About Rhizome

Rhizome is a co-operative of community trainers, facilitators and mediators. Our purpose is to support greater participation in social and environmental change and activism in the UK and elsewhere

Our website has moved…please follow us!


Hello dear website and blog followers,

You are reading or receiving this because we’ve moved our website and it’s had an amazing re-design, with new resources available and much more.

Do please navigate your way over to our site at Rhizome Coop and follow us there in your WordPress site, through our twitter or subscribe to follow our blog (at the bottom of every page).

We hope you’ll continue to engage with us, via commenting on our blog, tweeting us, or inviting us to support you through facilitation, training, organisational development or working with conflict.

Do please get in touch.

We will no longer be updating this WordPress site, but for now will keep all the old resources and links available.


1 website that will make you want more!

Rhizome_colourWelcome to our new website.  It’s a bottom-up redesign that aims to give you the information you need about what we offer, who we are, our approaches and understandings we can’t wait to share with you, and how we can support you.

From the start of Rhizome’s journey in 2010, we have evolved and learned.  We talk about being on a journey, with a ‘values compass‘ (what, you mean you haven’t got one?!) in hand, and how our clients and our team can learn together.

This website is the culmination of a long-process of working collectively to refine how we describe ourselves and what we can offer, and in its own small way, has for us been an example of building the world we want.  What change do we want to see in the world?  What do we think has and will be most effective?  What are the pressing issues faced by the groups and organisations we work with in this ole world we live in today?

We hope you’ll enjoy reading more about us and what we’ve found useful and interesting, engage with us via the comments on our blog and on twitter, use the resources we offer up and employ us to support you in bringing about the world you want.

This revamped website is only the start.  More free-to-download resources will follow in the months and years to come, and we’ll be continuing to blog about what’s new in facilitation, training, organisational development and working with conflict, stories of success plus mistakes we learn from, and about how effective organising and participative decision-making are already bringing about change.

Subscribe to our blog, follow us on twitter, and get in touch when you need our support.

Ways to consensus: the same outcome supported for different reasons

This by far the least interesting of the ways of reaching consensus that I have discovered. It doesn’t involve different groups exploring each other’s needs and values and thereby finding common ground. It is much more a matter of chance, and the agreement generated feels much less stable. But I think it’s worth describing it, if only for sake of completeness.

limitstogrowthThe first example comes from the 1970s and the issue was population and the need for birth control programmes. In 1972, a book called The Limits to Growth had raised the possibility of global collapse, because the population explosion could outstrip the growth in resources. This argument had first been made as far back as 1798 by Thomas Malthus, a British priest and economist. It is therefore not surprising that one of the groups were the neo-Malthusians. The other group were the feminists. They supported birth control for a different reason, because it reduces the number of unintended pregnancies and the need for abortion.

democratic-vs-republican-party-in-americaHere are two cases where Democrats and Republicans in America were able to agree on policies. In 2008, housing legislation was passed to help thousands of borrowers who were in financial difficulties to hold on to their homes. Some legislators supported this to help the homeowners: others did it to support the lenders.

In 2011, both parties agreed that some farm subsidies should be ended. Conservatives had come to see them as distortions of the free market, while liberals saw them as promoting overproduction that was environmentally damaging.

Something to look out for…

Exploring Class – a training of trainers weekend residential workshop, 3rd-6th August 2017

Activist-trainers-at-the-Training-for-Change-Super-T-Philadelphia-2014Do you want to strengthen your workshop facilitation skills?
Do you want to help social change groups and mission-driven NGOs deal more skillfully with social class and classism in their own organisations, in their
members’ lives and in the wider society?

If so, Exploring Class may be for you.


Our lead trainer is Betsy Leondar-Wright, one of the co-founders of Class
Action in the US. She has facilitated over 100 class and classism
workshops since the 1980s, including three weekend Class Action Trainings
of Trainers.

We have two UK co-facilitators who will be helping to adapt US tools to
the UK class system:
• Oluwafemi Hughes is a highly-experienced equality and diversity facilitator from a working-class background.
• Milan Rai is an activist and trainer from a professional-middle-class background.

This Training of Trainers is intended for class-aware people who are ready
for an advanced workshop because of their experience in raising others’
awareness, whether by leading workshops or community dialogues on other
oppression issues, by teaching about economic inequality, by doing
educational work in the context of workplace or community organising, or
in some other consciousness-raising setting.

If you have experienced marginalisation due to your class, race, gender,
religion, nationality or immigrant status, disability, age or other
identity, you are enthusiastically invited to apply. Diversity is our

Space is limited, so not everyone who applies will be able to attend.

Fees (£60-£220 for individuals) cover food, accommodation, handouts and

Please contact Peace News if you are employed by an NGO and would like to

Scholarships are available.

Location & timings
Step-free-access residential space near Tiverton in Devon.

7pm on Thursday 3 August till 4pm on Sunday 6 August.

Because of our experiential approach, it is not possible to come late,
leave early, or break in the middle of the workshop.

How to apply
Please read the full information on the PN website and then fill in the
application form linked there. Please do apply as soon as you can – the
final closing date for applications is 30 June.

– More info from Milan Rai on 07980 748 555 or via skillingup AT
peacenews.info. Please read the full info on the PN website before
contacting him!

