December 3, 20121 Comment

Values and the outdoors

Inspired by the adventurous spirit of the Scottish naturalist who once tied himself to the top of a tree in a hurricane to experience the exhilaration of nature, the John Muir Award offers participants the opportunity to explore wild places and take an active role in conservation. In October, leaders who deliver the award, including teachers, community workers and National Park rangers, met for their annual gatherings in 3 locations around the UK, to share stories and discuss how values fit into their work. Read more

January 5, 2012No Comments

Campaign Case Study: 
Waste Watch

This third Campaign Case Study is part of a series of stories sharing the experience of organisations that grasp the importance of cultural values in third sector campaigning. We hope that these real-life examples of transformation inspire and empower you to push organisational boundaries and improve how we campaign together.

If you’d like to discuss these stories, or find out more about them, come along to the Campaigning with Common Cause get-together every second Wednesday of the month.

“How do we actually know what’s working?”

Waste Watch inspires and helps people to live more whilst wasting less.  Set up 24 years ago, it put recycling on the national agenda and led the country towards today’s improved waste policies. With 40 staff, it recently merged with Keep Britain Tidy. The team at Waste Watch have put values-thinking into the heart of the work they do, moving the idea of sustainability from windmills and recycling to a wider question of collective wellbeing and social justice. The video below gives a good sense of how they work with schools, businesses and communities.

I spoke to Tim Burns, Head of Waste Watch, and Morgan Phillips, who works on the Our Common Place project, about how redefining their work has allowed them to break free from a constraining focus, and how measuring broader impacts has improved the way they work.

What did they set out to do differently?

The team used to spend a lot of time making interventions, delivering a project and then walking away. Short-term funding projects meant that they’d run a campaign to share best practice, monitor the outputs and immediate environmental impacts without getting a good idea of what was really changing at a deeper level within the community.

Now, Waste Watch is measuring outcomes, rather than just outputs. This means monitoring the impact on the beneficiaries engaged in their projects as well as the wider community by looking at the;

  • Confidence and skills of the participants
  • Sense of connection between volunteers and their community
  • What cross-barrier relationships have been built

Practically speaking, by collecting this data, Waste Watch now has an evidence base from which to apply for new sources of funding. They’re connecting the dots between the environment, mental health and community development – and widening their scope to have maximum impact.

What does that look like in practice?

The Our Common Place project is bringing this values-thinking into the heart of Waste Watch’s work. Engaging with residents living in large blocks of flats across 23 communities in London, Morgan and his team are following the enthusiasm of the residents in deciding what projects they work on. In one case, sewing classes have been set up, in another, a ‘help your neighbour recycle’ scheme. One of the most surprising projects is working with a youth club to look at how sustainability flows through everyday life, in one session young people analysed their favourite song lyrics to see what values they espouse. Morgan explains,

“We found that the best way to start talking about what’s important to people, their values, is to start where people’s interests lie. We’re trying to allow for self-direction in how we work with local communities.”

Nobody in the sector has cracked how to create successful recycling schemes in deprived housing estates, so there is a need for innovative approaches. Morgan will be sharing the results in the summer later this year. A key ingredient to the success so far has been working with local authority partners, in some cases leading workshops on the thinking that the Common Cause report puts forward.

What have they learned?

Leadership on this new approach has come from every corner of the organisation. They’ve found that in order to start to articulate values-thinking in their external work, the Waste Watch team had to first start to transform the way they work internally. This started with a much more inclusive approach to leadership where ideas and contributions came from everyone, as Tim explains,

“At Waste Watch now, everyone has been contributing to our new strategic direction, for example through our business plan or our approach towards change – and as a result there’s a much more inclusive culture. Its not just formally but informally too - there’s a lot of sharing lunchtimes, baking cakes for each other – we’re actually building a community within the office as well as within our projects based upon the values we all live and work by.”

What does this mean for us as change-makers?

There is much to be learnt from how Waste Watch are applying an understanding of values in their work. Other case studies have picked up on the important implications for the culture of an organisation, and this is clearly something to which Waste Watch are responding. What is most exciting perhaps, is how values-thinking is infusing their project work, and opening up possibilities for new alliances with different sectors and organisations.

