20 January 2013

Exploring Community Resilience

This blog has been dormant since 2008. However, the work it catalysed came to fruition as part of my work with Carnegie UK Trust.

In 2011, a publication called 'Exploring Community Resilience' brought stories of community resilience practitioners across the UK and Republic of Ireland to life alongside a review of resilience theory from many disciplines.

The book is free to download from www.bit.ly/comresilience-download

18 September 2009

Community Resilience Toolkits...

Beginning to collate toolkits for building resilient communities - please let me know what else is available!

Resilience Workbook Wiki (Stockholm)
Community Resilience Workbook (Canada)
Building Resilience in Rural Communities (Queensland, Australia)
Transition Handbook (UK)

16 September 2009

FierySpirits resilience podcast no. 1

For the last year or so I've been working on developing a social network with Carnegie UK Trust, all about building community resilience. Here's a sample of some of the content including the first of what will be a series of 'resilience' podcasts generated by and for this online community - check us out at www.fieryspirits.com

01 June 2009

Back to the Blog

I've taken a long break from blogging - over-long. Two good reasons - the birth of my son, Eshan, and a period of intense work with Carnegie UK Trust establishing a rural resilience-building community of practice. I will return to these topics later.

In the meantime, I've been invited to contribute to a potentially powerful new open learning initiative focussed on climate change. Here's a sample...

Roots of Resilience - how can I connect with my place’s deeper story to ground my work for community resilience?

Step narrative and Resources

Effective resilience work of the future may find its potency significantly enhanced if it can harness and recover indigenous intelligences and sensibilities of place – work that helps communities to connect with the cultural, linguistic and natural history of their places. This practice of aligning our rural development work with the natural flows of places represents a tuning into our human ecology. This step is a taste of the work of the Centre for Human Ecology (www.che.ac.uk) and an emerging movement of community resilience which seeks to connect technical adaptations and rationalistic attempts to induce ‘behaviour change’ with a transformative approach more deeply rooted in liberating the potential of our human spirit, by ensuring our feet and planted firmly in the ground.

How to do this step:
Read the narrative below, and then go for a walk of at least half an hour. Find somewhere to stop where it’s not too busy or noisy. A city park is as good as a country lane.

Bring the focus of your attention to your breath, and to the place where your feet touch the ground through your shoes (if you’re wearing them).

Slow your breath and allow yourself to take a five minute daydream into the history of the place you now stand. Start in the present, and work backwards – as far as you are able – gently conjuring a sense of how this place might have been in the past, and of the many human hands that have shaped it. Perhaps, at an almost incredulous stretch, you can imagine the first foragers arriving as the last ice age abated... or as continents collided? Pause briefly in that ancient spot, before moving forward through time again.

Allow images and feelings to arise that may help you to connect with the human creativity that has helped to shape this place over time, in response to different times, technologies and challenges. Allow yourself to feel on the brink of a new set of challenges that require us to tune as fully as we are able into the inherent resilience of this place and of human community at its best. Allow yourself to sense life’s self-regenerating capacity to break open narrow human-centredness. Gently begin to make the transition out of the daydream – take five more belly breaths. Lean forward, allowing gravity to inform your first step into a more resilient future. When you get home, take a risk to share something of your experience with a trusted friend.

Maybe they’d like to come along with you next time? Tomorrow, same time?

Narrative: Restoring resilience: remembering the roots
One language dies with its last speaker about every two weeks, taking with it the accumulated history and knowledge of that culture’s reciprocal relationship with the land
- Maurice Carder, quoted in Resurgence no. 250

Resilience is not a new concept. Many indigenous peoples have succeeded in living in healthy relationship with their territory across the larger part of humanity’s colonisation of our planet.
An indigenous perspective sees all creation as sacred. This is a worldview that doesn’t spell out a concept of ‘resilience’ because alignment with sustaining life’s rich diversity, being radically in tune with Nature, is the source wisdom of all indigenous knowing:

a quest for harmony between humans, the spirit, world, Nature and society… Indigenous and traditional peoples frequently view themselves as guardians and stewards of Nature… direct links with the land are fundamental, and obligations to maintain these connections form the core of individual and group identity

- Darrell Posey, ibid.

Indigenous peoples’ struggle for survival has led them to form powerful international movements that are, today, finding voice to communicate a consciousness of resilience to a dominating world culture that, in their eyes, has forgotten the essense of what it means to be alive:

“We are trying to save the knowledge that the forest and this planet are alive – to give it back to you who have lost the understanding”
- Bepkororoti Paiakan, a Kayapo chief from Brazil quoted in Resurgence, Ibid.

These movements have won a UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (2007) which now enshrines rights to “strengthen [indigenous peoples] distinctive spiritual and material relationship with their lands, territories, waters and coastal seas”.

Indigenous people are not just those living in far-off forests. The Scottish Crofters’ federation have proposed that Scottish Crofters be recognised as an indigenous people by the UN. They make the case that, like the Sami, crofters share a distinct cultural and linguistic connection to the land …

As a Gaelic speaker, Iain Crichton Smith was intensely aware of the recession in his native language and of the threat to that culture's well-being. In his book Towards the Human (1996) he says Gaelic must not be allowed to die:

To be an islander is to inhabit real space on a real earth.... He has his proverbs, his philosophies, the cemeteries and cradles of his hopes: his tasks and his loves: his language. Behind the judgment made on him by the bureaucrat is the idea that his world is in some way irrelevant…

if there is no Gaelic left, will not the islander live in a disappearing landscape, as an Englishman would if his language were slowly to die?
… If he were to wake one morning and look around him and see "hill" and not "cnoc," would he not be an expatriate of his own land? For we are born inside a language and see everything from within its parameters: it is not we who make language, it is language that makes us.