This is a brief description. Full info is on the Peace News website.

Ways to consensus: developing shared values

If you read the earlier blog on the British Columbia Citizens Assembly (BCCA), you may recall that that the assembly recommended Single Transferable Vote (STV) rather than Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) as their preferred way of voting to replace First Past the Post. One reason for this is that the members of the assembly gave weight to the concerns of members from the rural north of the province, for whom local – geographic – representation was very important. There would be less of such representation under MMP, because some representatives are not connected to a constituency.stv_banner

What happened is that the rest of the members took on some of the values of those from the north. I’ve found several examples where this has happened.

This could of course be very unhealthy. It seems to me that less well-off people in American sometimes support tax reductions for the rich because they have been fed a rather peculiar version of the American Dream by those in power. That did not happen in any of the examples I found.

A clear case comes from the neighbourhood of Traxton in Chicago in the USA. At the local level, in each of Chicago’s 279 police beats, patrol officers and their sergeants meet regularly with residents to identify priorities and ways of tackling them, and to report back on how previous initiatives are going.

eastsideVSwestsideInitial meetings were very loosely run. As a result, the more articulate west-siders dominated proceedings and priorities, even though the east-side had much worse crime. This changed when a facilitator who had been trained in problem-solving techniques took over. Each part of the neighbourhood then learned about the other side and both sides agreed priorities together.

When local residents were educated about decision-making and empowered to question officials and experts, they were able to devise strategies which were more equitable and effective than previous approaches. For instance, one Chicago neighbourhood, Traxton, with rich and poor districts separated by railway tracks, agreed a set of priorities that concentrated on the needs of the poor area.

epa-eagle-fordSomething very similar happened in another part of the USA, in the city of Tacoma in Washington State. This related to arsenic pollution. In the early 1980s, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was trying to decide what if anything should be done about inorganic arsenic, a cancer-causing pollutant produced when arsenic-content ore is smelted into copper. The issue was especially pertinent in the area around Tacoma, Washington, where the American Smelting and Refining Company (Asarco) operated a copper smelter.

Best available pollution control equipment would reduce but not eliminate lung cancer cases from this pollution. The cost, however, would make the plant unviable. This would devastate the local economy. Asarco employed 570 workers with an annual payroll of $23 million, and the company purchased $12 million of goods from local suppliers.

William Ruckelhaus, head of the EPA, organised a series of public meetings during the summer of 1983. This led to social learning about the health risks of pollution and the enormous costs of eliminating them altogether. The focus changed from how best to control hazardous pollutants to how to diversify the local economy and attract industry with fewer hazards. The energies of the various parties shifted from “winning” to changing the way the problem was understood and finding workable solutions. As Rucklehaus described it,

“Even the residents of Vashon Island, who were directly exposed to the pollution and yet had no employment or financial stake in the smelter, began to ask whether there was a means of keeping the smelter going while reducing pollution levels. They saw the workers from the smelter – encountered them in flesh and blood – and began incorporating the workers’ perspective into their own solutions.”

Remember that phrase: “encountered them in flesh and blood”. Done well, that’s the key.

Ways to consensus: Schiphol airport

economic-growthOne approach is to identify the different perspectives at play on a contentious issue. Here’s an example from the Netherlands, about the debate over whether to expand Schiphol airport. Stakeholders were locked in disagreement, with two contradictory views:

  1. narita-airport

    Narita airport protest

  1. The economic advantages made expansion essential
  2. The environmental costs meant that no expansion could be allowed

An academic called Michel van Eeten used a statistical approach called Q-Methodology to identify three other views, which various stakeholders had, but which weren’t coming out in the public debate. They were:

  1. The needs of society should be considered as the airport grows
  2. The need for ecological modernisation of the aviation sector
  3. The need for sustainable solutions to the growing demand for mobility

This pointed to ways out of the deadlock. First, there were actions like creating enforceable noise standards that would improve matters whether or not expansion took place. Second, people on both sides of the expansion debate supported arguments 3., 4. and 5., so these arguments held promise for creating common ground and a more constructive debate on the question of expansion. Indeed, about a third of the stakeholders thought that at least one of arguments 3., 4. and 5. was more important than their stance on 1. and 2.

As so often, where there is heat, and where there is light turned out to be two different places.

Source: Michael J. G. van Eeten, Narrative Policy Analysis, in Frank Fischer, Gerald J. Miller and Mara S. Sidney eds, Handbook of Public Policy Analysis: Theory, Politics, and Methods, CRC Press, Boca Raton, New York and London, 2007, pp 263 – 266

Liquid Democracy and Martin Haase, German Pirate Party

liquid-democracyOn March 22nd, we published a blog on liquid democracy. It’s not always easy to understand when written in the abstract; hopefully the story of Martin Haase brings the theory of liquid feedback system to life.

220px-piratpartietThe one statement that most helped me understand the internet was that ‘filter then publish’ had been replaced by ‘publish then filter’. Martin Haase’s experience shows that, similarly, liquid democracy replaces ‘I have authority, so I can speak’ (say, on party policy) by ‘I speak, so I have authority’. Because he speaks – or writes – well, in many areas of the Pirate Party’s interests, at one time or another 167 other members have delegated their vote to him. (I’m using the latest figures I have, but they are from 2012, so out of date.) No-one else has that many votes, so he has great influence on the Party’s policies, more than those in formal positions of leadership. He used his votes to help to stop a proposal for annual elections to the party’s executive committee, on the basis that electioneering would detract from tackling the issues that mattered.

