External publications

Working collaboratively: world premiere!

So it's here! A mere nine months after first being contacted by Nick Bellorini of DōSustainability, my e-book on collaboration is out!

Over the next few weeks, I'll be blogging on some of the things that really struck me about writing it and that I'm still chewing over.  In the meantime, I just wanted to let you know that it's out there, and you, dear reader, can get it with 15% off if you use the code PWP15 when you order it. See more here.

It's an e-book - and here's something cool for the dematerialisation and sharing economy geeks: you can rent it for 48 hours, just like a film!  Since it's supposed to be a 90 minute read, that should work just fine.

Thanks!

And I couldn't have done it without the wonderful colleagues, clients, peers, critics, fellow explorers and tea-makers who helped out.

Andrew Acland, Cath Beaver, Craig Bennett, Fiona Bowles, Cath Brooks, Signe Bruun Jensen, Ken Caplan, Niamh Carey, Lindsey Colbourne, Stephanie Draper, Lindsay Evans, James Farrell, Chris Grieve, Michael Guthrie, Charlotte Millar, Paula Orr, Helena Poldervaart, Chris Pomfret, Jonathon Porritt, Keith Richards, Clare Twigger-Ross, Neil Verlander, Lynn Wetenhall; others at the Environment Agency; people who have been involved in the piloting of the Catchment Based Approach in England in particular in the Lower Lee, Tidal Thames and Brent; and others who joined in with an InterAct Networks peer learning day on collaboration.

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).

Leadership teams for collaboration

"Who will make sure it doesn't fall over?"

This was a question posed by someone in a workshop I facilitated, which brought together stakeholders (potential collaborators) who shared an interest in a water catchment.

It was a good question. In a collaboration, where equality between organisations is a value - and the pragmatic as well as philosophical truth is that everyone is only involved because they choose to be - what constitutes leadership? How do you avoid no-one taking responsibility because everyone is sharing responsibility?

If the collaboration stops moving forwards, like a bicycle it will be in danger of falling over.  Who will step forward to right it again, give it a push and help it regain momentum?

Luxurious reading time

I've been doing some reading, in preparating for writing a slim volume on collaboration for the lovely people over at DōSustainability. (Update: published July 2013.) It's been rather lovely to browse the internet, following my nose from reference to reference.  I found some great academic papers, including "Collaborative Governance in Theory and Practice" by Chris Ansell and Alison Gash.  This paper is based on a review of 137 case studies, and draws out what the authors call 'critical variables' which influence the success of attempts at collaborative governance.

It's worth just pausing to notice that this paper focuses on 'collaborative governance', which you could characterise as when stakeholders come together to make decisions about what some other organisation is going to do (e.g. agree a management plan for a nature reserve ), to contrast it with other kinds of collaboration where the stakeholders who choose to collaborate are making decisions about what they themselves will do, to further the common or complementary aims of the collaboration (e.g. the emerging work of Tasting the Future).

Leadership as a critical variable

Ansell and Gash identify leadership as one of these critical variables.  They say:

"Although 'unassisted' negotiations are sometimes possible, the literature overwhelmingly finds that facilitative leadership is important for bringing stakeholders together and getting them to engage each other in a collaborative spirit."

What kind of person can provide this facilitative leadership?  Do they have to be disinterested, in the manner of an agenda-neutral facilitator?  Or do they have to be a figure with credibility and power within the system, to provide a sense of agency to the collaboration?

Interestingly, Ansell and Gash think both are needed, depending on whether power is distributed relatively equally or relatively unequally among the potential collaborators.  It's worth quoting at some length here:

"Where conflict is high and trust is low, but power distribution is relatively equal and stakeholders have an incentive to participate, then collaborative governance can successfully proceed by relying on the services of an honest broker that the respective stakeholders accept and trust."

This honest broker will pay attention to process and remain 'above the fray' - a facilitator or mediator.

"Where power distribution is more asymmetric or incentives to participate are weak or asymmetric, then collaborative governance is more likely to succeed if there is a strong "organic" leader who commands the respect and trust of the various stakeholders at the outset of the process."

An organic leader emerges from among the stakeholders, and my reading of the paper suggests that their strength may come from the power and credibility of their organisation as well as personal qualities like technical knowledge, charisma and so on.

While you can buy in a neutral facilitator (if you have the resource to do so), you cannot invent a trusted, powerful 'organic' leader if they are not already in the system. Ansell and Gash note "an implication of this contingency is that the possibility for effective collaboration may be seriously constrained by a lack of leadership."

Policy framework for collaboration

I'm also interested in this right now, because of my involvement in the piloting of the Catchment Based Approach.  I have been supporting people both as a facilitator (honest broker) and by building the capacity of staff at the Environment Agency to work collaboratively and 'host' or 'lead' collaborative work in some of the pilot catchments.  The former role has been mainly with Dialogue by Design, and latter with InterAct Networks.

