Conversations for Change 2017, London

Conversations for Change 2017, London

On Saturday 11th November we ran an Open Space workshop, designed to unlock the passion for change in the room and stimulate diverse conversations about the difference we can make in the world.  We covered such a lot of ground in just a few hours!



In a conversation on scalable and sustainable change, we talked about how to make organisational change effective.  We noted how we can tend to overemphasize behaviour when we should really be considering the systems and environment that shape the way that we are able to work.  What would small but scaleable steps towards organisational change look like?

A conversation on regeneration in poor areas focused on what forms of support fledgling social enterprises need in order to become viable businesses or organisations in their own right.  Examples were given of enterprises passionately trying to serve their communities but face impossible obstacles and costs, and appear to receive little concrete support from local authorities.  How can we encourage local authorities to respect local social enterprises more?  How could such support be enshrined in law or policy?

A number of topics on consumer behaviour were grouped together, looking at changing perceptions of electric cars, how to eliminate plastic and become a “Consumption Warrior”.  We discussed how innovative alternatives, such as the electric car, are in theory more environmentally friendly but are such alternatives truly beneficial and sustainable?  We considered where the need to consume comes from and how it is influenced by advertising and the media, creating a culture in which unlimited consumption is unquestioned.  We suggested that education, training and information could be key in changing mindsets and consumer behaviour – and wondered if a product in the style of a Fitbit could have a similar impact on consumer behaviour as such devices have done on attitudes towards health and wellbeing.

We looked at different forms that education can take in a conversation on what a holistic education system would encompass.  We talked about the importance of ensuring that the child’s needs and abilities are at the centre of any learning, including ways to navigate through learning by their interests and include practical skills as well as traditional academic subjects.  We also wondered how compatible alternatives to mainstream education are with modern life as we know it – from fitting in with or offering alternatives to standardised testing, to whether it will be possible to achieve your career aspirations with an alternative background.

So what would a new definition of success look like?  To answer this question we wondered what definitions of success we think we are working to, and where do these come from.  We acknowledged that to many of us success is defined as having money and ability to consume, to have more than or achieved a higher status than our neighbours or friends.  We worry about how well we are doing as individuals, with our own needs and those of our families our highest priority.  Yet we each recognise that we have other values that we would rank with higher importance such as developing ourselves to our greatest potential, making a meaningful contribution to society, giving greater importance to collective concerns and the common good, and considering what impact we can have on each other’s happiness, peace, security and future.  We realise that it is important to identify our own motivations and definitions of success, and be clear about when we might be adopting someone else’s definition.  We should also acknowledge the story we tell ourselves about how hard work = success when really so much success is about opportunity, luck and circumstance.

The recent #MeToo campaign is just one example of how we can start to see invisible illness – those conditions or experiences we are living with that have a great impact on our sense of ourselves and our possibilities in the world.  Whether it is living with mental health issues, addiction problems or surviving trauma, for instance, it is hard to shake the stigma that can come with a label and with being open and honest about who we are.  We need greater awareness and we need to change mindsets about how we each personally have value, and that living with our illnesses or imperfections should be normalised.

A group convened to discuss how to reconcile power and sexuality asked how can we create a gentler world? Is it possible to be powerful without abusing our sexuality?  If we lived in a gentler world, how would our behaviour change?  We examined definitions of power, how we define masculine and feminine qualities, and how expressions of power differ between the sexes.  In respecting ourselves and our own inherent qualities, we can be in a place where we can truly respect others, and explore the notion of power with rather than power over.   

What are the elements of truly human centred organisations?  We imagined organisations that recruit for individual strengths more than necessary competence, where appraisals focus on your personal development rather than your weaknesses, and diversity is embraced in all aspects – from the makeup of the workforce and valuing the different roles we play, through to creating a suitable environment for different needs.  But we also talked about the reality of human bias: an example was given of an automated recruitment process in which the first few stages of screening are not done by a human.  The result of this was that the candidates interviewed became much more diverse – so we should not overlook the role of systems and processes to give all humans a voice.  Similarly, attention should be paid to the leadership style necessary to create a truly human centred environment and how to achieve a mandate from the entire team.

A conversation about how we can improve our self-awareness through practices such as meditation and yoga acknowledged how our inner reality reflects our outer reality.  If we believe that we attract the world that we find ourselves in through our thought patterns and behaviours, think of the power that we have to affect external change by changing internally first.  Practicing a discipline can help you achieve levels of self-awareness and insight that we might otherwise not notice or pay attention to.

We talked a lot about the idea of “community” throughout the day, and this was examined in detail in a conversation titled “Everybody needs Somebody”.  Reflecting on our own experiences of community, and the memories we have of what our neighbourhoods were like in our childhoods, we considered how it is so easy to become and to feel isolated and lonely.  In particular vulnerable groups such as the elderly or those living with illness are unable to forge the same relationships or play the same role in their community as they used to, and our children are unable to play and adventure as freely as we were able to in the past.  If a community is built by sharing stories, skills and stuff – then what do we need more of?  Examples include things like repair cafes and skill sharing workshops, collaborative consumption schemes, facilitating interactions between children and elderly or helping vulnerable people find connection.

How are we going to meet the energy needs of the future?  We feel strongly that renewables are the way of the future but we might need bridging technologies.  We need to invest in innovation and offer rewards for adopting new technologies such as schemes to incentivise use of solar panels, biomass boilers, the sustainable “Fairphone” or floor tiles that gather kinetic energy from footfall.  Individually we can continue to minimise our own impact through use of devices such as the smart meter, which tracks your home energy use throughout the day, and influence our friends and colleagues on more sustainable ways of living.

A case study of the problems facing the Sound Lounge in Tooting was examined in a conversation on how to have a voice when gentrification is killing community. Business is business and the law is the law, and we can find that values we hold and share and believe can easily be swept aside in the interest of money and the expression of power, no matter the good that you are doing.  When you find that raising 7000 complaints is not enough to affect to change, when you are asked to be silent because you cannot be helped if you are publicly disclosing the reality of what is happening to you – what can you do?  We discussed ways in which you can draw on the support of your community, the power of networks to help find new ways to proceed and how shared experience can allow for greater insight.

The NHS continues to face insurmountable problems with its perpetual lack of funding and an over-burdening population, so we asked how we can support change in our care system and how taking a holistic view should be part of that.  We acknowledge the importance of preventive care for long-term health and taking responsibility for our own health and that of people we care for.  Our health and care systems continue to feel disjointed and disconnected, and only exist for us when we become ill or vulnerable in some way.  If health and wellbeing were truly at the centre of our thinking and our policies, what choices would exist for us and what sort of community could grow out of this?

And finally, we discussed the idea of “Servant Leadership” – a style of leadership that values a self-managing “bottom up” approach rather the traditional “top down” dictatorial style where we assume that someone ranking higher than us knows best by default.  Such a role is that of an enabler, facilitator, supporter – listening without judgement or the need to offer advice, allowing problems to surface and then empowering others to find the solutions, thus promoting creativity, evolution and innovation, and the distribution of power.  What kind of leader do you want to be?

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