As I said in the previous blog post (or at least I think I did), the results from the Liquid Feedback system are often non-binding. But as Haase himself says, “It is difficult to vote against a clear opinion that is emerging on Liquid Feedback.” One of his proposals was on family and gender. He wants marriage and registered life partnership to be legally equal to each other. He also wants the government to stop documenting the gender of its citizens. He and others campaigned for this on Twitter and in Pirate forums. He then introduced it on Liquid Feedback and won the non-binding vote on the Internet. In November 2010, he took the results to the party’s national convention and his motion was accepted. The system means that new policy ideas can emerge quickly, without – for good and bad – needing to work their way through the bureaucracy of more conventional parties.

pound_sign_peopleAlso in 2010, the party was working out its position on the idea of an unconditional citizens income. Many pirates gave him their votes, confident that Haase would support it. In fact, he transferred his votes to another party member, who voted against the motion, which was defeated. Some 50 Pirates promptly withdrew the votes they had delegated to him. Influence, like shares, can go down as well as up.

Ways to consensus: being explicit on values

fairvoting-bcThis Canadian example, the British Columbia Citizens Assembly (BCCA) is a very clear example both of the translation of values into a decision, and of the challenges in so doing.

making-every-vote-countThe BCCA was set up by the government of British Columbia to review the electoral system, after two perverse election results with a large mismatch between votes and seats. 160 citizens met regularly throughout most of 2004 learning about and discussing electoral reform. In December 2004, their report, Making Every Vote Count, recommended that British Columbia move from First Past the Post (FPTP) to Single Transferable Vote (STV). The government of British Columbia had promised a referendum on the recommendation. But they also set a hurdle. The change would only happen if 60% of voters were in favour. Only 57.7% were, so no change was made.

All the way through the process, most assembly members were in favour of a change to FPTP. For most, again, the two main candidates were Single Transferable Vote (STV) and Mixed Member Proportional (MMP). I can never keep in my head the details of electoral systems, so here’s a reminder:

STV – In a single transferable vote system, voters rank candidates in their order of preference by numbering the candidates on the ballot. The candidates with the highest preferences are elected.

MMP – The overall total of party members in the elected body is intended to mirror the overall proportion of votes received. There is a set of members elected by geographic constituency who are deducted from the party totals so as to maintain overall proportionality.

Both aim to be more proportionate than FPTP. MMP achieves a high degree of proportionality through the party list, but at the expense of having two sorts of representative , with one lot not attached to a constituency. STV tackles this issue by having multi-member constituencies, so that each constituency can be represented by people from more than one party. It tends to be less proportionate than MMP, because there is a limit to how proportionate you can be in say a three-member constituency. But it has the benefit of having only one type of MP, all of whom are constituency MPs.

The first phase of the Citizens Assembly was a four month learning period, at the end of which MMP was preferred to STV. But by the end of deliberative phase that followed, STV came out ahead. Why the shift? It was all about values. At the start of the discussion phase, people were asked for their values, in the form of criteria that should be used to choose a system. The top three were:

  • Effective local representation
  • Proportionality of votes to seats
  • Maximum voter choice

MMP was initially reckoned to score a bit higher on proportionality, but over time people came to reckon that there wasn’t much in it. STV was preferred because it was felt to do better on the other two criteria. People wanted to be able to vote for a candidate, not just for a party. And the whole Assembly gave weight to the concerns of members from the rural north of the province, fbonnetor whom local – geographic – representation was very important. That is, the rest of the members took on some of the values of those from the north. There would be less of such representation under MMP, because some representatives are not connected to a constituency. So far, so straightforward. But a look under the bonnet shows how tricky it is to apply values. The choice to pay attention to three values was arbitrary. The value that came fourth was diversity. Had this been included, there might have been a swing back to MMP, since it is easier to assure a diverse slate of candidates in a party list system.

Furthermore, the Citizens Assembly members were chosen to be representative in terms of age, gender and geography. They were not screened for ethnicity. An Aboriginal man and woman were added to represent that perspective, but it remained the case that minorities as a whole were under-represented. Having more ethnic minority participants might have pushed diversity into the top three.

I hope it’s clear that I am not criticising the notion of being explicit about values. Each time we do it, then reflect upon our doing, we make it easier for the next occasion to do it better.

Decision-making in Mandorla Co-housing group

cropped-mandorla-strip I am a member of Mandorla, which is a co-housing group in Herefordshire. The UK Co-housing Network defines co-housing as housing

“…created and run by their residents. Each household has a self-contained, personal and private home….residents come together to manage their community, share activities, eat together. Cohousing is a way of combating the isolation many experience today, recreating the neighbourly support of the past…”

We linked up with a local passivhaus architect called Architype. They in turn set up a development company called Archihaus. Archihaus secured planning permission for a development of 150 dwellings in a village called Kingstone, some six miles west of Hereford, on the way to the Golden Valley and to Hay on Wye. Mandorla hopes to occupy the first 21 of those dwellings, together with a common house which Archihaus will build for us, where we can have meals together, run activities and courses, supply guest accommodation, and so on.

chalice-wellWorking with Archihaus has many advantages – we didn’t have to apply for planning permission ourselves, for example. It also brings its frustrations. Three years on from that planning permission being granted, Archihaus are still negotiating the funding and no work has begun on the site. As a result, most people who might be interested in Mandorla find the situation too uncertain to sign up, and we remain a small, slightly beleaguered, group.

