If we want the impact of our work to be truly sustainable, perhaps the best thing we can do is help one another to help one another.
Through our Co-Design Project at Renew Wales, we have been exploring how to have new conversations, with new people, in new ways. Through these explorations, one thing which has become clear is that often, the challenges are out there, the solutions are out there, and our role is not to have the answers, but to make the connections: people don’t always need to have conversations with us, but with each other!
This is what inspired our Circle of Reciprocity, which took place in June 2021. The basic idea behind a Circle of Reciprocity is simple:
- A group (with a broad common purpose) gather (and form a ‘the circle’).
- Each member of the group in turn asks for something, relating to a challenge they are encountering.
- Every other member of the group offers, to the best of their ability, advice, introductions and any other form support that can help overcome that challenge.
- You continue until all have shared their challenges, and all have been offered some practical solutions to them.
The process is not only about pairing challenges and solutions, but building relationships and commitment between those all those individuals who participate.
For our Circle of Reciprocity, we invited representative of all those town, parish and community councils across the UK who had made ‘Climate Emergency Declarations’ (over 200 in total) to share the challenges and solutions associated with turning them into meaningful action. Our ambition was to bring a group of 20 individuals together (virtually), and whilst our event was fully subscribed, only 7 showed up on the day. None the less this was more than enough for a rich, challenging and hugely enlightening conversation to take place.
Our participants ranged from Mayors to Community Development Officers, and from life-long environmental activists to self-confessed newbies. As we shared our challenges in turn, as diverse as our circumstances and experiences were, one thing become clear: overcoming environmental challenges requires much more than environmental expertise. So, what were the challenges in turning Climate Emergency Declarations into meaningful action? They broadly fell into three camps:
- Paperwork: Navigating the bureaucracy of local government (at one point described as ‘like swimming through porridge!’), so as to act with the urgency that the situation requires!
- Communication: In all directions. Securing the commitment of fellow councillors, citizens and other partners, and building deeper understanding of the issues at hand.
- Coordination: With alignment of vision and action across and between local, regional and national governments.
These are terse and long-standing challenges (not exclusive to the climate crisis). Our participants were open and generous with their help and advice with regards to each, but the event did not create the neat pairing of challenges and solutions that we (had perhaps naively) expected at the outset. However, it did leave us with a much clearer idea of the questions we must now explore going forward, questions like:
- Who else needs to be part of the circle, if challenges like these are to be overcome? Do we need more people, people from different places, in different roles, and with different skills, knowledge and experience to become part of the conversation?
- How can more people be encouraged to join the circle? It would be remiss to ignore the fact that only 7 people attended from the hundreds who were invited. How can we make the opportunity to engage more accessible, and more appealing, to more people?
- Where should we focus our attention, if we are to drive meaningful action to combat the climate crisis? How do we balance tackling the long-standing ‘upstream’ barriers to progress (paperwork, communication etc.), with the practical downstream actions that are so urgently needed?
So, did it work?
Whilst we didn’t solve every challenge shared, we did confirm our primary assumption, that bringing people with a common purpose together, and giving them the safe space to have rich conversations with each other, creates the conditions for lasting and sustainable outcomes to be achieved. Our participants told us that ‘it was inspiring to know that they were not on their own’, that ‘the event build the foundations’ for the future and that conversations like this ‘must continue’.
Mike Corcoran is an Associate Consultant with the Co-production Network for Wales. He is a member of the team supporting the Network’s collaboration with Renew Wales: the Co-Design Project.
The Co-Design Project is an ambitious programme of activities being delivered by Renew Wales in collaboration with the Co-production Network for Wales between November 2020 and September 2021. The project sets out to bring people together to explore how Renew Wales’ mission (of helping communities in Wales reduce their carbon footprint, adapt to the impacts of climate change and live more sustainably) can most effectively be carried forward for the long-term.