Sustaining Resistance, Empowering Renewal: Tools for Effective and Sustainable Activism

A 12 day residential workshop in rural Devon
11th – 22nd May 2015

This workshop offers personal and collective tools to help make our activism more effective. Theworkshop aims to help us stay inspired, nourished, empowered and creative. It offers space to reflect and analyse, helping us to stay involved for the long haul, create personal sustainability and bring continuity to our groups and movements. It aims to explore ways of working which keep our groups sustainable and effective in the struggle against social and economic injustice and ecological destruction.

The workshop provides an opportunity to get away from our busy lives and take stock, taking time to reflect on our activist experiences and history and to identify and draw upon sources of nourishment, inspiration, creativity and resilience, and develop skills that can help us make changes that will support personal sustainability and wellbeing. It also provides an opportunity to develop skills for organising and working in groups that will help avoid a burnout culture in our groups and networks. The workshop venue, on the edge of Dartmoor, provides ideal conditions for this reflection and renewal.

The course is offered by the ecodharma collective and Seeds for Change. Places are limited.

Application deadline 27th March 2015.

For more information and an application form please call 01865 403 134 or email


Consensus Handbook

consbookcoverOur friends at Seeds for Change have compiled their excellent briefings on consensus decision-making into one place  – a new book on consensus and facilitation: A Consensus Handbook – Co-operative decision-making for activists, co-ops and communities

Here’s what they say about it:

After decades of facilitating, years of planning, months of hard work and days of laying out and proofing, the Seeds for Change book on consensus and facilitation is (nearly) here!
We’ve put a PDF of the book on our website for you to have a look at and if you want, you can get a hard copy (£3.50+p&p) by the end of April (details on how to get it on our website). We’re selling the book at a price which just covers printing costs to make it as accessible as possible – so please help us to spread the word about it… Thank you for all the help so far, and we hope you enjoy the book!


We’ve been promised a review copy, so once it’s in print (30th April) we’ll let you know what we think of it here on the blog. If you download and read the pdf in the meantime and want to share your thoughts, please do – we’re happy to host them here!


Facilitating Change: Supporting Effective & Sustainable Action Groups

Facilitating Change: Supporting Effective and Sustainable Action Groups
A 7 day residential workshop in rural Wales, 15th-22nd March 2013.

Effective group-work and high quality decision-making. That’s what we all long for, right? Yet bad process is rife in our grassroots action groups and can lead to a lack of trust and respect, frustration, resentment, burnout and ultimately group failure.

We can’t fix this overnight – Facilitating Change is an opportunity to start doing some of the work needed to build strong and sustainable direct action groups and networks.

This week-long workshop will be an opportunity to develop and strengthen our practice as facilitators and trainers, increasing the capacity, effectiveness and sustainability of our social change groups and movements. We hope to go beyond the current facilitation tools and develop our intuitive skills to help us support groups as much as possible.

We will do this by:

  • Deepening our understanding of the values, attitudes and behaviours needed to facilitate effective group-work.
  • Working together to develop strategies, tools, support and resources to help our groups and movements identify shared values, build trust, develop open communication and handle conflict positively.

This will help our groups make good decisions, implement them and stay sustainable and effective for the long haul!

Facilitating Change is a collaboration between activist trainers from
Rhizome, the Tripod Collective and Seeds for Change. You should apply if:

  • You are involved in grassroots activism in groups, movements or
  • You’ve ever noticed how grassroots groups can be effective and
    inclusive one week and shockingly bad at working together the next.
  • You have some experience of facilitating meetings, workshops or
    trainings within grassroots movements or if you don’t consider
    yourself to be a formal facilitator, you are familiar with
    participating in meetings and try to foster good process to support
    your group to work effectively together.
  • You have ideas about how to help groups work more effectively.
  • You are keen to improve your facilitation and / or training skills.
  • You intend to share your learning with your own group and your wider networks.

We have funding to cover some costs. We will also be asking participants to contribute to the costs of the event on a sliding scale of £30-£150. We don’t want to exclude anyone on the grounds of cost so please contact us if making a financial contribution to the event would prevent you from participating.

How do I apply?
Places are limited, so we have a selection process. Please contact us for an application form or download it. Get in touch to ask any questions about the course: facilitatingchangeATriseupDOTnet. Applications by 14th December, please.

DOWNLOAD: Application_Form_for_Facilitating_Change

Aspects of autism and neurodiversity

Regular readers of this blog may remember a couple of posts we wrote on autism and social change. Here’s a chance to find out more:

Aspects of autism and neurodiversity: a brief introduction for social change groups

Saturday 22nd September
7.30pm – 8.30pm
Old Music Hall
106-108 Cowley Road

Do you want your group to welcome diversity? Do you want to work together harmoniously?