One of the things that has been explored in these pilots, is what the differences are when the collaboration is hosted by the Environment Agency, and when it is hosted by another organisation, as in for example Your Tidal Thames or the Brent Catchment Partnership.

There was a well-attended conference on February 14th, where preliminary results were shared and Defra officials talked about what may happen next. The policy framework which Defra is due to set out in the Spring of 2013 will have important implications for where the facilitative leadership comes from.

One of the phrases used in Defra's presentation was 'independent host' and another was 'facilitator'.  It's not yet clear what Defra might mean by these two phrases.  I immediately wondered: independent of what, or of whom?  Might this point towards the more agenda-neutral facilitator, the honest broker?  If so, how will this be resourced?

I am thoughtful about whether these catchments might have the characteristics where the Ansell and Gash's honest broker will succeed, or whether they have characteristics which indicate an organic leader is needed.  Perhaps both would be useful, working together in a leadership team.

Those designing the policy framework could do worse than read this paper.

Do-ing it together

Have you come across - new e-publishers who are bringing out a series of 90 minute reads on key sustainability topics?  I particularly liked Anne Augustine's First 100 Days on the Job, for new sustainability leads. Now I've been asked to write a slim volume on collaboration for the great people at Dō.  I'm very excited about this - and I want to do it collaboratively.

So tell me: what are your favourite examples of successful sustainability collaborations?

Collaboration: doing together what you can't do alone; doing together what you both/all want to do; sharing the decision-making about what you do and how you do it.

Post a comment here, or email me.

Thanks, collaborators!

What's it like from the inside?

You're trying to get your organisation to use sustainability thinking (social justice, ethics, environmental limits) to inform its strategy and practice. It can feel lonely. But you are not alone!  There are thousands of sustainability change makers just like you in other organisations.  What do your peers think and feel about this journey you are making apart, together? This survey gives a glimpse of how they see themselves, and the challenges they face. (Or, of how you see yourselves, since I expect some readers of this blog took part in the survey. Thanks!)

(Greener Management International has published the full article and you can read it here.  There are other fascinating pieces in the same edition, including a couple on labeling / certification, and on organisational change strategies.)

Here are some of the headlines.

Just a job, or part of a wider movement?

The people who took part in the survey are working for change towards sustainability either as (part of) their job or through some recognised network of champions.  But they do not see this as 'just a job'.  Over 95% of them agreed with these two statements about why they do this work.

I want to do work which is in line with my values and interests.

It is my contribution to a wider change in society which I think needs to happen.

Are they changing their organisations?

So how are they doing: are their organisations changing? People used the Dunphy scale to show where their organisation was when they joined it and where they think it is now.  They do indeed think that their organisations are changing, and mostly in the right direction!  There has been a clear shift towards the right of Dunphy’s spectrum, and those respondents who have been in their organisation for longer have seen it move further, in line with what you'd hope and expect.

How much change is needed?

What's the perspective of these change agents, on how much change is needed?  I asked:

To respond adequately to the challenge of sustainable development, how much change is needed?

These people think that radical, far-reaching change is needed in society as a whole, and substantial change is needed in their own organisations.

So the priority - where their skills and talents are most needed - is in the wider system.  Are they happy that their own organisations seem to be on track?   Not really.

Around 73% of organisational change agents for SD agreed or strongly agreed that they are dissatisfied with the pace and scale of change in their organisation.  These people agreed strongly that the pace or scale (and sometimes both) were dissatisfying:

I feel and I see that changes are coming in many parts of my organisation but this process is far too slow.

My organisation has a culture which is generally slow to change—it is large, bureaucratic and hierarchical.

They shared some fascinating perspectives on what it feels like to be a change agent in these circumstances.

A lovely dilemma: we know that change needs to be democratic, and based on others understanding the ‘whys’, to avoid trying another oppressive regime. Experience seems to indicate that this requires patience, but patience in the faith that our mere acts now, however small, may lead to an exponential explosion in the ‘right’ activities, just in time . ..  I now try to hold this tension very lightly and not let it distract me from what I’m doing day to day, in the moment. But I can’t pretend to be that successful at it . . .

With a perspective that this is a ‘human community’ not a machine! And that dissatisfaction needs to motivate (not frustration/anger etc.) and shape through positivity (not blind optimism or out-of-touchness) . . . And a personal sense of niche—what’s in my gift, power, influence etc. . . .

On being committed

We already know that our change agents see their work as 'more than just a job'.

How can climate change be just a job! I paraphrase Attenborough whose quote looms over my desk: ‘how could I look my child in the eye and say I knew what was happening to the world and did nothing’?

It is fantastic to feel passionate about my job. Having worked in this area, I now cannot see myself going back to a general management job even if that harms my promotion prospects.

It has to be a passion and something you believe in 100 per cent otherwise you can’t do the job properly, although I’ve had to learn to use the passion in presenting in a way that doesn’t scare the life out of people—in this country we still have a long, long journey.

You need to be really engaged in doing this and believe in it, if you are not the obstacles will be destructive for you personally and will demotivate you.