…To live is to be conscious of a history… the possibility of a future means that the children must grow up in a world that they recognise as being as important as any other ... It requires a government that is concerned for all its people including those who speak a language that they do not understand.
Crichton Smith (1996)

The connection between a people, a place, and a language might be said to be a deep driver of the Scottish land reform movement and the bedrock of a cultural resilience that is driving some of the most potent innovation toward rural sustainability in Britain today.

Building on our example, the vibrant cultural renaissance in the Highlands can be seen, as Alastair McIntosh suggests in his poem The Forge, as a creative response to the fear that central belt ‘bureaucrats’ will rationalise spending without appreciating that it is exactly the creative energy of Highland communities that is showing the rest of the UK how low carbon, culturally effervescing community-based resilience might look and feel:

The Forge
What is the point of land reform
so that remote communities
can be preserved
as threatened cultures
at a massive social cost
to the nation as a whole

… [we] stoke the glowing hearth anew to smelt and skim and pour
a precious shimmering stream refined by sense of place and ancient lore
… and hammer out the beauty, of the braided crofting way …
which is our greatest export, to this world that’s gone astray…
and that’s the point of land reform
in the politics
of today.
Alastair McIntosh, excerpt from ‘The Forge’,
pub. In The Crofter, No. 73, Dec. 2006, p. 5

It is perhaps easier for Highlanders to sense a connection to indigenous intelligences than those of us living in urban centres where the globalised supermarket has covered all traces of what's been before. However, wherever we live, we are all, in a sense, indigenous to a place, and our long family histories tell something of the story of degrees of alienation from these intelligences over decades, generations or centuries. Is there something alive in us that is able to reconnect to land, to place, and draw strength as we (re)build community resilience for the storms we sense growing ahead?

16 July 2008

Community resilience isn't survivalism

A recent blog from Alex Steffen of worldchanging.org (below) echoes some of the dynamics I've encountered in conversations recently.

One set of conversations goes 'cultivating resilient, localising communities is one key to marrying mitigation and adaptation efforts (or 'prevention' and 'cure' for climate change bound together) - but in ways strongly rooted in starting from community strengths - which is why it is taking off in movements such as transition towns'. My work at Carnegie UK Trust owes much to this kind of analysis.

Others see resilience as old-fashioned; a harking back to times gone by and the 'war spirit', so less helpful because it underplays the critical role of innovation and creativity (and adaptability) in the transitions we are all facing. It's useful to ask at this point whether 'resilience' is a term worth breathing new life into, updating, and advocating as a dynamic, creative and utterly ecological (or compexity/systems-thinking) based approach - and thus very different from a single-stranded 'dig for victory' type message. As John Robb says on his community resilience-focussed blog,
the resilient community isn't a step backwards to 19th Century approaches (survivalism, scarcity, and low productivity), but rather a move in a direction that makes it possible to generate rapid and sustained (as opposed to the relative stasis and irregular progress of the current system) improvements how we live.
Alastair McIntosh, in his excellent new book 'Hell and High Water' (Birlinn), presents a depth critique of how consumerism, nihilism and lack of presence are linked together in blocking us from addressing the root causes of climate change. He ends with a 12-step plan, a theology of hope in the face of the death that already characterises our times. His analysis of consumerism is the clearest and most powerfully written I have come across. The book leaves me wanting more - in particular, for Alastair to meld into his analysis the implications of oil shocks on mass consciousness, and how these may present opportunities to augment his '12 step' plan for climate activism. Broadly the argument is a strong one however - a cancerous material culture can only be transformed by a resurgent spirituality founded in sure values of justice and sustainability. What, then, are the qualities of leadership necessary to cultivate such a shift? And what might be some of the crystallising focus points to galvanise such leadership?

This blog's focus suggests that 'cultivating resilience' is one such focus with great potential to lever profound shifts in consciousness and transformation beyond a monopoly of deadening consumerism. There is already a broad movement working through how this looks in real places. For me, resilience thinking must first be grounded in a resilience practice - that is, a practice of staying present and connecting - in loving relationships with partners, friends, community. Meditation, gardening, improvised music... can all be practices to support this core intention, and which offer powerful grounding as we stay present with the unfolding patterns of disruption and chaos brought by oil, climate and other shocks. These and many similar practices are surely at the heart of creative, life-affirming contribution to the emergence of a global movement such as the one Paul Hawkin describes in Blessed Unrest.

Alex Steffen presents another perspective. Responding in his post to an ardent localiser, Steffen re-emphasises the dangers of sinking into survivalist thinking, likening it to the millenarian cults who dose up on catastrophe as a way of being less than present. I'd suggest that the numbing process that comes with spending too much time in the future (whether it's being terrified or blankly optimistic) is worth looking out for - it can lead to nihilism or radical dislocation from the choices and opportunities of the present. Steffen writes:
I think pretty highly of John Robb. I don't always agree with him -- and sometimes I think he's way off base -- but I think he's really grappling with the new realities of violence, conflict and system instability in our times.

