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.
So first of all I have to get this off my chest: a big GRRRRR! to venues which don't let you post up paper using blu-tack or white tack. Especially those which don’t have alternatives like exhibition boards freely available. You are making it much harder for me to provide a service.
Too often, as facilitators, we don't get the choice to avoid using venues like this because the client hasn't involved us early enough in conversations about what kind of venue is suitable. There's more on venues here.
But, a couple of weeks ago, this annoying situation meant that I got to use magic whiteboard for the first time.
In case you're not familiar with magic whiteboard... it is thin, flexible sheets of plastic - think 'plastic paper' - that come on a perforated roll like giant, unabsorbent loo paper. You tear off a sheet and place it against a flat, smooth wall. And it stays there, adhering through the magic (physics) of static electricity. You can write on it with whiteboard pens, and wipe them off to reuse the sheets. You can also stick paper on, again using the power of static.
Practicing and preparing
This was a big, important workshop for a high-profile client, so I wanted everything to go without a hitch. So I practiced ahead of time in my office.
I wanted to find out how long the sheets would stay up. The answer is, two weeks and counting. Will it also stay up reliably with paper clinging on? Yes for A4 sheets and post-its, not with flip chart paper.
I wondered how well the ink would show up. I practiced with a couple of types of whiteboard pen, and found Pilot's Wyteboard Board Master are bright and dark enough. (Added bonus - you can get refills for the ink. See here for other adventures in refilling pens.) Other kinds of pen were clearly too pale to be of any use.
I wondered if I could prepare complex graphics and instructions ahead of time, and bring them with me. I do this regularly for workshops, to save time on the day. But no, the ink smudges when the sheets are rolled or folder. Unsurprising, as part of the point of whiteboard pens is that they can be cleaned off the surface. I may test this again with permanent markers, if the need arises.
How did it work?
In short, very well!
The magic whiteboard was used for a large 'wall' for the open space space / time grid. We had three time slots and thirteen spaces. Two rows of seven sheets were hung portrait style, with session times and space labels written on paper and stuck on. Over the course of the organising plenary, proposals for sessions, written on A4 paper, were added. Then people came and signed up to sessions, and the paper and magic whiteboard sheets clung to the wall without any hint of falling down.
So yes, I'm hanging on to the rest of the roll, and will be using it again if I need to.
I have found myself having a lot of coffees with people who are on the path to self-employment. As someone who embraced this particular type of freedom over 16 years ago, I have a thing or two to say! Some of these neophytes have taken voluntary redundancy amidst organisational shake-ups. Others are responding to new caring responsibilities. Some have just tired of trying to change organisations from within.
I just love these conversations. It's great to be asked for advice on a subject dear to your heart and about which you think you have something useful to say. And it appeals to the coach in me: asking questions to draw out what they really want from the change: their dreams and ideals; boundaries and fixed points.
Advice from experienced freelancers
Most were about networking for support and leads:
"It takes a long while to build consultancy relationships, so start early, and keep feeding in new possible clients to your portfolio so that you have always got an eye on one year from now as well as the now." Christine Garner
"I would suggest that your first piece of paid work (and your second...) will come from your network rather than any 'advertising' or external marketing you might do. The people who know you will be the ones to trust you first - and to tell others about you." Mark McKergow
"I was advised (many years ago) to have a great, but short, answer to the question, 'What do you do?' My answer was 'I'm a developer, I develop people!' That often prompted a deeper discussion led by the other person, that occasionally led to work. So much easier than a long ramble about what I actually did." David Shepherd, AMED member
"Start with the people you know, and build from there." Edward Kellow
"Reach out to friends and acquaintances in consultancies/agencies, become their associate. This will multiply ways you get work." Adam Garfunkel
"After 25 years in the field, I became self-employed 5 years ago. If I can summarize in one word, it is Contacts. Maintain and expand your list of contacts. Stay in touch with them, such as with a newsletter. Let them know you have your own firm and will give them the same level of service you have in the past (with perhaps, lower overhead). Get out there." Marc Karell, Climate Change & Environmental Services, LLC
"It could fill a book! But perhaps the most important lesson I learned was that going independent should not and does not mean going it alone! If the work does not involve other people, find other people to interact with around the work. Get a coach to help step outside the work and think. Join an association. Get associates. These things helped me not to be isolated and continue to help me infuse my work with new, creative ideas and insights, and to not spend all my time in my own head!" Chris Grieve
Some were about the kind of work you do, and how:
"Stay true to your own values [so you] project that you feel good about what you do" Christine Tuson
And some were very practical:
"Remember to invoice them and make sure they pay." Christine Garner.