Does this 'life mission' attitude cause problems for them at work?  Actually, only a minority said that it had (17% with their boss, 25% with colleagues).  People said things like:

My boss is very ‘realistic’. He’s not big on challenging the current system etc. He has described his purpose as to be a ‘wet blanket’ on a lot of my ideas! At first I found this demotivating, but now I’ve tried to take the view that if I can persuade him of something, I can probably convince the rest of my organisation.

There is a danger that some may see some activities as a crusade, and so are not comfortable with this. Fortunately these people don’t fit the corporate vision and we can refer them back to the business case with the support of our top management. We recognise, reward and extol exemplar performance.

 Am I making enough difference?

The responses are fairly evenly matched, with slightly more people satisfied with the difference they are making, but still a large minority disatisfied.

Reflections from some respondents showed a rather grudging or partial sense of satisfaction:

‘Enough of a difference’—well no, but no point in beating myself up and trading on guilt/fear—do that for too long (somewhat disagree).

I would like to make more of a difference, but feel that I’m doing what I can. More support from senior business managers would have much more of a positive impact than they realise. And not just financial support, actually understanding sustainable development and making positive contributions to it (somewhat disagree).

Changing the system

Some respondents expressed a sophisticated appreciation of the emergent and messy nature of system level change.

I think the struggle is needing to be seen to have an answer to a ‘wicked’ question. This need for ‘expertise’ and ‘answers’ may be better served by admitting we don’t know and then working together on potential solutions.

This understanding of change as emergent and systemic is not always easy to explain to colleagues and it may be hard to justify or have a sense of progress when working within this frame.

The change will be continuing, as sustainability is not an end state but a continual journey of improvement against ever increasing public perceptions of what is expected. This is a hard sell within an organisation!

I tend to work with people who have a common view that we are a catalyst for systemic change and our role is to convene and enable others to take innovative action towards that . . . this view is not shared by everyone in the organisation and this is where the tension comes in and the need to translate our work.

We are stuck in a world where mechanistic, linear approaches are foisted onto complex, systemic problems. This is where the tension lies for those involved in bridging this.

Some conclusions

  • Our change agents believe that a very great deal of change is needed, to get on to the path to sustainability.
  •  They see change happening in their own organisations, but most of them do not think this change is rapid enough or seeks to go far enough.
  • Our change agents do experience tensions. The biggest is the concern about the pace and scale of change in their organisation, and the second biggest is the difficulty of finding solutions which have both a business case and a values case.
  • Some change agents find the paradigm of ‘solutions’ unhelpful: they see the change endeavour of which they are a part as systemic and emergent, rather than incremental and linear.
  • This in itself can lead to tensions: how to tell if progressis being made, how to keep up colleagues’ morale and how to sell this approachto colleagues.
  • Deciding the focus of change efforts and being a person who sees sustainability as ‘more than just a job’ are not a source of significant tension for most change agents, although many experience these tensions from time to time.

Fortunately, our change agents are not daunted by these tensions: they accept them as something which goes with the territory.  Keep on keeping on, please!

This blog is based on "What's it like from the inside? The Challenges of Being an Organisational Change Agent for Sustainability" by Penny Walker, published in Greener Management International 57, May 2012.

Update

There's a fascinating account of the results of a much more in-depth piece of research by Christopher Wright, Daniel Nyberg and David Grant of the University of Sydney.  They interviewed thirty six people who were "were either in designated positions in major Australian and global corporations as sustainability managers, or were working as external consultants advising about environmental sustainability", which is a similar set of professionals as in my survey.  They distilled (or discerned) three distinct but related 'identities' : green change agent, rational manager and committed activist. They also found five narrative 'genres': achievement, transformation, epiphany, sacrifice and adversity.  Well worth a close read, especially if you are a 'hippy on the third floor'.

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.

 

Holding nested tensions - doing and waiting

Many strands of work at the moment share a theme of putting in place the conditions for collaboration, and then waiting for something to happen.

The work

I'm working with a colleague to train people from a large state body to pilot a collaborative approach to delivering one of their legal duties.  There is pressure - from managers who don't quite get it - to have clear timetables and plans, for action to be delivered.  But while you can call on hierarchy and processes to get the job done within your own organisation, you can't tell collaborators what to do. And collaboration relies on genuinely compelling outcomes which are shared by more than one party. You can't magic those out of the air.  Our client organisation is in a position to be very clear about its own 'compelling outcomes' on the basis of a technical evidence base and legal duties.  Whether there are potential collaborators out there who share any of those compelling outcomes is one of the early questions which needs exploration.

Another strand of work is a multi-stakeholder initiative (it's hard to know how to describe it) where the convenors are using all of the good practice they know to bring people together in a spirit of enquiry and good will, to discover whether there are collaborations waiting to emerge. Participants share a sense that the current system of which they are a part is not sustainable. They may not agree about the bits which are problematic or what a sustainable version would look like.  Some of them are more natural bedfellows than others.