In particular, I find his on-going series of posts on Resilient Community a source of both worry and insight.

First, the insight. John's posts themselves tend to focus on work-arounds for brittle infrastructure, things like smart local networks (sort of the information equivalent of energy smart grids), community scrip and local fabrication. There are some really thought-provoking ideas here, new thinking applied in new ways, many of which fit well with a strategy of increasing neighborhood survivability. The world is getting bumpier, and preparedness, learning and innovation are called for.

But I worry as well about the role these sorts of ideas seem to often end up playing in the public debate. At the very least, I see these sorts of ideas playing into a misinformed understanding of the possibilities of localism, one which has the potential to seriously drain needed energy from efforts to stave off collapse. At the worst, I see it playing into an insane survivalism, one that's quite oblivious to the real nature of big systems failures.

Because, it bears repeating again and again and again, responses based purely on localism and scaling-back can't save us now. We need to remake our material civilization. If we don't do that, no amount of community preparation or personal bunker-building is going to save our bacon. If we don't avoid the tipping points, we're headed into an atmospheric singularity, which will likely involve cascading systems failures and a total inability to meaningfully plan our own lives.

Resilience is a great strategy for making sure our communities are capable of withstanding the bumps we're facing in order to keep generating solutions which can be used to avoid the crash; but if the crash comes, individuals and local communities are not going to be in any position to weather it through their own actions, no matter what they do.

Prevention is the only cure worth talking about here.

01 June 2008

Toward a resilience psychology in response to climate change

The psychology of coming to terms with climate change has attracted more attention in the last few months. It's clear that many existing frameworks - such as the Kubler-Ross model on death and dying - have much to offer us in responding to the enormity of our growing understanding of the collective calamity we face. Many schools of integral and ecological psychology suggest practices of building relationship, love and inner peace that can help cultivate and inner resilience that allows us to more effectively stay present with potentially overwhelming complexity and grief in the face of mass extinction. Increasingly, interpreters of this material are making it more accessible.

One example is a useful article in Energy Bulletin which is prefaced:

Few of us are eager to contemplate, let alone truly face, these looming changes. Just the threat of losing chunks of the comfortable way of life we’re accustomed to (or aspiring to) is a frightening-enough prospect. But there’s no avoiding the current facts and trends of the human and planetary situation. And as the edges of our familiar reality begin to ravel, more and more people are reacting psychologically. A noticeable pattern of behavior is emerging.

We call this pattern the Waking Up Syndrome, and it unfolds in six stages, though not necessarily in any particular order.

As with many approaches, the authors (Sarah Anne Edwards and Linda Buzzell) outline categories of responses which they observe as common in people who progress through denial to active engagement with the almighty scale of the challenge (and opportunity) we collectively face:

Stage 1 Denial - “I don’t believe it” and “It’s not a problem” becomes “Someone will fix it” or “It’s useless”.

Stage 2 'Semi-consciousness' suggests that as evidence mounts around us and the news coverage escalates, we may begin to feel a vague sense of eco-anxiety which we might respond to by misdirecting our anger/sadness toward other things - familiar bug-bears, or media-constructed scapegoats.

Stage 3 - The moment of realization suggests that at some point we may encounter something that breaks through our defenses and brings the inevitability and severity of the implications of our collective problems into full consciousness. "At such moments, suddenly we realize no matter how we try to explain away the changes that are happening, they are and will be accompanied by huge challenges to life as we know it and cause considerable pain and suffering for many, including ourselves and those we love... we begin to understand on a visceral level that the changes taking place will have dramatically unpleasant implications beyond anything we’ve faced in our lifetimes. In fact, we realize many of these uncomfortable changes are already underway and will be growing in coming months and years, affecting most of the things we love and cherish

...Some of us become obsessive newswatchers, documentary filmgoers, internet compulsives or book readers, wanting to know more and more about what’s really happening. Loved ones may think we’ve gone nuts. Spouses may consider divorce; kids may decide mom and dad are hopeless cranks.

The more fragile or vulnerable among us may get depressed or experience panic attacks. If something about this current eco-trauma retriggers earlier traumas in our lives, we may have a Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) reaction. Even the more resilient may throw themselves obsessively into save-the-planet and other activities, soon to become exhausted and weary from trying to do what no one person can."

Stage 4 - A Point of No Return, is a point in the journey into awareness when we realise we cannot pretend our knowledge doesn't matter. It can also be a place of profound aloneness - a "sense of isolation and disconnection we may feel when living in a different world from most of those around us, a world we can no longer escape from, but one few others seem to notice....

...which might lead to despair, guilt, hopelessness, powerlessness.

"Some have suggested that this stage is similar to the traditional grief process, and indeed, this is a time of grieving. But there is a significant difference between this awakening and the normal experience of grief. Grief that occurs after a loss usually ends with acceptance of what’s been lost and then one adjusts and goes on. But this is more like the process of accepting a degenerative illness. It’s not a one-time loss one can accommodate and simply move on. It is a chronic, on-going, permanent situation that will not only not improve, but actually continue to worsen and become more uncomfortable in the foreseeable future, probably for the entire lifetime of most people living today. This is what author James Howard Kunstler calls “The Long Emergency.”"