"Work out what income you need and how much work (in paid days per year at different rates) you need to do to achieve it, and use that as a personal KPI." Christine Tuson
"Especially for women, don't charge too little." Julian Walker
And I can't resist linking to Sarah Holloway's blog post on the same topic, with her deeply practical "when you see a loo, use it".
Glass half full?
Some freelancers think their diary can never be too full, but I'd offer some contrasting advice on that point. I know I have a weakness in saying 'yes' too readily, so I have practised saying no and enjoying the downtime. It's time to spend with family, on community activity, or just clearing out the cupboard of mystery (everyone has one).
I'd agree more with these comments:
"Downshift. Make your home earn money. When you have gap days you don't need to panic, it may be better to take that as a reboot yourself day. Oh yes, and enjoy the freedom it gives you. Good luck." Nicola Baird
"Learn how to say no. when I first went freelance, I was terrified of ever saying no for fear of never getting work again, so found I over committed and worked silly hours. Took me years to have the confidence to say no." Pippa Hyam.
These are my top tips:
- Network, use your contacts, tell people you are available, ask them for help and ask them what help they need.
- Spend a little time daydreaming about your perfect, ideal work and then tell people that's what you do / what you're looking for.
- Trust your own judgement - if you don't seem to have the whole picture, keep asking questions; if the client seems to have missed something, mention it.
- Don't be scared of the money conversation - clients expect to have to talk about it!
- Know your own limits, be it term dates and sports day, or the sectors / kinds of creepy people you don't want to work with and stick to them - you are the boss!
- Do things that challenge you and get support from fellow independents.
- Find great places to have client or networking meetings for free - in London I like Kings Place and the Royal Festival Hall.
Over the years, I've got great support from a few organisations which are great for networking, both online and face-to-face: AMED; IAF; IEMA. I have also started to check out meet-ups - an online way to find and set up networking events. For example, I've gone along to collaboration meet-ups in London [update 5/5/16] and these facilitation meet-ups organised by the IAF. Check out what’s available in your area.
More advice, your advice?
Please do add your own experiences, questions or tips, in the comments below.
Well done for finding this page! You have already shown tenacity, imagination and great googling skills. This practice doesn't offer work experience, apprenticeships or internships. We're not hiring at the moment. You need to find a slightly bigger organisation for that sort of thing.
Here's some advice and links, which I hope are helpful.
- Use your contacts - people you met while studying, both students and staff. Let them know what kind of work you are looking for and what you can offer.
- Join a relevant professional body and network like crazy: for environmentalists, IEMA is great. If you have found these pages because you're interested in facilitating then check out the IAF. And if you want to spread your wings into coaching, organisational consultancy and change management check out AMED.
- Linked-In is good too - look for active discussion groups related to your interests and location.
If you can afford it, look for volunteering or internship opportunities with organisations relevant to the kind of work you are interested in.
The field of change for sustainable development is one I have found exciting, challenging and satisfying. I hope you find a place here too.
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.
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.
Triggered by some email exchanges with Coro Strandberg following my comments on Simon Zadek's blog, I am wondering what experiences other consultants have of using Creative Commons licences for their work. I am intuitively attracted to sharing for a couple of reasons:
- if something seems to be helpful and effective, then our planet needs us to tell people about it, not keep it to ourselves
- in an internet-connected world, basing your business model on selling IP seems pretty likely to fail, even if you have the resources to patrol and litigate.
Anything I publish on this site is covered by Creative Commons (see here for details) and I try to retain control of my IP in client contracts, precisely so that I can republish here and so make it more widely available.
I'd love to hear your experiences of sharing work in this way, or using others' work, or why you haven't gone down this route.