I'm in a curious ambiguous role as a participant in this initiative, and a 'friend of the process'.  Do I have a role as supporting the convenors? Am I in a privileged observer role, able to spot what's getting in the way and then leaving them to do something about it? Or might I choose to take more ownership and responsibility, doing something about the process myself?  (Let alone doing something about the system which we are there to change.)

Metaphors to understand the delicacy

I'm struggling to find metaphors to help explain the difference between project planning, and planning for (and then stewarding) collaborative emergence.

If you've looked after toddlers, you'll know the phenomenon of two children playing quite happily side by side, but with no interaction.  No matter how skillfully the grown-up coaxes, if they aren't ready to play together it's not going to happen.

Perhaps it's also like growing particularly temperamental plants, like orchids.  Sometimes it just doesn't work out.

Or internet dating. You set criteria and find lots of potential matches.  Everything looks promising.  And then the magic is either there or it's not. You can't make it happen through an act of will.

Or nursing a sick person: you intervene and you comfort. Sometimes it's enough to just sit next to their bed while their body gets on with doing something about the illness.

Collaboration for system change

All of these possible analogies imply someone outside of the process who is trying to get others to 'play nicely' (except the dating one). This seems unsatisfactory. Collaboration comes because the collaborators both really want to accomplish something which they can't do by themselves.  Layer on to that the unknowability of system level change, and sometimes it will take a lot of discussion, exploration and false-starts to find action which people take together which they hypothesise will lead to the right kind of change.

How do you know if you're using your time well?

This question arises in different guises.

In the large state-funded body, where the people running the collaborative experiments are very new to this way of working, there is a need to justify the way they are working to their own line managers, and to the team who are holding the experiment in the middle. At some point in the future, evaluation and the main external 'client' will want to know too.

In the system-level initiative, the hosting body needs to know that funds and staff time are being well used, and all the participants will be making daily choices about whether to be active or whether to sit on the sidelines.

I ran a workshop for a well-known NGO some years ago, helping them to shape their internal monitoring and assessment process so that it would be fit for keeping an eye on complex emergent system change.  We had a fascinating day, but it was hard to come to conclusions about KPIs or management information to gather which would be meaningful in helping the team decide what to do, or in helping the organisation decide whether to keep an area of work going.  So much would come down to professional judgement, trust and even intuition.

And the question arises for individual change agents, as I have seen over the course of all my work in independent practice: am I doing the right things? is change happening fast enough, far enough, deep enough, wide enough?  This is one of the four tensions which were explored in my paper for the EABIS Colloquium in 2008.

Frameworks, checklists, dance moves

In the training, we are using some great frameworks and checklists to help conceptualise the choices and possibilities which stakeholders are faced with, when exploring collaboration.

We have a spectrum of collaborative working, from information sharing to full mainstreaming of the shared compelling outcome in both (all) the collaborating organisations.

We have a two-by-two matrix plotting whether, for a given compelling outcome, the organisation in question can accomplish it alone or can only do it with others; against whether there are any 'others' who want to collaborate to achieve that outcome.

We have guidance on what to think about when setting up a 'holding group' to keep an overview of the collaborative work.

At some point this will come into the public domain and I'll add links.

And we also know, from experience and the writings of others, that sometimes all you can do is put in place the conditions, hold a process lightly and then wait.  (Or stumble forward.)

If not me, then who? Leadership and sustainable development

Holding out for a hero

We’re in a hole and we’re not making headway on the huge challenges that face us as a species and as a society.  Our so-called leaders shy away from action which isn’t incremental and easy.  We’re caught in a web of interlocking dependencies shoring up the status quo.  And meanwhile environmental limits are being breached every way we turn.  Why doesn’t somebody DO SOMETHING?

But hang on, what if we are the people we’ve been waiting for?

We, too, can be tempered radicals, positive deviants or social intrapreneurs – different labels for essentially the same ambiguous role: change makers on the inside of our organisation or community, wherever this may be.

This antidote to ‘great man’ leadership is explored in two books: The Positive Deviant (Parkin) helps you prepare and plan, Leadership for Sustainability (Marshall et al) is an edited collection of tales from fellow travellers, shared with a degree of honesty and openness which is unexpected outside the safety of a coaching conversation.

Who will show leadership?

Both books rightly assert that leadership can come from anywhere.  The leader may be the boss, but leadership is something any of us can practice.  And that’s lucky, because we need whole systems to change, not just individual organisations.  And systems don’t have a boss.  Leadership is necessarily distributed throughout the system, even if some people have more power than others.

Parkin’s positive deviant is someone who does the right thing

despite being surrounded by the wrong institutions, the wrong processes and stubbornly uncooperative people”.

They work to change the rules of the game.  Rather than waiting for stepping stones to appear they chuck in rocks, building a path for others as they go.