The authors (and my experience over many years of working through stages of awareness with students at the Centre for Human Ecology), sense that there is a natural unfolding into acceptance, empowerment, and action once through the 'despair' stage.

"As we come to accept the limits of our general powerlessness, we also find the parameters of the power we do have in this strange new situation. We discover we no longer need to resist our current and emerging reality. We don’t need to feel compelled to save the entire world or to hold onto a world that no longer makes sense. We are freed, instead, to pursue what James Kunstler calls “the intelligent response, ” seeking and taking whatever creative, constructive action will best sustain those aspects of life that are truly most important to us in the context of the changes unfolding around us. At this point our curiosity and creativity kick in and we can begin following our natural instincts to find what is both feasible and rewarding to safeguard ourselves, our families, our communities and the planet.

And indeed, growing numbers of people are beginning to respond with a plethora of creative, socially and personally responsible actions along four paths that are similar to those identified by Joanna Macy in her book World as Lover, World as Self: Courage for Global Justice and Ecological Renewal and Richard Heinberg in Peak Everything: Waking up to the Century of Declines."

There are of course many more resources on psychological responses to the global ecological news. Mary-Jayne Rust is an old friend and fast becoming one of the best known eco-psychologists in Britain. See her website for recent talks on the psychology (and eco-psychology) of climate change.

Another approach is that of climatedenial.org, whose most recent post asks "Why do the websites of progressive civil society organisations pay virtually no attention to climate change?".

13 May 2008

An eclectic update

Over the past weeks, internet activity on the theme of resilience has begun to hot up. I have a 'google alert' set to tell me every time someone writes a blog, or creates a web entry, which mentions the term. I also track some relevant blog feeds - such as World Changing and Resillience Alliance - as well as relying on many good friends who are helping to develop thinking on genuinely integrative approaches to cultivating resilience, from local community actions through to state and international level work. This process of sensing the field has also accelerated for me in the last couple of months now I am travelling widely across the UK and Rep. Ireland, connecting with many intersecting networks as I do so.

This entry is really just a list of bullet points of useful resources/ideas that you might find helpful to share:
- The Resillience Alliance held a gathering in April and has many talks up on the net. The presenters are, by and large, thinkers who have been in the field a long while. It would be exciting to find ways to connect this wisdom with the fiery energy of social change/community activist/organisational change folk. [thanks Anna for the link to the WorldChanging blog]

- Christine King has published a research paper on community resilience ... reconnecting people and food, and people with people in Systems Research and Behavioural Science 25, 11-124 (208) [thanks Tony for the paper!]

- Hazel Blears (writing in a Local Government Association report, 2007), Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, affirms that

All my life I've been a firm believer in local activism. My whole political
approach, fashioned on the streets and estates of Salford, is anchored in
localism and devolution. I've seen how genuine empowerment can bring
positive change and build the resilience necessary to prevent problems such
as anti-social behaviour, which left unchallenged will blight communities. I
believe that the best experts, advocates and leaders for local communities
are people within local communities themselves. It's they who know most
about community problems, and they who are best able to provide common sense

Although this analysis falls short of a deeper understanding of the implications of resilience thinking for community development, it's a healthy sign that doors are open to the conversations we all need to be having [thanks Alastair for the quote]

- WWF UK have recently published a report which tackles behaviour change issues in building a resilient society. Essentially, I read this report as advocating opening deliberative spaces where people are able (as Erich Fromm observed so many years ago) to evolve beyond consumerist identities of 'having' toward 'being'... an awakening into care, compassion and insight into the interconnectedness of the web of life and the necessary to respond to the challenge of climate change by complementing the behaviour change tools of the dominant paradigm (social marketing etc.) with the cultivation of 'communities of meaning' and practice such as those that I and many others are involved in facilitating. The report stops short of calling for community development programmes which encourage people to 'unpack' the dynamics of economic growth and consumerism (or perhaps they have yet to adequately connect with this rich tradition?), alongside experiential work (in nature, using meditation, as well as the more hard-headed strategic planning of using power tools to create community ownership of resilience responses...). It does call for increased 'self determination' which I see as exactly the positive, resilience-based commuity of practice agenda we need to be collectively on the road towards.

Over the next months, I'm working on a synthesis paper pulling together the many strands I've begun to track in this blog. In the meantime, look out for new links and update posts like this.

01 March 2008

The Transition Handbook... we all need a copy yesterday...

A review copy of Rob Hopkin's Transition Handbook arrived in the post on Thursday. It's due to be published in mid-March. My advice is to get hold of a copy, as soon as you possibly can; the first print-run is sure to sell out. It's £12.95 in paperback, available from Rob's transition culture website.

The clarity, vision and sheer optimism of the writing in this book is exhilarating. After a framing chapter rehearsing just why 'hydrocarbon twins' of peak oil and climate change mean that the only sane response is to build resilience, and fast, Rob offers a very practical feast of the core skills and strategic thinking that has helped the transition movement explode in the last couple of years across the UK. I have no doubt that this will rapidly become a core skills manual for building community resilience, and a basis for building a rapid movement for social change that will soon reach even the laggards in our institutions and governments.