Importantly, the team understands that intrinsic values are already important in the lives of their audience - the question is how to engage with them, not to tell people how to live. Discussions about 'sustainability' aren't likely to be the best starting point.

Contact

Tim Burns

tim.burns@wastewatch.org.uk

020 7549 0300

December 12, 2011No Comments

Campaign Case Study: 
The Otesha Project

This second Campaign Case Study is part of a series of stories that will share the experience of organisations that grasp the importance of cultural values in third sector campaigning. We hope that these real-life examples of transformation inspire and empower you to push organisational boundaries and improve how we campaign together.

If you’d like to discuss these stories, or find out more about them, come along to the Campaigning with Common Cause get-together every second Wednesday of the month.

“We’re not tied to what it looks like, we’re tied to what works.”

The Otesha Project UK mobilises young people to create social and environmental change through their everyday lives. They run cycle tours every summer – helping young people to live low-impact lives and inspire others using workshops and theatre in schools, youth clubs and communities. They also incubate youth-led Change Projects and anchor the East London Green Jobs Alliance.

Otesha has five permanent staff, and three interns who are paid a London living wage.

I spoke to Founder and Project Director Liz McDowell and Communications and Fundraising Director Gavin McGregor about their transition to a flat, shared-responsibility structure.

What did they set out to do differently?

Otesha staff have used consensus decision-making for a number of years, and there is a strong culture of facilitation and anti-oppression work. On paper, however, the charity had a CEO and a clear hierarchy. Because of this, it wasn’t always easy to work truly alongside each other; the CEO was responsible for staff appraisals, for example.

The team decided they wanted to move to a flat structure to bring consensus decision-making and shared responsibility to the core of how Otesha works. This would also be reflected in team wages, meaning a flat salary for the whole team.

They recognise that this is an experiment. They know that they probably won’t get it right the first time and are not tied to what it looks like, but are instead tied to what works. “This feels like it’s the way it should be run" explained Liz.

Why move to a flat structure?

  • Share the workload, and thus responsibility: Particularly in the early start-up phase, the workload fell disproportionately on Liz. This additional workload then also meant her voice carried more weight in communal decisions. Now, tasks such as HR, office management, and finance are distributed among the permanent staff, and rotate every two years so that everyone understands and can manage each of the administrative tasks.
  • Organisational resilience: As Liz, the founder, is moving back to her native Canada within the next twelve months, there was a clear need for organisational sustainability. From now on, new staff members are explicitly requested to stay for at least four years to ensure deep knowledge transfer.
  • Reflect their values in practice: As a youth-led education organisation, it was important to give interns more responsibility in the team – they are now part of the consensus decision-making process. Moreover, Otesha uses consensus when they lead trainings and on their cycle tours, so using it as a core team reflected how they trained other groups to work.
  • Focus on impact rather than growth: There is enormous pressure for new enterprises to scale up quickly, with a burst of new employees as fast as possible. A flat model would likely not work on a larger scale, though there are some examples. Otesha sees ‘reaching scale’ as having an impact on the wider sector, not as organisational growth. Their work on green jobs, collaborating with businesses, trade unions, educators and other NGOs is a good example of what this looks like in practice.

What did people think about it?

  • Internally: The team was excited and ready for the transition. Trustees have been supportive, though some apprehension remains. What brought a lot of support from the board was the focus on organisational sustainability.
  • Externally: There’s been a lot of interest from academics - a group of MBA students created the initial proposal for their new organisational structure, for example. Other social enterprises have questioned the model.

What surprised the team most?

For Liz, the transition felt like a huge weight off her shoulders, the job itself became much more enjoyable. Before the change, her leadership role could often become a lonely one, but the team feels much more like a community now. “Everyone is in everything together”.

Another surprise has been that this transition seems to be unique. “These are values that so many charities sign up to – to find out that we’re trailblazing is really surprising.”

What have they learned?

  • Involve everyone from the beginning – especially the trustees. People care about what they help to create.
  • This process doesn’t work well with freelancers joining for short amounts of time. A stable core team is fundamental.
  • Have patience. This is a slow process, and if it is sped up unnaturally, it will fail.