The rest of this blog describes one of our biggest decisions. Five of our dwellings will be for rent, with the rents at an affordable level. We had to decide how to manage these. Our first step came in August 2013, when a group of us visited Cwm Harry, which describes itself as “a successful provider of practical environmental services and an innovative ‘Do Think’ tank developing commercial solutions for sustainable livelihoods lived locally.” Quoting from the minutes of our next meeting: “Everyone who went to the community garden was extremely impressed – great permaculture emphasis, very sustainable, inclusive, and non capitalist . Very impressed too with Paul Taylor (our main contact) – positive, good principles & actions.” At that point, Cwm Harry was a community land trust charity, and a cooperative with eight offshoot groups including Robert Owen, a community bank. It was not at that stage a housing association, which we needed to work with in order to access the funding for the affordable rented units. However, Paul had alreay proposed to the Cwm Harry board that they became a registered housing provider – the current jargon for a housing association. Our housing consultant, Jimm Reed, thought that the benefits of partnership with Cwm Harry outweighed the risks. We agreed to explore it further.

circleswithincirclesHowever, in December 2013 we started to have doubts. We had originally had the clear impression that Cwm Harry would return the freeholds of the five properties to us once the mortgages were paid off, but in December we were told that that would not happen. We wondered if we could register as a housing provider ourselves, and get some help to manage the five units. We came across an organisation called Birmingham Co-operative Housing Services (BCHS), which offered to fulfil that role.

In February 2014 we discussed the services that we would want BCHS to do for us. In April, we first discussed the comparison between the two alternatives. The table below shows how opinion evolved between April and the point at which we came to a decision, in September. What is striking is how complete the turnaround is.






Cwm Harry





Be our own housing provider with BCHS





50/50 or undecided





The reason for that turnaround was evident in July, when as an aid to our decision-making we discussed what our criteria were. The top three, listed below, all pointed away from Cwm Harry and towards going it alone, with help from BCHS:

  • 11 votes – We knew we would be in control of our own processes, procedures and rules without outside interference (Risk: if we work with an external body they might impose rules on us.).
  • 8 votes – Any organisation we choose to work with has a strong track record in housing management (Risk: otherwise we may have to put up with their steep learning curve – and what if they decide later it’s not their thing after all?) .
  • 8 votes – We have long term control over the tenancy agreements (Risk: without this the tenants may not have full security).

What strikes me now, looking back, is how thorough we were in terms both of the length of time we gave it, and also our preparation. At the September meeting we provided everyone with a four page briefing that included: the full set of criteria; a comparison between the two choices; FAQs e.g. the work involved in becoming a registered provider; and an evaluation by our project manager. Mind you, those whose projects are now complete tell us that as time goes by they had to make more decisions, in less time, with less information. That should be fun….


Forum and Legislative Theatre in practice

threeicons-legislative-theatreIn the middle of February, my colleague Gill posted a blog about Forum Theatre. I’d like to build on that by showing two other uses to which it has been put.

toto-origins-treeFirst, in the 1990s, Augusto Boal, who invented Forum Theatre, linked it with politics in a procedure that he called ‘Legislative Theatre’. After being elected city councillor in Rio de Janeiro, he opted to let citizens make their own laws. He held forum theatre sessions around the city, and invited participants to suggest new laws based on their ‘spect-acting’ experience. Boal then proposed these laws to the city council and got 13 of them passed, resulting in more hospital beds, public day care facilities, and an expanded witness protection programme.

The second example is from the UK, and involves the Health Authority of East Sussex, Brighton and Hove. In 1999 it commissioned an organisation called the Scarman Trust to use Forum Theatre to develop a Health Improvement Plan. The play was about a week in the life of a single mum on a council estate. It begins with her trying to get to her evening class, but things go wrong. Her childcare falls through, the electricity runs out and she hasn’t got any money to charge up her key for the electricity meter. At the end of the play, she’s at the doctor’s with her son who’s got asthma, and she’s got pains in her legs. The doctor is unsympathetic and simply prescribes anti-depressants. The play ends with her taking the anti-depressants and bursting into tears.

tfacThe most successful use of the play was a rehearsal in a pub on a council estate. At the end of the play, the organiser from the Scarman Trust, Naomi Alexander, found four women in the front row in floods of tears. They said, “that’s my life you’ve just shown us”. Then they and others started thinking about things that they could do. Naomi Alexander adds that “there were also some men at the back, propped up against the bar, who came into the social club every night for a pint after work. When we first walked in and started setting up they were going ‘oh god, what’s this, bloody theatre’, but by the end of it, they were going ‘stop, this shouldn’t happen! They should employ a local person to work on the front desk of a doctor’s surgery’.”