As I read, I feel very at home - the book uses 'head, heart and hands' sections to move from analysis to understanding the psychology of change to an exuberent exploration of how an 'abundance' mindset can unlock phenomenal collective action - time and again Rob emphasises just what a positive focus on (re)building resilience can achieve. Rob has synthesized (and credits) three decades of pioneering, solutions-based innovators, including some good friends such as Chris Johnstone, whose understanding of the psychology of addiction is summarised comprises chapter 6. Here also are pictures from a 'world cafe' event at a convergence event run by friends at Cultivate Centre, Dublin and a lots of great stories from Totnes and the many other towns that are already well down the transition path...

When Rob says in his book that by the time I read it, the movement will have already grown... I know this is true as there are initiatives in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Grangemouth, Fife and a host more Scottish communities that haven't yet made it onto the transition site or the book. The first Scottish Transition gathering will happen on Friday, 25th July, as part of the Big Tent Festival here in Falkland, Fife, and I'll be playing a role there. For more info, contact Eva.

I am also bringing my sense of the importance of this emerging movement to my new work with the Carnegie UK Trust (see my previous post). As Mark Lynas (author of Six Degrees) says in a quote on the back of the Transition Handbook:
This is much more than a book. It is a manual for a movement. And not just any movement, but one which - in avoiding the civilisational collapse threatened by the twin crises of peak oil and climate change - could prove to be the most important social force humanity has ever seen.
The movement that the transition towns handbook contributes to is already a rising force, worldwide. This is about positive change toward cultivating resilience as perhaps the only sane response to awareness of the precipice we collectively stand upon. Thanks Rob for this gift, and for reminding me of Mary Oliver's poem, The Summer Day:
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

25 February 2008

Cultivating Rural Resilience with Carnegie UK Trust

This blog post is an attempt to update old friends as well as new colleagues a bit about the opportunity to join Carnegie UK Trust as a Facilitator of a Community of Practice to support catalysers of innovative rural development for resilient communities across the UK and Republic of Ireland.

I begin to explore what will be involved, and share a bit about how I'm managing the transition.

In recent blog entries at http://www.community.nickwilding.com/, I've talked of launching two new blogs - one for local friends pioneering a 'Transition Fife' initiative, and this one focussing on how to cultivate resilience more generally. I've published reports from the Rural Leadership Programme and Get Your Voice Heard projects; explored Otto Scharma's 'Theory U' of transformational learning processes; and thought about how consultancy might be conducted with authenticity and integrity, drawing on some thinking from Buddhist Pema Chodron.

As I read back, I notice a pattern running through these posts - which connects to a lot of my work for over ten years. It is an underlying conviction that I'd like to contribute to a massive acceleration of action and learning by couragous souls who, instead of running from the implications of climate change/peak oil/eco-social collapse... are stepping up to the challenge in positive and creative and practical ways. Most recently, I have begun focusing more intently on what it takes to cultivate resilience, in practical ways, through leadership and community development programmes.

Working like crazy across several sectors in the last few years, I have become aware of many allies who are developing a similar analysis and passion - within NGOs, businesses, philanthropic organisations, even Quangos....

Time after time I find myself having conversations peppered with statements like

"we know we need a radical shift; we know nobody else is going to do this for us; we might as well step up the the plate, get courageous, and go for it.... because the time is now, not in ten years ..."

In September 2007, on the back of the emerging success and learning from the Rural Leadership Programme (RLP), I was invited by a key funder of the programme - the Carnegie UK Trust - to facilitate their annual convention of their 'rural action research programme'. We gathered in Aviemore for two days with over a hundred folk, and I wrote a blog entry reflecting on this here.

At that convention, it became clear that a good many of these 'fiery spirits' wanted the Trust to commit to catalyse a 'Community of Practice' (CoP) to support cross-fertilisation, as well as stepping up the policy impact, of our collective inspiration and practical success. The message is that transformation is possible, and in many cases already happening. And that this transformation is about a 'paradigm shift' into an asset-based, ecological and participatory way of getting innovative stuff done. The proof is not in theories but in living examples of inspiring projects that can then tell great stories to decision makers who can upscale the lessons and therefore impact of this new way of working.

The flip side of this message was that too much of this work still remains under the radar (and therefore not well supported) of the 'old paradigm', structures of funding, policy etc. which feel 'stuck' and lagging way behind the excitement of a leading edge of innovation which has some real answers.

The point of a Community of Practice in innovative rural development would therefore be to both support those innovators to connect and learn even faster, as well as catalysing the creation, through rigorous action research, of convincing stories with which to help shift the 'mainstream'.

The Carnegie Trustees responded to this call by making a five-year commitment to resource this Community of Practice, including creating the post of CoP Facilitator. As well as the 'bottom up' action research, the idea is to continue to hone and develop an holistic model of what sustainable, asset-based rural development could look like (being the key output from an extensive Rural Commission of the great and good sponsored by Carnegie over the past five years).

Although I couldn't be sure I'd get the job, I did have a real sense that I could bring a lot to the position and wrote an application (along with my CV) that tried to reflect this. I have pulled out my three summary paragraphs from the application to share here:

I have been focussed for many years on supporting the emergence of resilient, healthy communities in the context of global justice and ecological sustainability. I’m aware that rural communities are diverse and face significant challenges, even before we factor in likely major future shocks from climate change and energy price escalation (due to peak oil etc.). Working across the UK and Ireland will challenge me to learn rapidly about the contextual differences across jurisdictions (most of my work to date has been in Scotland).