Neurodiversity impacts on the way people see the world and interact. Understanding neurodiversity and autism can improve the way you understand and work with others in your social change groups and how you facilitate workshops and meetings.

The workshop will be facilitated by Caroline Hearst who was diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum in her fifties.

The event is being hosted by Seeds for Change. Please let us know if you plan to attend this workshop as Caroline would like to know numbers. Either email richardATseedsforchangeDOTorgDOTuk or call us on 01865 403134. If no-one answers please leave a message.

The challenge of co-operation

Just got off the phone to Richard at Seeds for Change. We had a long and useful conversation that ranged far and wide. Lots to think about.

One theme we kept returning to was the challenge of co-operation. Seeds is a network of 2 co-ops, Rhizome is a co-op. There’s also Tripod and a newly forming London collective. We’re all collectively constituted organisations. We’re all well versed in co-operative skills such as consensus decision-making. And mutual aid between co-ops is one of the seven internationally recognised principles of co-operatives. So surely everything in the garden is very rosy (and very co-operative) indeed?

Well, perhaps not. For example, each co-op is trying to provide right livelihood for at least some of its members. There’s a limited pool of paying work for trainers and facilitators working at the grassroots, and grant funding is getting harder to find (that’s for another post!). The temptation to slide into competitive thinking and practice, to promote and protect our own ‘brand’ is there just because we’re all human (and humans brought up in a fiercely individualistic and competitive society). In many ways that’s the default setting.

So it feels like it’s especially important we all walk our talk and live up to those values of co-operation. We’ll all be in the same room in July when UK trainers meet with George Lakey after the anti-oppression training he’s facilitating in Manchester. A space to reflect and find ways to support that mutual co-operation and sharing?

It was only one phone conversation but talking to Richard was useful.  Whilst it can feel hard enough to maintain communication within a co-op – especially those like Rhizome that are geographically dispersed – it was a reminder that making the time for communication between co-ops is the first step on a very productive journey.

Job opportunity at Seeds for Change

You’ll have seen fairly regular references to Seeds for Change over the months on this blog. There’s a fair bit of collaboration between Seeds and Rhizome one way or t’other. Now Seeds are looking for a new member for their workers’ co-op in Lancaster. Here’s what they have to say:

Are you an activist and an anarchist and want to facilitate workshops and create training resources for other activists? Then you might be who we’re looking for. You don’t need loads of experience in facilitating meetings and workshops, but you do need to be involved in direct action, be into consensus, be reliable, organised and, of course, nice. You’ll be working 30 hours per week (negotiable) doing training for other activists, researching and writing guides on consensus, facilitation and practical action skills as well as doing fundraising and other admin type stuff. If you’re up for it then there are details of the job and selection process, plus application forms to download at Alternatively, you can ring us on 01524 840028 or email with any questions. Or send an SAE to Seeds for Change Lancaster, 96 Church St, Lancaster, LA1 1TD asking us to post you an application pack. The deadline for applications is the 24th October, and we hope to hold interviews in the week beginning 21st November. We look forward to hearing back from you,

Seeds for Change Lancaster

Sharing values

I spent an hour and a half on the phone today to Jeannie and Steph, 2 of the facilitators that attended the Transition Network Dreaming Circle back in December. We were talking about meetings, more specifically trying to shape some meeting training agendas for transition groups.

Very quickly the conversation turned to values, and how we facilitate a process of helping groups articulate their values, shared or otherwise. Values seems to be one of the areas prone to assumption. We assume everyone else has the same ideals, beliefs and principles until we discover otherwise – a discovery that often leads to confusion and conflict and can be a real obstacle to groups functioning well. We noted that many groups hit problems when they expand. The founders are drawn together by a sense of shared values. Because that sense is strong they don’t feel the need to carefully articulate what they mean. Why should they? After all they all agree… Then new folk join and cracks begin to appear as the realisation dawns that there’s now a diversity of perspectives, and worse still of values. Sound familiar?

OK, time for a quick step back, because one of the problems is that it’s not always clear what we even mean by values. It’s a slippery word that can mean different things to different people… and as such I’m hesitant to try to pin down a definition here. I suspect for some it’s an emotional affinity with certain ideas or actions. For others a more cerebral yardstick by which to measure the ‘right way’ forward. As a facilitator I think it’s more important to raise the question “What do we mean by values?” than try to have the ‘right answer’. Phew, that’s wriggled out of that one.

