Talking about climate change is fun. No, really, that’s what people told us.

Involved with a voluntary or community group? Perhaps a sports club, residents association, hobby group, professional network, walking group etc? Or a re-enactment society?

Strange as it may seem, around 200 people with no particular interest in climate change, have told us they really enjoyed talking about climate change in the ‘Climate Conversations’ discussion format I helped develop.

We’re now looking for non-environmentally focused groups across Scotland to host a Climate Conversation for their members before mid February.

Just one and half hours with around 10 people. We’ll come to your group, and cover the costs of refreshments and the meeting room.

If your group might be interested, get in touch and I’ll tell you more!

Conference al fresco

Untitled2A highlight of the day was the very popular decision to hold an al fresco conference summary in the ECCI courtyard. With everyone spread out along the steps soaking up the sun, we split into smaller groups to discuss how we can best ensure that ecosystem service research has real impact into the future. With his human flipchart in the form of Prof Mark Reed, our conference facilitator Osbert Lancaster did a wonderful job of facilitating and summarising the final thoughts for the day, and the relaxed and friendly atmosphere allowed everyone to have their ideas heard.

EScom16 Conference

Climate Conversations reveal attitudes to climate change in Scotland


Do the general public want to help Scotland fight climate change?

In 2016 Pam Candea and I facilitated a series of ten conversations about climate change on behalf of the Scottish Government. The results, drawn from these and other Climate Conversations, are summarised in the draft Climate Change Plan laid in the Scottish Parliament on 19th January 2017.

The key findings are:

Climate Conversations work as a way to engage with the general public on climate change, and participants enjoyed the conversations.

Knowledge of climate change:

  • People are generally aware of climate change as both an issue and a problem and were aware that action is necessary to tackle it. There was some confusion between concepts and some factual inaccuracy in the conversations, however many of the participants appeared reasonably well informed.
  • Participants want to act on climate change but want more information on climate change, the impacts of climate change and the actions they can take.
  • Participants felt they were already taking some action on climatechange.

Continue reading “Climate Conversations reveal attitudes to climate change in Scotland”

What about the conversations we don’t have?


Along with Pam at Surefoot, I’ve been having a great time this summer holding a series of conversations about climate change with around 10 people invited off the street to take part. It’s been really fascinating – but that a story that will have to wait until we’ve written up the project for the Scottish Government.

But it also got me thinking about all the conversations I don’t have about climate change – and other things that matter. And then an interview with Kio Stark about her book When Strangers Meet caught my eye:

…research has shown improved moods among commuters who chat on the subway, and happiness and creativity among people who talk to strangers.

Kio Stark always has and does. She was born in a New York family and doesn’t think it’s rare. Her reasons are many, but among the most compelling is essentially boredom. She writes that a stranger-encounter is “an exquisite interruption” to whatever expectations you had about your day. Go to work, and you know who you’ll see. Hang out with friends, and you know what to expect. But engage with a stranger, and at least something interesting might happen.

“It’s not only about novelty,” she added when we spoke. “It’s about feeling connected to my block, my neighborhood.”

At a grander scale, in an increasingly polarized society, it can require concerted effort to break out of sociocultural strata and online algorithms that are constantly pairing us with like-minded people.

Stark suggests some simple strategies for those of us who don’t routinely talk to strangers. The first is simply saying ‘hello’ to people you pass in the street. The next is to find something neutral about the place you’re in to comment on – though this is best done when sitting rather than walking.

It’s got me thinking about how this might be a starting point for conversations that touch on deeper issues – perhaps I need to order the book to find out.

Read more in How to Talk to Strangers, The Atlantic

Or, watch Stark’s Ted Talk:

Image by Ed Yourdon, used under Creative Commons

Hard decisions don’t have to create winners and losers

Image by Jonathunder, used under Creative Commons licence
Convergent facilitation helped Minnesota pass landmark legislation, breaking longstanding deadlock.

The Scottish independence and Brexit referendums are just two recent high profile decisions which ended up with just over half the population ‘winning’ and the rest losing. Having followed some community ‘consultations’ about cycle paths recently, where vitriol and bile seemed to be the main basis of ‘debate’, we obviously have the same problems at a local level in Scotland. There must be a better way…

Continue reading “Hard decisions don’t have to create winners and losers”

Community Climate Action Project Development Starter Pack

The 4 Questions at the heart of Shifting Normal

Thinking about developing an application for future climate action funding but not sure how to turn an interesting idea into a great project? Delivered a CCF project before and thinking of how you might build on that?

We can help you make the best use of your time and energy to develop your initial idea into a plan for a project that:

  • Has support from your community;
  • Is worthwhile and achievable;
  • You can communicate clearly to funders and others.

A Development Grant may be available from the Scottish Government’s Climate Challenge Fund to cover the cost of our support and other expenses such hiring a hall for community meetings etc.

Our standard Starter Pack includes:

  • Three planning sessions in your community led by Pamela Candea or Osbert Lancaster exclusively for your group and tailored to your particular situation. The sessions will cover:
    • Turning ideas into outcomes that funders want to support;
    • Engaging the community and meeting local needs;
    • Developing a project that will result in real change.
  • Advice on planning and carrying out a consultation in your community.
  • One to one consultancy support as you develop your project ideas into an application to potential funders.

At the end of this process you will be able to make an informed decision about whether to seek funding and, if you decide to do so, to prepare a high quality application.

Our approach is based on Shifting Normal – the methodology that we prepared on behalf of the Scottish Government to help communities to design and deliver a successful project to tackle climate change by taking account of what influences people to change their behaviour.

