Just one vote, why bother?

I received this really interesting letter in the virtual post bag this week. I enjoyed it so much I thought I would post it in its entirety! Hope you enjoy it too.

 

Welcome reader, to the musings of post-apathy, to the thoughts of a re-enfranchised citizen – I write with hope, it would make my day if by the time I am finished you look up from the screen with the same hope.

Ursula LeGuin supposed in ‘The Left hand of Darkness’, with an exchange between an envoy and a kings cousin that: “Things aren’t as they were in our grandparents’ days are they?”

“I scarcely know sir, but I’ve heard the same lament on other worlds

It seems prophetic to me, the notion that such a complaint would translate to other worlds, civilizations and cultures. To us, on our little island imbued with ‘Great’, as both an assertion and a self assurance, we are surrounded by the ideals of past glory.

 

Yet here you are, displaying fervency of open mind, reading a post about why an individual has chosen to support the Green Party. The connection? Things indeed aren’t how they were in our grandparents’ day, and such misplaced nostalgia now feels more the worn fingertips of the political classes as they cling to the precipice of power.

 

It stands to reason that you are already aware of the dangers of climate change and Mr Hall’s commitment to help fight it, you have an understanding that he is from a party of inclusivity, of diversity, and of acceptance. Yet there remains a piece of knowledge I do not wish to make assumptive, or to presume; indeed to understate in any way, shape or form. The belief of Darren Hall, of the Green Party, of you the reader, and I the writer; in a better democracy.

 

If you have to choose one reason to support the green party, what would it be? For me it is this new, more nuanced, compassionate understanding of democracy. Taking from the greased hair, stuffy wood panel lined rooms, and closed door meetings of Westminster; a power we were promised when they said we were born to a democracy.

 

The power have your say over your child’s school, the power to insist on a serviceable affordable home, the power to have the choice of an education regardless of your background or income, the power to work together – on local as well as national levels – to achieve a better life for the people you see around you in your community.

 

Sometimes ideas can sound too small or too big, too insignificant or too unattainable. Now is a good time to remember the hope I spoke of. We are at a juncture in our own unfolding history. Will we get to say to our children, and grandchildren, that we pressed on with hope, with new ideas and dreams, that we envisaged a better future? Or will we say we sent the same people back, again and again, year after year to refill the the festering pit of misery that is Westminster?

 

Everything starts with an enriched democracy, from changing the way we treat our environment to how we treat the most in need among us; the Green Party’s vision of democracy is something I believe to be worth writing about. For just one more vote, one more person questioning how it is, or asking their friends how they feel; is what I believe in. For the sake of posterity and our history – it is also what the Green Party believe, and what Darren Hall believes.

Yours sincerely

Tony Mears

Tony Mears

Bristol Refugee Rights

“Basics” shouldn’t just be a supermarket brand

Earlier this week I went to see a former Home Office colleague of mine who is now volunteering with Bristol Refugee Rights, a charity that offers advice and support to asylum seekers and refugees. It was a profound reminder about the difficulties that some people face, but also how offering some of the basics in life, especially with a smile, can make a whole world of difference.

I met people in the IT room taking a MS Word exam as they prepared for work, and others who were destitute and grateful for a hot meal and a parcel of food from the Fareshare food bank. There is a crèche, a ‘free shop’ with donated clothes and shoes, and lots of advice from a range of expert volunteers. It isn’t rocket science, but it is constantly on the verge of closing.

Fareshare Food Bank at Bristol Refugee Rights

Fareshare Food Bank at Bristol Refugee Rights

Bristol Refugee Rights could be regarded as a good example of “big society” – a group of passionate local volunteers offering a few hours per week for free, to support people in their community. My overwhelming feeling though was that it highlighted our systemic failure to meet basic human needs – the bottom two rungs of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (physiology and safety). I’m not drawing a direct comparison, but it was much the same feeling I had when I volunteered for Crisis and saw the positive effect on homeless people of a few days of warm food, showers and a safe place to sleep.

Some will say that we shouldn’t be responsible for picking up the bill for people from all over the world (BRR has recorded 62 languages being spoken at the centre) when we can’t look after our own. I cannot begin to describe how annoyed and disappointed this kind of sentiment makes me. I met one man who arrived from persecution in Iraq, fleeing his family, after having been accused of helping western interests. His spoken English was perfect, and he is clearly skilled and able to play a valuable role in our society. Given the opportunity, I believe everyone in the room would be more than willing to become a productive part of the economy.