Thanks for sharing!
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.
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.
In-the-room facilitators often use a lot of flip chart paper and plenty of marker pens. It's very irritating when the pens begin to dry up. A juicy pen is best. And I get through a lot of them. I use two different kinds of marker pens which I can refill: Staedtler and Rosinco. I buy the refill ink from the Green Stationery Company, who order them in for me because although the pens are widely available in the UK, the refills are not.
The systems are different.
With Rosinco, it's a 'drip and soak' system, where you stand the pen on its bottom in a rather charming wooden stand, and fit a plastic funnel around the nib end, a bit like the collar you put on a pet to stop it biting its stitches. You then drip the ink from a bottle into the collar, and it soaks into the pen. It's a bit messy when the collar is removed, as there is inevitably some ink left around the head of the pen. The pen itself uses a cardboard tube, and the refill set comes in a brown paper bag. So it's got an old fashioned 'natural' feel to it. And do you know, I couldn't find a web page showing the refill pack. If you know of one, please post a comment.
The Staedtler refill ink comes in a short stubby tub, and you put the pen head down into the refill station and leave it for four minutes (or it could be four hours, the diagram of a clock face is ambiguous).
During workshops, I put masking tape around the lid of dried up pens which I can refill, and put the non-refillable ones straight in the bin. When I get back to the office, the dehydrated pens go in a special box until I have time to do a refilling session.
So is it a waste of time? I don't mean this from an environmental cost-benefit analysis. I'm convinced enough that refilling is better than one-trip pens.
I mean clock time.
I'm a busy person. Can I slow down enough to supervise the pens as they drink their fill? Can I multi-task while they are soaking? (I can only blog about this once!)
Taking the time to do something slowly when there is a faster option feels eccentric and hard, when a glance to my left shows my to-do list growing all by itself. Shall we add slow stationery to slow travel and slow food?
So I multi-task by using pen refill time as time to stop and stare. I may not be standing beneath the boughs, but I can gawp at the tall tree outside my office window and - on a day like today - listen to the swifts screeching and see an urban fox sunning itself on a shed roof.
It's also an opportunity to reflect on mindfulness and intention. Even in these small things, I have an intention. Even for this small amount of time, I am aware that I find it hard to quieten the task master in my head.
So not a waste of time: a use of time.
I have to put this somewhere on my site, and this seemed the best place! Penny Walker is the trading name of Verlander Walker Ltd. (Strange but true. Of course, Penny Walker is also actually my real name.)
Verlander Walker is registered in England (company number 0463 6657) and is registered for VAT (VAT registration number 853 7496 84). The registered office is at 27 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3BL. Verlander Walker Ltd is insured for public liability and professional indemnity, and holds a licence from the PPL to use recorded music in workshops.
Because I think this job of bringing about a sustainable society is too important to keep secret, much of the material on this site is published under a creative commons "Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives" licence, which means you are welcome to use it as long as you don't sell it on, don't fiddle around with it, and tell people that I wrote it and that they can find it on this site. Of course, you are welcome to ask me whether you can use it ways not covered by this licence, and I'll be happy to think about it.
Some of the material was published elsewhere first, in which case even though I wrote it, the copyright may be shared with or held by someone else. So you may need to abide by the stronger restrictions that they may have in place.
The GDPR and privacy statement is here.
This is a fuller client list, in case you're interested. Some projects are described in more detail here. Many are clients I have worked with in collaboration with other consultants and organisations.
- ABN Amro
- Crest Nicholson
- Doc Society
- Environment Agency
- Ethical Trading Initative
- First Choice
- Forum for the Future
- Government Office of the West Midlands
- Growing Communities
- Hazards Forum
- Health Protection Agency
- ISEAL Alliance
- Mary on the Green
- Max Fordham
- Network Rail
- North Norfolk District Council
- Nuclear Decommissioning Authority
- Plunkett Foundation
- Rail Standards and Safety Board
- Science and Technology Futures Council
- Southern Unitarian Fellowship
- Sustainable Development Commission
- Thames Rivers Trust
- Travel Foundation
- University of Bath
- University of Cambridge Engineering Department
- Wellcome Foundation