Effective leadership comes from surprising places within hierarchical structures, and can arise in situations where there isn’t any formal organisation at all.  This makes the positive deviant quite close to the tempered radical, yet Meyerson's work is a surprising omission from Parkin's index and bibliography.

Marshall et al see leadership

“as much [in] the vigilante consumer demanding to know where products have come from as [in] the chief executive promoting environmentally aware corporate practices.”

So none of us is off the hook.

What kind of leaders do we need?

If we are all in a position to show leadership, which qualities do we need to hone, to help us be really good at it?

Parkin is clear that we need to be ethical and effective.

Ethical

As Cooper points out in one of the chapters of Leadership for Sustainability, the scale of the transformation implied by how bad things are now means that doing things right is not enough: we need to do the right things.

It is not enough to show leadership merely in the service of your own organisation or community. With sustainability leadership the canvas is all humanity and the whole planet (All Life On Earth including Us, as Parkin puts it).  Regular readers of this blog, and participants on the Post-graduate Certificate in Sustainable Business will know that this is one of the distinctions I make between 'any old organisational change' and 'organisational change for sustainable development'.  See the slide 22 in the slide show here for more on this and other tensions for sustainability change makers.

To do this, the Positive Deviant has a ‘good enough’ understanding of a range of core sustainability information and concepts, and Parkin summarises a familiar set of priority subjects.  Less familiar are the snippets of sustainability literacy from classical antiquity which liven things up a bit: Cleopatra’s use of orange peel as a contraceptive and Plato’s observations of local climatic changes caused by overenthusiastic logging.

If you already know this big picture sustainability stuff, you may feel you can safely skip Parkin’s first, third and fourth section.  Not so fast.  I read these on the day DCLG published its risible presumption in favour of sustainable development.  DCLG’s failure to mention environmental limits and the equating of sustainable development with sustainable building is a caution: perhaps people who might be expected to have a good understanding of sustainability should read this section, whether they think they need it or not!

Effective

We need to understand the kinds of problems we’re facing.  Parkin offers use Grint’s useful sense-making triad to understand different kinds of problems which need different approaches:

  • tame (familiar, solvable, limited uncertainty),
  • wicked (more intractable, complex, lots of uncertainty, no clear solutions without downsides) and
  • critical (emergency, urgent, very large) problems.

The problems of unsustainability are very largely wicked (e.g. breaking environmental limits), and some are critical (e.g. extreme weather events).

Complex, uncertain and intractable situations require experimentation and agility, according to Marshall et al.  Parkin echoes this:

“By definition, we’ve not done sustainable development before ... so we are all learning as we go.”

Marshall et al go further:

“we doubt if change for sustainability can often be brought about by directed, intentional action, deliberately followed through.”

Superficial change may result, but not systemic transformation.  So leadership demands that we embrace uncertainty and release control.  This is pretty much what I'm trying to articulate here, so you'd expect me to agree. I do.

Parkin is dismissive of understandings of leadership in the context of chaos or distributed systems.  She may be right that it is a perverse choice to lead in this way if you are within an organisation which functions well in a predictable external context.  But as we have seen, leadership is most urgently required in situations which are much less simple than this, where there isn’t an obvious person with a mandate to be 'the leader'.  Dispersed leadership is a more accurate description of reality and a more practical theory in these situations.  There are some well-thought of organisational consultants and theorists worth reading on this.  For example Chris Rodgers and Richard Seel have both influenced my thinking.  AMED's Organisations&People journal regularly carries great articles if you want to explore this side of things.

From the installation of secret water-saving hippos in Cabinet Office (Goulden in Leadership for Sustainability) to John Bird setting up the Big Issue or Wangari Maathai founding of the "deliciously subversive" Green Belt Movement (some of Parkin’s choices as Positive Deviant role models), the reader can’t help but be personally challenged: how do I compare, in my leadership?  Am I ethical? Am I effective?

How will we get them?

How can we make ourselves more effective as leaders, where-ever we find ourselves?   How can we help others to show leadership?

These questions bring us to the educational and personal development aspect of these books.

Education and training

Leadership for Sustainability is a collection of personal stories gleaned from people who have been through the MSc in Responsibility and Business Practice at the University of Bath’s School of Management (succeeded by Ashridge Business School’s MSc in Sustainability and Responsibility and the MA in Leadership for Sustainability at Lancaster University School of Management).  Parkin designed Forum for the Future’s Masters in Leadership for Sustainable Development.  So you can expect that both books have something to say about how we educate our future leaders.

Parkin dissects the ways business schools have betrayed their students and the organisations they go on to lead.  Unquestioningly sticking to a narrow focus of value, not understanding the finite nature of the world we live in, and avoiding a critique of the purpose of business and economy, by and large they continue to produce future leaders with little or no appreciation of the crash they are contributing to.

Marshall and her colleagues have shown leadership in this field, using a Trojan horse approach by setting up their MSc in the heart of a traditional business school, and seeding other courses.  Positive deviance in practice!

Personal development

Formal training aside, we can all improve our sustainability leadership skills.