We ARE jointly responsible. We MUST recognize our moral obligation to help. We CAN afford to do more.

There was something about shaking his hand that made it impossible to think differently, and I am sure that if more people were able to share a cup of tea and chat about what they have in common, rather than comment through ignorance , our society would be a more tolerant and supportive place.

If you would like to help Bristol Refugee Rights, please click here.

p.s. here is my former boss and amazing friend Dammy, policing the “Earn a bike” scheme – one of the most popular services that BRR offers. The project is delivered for them by Bristol Bike Project: http://www.thebristolbikeproject.org/our-workshops/earn-a-bike/ It turns out that the opportunity to own a bike has become more popular than ever due to the requirement for asylum seekers to sign on in Patchway, rather than Trinity. The bus fare, for many, is prohibitive and often means they will go without food rather than miss an appointment with the Home Office.

A picture of a volunteer running the earn a bike scheme

The opportunity to get a bike is the most hotly contested service there.

What price freedom?

No one should be a member of a terrorist organisation.

No one should support one, financially or otherwise, or encourage others to do so. Those that do, should be brought to justice.

But being angry isn’t a crime.

Support for the African National Congress in its battle to bring down Aparthied was a moment in human history when a country’s capacity for cruelty seemed far greater than it’s capacity for nurture. Popular opinion agreed that the regime was the aggressor, and ‘the people’ were fighting for their freedom.

As a global community today, we are far less unified in our understanding of who is attacking, and who is defending. The United Nations seems divided and powerless. Allegations of torture and summary executions further obfuscate our belief in what is right and wrong. Weapons change hands with little or no visibility of who is paying. One minute the regime is a friend, and the next it is an enemy.

What connects those who fight is their belief in what they are doing, what differentiates them is their perspective. In the UK, we are now dealing with the extremely uncomfortable situation of mothers in neighbouring communities seeing their sons leave to fight on opposite sides of the same war.

What thoughts are we offering our children as they prepare for adulthood, in a world that has become so complex that few of us understand it. Perhaps it is time to offer a more varied philosophical tool-box than we are at present, that we might help prevent radicalization on the one hand, and the perpetuation of fear on the other.

For me, Carl Sagan said it all in his “Pale Blue Dot” speech

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Picture of a pilot

“Grounded”

I went to see “Grounded” on Friday night, an extremely powerful and thought provoking monologue charting the journey of a female USAF fighter pilot as she becomes a mother, then a drone pilot, and finally in her own eyes, a terrorist.

The actor skillfully navigates an emotional journey that holds a mirror up to those who believe they have the right to identify and kill another human, either by pulling the trigger or by sanctioning it. It seemed all the more disturbing when the pilot was in a desert near Las Vegas and the target was in a different desert on the other side of the world. She powerfully confronts the surveillance that is all around us, at home and abroad, and asks questions of the audience about their preconceptions of who has the right to monitor another, to what extent, and for what purpose.

 

Where do you draw the line?

My own view is that the balance should be on the side of freedom of speech. I believe that a civilized society should be precautionary, but not oppressive. That the law should clearly differentiate between thought and deed. Unless we hold true to this principle, we cannot expect others to do the same. We should be clear about our values but respect those who may not share them, up to they point where they break the law. We must be careful not to move the line, the law, to the point that it reinforces rather than diminishes the problems.

There are no winners in a fight, just one side that loses less badly. We need faith to be a philosophy for understanding, not a weapon of fear. All of this is why I support the Green Party’s call for peacekeeping, for freedom to think, and for diplomacy not war.

—————————————————————————————————————————–

“No wound received in the field,

Can compare to the pain,

Of losing a child,

A hundred men may die in battle,

But many times that number,

Feel their loss,”

From A parent should never bury their own child, by Wolfpoet

Economy blog part 2

Shared Prosperity

At our second get together of “What on earth is the economy for” one of the issues we looked at was prosperity and what it might mean:

What do we want the economy to do? For a long time, the simple answer to this question was: “grow.” When the economy grows, so we’re told, it creates jobs, lifts wages and allows people to move on in life. It has often been referred to as “trickle down” i.e. the process of creating wealth at the top that will then trickle down to the people at the bottom.