I’m convinced that the vision outlined in the accompanying documents around supporting innovation, transformative learning and a genuinely effective community of practice based around ‘third places’ and virtual learning … can succeed by trusting in the positive energy of those ‘fiery spirits’ whose grounded, community-based visions will prove themselves again and again over the coming years. As I have the opportunity to connect with, listen to and have ‘conversations that matter’ with more of these key allies in coming months, the shape, content and culture of what’s needed to support the emerging of a really inspirational CoP (or CoPs) will become clearer.

The prospect of joining Carnegie UK Trust to work at a greater scale that has been possible for me before, within the context of the Trust’s emerging vision for change and the people who are making it happen, bringing my practical experience and skills to the service of rural sustainability innovators across the UK and Ireland… is really exciting and energising.

I went on to describe the substance of some of the ingredients of what I thought could comprise the face to face meetings of an effective community of practice. This is really a summary of ten years' experiements working with grassroots community organisations, as well as creating leadership development programmes for professionals and activists from all sectors. So, my starting advice to myself includes (in no particular order):

  • be crystal clear about the purpose of the Community of Practice, and each event/area of work happening under its umbrella. This includes figuring out what the 'practice' is that folk share, and clarity about the domain (the area) within which we are working;
  • invest in developing culture of mutuality, trust, authenticity and collaboration by evolving guidelines of participation through the evolving process which CoP participants are invited to sign up to;
  • host events where we will actively support the local economy (eg by seeking out locally-owned/run accommodation etc.);
  • find wild places to experience which can help ground everyone in the bigger ecological picture, to help us 'come to our senses';
  • arrange for delicious, local organic food wherever possible, sometimes involving the group cooking for itself (great way to get to know each other);
  • embed action research input and practice opportunities within the programme;
  • use self-organising learning practices where appropriate (for example, 'world cafe' and 'open space')
  • work with conflict both within and outwith the group process, as appropriate;
  • insist on enough time and space (helped by walks in nature etc.) to help participants to slow down and connect meaningfully with each other;
  • collaboratively invite inspiring content/speakers, as well as drawing from the experience of participants themselves;
  • get out and do stuff (eg visit places, offer something back to local hosts);
  • and if at all possible arrange a rockin' ceilidh of music and poems and stories and dancing (any excuse to get the fiddle/guitar out, really).
  • and that's just a start ... the other critical component being to develop simple, attractive on-line ways for folk to stay connected and 'buzzing' between the face-to-face meetings; and my sense is that a raft of new 'web 2' technologies can be called on to support this, from blogging to webcam teleconferencing to 'googledocs' type applications, all of which I've been experimenting with, and which many other organisations and networks are actively developing too.
  • and that's just a starter brainstorm ....

I got an interview for the post in late January. On my way home, I found myself thinking that this would be both inspiring and daunting in equal measure... not something any one person could ever hope to pull off alone... so I'd have to trust in finding allies to work with this project from the very beginning.

Since being offered (and accepting) the job, there's been a huge amount more to think through.

First has been to double check that I understand the scale of the challenge this job entails. Equally importantly has been to double check that I'm confident there is sufficient commitment from Carnegie trustees to genuinely support a much longer-term process of social change work than is usually possible in short-term funding cycles.

Although I arrived with a healthy sceptism that a longer-term perspective would really be possible, borne from years of attempting to prise open such spaces within local government, agencies etc... I'm now convinced that Carnegie trustees genuinely want to make longer-term commitments to chart new waters to catalyse social change, way beyond the old paternalistic funder/funded relationships which have tended to generate unhelpful dependencies, perhaps demoralising more communities than this traditional model of philanthropy ever helped.

Shifting the internal culture is one thing, however; the legacy of being understood as a traditional grant-giver, and stakeholders' associated expectations, will be another significant challenge I imagine. There is plenty to inquire about in to what extent it will be possible to 'facilitate' from a position based within a powerful organisation with a lot of history, even as it is consciously searching to find new ways of investing in it's core purpose of 'changing minds, changing lives'. It will take me some time before I begin to grasp the opportunities and pitfalls of a post that whilst being a step closer to influencing policy, may also take me a step farther away from grounded connection to rural community activism and the levels of direct accountability I'm used to in this work.

I can also see several other challenges ahead as well. This post involves a huge professional learning curve to attempt to work effectively and with integrity across England, Wales, Cornwall, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

It seems helpful to write this publicly here. This blog and others that may evolve as part of the CoP can help to cultivate a degree of transparency about this role and the challenges it throws up. This might help me to genuinely engage with and build trusting relationships with the people and projects who are rightly wary of the traditional dynamics of colonisating 'top down' approaches that all too often, however well-intentioned, can end up appropriating or neutering the democratising energy that is so often the driver of positive change toward community sustainability.

The way through must be to start by connecting consciously with the many folk who are already connected with Carnegie Rural Programme, as well as others who may be tempted to join the CoP. My question will be 'how, exactly, can I be of service'?

As well as beginning to think all this through, I have also been thinking hard about the impacts of this decision on my consultancy business, and with my work with the Centre for Human Ecology.