Parkin argues that as well as having a ‘good enough’ level of sustainability literacy, Positive Deviants need to practice four habits of thought.  These are:

  • Resilience – an understanding of ecosystems, environmental limits and their resilience, rather than the personal robustness of the change maker.
  • Relationships – understanding and strengthening the relationships between people, and between us and the ecosystems which support us.
  • Reflection – noticing the impact of our actions and changing what we do to be more effective, as a reflective practitioner.
  • Reverence – an awe for the universe of which we are a part

Action research

Of those four habits of thought, reflection is the one closest to the heart of Marshall’s Leadership for Sustainability approach.

Marshall, Coleman and Reason are committed to an action research approach, seeing it as

“an orientation towards research and practice in which engagement, curiosity and questioning are brought to bear on significant issues in the service of a better world.”

In her chapter, Downey reminds us of the ‘simple instruction at the heart’ of action research

“take action about something you care about, and learn from it.”

Marshall et al tell us that action research was central to the structure and tutoring on their MSc.  I have to confess to being unclear about the distinctions between action inquiry, action research and action learning.  Answers in the comments section, please!

Marshall et al’s action learning chapters are useful to anyone involved in helping develop others as managers, coaches, consultants, teachers, trainers and so on – required reading, in fact, for those wrong-headed business schools which Parkin criticises so vehemently.

The power of the action research approach shines through in the collection of twenty-nine stories, which made this book – despite the somewhat heavy going of the theoretical chapters – the most compelling sustainability book I’ve read in a long time.  People have taken action about things they care about, and they have learnt from it.

Their stories demonstrate that we encourage people to show leadership in part by allowing them to be humble and to experiment, not by pretending that only the perfect can show leadership.  The stories do not trumpet an approach or sell us a technique. They are travellers’ tales for people who’ll see themselves in the narrative, and be inspired and comforted by it.

What does it feel like, to be this kind of leader?

Does this kind of leader sound like you yet?  It could be – anyone can show leadership.  But perhaps you’re sceptical or looking for a reason why it can’t be you?  It sounds like a lot of hard work and there’s no guarantee of success.

Marshall and her colleagues on the MSc course have evidently created a safe space for people to reflect about their doubts and uncertainties as well as their hopes and insights.  Chapters including this kind of personal testimony from people like Gater, Bent and Karp are intriguing, dramatic and engaging.

Karp’s story about food procurement shows difference between action learning approach and leader as hero – she’s as open about the set-backs as the successes.

I instantly recognised Bent’s description of holding professional optimism with personal pessimism, and many people I know have had that same conversation: wondering where their bolt-hole will be, to escape the impacts of runaway climate change.

Gater’s story in a brilliantly honest account of his work within a mainstream financial institution, moving a certain distance and then coming up against a seemingly insurmountable systemic challenge.  In a model of authentic story-telling, he describes tensions I have heard so many organisational change agents express.  He talks about visiting his colleagues ‘in their world’ and inviting them to visit him in his.  At the end of his story, the two worlds remain unreconciled,

“but it was okay – I had done what I could do as well as I believe I could have done it, and that had to be enough.”

Concluding

Both books start from the premise that we can’t wait for others to show leadership – we need to show leadership from where we are.

But we know that’s hard: Downey reminds us that

“…those who protect the status quo get rewarded for the inaction that slows down change, while disturbers-of-the-peace who send warning signals are disparaged, demoted or dismissed.”

But for her that’s not an excuse to hang back:

“we are not too small, and there is no small act. Either way we shape what happens.”

Transparency alert: Penny Walker is an Associate of Forum for Future, of which Sara Parkin is a Founder Director.  Penny has also been a visiting speaker on the MSc in Responsibility and Business Practice run by Judi Marshall, Gill Coleman and Peter Reason, as well as being a tutor on what might be seen as a competitor course, the Postgraduate Certificate in Sustainable Business run by the Cambridge Programme for Sustainability Leadership in conjunction with Forum for the Future.

A shorter version of this review was first published in Defra's SDScene, here.

"Engaging Emergence" - first impressions

I was lucky enough to be sent a copy of Peggy Holman's new book, Engaging Emergence. Many readers will know Peggy as one of the authors of The Change Handbook, along with Tom Devane and Steven Cady. I read it in bursts, and every chapter has something comforting and challenging in it. Peggy asks

"What if tensions inspired curiosity? What if we knew how to express our anger, fear, or grief so that it contributed to something better?"

There's so much anger, fear and grief in conversations about ecosystem collapse.  I'd love it if that negative emotion could be composted into the fertile soil where new things grow.  There are positive reframings of disturbance and disruption.

I relished the permission she gives to let go of the things which bore or scare us, but which we do out of a misplaced sense of duty, and to embrace the aspects of the system which we are really interested in:

"Take responsibility for what you love as an act of service."

I am developing some training on collaboration at the moment, and this exhortation to hold what's important to you, whilst also deeply hearing what's important to other people will become a theme, I'm sure.