But the last few years have defied this accepted narrative. By the standard measure – GDP – the economy is growing, but this isn’t translating into progress for the vast majority of people. The jobs that are being created are low-skilled, zero hours jobs. And people are turning to insecure self-employment in larger numbers than ever. Real wages are not rising, they are falling. And because of this, tax receipts are flat, so public investment in services is shrinking, and, we are told, must shrink even further to deal with the deficit. A deficit created by spending over one trillion bailing out the banks.

2015-01-16 08.59.10

The promise of a market economy is that in return for time and labour, people will receive fair payment that allows them to provide for themselves, their families, and create a better future. But this bargain has been upended. It is now only a minority that the economy works for, not the majority. Britain’s five richest families own more than the poorest 20% of the population. And pursuing growth as an end in itself has seen the exploitation of finite natural resources which has led to the extinction of more than half the world’s wildlife. Carbon concentrations in the air are the highest they’ve been for millions of years, increasing temperatures and threatening dangerous changes to our climate. And in the UK, air pollution is killing more people than road traffic accidents.

This is not a state of affairs which will provide lasting prosperity for the majority. Business as usual is not working. This is why am hosting a conversation to ask how we can make the economy work for everyone, to generate broad prosperity, while protecting our finite natural resources.

And it’s a conversation we need to have. There has been an abject failure by those in positions of power to get to grips with the current crisis and offer a long-term solution. A debt-fuelled bubble crashed our economy, but rather than see this as a fundamental failure, the established parties saw it as a blip. They stood behind a discredited model and bailed it out with public money, while shifting the burden of the crisis onto ordinary people. The results are plain to see. Over one million people using food banks, 1.5 million people on zero hours contracts, an unprecedented decline in real wages, while bank bonuses continue to rise, and the average salary of a top company boss has grown to more than 170 times that of the average worker. This is despite good evidence to suggest that in a more equal society, even the rich do better.

We need to drive a conversation about our vision for a new economy that delivers prosperity for all rather than wealth for the few. We believe this means more social enterprise and community owned businesses offering local jobs in a zero-waste system that is powered by renewable energy. In turn, the business sector needs to support, through corporate and individual taxation or more directly through local links, a social system that provides quality public healthcare, affordable housing, and the emergency and other services that we often take for granted, yet are essential for our every day lives. In other words, we all need to do more to support those things that are the building blocks of a high quality of life, rather than just try to maximising corporate profits and personal revenues so that those who can might buy those services instead.

This is not fantasy – Bristol is widely recognised by businesses as one of the best places to be; they tell me that they can recruit and retain the best staff outside of London because of the quality of life here – defined not by GDP, but by indicators such as access to green space, culture and leisure, cycling and walking. We won the European Green Capital Award partly on the basis of its significant low carbon environmental goods and services sector.

2015-01-16 09.00.51New models are emerging which offer a glimpse into this more prosperous future. Legal forms such as cooperatives, which empower local communities to take greater control of energy, finances and land, are on the rise. For example, the Bristol Energy Cooperative, founded in 2011 is raising money to grow the supply of clean energy. Community Land Trusts are being established nationwide to support self-organised and custom-built housing and other spaces that benefit the community. Membership of credit unions, an alternative to high street banks, is increasing. Local currencies, such as the Bristol Pound, also offer a way to ensure that money spent locally stays within the community. It is noticeable that many of these emerging ideas are community-led projects, with widely-shared local benefits. And the structures which support them ensure profits are equitably distributed. Engaging and empowering local communities will be central to an economy which delivers prosperity.

 

Ultimately, the question underpinning this conversation is a simple one: what kind of country do we want our children to grow up in? A country of growing inequality, minimum wage jobs and dirty air? Or a more equal country, respectful of the environment and finite resources, creating innovate jobs that contribute to building a stronger community. The answer is obvious, getting there is the challenge.

We hope you will join the conversation, demand change and help us build a better, more prosperous economy.

“What on earth is the economy for?” is a monthly get together hosted at Bordeaux Quay by myself and David Powell, Senior Economics Campaigner for Friends of the Earth.

The sessions are supported by Nathan Williams from New Communications

What on earth is the economy for?

At 8am on Friday 5th Dec 2014, a perfectly ordinary group of people got together to have an extra-ordinary conversation – to discuss the future of the global economy!

Never underestimate the power of a small group of committed people!

Never underestimate the power of a small group of committed people!

Andrew Radford, Oliver Brown-Wilkinson, Ellen Heart, Alan Williams, Alastair Sawday, Mike Birkin, Marcus Grant, Dave Powell, Nicola Waterworth, Nathan Williams, John Morrison, Guy Poultney and Darren Hall. Plus, we hope, many more on-line and at future meetings.

