Sustainability Workshop with a Cognitive Edge

Inspired by my recent ‘Tales to Sustain’ storytellers gathering, I am currently developing an Organisational Sustainability workshop for those organisations that want to engage with their staff, reduce their carbon footprint and thereby minimise their impact on the environment.

My reasoning behind this, apart from the obvious one that sustainability is vitally important to all organisations, is that the staff will already have good ideas and practices worth sharing and some will be actively engaged locally and at home. Raising awareness, sharing ideas and getting everyone to self realise the importance creates the ideal starting conditions for commitment and buy-in from the bottom up.

I normally begin with an anecdote circle which engages everyone present and brings out ideas, values, beliefs and an understanding of the commitment of at least some of those present. The individual anecdotes and subsequent emergent themes are crucial to the development of the day.

A new addition at this point will now be an ancient myth, that metaphorically illustrates why we need to act now, that I picked up from the ‘Tales to Sustain’ workshop.

I then run a future backwards session exploring the more general timeline of climate change but also including any initiatives the organisation may have had in this domain. the aspects of Heaven and Hell becoming the crucial aspects of framing future possibilities.

I now regularly merge a storytelling method here by asking groups to tell each other the story of their timeline including their Heaven and Hell.

At this point I introduce the cynefin framework where I utilise key events from their timeline to illustrate each of the domains.

Pulling on all the workshop materials so far, we then begin to formulate ideas for action which we can test using ritual dissent methods and resolve and refine the approach we might take using the cynefin framework.

Finally we identify three short anecdotes that explain the context of our approach to Sustainability and three actions that demonstate the content of what we are doing and weave these into a coherent message using a fable template to explain to others their Sustainaility Strategy.

As for timing this could be squeezed in over an intensive day but would be better delivered over two days. The emergent outcomes from the event include a pretty impressive:

  • shared understanding grounded in current beneficial activities
  • review of the past from different perspectives
  • scenario planning including worst fears (risk register) and highest hopes (vision for the future)
  • a new way of looking at uncertainty
  • robust, prioritised and planned actions with interactions grounded in and tested against complexity theory
  • easily remembered anecdotes and actions and a coherent story to tell
  • the additional benefits of stronger community spirit, sense of belonging, greater trust and greater links for subsequent knowledge sharing between individuals

Larger organisations may at this point consider the benefits of having staff record their sustainability efforts over time, whether succesful or not, and self signify them in a way that allows sense to be made across the entire landscape of their sustainability activities.

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