Steph is facilitating a session to explore values for her local Transition initiative, so the whole discussion was given a definite context. We talked about tools and techniques for exploring values. The interesting thing, for me, was the realisation that we didn’t have a whole host of them at our fingertips. So we shared the ideas we did have, customising tools we’d used to for other more conceptual discussions. Many of the tools I use for this kind of discussion share a common approach – using some form of provocation, ie: a statement to bounce off that helps clarify our position. I’m thinking of spectrum lines, or of the process I co-facilitated with Rich from Seeds for Change last summer to explore the values people used to make strategic campaign choices. Here we used images of action, followed by a local radio-style interview using a few simple questions (see below) to provoke thinking and discussion :

  1. tell us about the action you’ve just taken part in
  2. what were you hoping to achieve?
  3. do you really feel this one action can make that kind of change?
  4. what would you say to those people listening that are thinking this is well-intentioned but won’t change the big picture?

It seemed to work, and it can’t be that hard to rework these or similar questions for different ‘values’ contexts. And I’m sure that provocation can be used Edward de Bono style for this purpose to.

The conversation also took in the work of John Adair, specifically his action-centred leadership model which balances the group’s task, with the needs of the group and the needs of the individuals. This could easily be rewritten as the group’s task, the values of the group and the values of the individual. Now I’m not a fan of top-down leadership, but strip out that assumption and replace it with a co-operative one and the model has useful implications for supporting groups to consensus through shared leadership. Clashes of personal and group values are often at the heart of blocks to consensus.

All in all an hour and a half well spent. As always, your thoughts, comments and, of course, tools and techniques are very welcome.

Consensus: in at the deep end

Upcoming workshop: 8th-10th October 2010

Plunge into a deeper exploration of consensus and facilitation in activist movements – whether in small or large groups, networks, open or closed groups.

This weekend is for people with experience of facilitating consensus who want to deepen their skills and understanding, to share problems and look for solutions. It will be highly participatory and the agenda will be led by participants’ wants and needs. It won’t be ‘for experts only!’ – it will be for people with some experience who are interested to go a bit deeper.

This workshop will be a space to:

  • Deepen our understanding of consensus
  • Build our confidence and skills to share our understanding with other people through good facilitation
  • Reflect critically on how we’re using consensus in our movements

Friday 8th (7-10pm), Saturday 9th (10-6pm) & Sunday 10th (10-4pm) October 2010

Organised and facilitated by Rhizome and the Seeds for Change Network. For more information contact us or Seeds.

Planning campaigns at the grassroots

In this post we interview Kathryn Tulip of Seeds for Change Oxford who has been working to make strategy more accessible to grassroots campaign groups.

You can listen to the full interview (12.5 minutes) or Kathryn’s top tips for facilitators (2.5 minutes). Apologies for the background noise. For those that prefer the written word, we’ve transcribed some of the interview below, including paraphrasing the top tips….

Challenges strategy poses for grassroots campaign groups?

Many find the idea of long-term planning daunting, and the creation of timelines that go on for periods of up to 5 years quite tricky to deal with in terms of thinking about where they might be in their campaigns, and their ability to commit to that length of time.

The experience of having created plans in the past that haven’t been fully implemented – maybe being a little over-enthusiastic about what resources they had available and commitments   to carry forward the strategic plan… grassroots groups go up and down in their energy levels and numbers involved in the group, and … a strategic plan isn’t being well supported by the group process. They can’t fulfil the plan and that becomes a negative factor because they’re not making progress in the way that they hoped they would.

In many groups there are hierarchies and there are some people who seem to be more naturally strategic thinkers…. maybe [their strategy] is presented in a very charismatic and a very positive way and people find themselves agreeing with it, but it seems it’s not a democratic process. The shared thinking behind the strategy isn’t owned by the group and that can create hierarchies between those who do the strategic planning and those who follow on behind

Ways forward?

Think of strategy not as a fixed plan but as a discussion, a way of thinking about what might happen, what the outcomes are, the way to put ourselves in the best position to reach those outcomes without getting too bogged down in detail… a discussion of possibilities so that we’ve created more fertile ground

Top tips for facilitators?

  • Mind your language – the language of strategy, aims, outcomes, targets, tactics is quite militaristic and puts some people off. Think in terms of planning campaigns and stepping stones instead
  • Tackle the gender divide – experience shows that more men engage with strategy than women. Perhaps it’s the language or the traditional planning tools and processes
  • Advertise for accessibility – bear the above points in mind when you advertise a strategy session and use language that works for all
  • Beware linea r tools! – many strategy tools encourage linear thinking “if we do A then B happens” these are “fitted to some people more than others and frankly might not be what’s happening in the outside world if you think about the organic nature of our world”

And finally – one for your strategy toolkit….

Stepping stones to strategyKathryn has been exploring critical path analysis, but renaming it (for obvious reasons!) as stepping stones. There are various versions of the tool out there. Here’s one from Training for Change.

Telling the story of strategy?

smartMeme's Re:imagining Change

Simmering away in the background for the last 12-18 months has been a 3-way conversation between facilitators from Rhizome, Seeds for Change and Turning The Tide. As you’ll have seen from other posts in this strategy dialogue all have encountered enough issues with facilitating strategy for activists that they’ve been looking at new approaches. One such has been the story-based approach from the smartMeme collective in the USA .