The rules:

  • The process should be one of appreciative enquiry
  • We should communicate with others in real time, in the first person, minimising jargon
  • No such thing as a stupid question, nothing is sacrosanct and all points of view are valid
  • A-political, but the debate is part of a democratic process

The aim: To create a new language for the discussion of the global economy, what it is for and how it might better serve the needs of humanity without it being at the expense of the planet.

The context:

  • The world is controlled by an economic system that ignores the true cost of goods and services.
  • By treating natural capital as an ‘externality’, the price paid need not take into account the additional costs of pollution, climate change and waste.
  • Whilst millions of people have a higher standard of living, the gap between rich and poor is growing day by day
  • Our definition of prosperity is driven by a measure of gross domestic product, ratther than any sense of well-being or other human centred metrics.

Appreciative Enquiry:

  1. DISCOVER: The identification of organizational processes that work well.
  2. DREAM: The envisioning of processes that would work well in the future.
  3. DESIGN: Planning and prioritizing processes that would work well.
  4. DEPLOY: The implementation (execution) of the proposed design.

The discussion:

Growth per se is not bad, and neither is profit. However, growth is a widely abused term that has become synonymous with becoming rich, apparently a necessary foundation stone for progress and the measure by which all else is judged. It is the definition of growth that is problematic, and the way in which profit is used that has created a divided and unequal society.

The recent global financial crisis should have been a wake up call, but instead seems to have reinforced people’s belief in the need to protect the existing system. Like children resorting to sugar in times of stress, society has sought out the familiar, rather than bravely using the opportunity to tackle the causes of the crash. Our focus has become increasingly short term, with politics now following the suit of shareholders out for a quick profit. So much so that the vested interests of big business are now driving fiscal policy. It is inevitable, therefore, that anyone daring to question the status quo will be challenged most vigorously.

Compelling narratives from global greats such as Gandhi and the Dalia Lama offer us a human-centric vision, yet neoliberalism dominates western thinking. Modern fiscal thinking has progressed only as far as relying on ‘trickle down’ as the predominant solution to sharing the spoils of progress, with taxation the battle ground between progressive and regressive policy makers. A solution for the majority is access to credit, to the extent that it is now perfectly normal to be in many thousand pounds of debt in order to live. However, a plethora of social science research has presented evidence that would support the hypothesis that money rarely makes people happy, supported by the knowledge that debt is a significant cause of anxiety, depression and even suicide.

But there is hope, especially at a local level. Bristol has many exemplar projects and social enterprises that show us a way forward. These include:

  • The Bristol £More recently, social science research has presented evidence that would support the hypothesis that money rarely makes people happy.
  • Triodos Banks & Rathbone Greenbank Investments
  • Bristol Community Land Trust
  • People’s Republic of Stokes Croft
  • Community Cooperatives such as the Bristol Ferry Boat Company
  • Community led development such as Ambition Lawrence Weston
  • Food projects such as Feed Bristol, Grow Bristol and the Severn Project

Bristol is not unique, but it is unusual. It has a sense of identity that is significantly different from other cities in the UK; it is friendly, community focussed, anti-establishment, unorthodox and creative. Although Bristol as an entity lacks sufficient cohesion and sense of purpose to really stand up for what it believes in, elements of its counter-culture are evident in its expression of discontent. Indeed, this discontent is enough to motivate social entrepreneurs to offer alternatives to those individuals that wish to exempt themselves from mass consumption, mass media and mass debt.

People ‘need to eat’ and to do so, they need to work. This is entirely compatible with one-planet living if the work is carried out within environmental limits. These range from high tech, low impact jobs such as the design of sustainable buildings, supported by the skilled jobs that make a reality of the designs. Scaffolders, brick layers, plumbers, electricians, carpenters, and kitchen fitters can all be employed within a carbon neutral system if the design process, supply chain and waste management are appropriately managed within a circular system that is based upon renewable energy. All agreed that the current Chancellor seems to have missed this fundamental point. Indeed, the UK and Bristol in particular could be a world leader in the export of such process, design and delivery expertise, helping third world countries to leapfrog the carbon intensive phase of their economic development.

I will end part one of the debate by recording a point about which there was strong, emotional, visceral, universal agreement – that everything we do, every decision that we make, every story we tell should be anchored by an understanding of its impact on the next generation. What on earth is the economy for? It is for our children and our children’s children, and at the moment it looks like our legacy, their future, is bleak.