The highest policy recommendation was that Community Development should be recognised as the main way to engage with communities. However, the Health Authority didn’t pay much attention.

It announced that its priority for this year was ‘Accident Prevention’. This was not a priority for local people. It was, however, one of the Government’s top priorities. Two vital pieces of information were not made clear at the beginning of the process. First, the government had already given health authorities targets, in this and other areas, without any extra funds. Second, the government had obliged health authorities to involve communities in identifying their own priorities, but without any guarantee that there would be extra resources to address those priorities.

Naomi Alexander concludes by saying thatsomeone said to [her], ‘they’ll just tick the ‘consulted’ box and do what they were going to do anyway’ and in a sense, that’s what happened.” So the lesson is to clarify what’s up for grabs at the start – or get yourself elected.

‘Developing personal resilience, creating thriving groups’ workshop – 27-28 May, Manchester

Developing Resistance Leaflet final

“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” – Audre Lorde, feminist activist & writer

As people who care about the world, we know it’s easy to forget to take care of ourselves. Our movements and organisations often need a lot of dedication, and sometimes value overwork as a sign of strength. Too often we risk weakening them through exhausting ourselves. To help us stay nourished, creative and inspired for the long haul, we need to value our own health and wellbeing, and learn ways of becoming more resilient and work more supportively together.

A free weekend course for people working for social and environmental justice, to learn together how to sustain ourselves in our struggles for a just, peaceful, and healthy world.

Over the weekend we will:

  • Learn ways for working together supportively and effectively
  • Practice skills for looking after ourselves in difficult times
  • Create a supportive learning community

Although non-residential, participants need to be able to come to both days, including eating together at the end of the day on Saturday (food will be provided).

Who is it for?
People working for social justice, whether you call yourself an activist or campaigner or not, paid or unpaid, who want to learn healthier ways of working together and looking after themselves. People who want to make their movements, support work, and campaigns more sustainable, even joyous!

The small print:

27-28 May 2017, Moss Side, Manchester
Saturday 10am-6.30pm
Sunday 10am-4pm
Cost: free/donation (bring your own packed lunch)
Access: fully accessible for wheelchairs

Non-residential weekend course for people working for social and environmental justice
co-organised by Rhizome, Turning the Tide,  and Navigate

How to apply:
Tell us about yourself and why you want to take part here.
Application deadline: 2 May 2017.

Who we are:
Adam (Rhizome Coop), Clare (Turning the Tide) and Kathryn (Navigate) are trainers and activists with backgrounds in many social justice movements. We have been developing and delivering sustainable activism courses for some years, including Sustaining Resistance.

How this course came about:
This course is possible due to funding that covers the venue and food costs; the facilitators are donating their time.

If you have any questions please contact us:
Email: developingresilience2017 AT yahoo.com
Phone: 07719 699 136

Between direct and representative democracy – ‘Liquid Democracy’




Liquid democracy is one of the most interesting ideas that I’ve come across recently. It’s a cross between direct democracy and representative democracy that takes some effort to get one’s head around. This blog is partly to help me do that and partly to see what other people think.




The way Liquid Democracy works is that, on each issue, you have a choice. You can decide to be active yourself, take part and vote. Or, if you lack the time and/or interest to vote you can delegate your vote to a representative. In this case, delegation does not mean that your delegate does what you tell them. Rather it is about asking your delegate to participate in the full deliberative process on your behalf. Your delegate can and is expected to listen and engage in the debate, consider the information available, and make what she views as the best decision on that basis. This process can be seen as the mechanised equivalent of seeking advice from a friend and voting based on that advice.

If I dislike her decision, I can choose a different delegate before the next vote. Delegations can be withdrawn at any time.

Say you’re an expert on education. This system means that you could have your representatives vote for you on all health care issues, but cast your own vote when it came down to education issues.

Delegates can themselves delegate their votes onwards. In the diagram, the people to the right of the line vote. The people to the left of the line delegate their votes.


Liquid Democracy is the combination of networks and democracy. It is a term designed to capture a more fluid and responsive participation of citizens in the democratic process through the use of both online and offline networks. Votes flow through networks of trusted relationships and in this way a range of types of “delegation” can be created, from forms we are familiar with such as conventional representative democracy, to fluid parties and direct democracy.

Liquid democracy is not yet well known, but it is starting to be used:

  • the German Pirate Party uses it internally. In some parts of the party it is used to make binding decisions. In other parts, the results are only advisory.
  • A region of Germany called Friesland set up “Liquid Friesland.” This gives local community members a way to propose policy ideas and directions, which are then voted on by people using the software. Liquid Friesland is primarily a reference system: votes are not binding. Instead they inform the Council decision-making process.
  • the Italian Five-Star Movement has also applied Liquid Feedback. With 25% of the national vote, the Five-Star Movement is a significant political force for change.
  • Flux, a small party in Australia, promoted it when contesting the 2016 election for the Australian senate
  • There are two different software platforms for this: Liquid Feedback and Adhocracy.

To end with, one advantage and one disadvantage. The plus is that, under this system, a person can become a delegate for multiple members very quickly, as a result wielding the political power normally reserved for elected representatives. This is the “liquid” in Liquid Democracy. It makes every person a potential politician.