Here’s a brief intro to what it’s all about, and a brief critique to explain why we’ve felt the need to customise the approach for a UK context.

Are you sitting comfortably?
In Re:imagining Change, smartMeme argue that the medium of stories gives us a new model for strategy. They talk in terms of Narrative Power Analysis, an analysis which runs something ike this:

We’re brought up on stories – everything from the creation myths of our religions to the existence of Santa Claus. We hear stories every time we turn on the news or read a newspaper – “the war on terror is keeping us safe”, for example. Just the phrase ‘war on terror’ evokes a whole cast of characters from the caves of Tora Bora, the streets of Kabul, Burnley and Wooton Bassett, the burning towers of New York, and the cells of Guantanamo Bay, along with all the cultures (and clashes of cultures) that come with them.

A story-based approach to campaign strategy homes in on the stories that people have heard so often that they’ve accepted and even internalised. These smartMeme call control myths – stories we’re so familiar with that we even propagate them through our own actions, lifestyles and conversation. Which of us, in our culture, doesn’t play a role in spreading the story of the need for consumerism, for example, even if it’s ethical consumerism?

The art of story-based strategy is to subvert these stories and create new endings that bring about the changes we want to see in the world. And because stories are engaging, story based strategy can also be more engaging.

Challenging assumptions
Buying into the prevailing control myths, by definition, means that we’re making assumptions such as: “I’m at danger from terrosrism”, or “the government wouldn’t lie to me”. Often we activists assume that if we could just shout loud enough about an issue and give people the facts they are lacking, they would join our cause. But people are conditioned to ignore information that doesn’t fit into their existing understanding the world –  the control myths that they’ve bought into.

The story-based approach says we’re much more effective as campaigners when we forget about bombarding people with facts and figures and find ways to challenge their control myth assumptions. The “facts” alone are not enough to persuade them. Their assumptions and pre-existing attitudes stop the facts making sense, so we need to meet them where they are at, join them in their story, and then subvert the ending.

The tool that smartMemes use to analyse control myths and find tactics to subvert them is called the Battle of the Story

The Battle of the Story
The Battle of the Story is a set of steps that help activists get inside the heads of those we campaign against and find the most useful points in their story to intervene and rewrite the ending. for example, we commonly take action at physical points in the story – at the factory gate, the annual general meeting, the supermarket or the government office. smartMeme advocate taking action at the point at which the assumptions are being made – what they call the Points of Intervention. This may well be the same physical location, but our action will be different. Will blocking the factory gate challenge control myths? If not we find new tactics…

smartMemes advocate the use of the meme: an image, action or phrase that can act as the capsule for our message a way of getting our message into the minds of those we campaign against in such a way that it opens those minds to a new ending to the story. They use case studies of banner hangs, billboard subverts, and dramatic action-stunts to illustrate the concept of the meme. An example would be the WTO/Democracy banner hang before the 1999 WT talks, which, they argue, reframed the talks and made new endings possible…

a meme?

A critique
OK so that’s a whistle-stop tour of quite a complex theory. We’ve been playing with it for a while, have trialled it at last year’s Peace News summer gathering, and used other facilitators to test out the exercises. And that’s led to the development of the following critique

On the plus side the theory shows:

  • the potential for a more creative and engaging analysis of the context in which we’re campaigning and which we want to change – a step away from dryer approaches to strategic thinking
  • the potential to get into our ‘opponents’ head in a more useful and constructive way
  • the potential to challenge us to use tactics that effectively take on the assumptions of the powerholders and help make change happen.

On the downside there are still problems we’re ironing out:

  • UK campaigners have been wary of the ‘meme’ – their response so far is that it feels like a PR exercise rather than a more meaningful action. The smartMeme approach has the feel of a very media-savvy technique which not all activists are comfortable with. To be fair we’ve tested it out with activists who tend to be wary of mainstream corporate media. For activists who believe in the power of that media, the response may be the opposite
  • the language and case studies used in Re:imagining Change are very US-focused and non-US facilitators might need to take the time to find alternative, and more culturally appropriate examples
  • the tools that smartMeme suggest don’t seem to live up to the creativity of the theory as a whole. For example key stages of the thinking process such as the Battle of the Story are offered as rather dry worksheets, and facilitators might need to liven the exercises up a bit
  • the language of traditional strategic thinking has always been full of jargon. With the smartMeme approach there’s a danger of replacing one set of jargon with another

In summary, the Battle of the Story is a useful process (though it may need streamlining), and the concept of Points of Intervention articulates a useful alternative for finding a focus for our actions. Memes? At the moment we can take them or leave them but that might change as our understanding of the process matures!

Parts of this post were first written for Making Waves, the magazine of Turning the Tide