The conclusions:

  1. The global economy is entirely reliant on the natural resources of the planet and humanity must regard itself as part of the natural world, not masters over it
  2. Prosperity is a more useful term than growth and should be defined in human terms. Therefore, success should be measured through well-being rather than wealth
  3. We should do more to tell the story of ‘green’ Bristol, building on the positive and make it real for people who currently mistakenly think it is beyond their reach
  4. Social justice and environmental justice are inextricably linked, but this concept must be explained in a way that is more widely understood at an individual level

To be continued…

A values debate

What are your values?

I had the privilege of meeting Tom Crompton earlier this week. He is the author on an influential report called “Common Cause” – the case for working with our cultural values.

I was still thinking about our conversation when I cycled to my local Post Office and looked around for somewhere secure to lock my bike, recalling a time long past when as a kid I would have just left it leaning up against the window and reasonably expected it to be there when I returned to it a few minutes later. These days, not only do I lock it, I find a solid piece of street furniture and use a recommended ‘gold standard’ D-lock – or even my well-used secondhand Boardman would go walkies. Why is it that such a theft would be regarded as a normal, albeit illegal and very disappointing part of modern society – friends would shrug as sympathetically as they could, probably comment on the significant levels of bike theft in Bristol and ask if I had insurance.

We could spend many hours pondering how we arrived at this point and understanding the social framework within which we live is an important aspect of designing good policy. For example, if said bike theft is committed by someone with a drug habit – provision of effective drug treatment is likely to reduce the problem. But we should also go back a step and look at the context as well as the perpetrator – why does the thief have a drug problem – boredom, mental health issues, troubled early childhood, lack of good role models? Are these excuses or reasons? Either way, improved parenting and education might reasonably be expected to have had a positive preventative impact. If so, what should this improved education and parenting include?

Drugs are possibly a bit of a red herring here – an addiction is an exceedingly powerful motivator that can override almost all reasons to be law abiding. But on a lower level, how many of us have been tempted by a dropped £10 note. I know I have. Each of us has an inner monologue that helps us decide how to act. Even in the case of of the £10 note, some would make an effort to look around to see if the possible owner is in view, or if there is a responsible person nearby to whom the money could be given for safe keeping. Many would pocket it, justifying the action by thinking that it might as well be them rather than someone else that benefits, or perhaps a middle ground of donating it to charity. What would YOU do? And Why?

I am interested to understand how a stronger set of core values might help us as a modern society. Values that include positive regard for our natural environment meaning people will think twice about throwing plastic into our oceans in the same way that they think twice about stealing £10. Values that can guide our decisions, both individually and collectively, at local community level all the way through to international relations.

In the forward to Common Cause, Tom suggests ” The values that must be strengthened – values that are commonly held and which can be brought to the fore – include: empathy towards those who are facing the effects of humanitarian and environmental crises, concern for future generations, and recognition that human prosperity resides in relationships – both with one another and with the natural world.”

Not a bad place to start the debate.

Bristol 2015

A call for transparency, consultation and accountability.


EGC_logo_Bristol_ENBristol City Council has set up a private limited company to run the 2015 programme, operated by a legally constituted Board. As the former Manager of the Bristol Green Capital Partnership I feel an especial duty to push for greater transparency and accountability – both of which have been widely acknowledged, including by members of the Board, as minimal to date. We entered the award to accelerate progress, more so than to celebrate achievements so far, leading to the conclusion that 2015 should be primarily about legacy; a legacy that must be owned and shared by the people who live and work in Bristol. The first step in creating that sense of ownership is in grave danger of being missed through a lack of meaningful consultation with the very people and community organisations who worked so hard to lay the foundations for winning in the first place.

 

 

Therefore, based upon a series of conversations I have had with the many and various people around Bristol who have a stake in the European Green Capital award, I have prepared a set of questions for the Board. I remain totally committed to the success of the year and will do everything I can to help; it is in this spirit that I ask the Board of the 2015 Company to consider and answer publicly the following:

 

  1. In 2013, the BGCP and BCC were successful in their bid to become European Green Capital. To safeguard the interests of the residents of Bristol (the key stakeholders in the award) the BGCP and BCC operated a publicly accountable process. Minutes from meetings were available and transparent /democratic decision making was preserved. The delivery of the Green Capital year is the responsibility of a private limited company; Bristol 2015. To date, no meeting minutes or decision making processes have been made publicly available by the 2015 Company
    • Is it the intention of the Board for all or some discussions and decisions to remain confidential?
    • If so, why and how will it be decided what is released to the public?