The minus was hilariously expressed in a blog by one godix. Here are some extracts:

Congratulations on your new high paying job at monolithic multinational corporation. Just a few forms to fill out… First off is the tax form, next is your health insurance, then we’ll be needing to you to proxy your vote to the CEO….”

Hi, I’m Monica from Friends. Sign your vote over to me. I don’t know shit about politics really, but I’m famous. Thank you for giving me political power along with fame and wealth, you mindless drones.”

Hi, you may know me, I’m Bill Gates. I’m getting sick of government investigations. The next one million people to sign their vote over to me gets a free copy of Windows 2045. This time we fixed the bugs. No, seriously, we did.”

I don’t think this is a killer. But it does say to me that there is design work still to do…

Grassroots campaigning skillshare portal

groupprocess_buttona_175x175If you’ve not come across the ‘Skillsharing Portal‘ before, it’s a way for training collectives to share their skills and experience across Europe, across languages and cultures. 

The website has resource guides and workshop modules that are made by and for activist groups across Europe in topics like consensus and facilitation, strategy, anti-oppression, group process and direct action. The aim has been to make accessible and share the amazing amount of knowledge and skills in activist networks around the world.

In summer 2016 there was a co-working session where people from around Europe (including our friends at Tripod in the UK, EYFA, Poland’s SPINA, the German Out of Action and Skills for Action) got together to further develop the site and materials.  Also, a easier collaborative framework was agreed and designed, and the site has just been migrated to a wiki with more people able to contribute.

The languages featured are English, Russian, Polish, German, French, Romanian, Spanish and Serbian, though not all resources are currently in all languages.

Take a look if you’ve not before, and if there’s anything you’d like to offer, get in touch with them.

Reframe 2


Like many of you, our dear readers, Rhizome-folks engage with the social tensions highlighted and created by the Brexit vote in many ways, having conversations on a personal level with family, friends and strangers, and facing the direct impacts of discrimination and status insecurity stirred up by the way the referendum campaign was fought. We are involved with a variety of political responses, whether that’s working for a credible political parliamentary alternative, making space for a narrative that runs counter to the strong and seductive mainstream one pushed by politicians and media or other extra-parliamentary campaigning efforts.

We also engage with the results of the Brexit vote on a professional level. Perry has been running a series of Talk Shop forums on the issues in the run up to the referendum, and since that time has embarked on supporting discussion around migration issues. Adam will be co-facilitating a session in Manchester around Brexit using Theatre of the Oppressed and Process Work approaches. Gill went to the first Reframe event back in July 2017: organised by Involve, it was an opportunity for facilitators from different approaches and situations to get together to explore what our role might be. So soon after the vote, there was much to process emotionally for all; as a facilitator, we believe it’s essential to be aware of what’s going on personally in any group situation, in order to be able to support the group to get where they need to go.

Fast forward to February 2018, and Reframe 2. Perry and Adam flew the Rhizome flag and attended this vibrant forum for facilitators to meet again and for the first time, to learn about the many different ventures people are involved with, and to explore potential areas of fruitful co-operation. Some initial specifically Brexit-related mapping to share:

Common Ground are getting people talking in the ten town that most heavily voted Leave.

Undivided explores what young people want from Brexit.

Deep Democracy Forums, currently in London every 2-3 months, open discussion at a deep level, based on Process Work methods, with the next one about migration.

Talk Shop is opening up conversations about immigration across the country.

There were many more interesting projects people are organising, facilitation approaches and theory that people shared, and we hope to bring you more about these in the future, and share with you the fruits of the exploratory projects we’re involved with as a result of the day.

Thanks to both the organisers and to all participants.

Buurtzorg – how to be radically different

ReinventingOrganizations-600A few months ago I read a wonderful book called ‘Reinventing Organisations’ by Frederic Laloux. It borrows a framework from Ken Wilber in describing the evolution of organisations towards ones that are freer of ego and control, ones that believe in abundance and in wholeness. What makes the book wonderful, though, is not the framework but the case studies of organisations that run this way. This is, in brief, the story of one of them.

This example comes from the Netherlands. In the nineteenth century, every neighbourhood had a nurse. Originally they were self-employed, but in the 1990s the health insurance system, which mostly paid for them, thought it would be more efficient to group them into organisations. Between 1990 and 1995, the number of organisations dropped from 295 to 86.

Alongside the rationalisation of organisations came the rationalisation of work. Time norms were established for different tasks: “wound dressing 10 minutes”, for instance. Treatments were rated: only the more experienced and expensive nurses could perform only the more difficult treatments. In order to keep track of how long visits were taking, a barcode was placed on every patient’s door: the nurse had to scan it on entry and exit.

Nurses hated the new system. Here are the sorts of things they said about it:

The whole day is making you crazy. Some day I had to go and see 19 patients.

The planning went wrong so many times that I could no longer explain why nobody would come.

The final straw came when (they) wanted us to sell stuff to our patients.

Buurtzorg was founded in 2006 by one Jos de Blok, as a reaction to all this control-freakery. Between 2006 and 2013, when the research for the book was done, it grew from 10 nurses to 7,000. By 2013 it employed two-thirds of all neighbourhood nurses in the Netherlands.