Turning down the heat on Nick Wilding Consulting

Is a move away from my action research/facilitation consultancy business that has really been taking off was really such a good idea?

Although, in the last year, the business has been growing fast with lots of invitations to work with folk, it's hard to crack the reactive nature of consultancy, which militates against keeping coherent focus in one area to really make an impact. I can bring the aspects of action research consulting I find most rewarding - the face-to-face 'critical friend' mentoring and co-inquiring - into my new role.

I have decided to keep the business on the backburner; there's no need to shut up shop, just turn down the heat for a while. I can honour the commitments I've made to existing clients; and there may be times when I am able to respond to ad hoc invitations. Overall, making a contribution with significantly more coherence than job-by-job work, and the opportunity to work on large scale social and policy change as well is too good to turn down.

An opportunity to re-envision the MSc Human Ecology as I step away

The harder decision, in applying for the post, was about whether I could see myself - if I was successful - stepping away from my work co-running the Masters' degree in Human Ecology for the CHE. This has been and continues to be a place where I've been able to stay connected with many exciting 'leading edges' of sustainability thinking for over a decade; the opportunity to work every year with 15 livewires - including many mature professionals stepping out from work for a year to radically reconsider how to deepen their vocation and become 'servant leaders' for social justice and ecological sustainability - has been a challenging and humbling experience over and over again.... like being in a perpetual learning accelerator machine. In short, CHE still meets my needs for a long-term community of good friends, tough questions, and depth inquiry which I value and want to keep contributing to. It's where I've learned about what a Community of Practice can be, and been my incubator as a facilitator and action researcher.

So, I've re-joined the CHE Board of Directors, and will actively look for opportunities to continue contributing to the MSc as well as thesis supervision where this can add value to my work with Carnegie. As I step away from the central holding role I've played for five years, Im also working with my fellow Directors to facilitate a healthy transition as the course evolves again, opening up space for CHE graduates to step forward in the way I was able to. There is some powerful personal work on letting go connected with this process...

... The long and short of this story is that I will start 'officially' in mid-April 2008. If you are or know a 'fiery spirit' who is grounded and visionary all at once, working away for resilience in rural development, let them know to look out for a new Community of Practice that Carnegie UK Trust is developing... it could be just what they are looking for!

12 December 2007

More resilience thinking

This is an update blog; telling a brief story of further thought-adventures into resilience, helped along by the continuing conversations which I wrote about last week... please, keep connecting...

Cultivating Mindbody Resilience through becoming present

There is now a solid tradition of ecopsychology research which challenges us to connect with the wild - in ourselves, as well in the more-than-human world. A central theme of some of this work is embodiment; becoming present to the extended ways of knowing available as we learn to tune into ourselves as bodies, through which we, in turn, can learn (or re-learn, taking a perspective that honours the indigenous that dwells in our hearts and bones still), to tune into the cosmos, to the feedback systems that we must hear to adapt and survice.

I am greatful to Helen Jeans, a recent graduate from the Centre for Human Ecology, who sent me the following quotes from her ecopsychology work during the course:
The body subverted
Although the contents of the mind develop from the body’s perception of the world a ‘curious inversion’ has taken place in ‘scientific culture’ so that ideas have become primary and felt experience secondary (Abram 1997, p.34).

Kidner believes this ‘curious inversion’ has enabled a power relationship to transplant the reciprocal relationship of the natural world. Instead of mutuality we now have domination with an associated value system in which, quoting Val Plumwood, the civilised is preferred over wild, modern over primitive, human over animal, conscious over unconscious, rational over irrational, culture over nature, mind over body (Kidner 2001, pp.9-10). The body is now dominated by the mind. For Kidner a kind of vicious circle is set up in which the ‘disembodied intellect’ is unable to find its way out of its own trap (ibid p.9).

This sense of ‘stuckness’ is echoed by Sewall who believes that in being defended against the body and its senses, western society has denied its ‘profound coexistence with the world’ (Sewall 1999, pp.83-84). She suggests this disembodiment results in ennui in which ‘Every place feels more or less the same. The distinctions are lost and wherever we are becomes close to nowhere. We move on.’ (Sewall 1999, p.85). She continues, ‘Divorced (from our bodies) we do not know our whole selves. In our desire for full self-knowledge and in the imbalance and uncertainty that arise in the absence of an embodied sense of being at home in the world, we feel an amorphous need to know something.’ (Sewall 1999, p.90). In this state we grasp at facts and labels that provide a sense of security and control and in so doing alienate ourselves even further (Sewall 1999, p.90-91).

Sewall suggests we even lose our capacity to adapt to the needs of the future. Severed from our senses we ‘easily miss the signals, the signs for adaptation, for co-evolving with the world-earth system as it is now, today. But reading the signs is a matter of survival…’ (Sewall, Laura (1999) ‘Sight and Sensibility: The Ecology of Perception’ (New York: Penguin Putman)).
The depth emerging from this analysis is both gripping and sobering; I am drawn again to questions of the extent to which my mindbody is numbed to the delicate energetic cycles of reciprocity; and then to questions of practices that can help heal this disconnection, day by day. I spent Monday evening with local Falkland friends, reflecting on the potential of transition towns and the spirituality that might help this along. I came away with something to do - of not waking up to the catalysms of the today programme on radio 4, but to a more intentional practice of staying whole in a transition from bed to the day...