Collaborative writing

An interesting footnote on why I was sent a copy: Peggy wrote the book as a blog, and invited anyone who wanted to post comments.  Because I interacted with this, I was offered a copy.  Fascinating peer review process and marketing wheeze rolled up together.  The blog (now inactive) is here and the list of all those who helped out is here.

http://strategicengagement.webs.com/

A-Z of CSR - change management

A while back, that unstoppable author on CSR Wayne Visser invited me to write an entry on change management for the updated 2010 edition of his A-Z of Corporate Social Responsibility. What a great opportunity!  Not having a very clear picture of the readership, I began by justifying the inclusion of the topic.

Some businesses are very good at CSR. Others find it a struggle or are only just beginning. If you want to improve an organisation, then you want to change it. Sometimes the scale of improvement which environmental champions or others want to see is quite large. So far-reaching organisational change may be desired.

What do we know about how organisations change, and how organisational change can be managed - or catalysed and steered?

The article goes on to contrast ideas about planned organisational change with perspectives which see change as an emergent phenomenon.  It also looks at what changes, when an organisation changes, drawing on Schein's three levels of culture.

And as you'd expect, there are signposts to some practical advice.

What did I miss?

If I'm asked to do an update for a future edition, what changes should I make to the article?

Further reading

You can buy a copy here (NB Amazon don't seem to be able to distinguish this 2010 edition from the previous edition).

I've also posted a slide show which develops some of these thoughts, which you can reach via this blog entry.

Multi-stakeholder collaboration - some headline sources

This blog entry is written for a very specific reason: I've just advised a group of people to look at my blog for initial sources on multi-stakeholder collaboration... but reviewing the blog I realise that it'll be quite hard to find the things I mean, and some of them I haven't even written about yet! So, especially for them - and for you, dear other readers - here's a quick brain dump of key sources and ideas which I think form a good set of starting points, mostly from my own experience.  Which means that if you have other great resources to tell people about, please do post them in the comments box.

Examples

There are some really interesting examples from the UK of the Environment Agency spending quite a lot of time and resources thoughtfully engaging in conversations with communities and other stakeholders when considering flood defences and coastal erosion risk.  For example, Shaldon and Medmerry [transparency alert - I worked on the Medmerry project] where engagement with stakeholders was carefully planned so that people could influence the decisions which the project team was making as the plans developed. Both schemes are ongoing.  See for example this report from the UK's Sustainable Development Commission which includes Shaldon as an example, and this short case study from the Environment Agency on Shaldon.  A search using 'environment agency', shaldon, stakeholder and 'liaison group' will bring up other interesting views on the engagement approach and its success.There's a bit more about the EA's ground-breaking work in this area in this article on DAD/EDD.

Another place-specific collaborative approach is described in this article "Human Systems Intervention And The Natural Step" by Jenny Sardone & Magdalena Szpala, first published in AMED's Organisations and People journal. I believe that it's not available electronically, but I'm trying to chase down an e-version so I can link to it.

Much better known are the FSC and the MSC - now well-established multi-stakeholder organisations which tried to 'get the whole system in the room' to work out credible consensus-based criteria for what might be considered sustainable management of forest and marine resources.  They have had varying degrees of success over the years in getting buy-in from all the different interests (environmental, social, economic). I wrote about the MSC a few years ago, an article called plenty more fish in the sea.   Current examples include WWF-UK's Tasting the Future, Forum for the Future's work on tourism, and CPSL's work on both climate and insurance. Some of these have crystalised into organisations, others are more fluid than that: fellow travellers collaborating with intention.

Theories, techniques and patterns

Fascinating to ponder on what the circumstances are which bring about authentic whole-system engagement, and what you have to do to get the right people in the room in the first place, and then to keep up the momentum. The best resource I know of at the moment on this is Peggy Holman's Engaging Emergence.  But I'm sure there are lots of others: please help me collect them by posting your favourites in the comments box.

Favourite techniques which can help include World Cafe, Open Space Technology and Future Search. I've blogged about the first big Tasting the Future meeting here, which combined a number of techniques.

SDC resources on collaboration, dialogue, engagement

Since its demise, it's really hard to find the engagement resources on the SDC's website. So here are some direct links to some of them:

  • SDC's response to National Framework for Greater Citizen Engagement (2008)
  • Final report on the SDC's Supplier Obligation stakeholder and public engagement process "Household Energy from 2011", with a description of process and findings.  There are links to other documents about this process here. [Transparency alert - I worked on the Supplier Obligation project.]
  • An independent evaluation report about the SDC's Engagement in Tidal Power process, which brought together stakeholders and the public to think about criteria and issues in harnessing power from the tides.
  • The groundbreaking and really rather wonderful (for process geeks) guidance on designing engagement, published by the SDC but drawing on pioneering work done by InterAct Networks (Lindsey Colbourne, Lynn Wetenhall, Jeff Bishop, Richard Harris and others) and developed through practitioners at the Environment Agency among others. This work continues, for example through work Sciencewise-ERC has done with DECC.
  • Some specific gems from this guidance include 'engagement and the policy making cycle' and a 'typology of engagement' and some definitions of different kinds of engagement. [More transparency - I work regularly with Sciencewise-ERC and as of 2011 am a Director of InterAct Networks]

Add your wisdom

This has been a very rapid post, and most of the examples and ideas are those which I'm personally familiar with. There must be lots of others, including some great compilation resources. Please use the comments space to link to your favourites and to critique what I've posted here.