Here’s how it runs. Nurses work in teams of 10 – 12, serving 50 patients in a neighbourhood. They have no boss and they take all decisions. Decisions are not taken by consensus but on the basis of a lack of principled objection.

buurtzorgBuurtzorg has a tiny headquarters staff of 30 people. Another difference from traditional organisations is that, instead of having regional managers, who control, they have regional coaches, who support. Their role is mostly to ask the questions that help teams find their own solutions. The coach lets the team do that, even if she believes she knows a better way. Part of the job of the coach is to give the team the belief that they have what it takes to solve their problems.

One of the striking effects of the lack of official hierarchy is that it enables natural hierarchies to evolve. People get to do what their best at within their team. Some of them become known for their expertise in a particular area and are consulted by other teams across the country.

The results speak for themselves. Buurtzog’s nurses take as much time as they wish with patients, as opposed to being bound by ‘time norms’, but in fact Buurzorg’s patients require 40% less time than those of other organisations. Patients stay in care only half as long. A third of emergency hospital admissions are avoided. Among nurses, absenteeism for sickness is 60% lower. Just wonderful….

Forum Theatre

forum-theatreRecently I attended my first forum theatre performance. It was the last in a week-long series of performances of The Great Austerity Debate taking place around the country done by the Menagerie Theatre Company. They’d been commissioned by two geography researchers, Prof. Susan Smith and Dr Mia Gray, from Cambridge University. Performances have been filmed, so no doubt a version of it will be available in due course.

Forum Theatre is both political and participative. The format for this one was:

  • An introduction that explained the format of the evening (and gave the audience the option of leaving if they wanted);
  • 50 minutes of 3 actors portraying half a dozen characters, focusing on a single parent’s experience of low paid, privately run care work and claiming Universal Credit;
  • A brief discussion in small groups of the audience of around 100 people;
  • A debrief of the audience by the director about key things they had seen in the play;
  • The opportunity for the audience to ask questions to the 3 main characters (with the actors staying in character) on anything they were curious about;
  • The opportunity for members of the audience to make different plot, dialogue, acting or character suggestions in a couple of scenes and see the actors portray how that might have played out, and then discuss what the changes might mean. A couple of members of the audience were invited to take part.

forum-theatre-imageI found myself today comparing it to training using role-plays. As a facilitator and trainer of activists and organisers I sometimes use a role-play so people can imagine and practice their responses to different scenarios. But role-plays can feel contrived or risky for participants, more so if they are done as fishbowls with some participants watching others, so these are often not done in large groups. Despite theatre being predominantly something to be watched, and maybe only talked about after over a drink with your mates, with this format most members of the audience were very engaged in the performance. This ranged from everyone taking part in both small and full group discussions through to a couple of people being invited on stage – in this performance one was one of the characters and another was an advisor to one of the characters. It’s likely that the people who joined in on stage had a level of confidence that saw them through without taking too much risk, and it was done with plenty of humour, but everyone seemed energised by the experience. Animated conversations carried on with the cast and director and between complete strangers at the end.

boal-transformative-theatre-quoteMy experience yesterday was that, as this started with a substantial and compelling dramatisation, it created an emotional reaction that provoked the engagement of audience members in ways that they felt very comfortable with. It’s likely that this audience (in the Unite trade union office in London) was sympathetic and ready to find the scenario and plot realistic, even if it wasn’t for the timing of it coinciding with the national release of I, Daniel Blake and all the clarity that that film has brought to people’s understanding of the nature and effects of austerity. I imagine in other settings or at a different time, this particular dramatisation might have gained very different reactions.

climate-changeIt’s clear that there is significant potential for this format, and that working with a professional theatre group can produce it to a very high standard. In terms of practicalities, though, it is no doubt both time consuming and would take some time and funding to execute well. It feels like a real privilege to have been involved in such a well directed piece of political theatre with well managed participative audience discussion and engagement on something I feel strongly about. Is anyone up for doing something similar about climate change?


Grassroots Trainers’ Network

grassroots-trainersIn mid-January we blogged about one training collective changing name and form.  What we didn’t do was highlight ourselves and the other training collectives that each in our own way try to support grassroots groups striving to make the world a better place.  With the forces that are swirling out there at the moment, Rhizome believes these campaigning and grassroots groups are more needed than ever, and we’re stoked to be able to do what we can to support (and be part of) social change. 

The Grassroots Trainers’ Network (UK) involves people and collectives who do training and facilitation for campaigns, activists, and all those trying to build a better world. We share information, skills, and ideas; reflect and strategise together; and work together to strengthen social and environmental movements.

Share information about the work we are doing and hope to do as well as about funding and opportunities. This will help us work more  collaboratively and supportively and avoid competing or undermining each other (intentionally, or unintentionally!).

Share skills and ideas and learn together to help us in our practice.

Reflect and strategise together, assessing and analysing questions around:
– the effectiveness and impact of our work
– the current situation, trends and patterns of social and environmental justice networks and groups we’re connected to, and based on this to  make plans together.

Work Together to support each other and other grassroots groups to be  more resilient, sustainable, and effective in our struggle for social and environmental justice.