 

  1. Please clarify what the 2015 programme consultation process is.
    • What is the scope for residents and community groups, to read, review and comment on the 2015 programme before it is finalised?
    • If so, when and for how long will the consultation period be?

 

  1. As a result of the City of Bristol and its residents being given the Green Capital award, the Government allocated significant financial resource to the Project, to stand alongside funds raised locally or through business sponsorship. Please clarify:
    • Where the allocation of budget is documented, specifically:

i. whether the document is available to the public

ii. if it isn’t yet available, when it will be, and,

iii. how often it is updated;

    • What proportion of the public monies have to date, and will by the end of the project, have been spent on salaries, consultancy and administration compared to what will be given to residents and communities, i.e. what is the percentage governance?
    • How much each constituent element of the programme is going to cost?

 

  1. Is Bristol 2015 going to be subject to an evaluation of its outcomes?
    • If not, why not?
    • If yes, how?

i. What baseline information is being used

ii. How will the long term effect of the 2015 programme be ascertained

iii. what operational metrics are being used by the Board to ensure that public monies are being spent efficiently and the team is being managed effectively?

 

  1. Bristol entered the award to accelerate its long term performance against the EU Award’s criteria.
    • What decision making process is being used to ensure that 2015 events have a positive impact on the ‘green’ metrics of the city?
    • How will the Board ensure that the 2015 programme will provide demonstrable legacy?

 

  1. Please clarify what procurement rules are being used by the 2015 Company
    • Where are the tenders being published?
    • What are the criteria?

The Quest for Bristol Earth Champions

Earth Champions logo

Bristol Quest – 4.30pm to 6.30 pm, 14th June, Arnolfini

FREE ENTRY – BOOK HERE

Imagine a world where achievement in sustainability was as highly regarded as premiership football – where those people who achieved amazing progress in protecting our planet were held up as champions. The olympics of the natural world, if you like.

This is one of the aims of the Earth Champions Foundation, an environmental charity that celebrates the outstanding people in our communities with their practical and sustainable solutions to today’s complex environmental problems.

www.earthchampions.org

The Earth Champions Foundation does this through ‘Quests’ – a process of enquiry in a local area to find the unsung heroes who have found solutions to issues, small or big, simple or tricky, political or practical. This local wisdom can then be shared in their “Knowledge Pond” to be adopted and replicated by other communities.

The Bristol Earth Champions Quest launches during Big Green Week 2014 (14th June @ Arnolfini 4.30-6.30pm – tickets here) with special guests including Mayor George Ferguson, Dr Edward De Bono and Sir Crispin Tickell. There will also be presentations from young people from London who have worked on an Earth Champions Peace Garden as part of a project there.

The Quest will take place over the coming months, culminating in a celebration event in the summer of 2015 as part of Bristol’s programme for its European Green Capital Award. Please come along to the launch event to find out more about nominating someone you know to be an Earth Champion.

planet_earth-13848

An interview with Cabot Institute Manager

Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot

As the second cohort of the Pale Blue Dot Org gets underway, we have decided to revisit some of those from the first group to hear their reflections on the course; what they have taken away and how their learning has fit with their own lives and work.

 

Philippa Bayley, Manager of the Cabot Institute, trained as a scientist. Struck by the beauty of human development from a single cell, she completed a PhD in Developmental Neuroscience. Philippa found herself interested in how people come to think about things so differently from one another and began to work in Science Education. This included exploring how to create events that enable people to see other perspectives and change their own perceptions.

She has been in her role as Manager of the Cabot Institute for just over a year. The organisation researches ‘risks and uncertainty in a changing environment’ and their areas of interest include climate change, natural hazards, food and energy security, resilience and governance, and human impacts on the environment. Philippa’s role brings together her scientific background with her passion for community engagement and education.

“A systems approach can inspire us to transform how we think about the world and appreciate the interconnections between humanity and nature…”

Philippa says that she was drawn to the course due to her developing interest in systems thinking. This curiosity had been piqued by a talk about the causes of obesity. Divided over whether diet or lack of exercise was the main foundation for obesity, the Government Foresight Programme had developed a systems map of the contributing factors to obesity. This map revealed the true extent of the interconnections between a whole range of elements – from diet and exercise to food education and fears of child security – that drove, influenced and impacted one another.