 

What does sustainability mean to your organisation?

When the new editor of the environmentalist, Paul Suff, asked me to write a kind of 'how to' article on understanding what sustainability means to an organisation, it took me some time to figure out how to make it fit into a two-page article. I'm pleased with the overall framework, and the questions which it seems to all boil down to:

  • What's the best thing we can do?
  • What's the best way we can do it?
“Ask yourself what sustainability means for your organisation, because finding the answer is one of the biggest contributions you can make to building a sustainable future.  
When you ask what sustainability means for your organisation, you are effectively asking: “what’s the best thing we can do?” and “what’s the best way we can do it?”.  These questions get to the heart of the organisation’s purpose and activities, daring us to reinvent them for the world of tomorrow, where the purpose responds perfectly to the environmental and social context and is delivered with the best possible impacts.  You will find the answers in conversations with other people: colleagues, critics and stakeholders”

See what you think: access a pdf of the article here.

This is the first edition of the environmentalist under its new editorship, and you can access the whole mag for a limited time here.

Creative Commons - what's your experience?

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!

Penny

Have you got what it takes?

Every day in every way I'm getting better and better. But how would we know?  My latest 'engaging people' column looks at different ways of assessing sustainability leaders: our strengths and our areas to build on.  First published in 'the environmentalist' , IEMA's magazine.

You may also be interested in this survey, which explores your experiences of being a "sustainable development change agent" trying to transform an organisation.  The survey is part of my research for a forthcoming chapter in a book on organisational change and sustainability, due to be published by Greenleaf in 2011.

NB the survey is now closed.

Update, Dec 2010

Some interesting thoughts on leadership, from Future Savvy and The Futures Company.   What are the essential and evolving aspects of leadership, in our changing world?

On being an organisational change agent for sustainability: survey

I have posted a survey for organisational change agents, as part of my research for a forthcoming chapter in a book on organisational change and sustainability, published by Greenleaf in 2012. Please note that the survey is now closed.  The paper can also be accessed here.

If you want to dive into the detail, here is a pdf of the full responses.

Thanks for collaborating!

Penny

Breaking the Ice

Here are three great ice breakers for meetings, as described in a recent column in the environmentalist.  They are:

  • what we have in common;
  • human bingo;
  • getting to know you.

NB the photo used to illustrate the article is not a meeting set-up I would recommend. And what's with all those tissues...?

Use, adapt, enjoy, tell me how it goes, and warm things up a bit.

Making change in your organisation

Distilling practical experience and really helpful theory, the 2006 Change Management for Sustainable Development practitioner is my modest contribution to helping sustainability professionals harness the insights from organisational development, change mangement and behaviour change. It also features blank spaces for you to make your own notes, so it's as much like a conversation as I could make a paper-based book.  And there are downloadable worksheets on IEMA's website, it you want to run workshop sessions using some of the exercises.

Update

I'm delighted that people have found it helpful, and that - for example - it's been drawn on in subsequent IEMA practitioner guides like this one on climate change.

What's your route through the change journey?

One of the things we do at the one-day Change Management training workshop is to look through a decision tree (aka flow chart) to see which approach to change might be most effective, given the starting point of each person on the course. Questions to ask yourself include:

  • what's my mandate?
  • what is the stated position of my senior team / Board, and do they know what they've signed up to?
  • how much of an appetite is there amongst my colleagues?

The flow diagram is explained in this article, first published in the environmentalist.

The next workshop is on 20th July in Leeds - why not book to join us?

Jaw jaw on nanotechnology, hybrid embryos and climate-busting communities

There's a part of the UK's business ministry, BIS, which provides expert guidance on public dialogue, as well as promoting and supporting dialogue projects.  The Sciencewise Expert Resource Centre has supported dialogues on a wide range of science and technology subjects, including nanotechnology, hybrid embryos and how to make the shift to low-carbon energy sources. There's a set of principles to guide people who are setting up a dialogue, so they can keep it open and multi-directional.  Crucially, there needs to be a policy 'owner' in Government who will use the outcomes of the dialogue to help form policy.

Plenty of case studies are available on the Sciencewise-ERC website.  Since every project has to be independently evaluated, there are also evaluation reports.  And there's a team of Dialogue and Engagement Specialists (I'm part of this team) to advise.

Find out more in this article I wrote for the environmentalist, published in June 2010, "Wise up! Engaging the public in science and technology".

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.