The Grassroots Trainers’ Network (UK) is made up of the following collectives, as well as some individuals unaffiliated to a particular collective or organisation:

London Roots Collective offer trainings, workshops, and support for grassroots groups. We also organise events bringing together diverse groups working towards a better world and equality in our communities.
Based in London

Navigate is a small team of experienced facilitators and trainers. We run workshops and facilitate meetings to support groups and organisations to be more resilient and effective.
Based in Oxford

Rhizome is a diverse co-operative of experienced facilitators, trainers, mediators, capacity builders, agitators and change-makers. We facilitate, train and support groups and communities to grow in resilience, and be better able to organise collectively,  dynamically, innovatively, and effectively towards a just and sustainable world.
Based across the country

Seeds for Change provides training and resources for grassroots social justice, peace and environmental activists and campaigners.
Based in Lancaster

Tripod: Training for creative social action!
Based in Scotland

Turning the Tide: Nonviolent power for social change.
Based in London and across the country


Ways Forward…for the co-operative movement

We’ll be discussing and debating along with other co-ops tomorrow in Manchester about radical alternatives to austerity and capitalism, shaping a shared vision of a prosperous caring society based on a principles of democracy.

Rhizome is looking forwards to see co-op friends old and new, to chats in the sidelines about how to build the world we want to see, the co-operative advantage, and hopefully see what opportunities there are for quality training and participative engaging meetings.

See you there!

More info at https://t.co/WQCAsfLrLy

Welcome navigation

navigate_logoOxford Seeds for Change has become Navigate. A warm welcome to Navigate, to ‘the field’ we plough furrows in too, of social change facilitation, training for co-ops, NGOs, campaign and community groups, and many more.

The story of how Navigate was born can be found here.

seeds-for-change-bannerLancaster Seeds for Change becomes simply Seeds for Change and also continues to offer online resources and support.

For information about the UK Grassroots Trainers’ Network, and the other training collectives in it, see here.

Convergent Facilitation: a case study from Minnesota

Following on from our Convergent Facilitation blog post, here’s an illustrative case study.

lightning-fightChild custody is often a battleground in American legislatures, like abortion and gay marriage, with the additional ferocity provided by the divorce courts. In Minnesota, these struggles have gone on for more than a decade. In the end, some opponents just avoided each other. Brian Ulrich, a divorced father and activist with the Center for Parental Responsibility, remembers seeing an opposing legislator approach the lift that he was in. “The legislator turned around and took the stairs instead of getting on the elevator with us”.

In 2012, the Minnesota Senate passed a compromise bill that had a default split of 35/65 for the ration of time that a child spent with the father to that with the mother. But the governor refused to sign the legislation, saying that there were compelling arguments on both sides: those for a 50/50 split and those against. He called on the warring factions to break the impasse.

A former family court judge, Bruce Peterson, convened a facilitated meeting. He invited legislators representing both parties and opposing positions, lawyers, judges, domestic violence workers, and parent activists, and others. When Brian’s group was invited to meet their adversaries, he laughed: “I thought, you’re just wasting your time. We were so entirely opposed. I had seen the lobby­ing. I had seen the emotions of the presentations at the committee hearings, the unpleasant glances, the unwillingness to sit down and talk before that. It was just a recipe for failure.”

Other stakeholders shared his pessimism. Rep. Tim Mahoney later told a House committee:

“I really had no interest nor any belief that it would actually do anything. One of my opening statements was that I didn’t trust anybody in the room.”

Yet in 2015, a package of bills, developed by the group, supported by the whole group, passed the House of Representatives 121-0 and the Senate 61-3. How?

In the first meeting, a lawyer was blunt: “There’s a philosophical difference here, and there’s no point in dialogue. “Some of us think that a presumption of joint custody is just not a wise thing to do, and that’s all there is to it.” Miki Kashtan, the facilitator, looked for the ‘non-controversial essence’ behind this statement. (See my previous blog for an explanation of ‘non-controversial essence’.) This was that the lawyer wanted each family to be dealt with on the basis of its particular circumstances. When his opponents agreed with this principle, so it was indeed ‘non-controversial’, Miki knew she was getting somewhere.
After a day’s work, they had an agreed set of principles, which also included:

  • Reducing family conflict
  • Developing evidence-based solutions

That enabled them to agree some small changes to the legislation. Relationships between people on different sides improved enormously. But, said Brian Ulrich, “Despite the trust and the goodwill that clearly existed by that point, in December 2014 I thought it might all still collapse, because we still hadn’t gotten to the core issue of parenting time.”


They started this phase of work by agreeing a definition of consensus. This would be when the group both agreed on a single proposal and when each member could honestly agree with four statements, such as “whether or not I prefer this decision, I support it because it attends to more needs and concerns than any other proposal we explored.”
They did indeed reach agreement on parenting time. The breakthrough came when a participant who had always resisted the prescription of 50/50 parenting-time suggested that a new factor be added to the list used by judges and custody evaluators to determine the “best interest of the child”. The addition was: “The benefit to the child in maximizing time with both parents and the detriment to the child in limiting time with either parent.”
I’ll give the last word to Brian Ulrich: “I went in thinking it was going to be a disaster and came out with hope.”

This is a summary of the full case study and a continuation of the previous blog post about Convergent Facilitation.