Otesha has embedded its organisational values into the every-day decision making processes, meaning that a culture of collaboration and shared responsibility will endure beyond any individual staff members. By weaving together ways of working that encourage equality and friendship, Otesha is building a network where intrinsic values are prioritised.

What does this mean for us as change-makers?

If we want to work with values, it is clear that Common Cause has implications not just for what we do in the 'outside world', but also how we run our organisations internally. Organisational structures in the third sector - including management structures, decision-making processes, pay-structures and incentive schemes - will all have an impact on the values that third sector employees come to hold as important.

When we start to incorporate an awareness of cultural values into our activities, we will need to also begin to examine the values embedded in our own internal processes.

Contact

Gavin McGregor

info@otesha.org.uk

October 29, 20083 Comments

The ideology of simple painless steps

This blog was originally posted on the website Valuing Nature.

I've spent the last two days at a conference for environmental communicators, Communicate 08. There was a recurrent issue which ran through the whole conference - about the strategies that the environment movement deploys to create change.

We heard disparate inputs from (on the one hand) Tesco's ('Every Little Helps' - let's focus on successes in cutting carrier bag use, rather than the problem of consumerism) to Renee Lertzman's suggestion that public 'apathy' may be an emotional coping strategy which we deploy when confronted with the environmental problems we face.

Some of the discussion focussed on the evidence from social-psychology. There is little empirical evidence for the effectiveness of 'foot-in-the-door' approaches, as applied to more difficult environmental behaviours. (Foot-in-the-door is the idea that, by starting people off on simple painless steps like using fewer carrier bags, we will lead them up a virtuous escalator towards more ambitious and significant bahavioural changes. The evidence for this - at best thin - is reviewed in WWF's report Weathercocks and Signposts).

There was also some discussion of the inherent antagonism between materialistic values and pro-environmental attitudes and behaviour, which has also been revealed by empirical studies. This should lead us to recognise the problems inherent to consumptive approaches to addressing environmental problems (the prescription that we should consume more CFLs, hybrid cars etc.). The green consumerism approach was written large by an exercise Pat Dade ran that encouraged participants to design desirable bathroom furniture for status-driven people. Learn how to change someone's buying behaviour, the message ran, and you have learned how to motivate them to make the necessary pro-environmental choices.

As the conference ran on, I realised that empirical arguments based on social psychological research are never going to hold sway over green consumerism and the 'simple and painless steps' approach: simply because they don't fit ideologically. The enthusiasm of companies like Tesco's, and of government, for these approaches fits with the dominant ideology of decoupling economic growth and environmental impact. For this reason, it will take more than empirical studies in the social sciences to dislodge the dominance of this perspective.

Empirically-based arguments from social psychology may not displace these approaches, but they may at least help to expose them as being driven more by ideology than empirical evidence.

That in itself is perhaps helpful: particularly in a context where those of us critical of green consumerism are so often portrayed ourselves as being motivated more by ideology than by a pragmatic assessment of what is needed to get us out of the hole we are all in.

October 16, 20081 Comment

Psychological counselling on climate change

This blog was originally posted on the website Valuing Nature.

Jules Peck just sent me this link to a document produced by the Australian Psychological Society, offering "suggestions for dealing with distressing feelings when learning about environmental problems".

Although environmental threats are real and can be frightening, remaining in a state of heightened distress is not helpful for ourselves or for others. We generally cope better, and are more effective at making changes, when we are calm and rational.

It goes on to suggest:

Sometimes taking a news break can be helpful. Turning off the radio or TV, and having a break from the newspaper for a few days can be a welcome relief.

It's interesting to see a Psychological Society begin to acknowledge and respond to the psychological impacts of an understanding of environmental problems - something that many psychotherapists (Mary-Jayne Rust, for example) have long been suggesting underlies the problems that their clients bring to the couch.

©2018 - 2019 Common Cause Foundation

©2018 - 2019 Common Cause Foundation

©2018 - 2019 Common Cause Foundation

©2018 - 2019 Common Cause Foundation

©2018 - 2019 Common Cause Foundation

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