thinking about how much wider groups of people could be involved, if we can come up with ways of using technologies like camera phones and texting, which are ubiquitous.

What if this person had stuck to the ground rule about keeping mobile phones off during the meeting?

I'm enjoying dabbling my toes in this pool.  I'm readying myself to dive in!

Have you heard the one about...

...the North Wind and the Sun? In Aesop's fable, these two characters argue over who is the strongest, and decide to settle the matter by seeing who can get a traveller's cloak off his back.

For those of you unfamiliar with Greek tales, the denouement can be found here.  And while you read it, you might reflect on our behaviour change strategies - and which are most effective.