The Starter Pack can be tailored to your needs. It typically costs £1,200 plus facilitator travel and subsistence where necessary. Based in Edinburgh and Stirling we are happy to offer the Starter Pack across Scotland. Eligible groups can apply for the full cost plus additional expenses such as venue hire, to the CCF Development Grant via a straightforward application process.

Contact us to see if a Starter Pack is right for you and your group.

What will your group use a development grant for?

Development Grants of £1,500 are now available from the Scottish Government’s Climate Challenge Fund to help community-led organisations develop applications for more significant funding to tackle climate change. The development grant can help groups at every step along the journey from an initial idea, through community consultation to planning a project and preparing an application for project funding.

New and established community groups working on climate change have a wealth of expertise and experience, but sometimes it can be helpful to have an outside perspective and specialist advise and support – and the development grant can make that possible.

A workshop with student volunteers and activists developing zero waste projects

Osbert Lancaster and Pamela Candea have worked with many community groups as advisers, mentors, consultants and trainers. We have run training workshops through the Climate Challenge Fund’s Community Action Support Programme on: Planning for the Future; Identifying a Project; Designing a Project; and skills and techniques for Positive Change. We can help you design and carry out community consultations.

We know that getting people together for meetings and trainings can be difficult, so we adapt our support to fit each group’s needs. One approach we find works very well is a few short sessions spread over several weeks to introduce key skills and knowledge – and in between the sessions the community group have time to do work on consultations, draft plans etc, and then to build on these at the next session. We can provide feedback and advice by phone or Skype between sessions too.

 Four Questions
The Four Questions – part of the Shifting Normal Approach

On behalf of the Scottish Government we developed the guide Shifting Normal: How to design projects that change things for the better. Use of the Shifting Normal approach is encouraged by the CCF, and we incorporate it into most of our training.

If you think we might be able to help your group turn initial ideas into a great project – or you’re just interested in help with some specific aspect – please do contact us:

By the way, people say we’re really good at what we do:

“I thought this was a great workshop and exactly the type of strategic thinking we all need to integrate into our work if we want to bring about real change.”

“The course took us on a journey. By introducing us to the theory and models, which attempt to explain change, we were then able to apply these and devise coping strategies for our own work/practice/life. In doing so we are able to look at the world through different eyes, from a different lens, and ultimately effect change within ourselves and others around us.”

“Osbert’s support and advice were absolutely invaluable. By helping me to understand my aspirations and working with me to develop practical methods to achieve them, Osbert enabled me to take some major steps to put this approach into practice in our organisation. I would not have progressed anywhere near as far as I have without his insight and gentle guidance.”

“Thanks for an excellent session. I know we all very much enjoyed it and it has helped build strong foundations for our strategic planning and team building. You pitched the format and tone of the sessions just right, and as always brought a lovely encouraging style.”

Find out more about Development Grants here…

What are the highs and lows for leaders, strategists and change makers working on sustainability and social responsibility?

I believe that traditional approaches to leadership for sustainability and social responsibility don’t sufficiently recognise the complex reality and competing demands often faced by leaders. I want to support leaders to create real, effective and lasting change.

That’s why I am working with Natural Change to develop new ways of catalysing and supporting leadership for sustainability.

Please help us to understand your role as a leader by answering a few quick questions…

Whatever your job title, do you have responsibility for leading others, developing strategy or delivering change programmes? Whether it’s part of your professional role or something you are personally interested in, does sustainability or social responsibility figure in your work?

If you answer ‘yes’ to both, please help us by completing our short survey…

It would be wonderful if you could forward this to individuals and groups you think might be able to help. Thank you!

Energy crops have been a major flop with farmers – here’s why

Source: Energy crops have been a major flop with farmers – here’s why

We found that most farmers in the area were not interested in planting the crop – even if it meant increasing their profit margins. One third told us they couldn’t imagine anything that would persuade them to grow it. The farmers saw themselves primarily as food producers and saw energy crops as an alien practice. They were strongly and even passionately attached to their way of life.

Fascinating study that shows why policy and indeed change management must go beyond naive assumptions of ‘rational economic man’. As one farmer said:

No amount of money would ever encourage me to grow willow because I am a farmer. I can’t think of anything more unattractive.

Time to get out Shifting Normal or the ISM tool!

Read the original article…

11 suggestions to make conferences a space for great conversations

fieldsofconversationIt seems to me that too many conferences are designed to only transmit information – hence the default choice of presentations followed by Q&A. Of course transmitting information definitely has it’s place, but when you’ve got a room full of knowledgeable, enthusiastic and skilful people, is it really the best use of their time?

Is it not better to try and create the conditions for dialogue, where people can connect with each other more deeply, in ways that are open and inquiring? And perhaps, if you’ve given enough time, some of those really powerful, creative conversations where new ideas and new projects are born, might happen.

Of course, most conferences and seminars do aim to have engaging conversations between participants, and between participants and the main speakers. But unless you’re very lucky not many great conversations will happen unless the schedule is intentionally, and carefully, designed, to encourage and support not just an exchange of information or opinions, but deeper dialogue.

The four fields of conversation from the Presencing Institute, above, are helpful to distinguish between different sorts of conversation. So often the traditional Q&A session after presentations gets stuck in the second field – debate: talking tough – with people just wanting to get their ‘point’ across, rather than having any true spirit of enquiry. While coffee breaks – often said to the best part of a conference – languish in level one.

Here are eleven suggestions based on my experience that you might consider when designing an event for dialogue (in no particular order):

Continue reading “11 suggestions to make conferences a space for great conversations”