Cultivating a politics of resilience through life-projects
As I write this piece, another email arrives, from Justin Kenrick, with the following quote:
Mario Blaser pg. 40
"Given that one cannot have certainty about the results of interacting with others (humans and non-humans), the most sensible way of relating to others is always to try to conserve the ability to respond to change - in other words to follow a politics of resilence"
I search google for Mario Blaser and 'politics of resilience', and feel an upsurge of connection and flow as I begin to read, despite the academese... here is a connection to a wild ontology (way of being in the world) of indigenous 'life projects', building resilience as alternative to the divisions and devisiveness of the late stages of neo-liberal economic globalisation which are tearing our earth to shreds. This is the kind of knowing that ecopsychologists are reaching toward; this time, resilience is framed within an indigenous world-view, from this place reaches deep into the earth to bring alive our voiced-over wild souls:

I see life projects as a politics and epistemology of resilience that assume relations, flows and openendedness as their ontological ground. There is a growing literature that has shown how Indigenous non-dualist ontologies open up an ‘intellectual landscape . . . in which states and substances are replaced by processes and relations’ (Descola and Palsson 1996: 12; also the contributors to Descola and Palsson 1996; Ingold 2000)...

An important body of literature has been devoted to how the lived experience embodied in [stories, prayers and rituals] is conducive, in practice, to the regeneration of ecosystems upon which Indigenous peoples depend (see Grim 2001; Ingold 2000). In his chapter, Peter Harries-Jones discusses how these embodied traditions constitute forms of ‘life-politics’ that are in direct opposition to ‘wild globalization’. These life-politics, which are attuned to the cycles of recursion (regeneration) of the environment, actively try to bring disturbances caused by human action within a range that can be absorbed within those cycles. Harries-Jones sees the concept of resilience as a promising bridge between these life-politics and the science of ecology. I also find the concept very appropriate for describing the politics of life projects.

The concept of resilience is connected to the central characteristics of the epistemologies and politics of life projects. According to Harries-Jones, the concept ‘embodies inherent unpredictability and unknown outcomes of interactions between ecosystems and the human societies’; thus it refers to ‘the conservation of the ability to respond to change’. I argue that, in contrast to modern epistemology and politics, unpredictability and unknown outcomes of interactions are taken as ontological conditions in the epistemologies and politics of life projects....

James Bay Cree cosmology sets human lives and animals in a world of persons bound by relationships of reciprocity and respect, a way of relating that Cree hunters extend even to those who deny respect to others, for to do otherwise because one insists one knows better is to reduce further the fabric of relationships that is the world itself. Knowledge in these ontological conditions cannot even be intended to be absolute. Knowledge is knowledge in context; it is relative. Given that one cannot have certainty about the results of interacting with others (humans and non-humans), the most sensible way of relating to others is always to try to conserve the ability to respond to change–in other words, to follow a politics of resilience.

Cultivating resilience through finding voice

I've been preparing again this week to welcome students from the MSc Human Ecology to Falkland in January for a workshop called Finding Voice. At the heart of our work together is an inquiry into practices of re-connection - with our creativity (when was that 'voiced over'?); with our wild selves; with healing communities from inter-generational trauma. Ultimately we are interested in becoming more fully ourselves; more fully human, able to stay present, strong, resilient with the burden of awareness of how the world is today. This is work at emotional and spiritual depth; what's an appropriate role for the 'head' knowing in relation to this...?

Cultivating Regional Resilience

My final 'resilience' update is the surfacing of a complex and potentially important if overly 'heady' approach, hosted by UCC Berkeley and funded by the MacArthur Foundation, to understanding the systems dynamics of resilient regions.

I started the cyber-journey by googling 'politics of resilience' and found the 'greater democracy' blog, which led me to Mike McDonald's work on Disaster Knowledge Management Systems and a definition of resilience from the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction:

The capacity of a system, community or society potentially exposed to hazards to adapt, by resisting or changing in order to reach and maintain an acceptable level of functioning and structure. This is determined by the degree to which the social system is capable of organizing itself to increase its capacity for learning from past disasters for better future protection and to improve risk reduction measures.

From here, I found links to a solid and well-funded programme called Building Regional Resilience - sponsored by the MacArthur Foundation with Building Resilient Regions Progamme, Berkeley

Resilience: Because regions are subject to economic and demographic shocks over which they have little control, the network focuses on regional resilience. Resilience represents a capacity to address short-term problems in ways that generate long-term success. The network seeks to show how particular features of regional governance—the actors, cultures, policies, and institutions of a region—contribute to resilience. What are the points of intervention, the type of actions, collaborations, policies, or institutions that contribute to regional resilience?

This is collaborative research work focussed on regions on the USA through a resilience lens; a full list of their papers is here. This is powerful, synthesising work applying ecosystems science concepts to regional planning; I sense it is also more than that.

How would it be to bring Mario Blaser into conversation with the folk from MacArthur and the Resilient Regions Network? Could the connected resilience of Blaser's politics connect with the rational models of the UCC researchers? And how about asking Justin and David Abram along, to help lead a journey beyond our heads, possibly out of the city, and to sink our collective teeth into the sensuous more-than-human continuum of life on earth? What would we bring back? More connected head-heart-hand practices for cultivating resilience?