Philippa comments: “I was really impressed by this map and I became interested in the role that systems thinking could play in understanding, and tackling, other issues. I considered doing a master’s programme in Systems Thinking at the Open University but was attracted by the notion of the taster course that Pale Blue Dot Org was offering.”

She was hopeful for what systems thinking can offer, suggesting that: “there can be too much single issue campaigning and polarisation of positions in the environmental movement and I feel that systems thinking can offer a more useful holistic approach.”

She adds: “A systems approach can also inspire us to transform how we think about the world and appreciate the interconnections between humanity and nature. I feel that encouraging an understanding of this is much more constructive than railroading people into change.”

“Systems thinking is not a simple skill to be learned…It is a very individual journey”

Philippa says that initially she was expecting a more ‘taught’ approach to the course and that she wanted to come away with ‘tools’ that she could implement in her work. She reflects, however, that she quickly realised that: “It is down to me. It is down to how much effort I am willing to put in. People are busy, they want bitesize solutions but solutions to issues are not sitting out there waiting to be found. It will need to be a process of continual engagement. Systems thinking can help with this process but it is not a simple skill to be learned. The course gave me a starting point and my understanding of what systems thinking is, and what it can do, will continue to develop. It is a very individual journey and this was a vital lesson to learn.”

Philippa says that she also really enjoyed the development of the relationships within the group and the thoughtfulness of course leader Martin Sandbrook’s approach, which set the tone for the sessions and created an atmosphere for mindfulness and respect for one another’s opinions.

She also enjoyed how the subject matter often connected with her work, commenting; “One of my favourite quotations is ‘We teach as we are’ and I think that ‘We learn as we are’ is also true. The strands that I picked out from the course are the ones that fitted with my life and work.”

On a final note, Philippa adds: “The most important thing I will take away from the course is that anything that looks linear and simple is probably not an accurate representation of what is going on! Human beings are messy and we have to be willing to get messy too because there are no simple solutions to serious issues.”

by Emmelie Brownlee

Its not all Greek to me

By looking back to the work of the greek philosophers Heraclitus and Parmenides, the starting point for the ‘atomists’, we begin to understand one of the primary issues with predominant thinking in the western world. In a nutshell, there is a sense that the pursuit of scientific reductionism masks the real complexity of the world and many systems assume a level of rationality which lock us into a cycle of commitment to false assumptions.

The example given is the western economic models that, despite numerous Nobel prizes, are unable to explain, let alone predict, the system that the rules are trying to control. The is the process of reductionism: meaning either (a) an approach to understanding the nature of complex things by reducing them to the interactions of their parts, or to simpler or more fundamental things or (b) a philosophical position that a complex system is nothing but the sum of its parts, and that an account of it can be reduced to accounts of individual constituents. This reductionist understanding is very different from that usually implied by the term ’emergence’, which typically intends that what emerges is more than the sum of the processes from which it emerges.Systems Thinking

In contrast, Systems thinking is the process of understanding how things influence one another within a whole. In nature, systems thinking examples include ecosystems in which various elements such as air, water, movement, plants, and animals work together to survive or perish. In organizations, systems consist of people, structures, and processes that work together to make an organization “healthy” or “unhealthy”.

Systems thinking has been defined as an approach to problem solving, by viewing “problems” as parts of an overall system, rather than reacting to specific part, outcomes or events and potentially contributing to further development of unintended consequences. Systems thinking is not one thing but a set of habits or practices.

it is argued that the only way to fully understand why a problem or element occurs and persists is to understand the parts in relation to the whole. Systems thinking concerns a holistic understanding of a system by examining the linkages and interactions between the elements that compose the entirety of the system.

A systems approach to understanding

However, the meeting went on to discuss the importance of understanding that close attention to a place can reveal a great deal about the wider system., perhaps defined as follows:

  • A system is composed of parts.
  • All the parts of a system must be related (directly or indirectly), else there are really two or more distinct systems
  • A system is encapsulated, has a boundary.
  • The boundary of a system is a decision made by an observer, or a group of observers.
  • A system can be nested inside another system.
  • A system can overlap with another system.
  • A system is bounded in time.
  • A system is bounded in space, though the parts are not necessarily co-located.
  • A system receives input from, and sends output into, the wider environment.
  • A system consists of processes that transform inputs into outputs.

Darren Hall