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Archives: 'Sustainability'

May 12, 2015

Expect the unexpected

When communities take up environmental health campaigns against big, multinational companies (and Governments who support them), the script is full of drama and it feels like David will never beat Goliath again. The Anglesea and Surf Coast communities had a huge win today. Alcoa announced the closure of it’s Anglesea Coal Fired Power Station and Coal Mine. They tried to sell it off … but no one wanted to buy it.

The Surf Coast Air Action (SCAA) group, together with it’s partners and supporters, waged a long campaign to disuade potential buyers. They made it clear that our community wanted the power station shut down. No one will ever know how much of a difference we made, but it matters little. The fact is, a well organised and coherent community campaign contributed to today’s announcement.

This story will resonate far and wide. It will motivate other communities to stand up for health and the environment. Government and industry will pay attention. It means that workers in the fossil fuel industry are going to continue to lose their jobs and they need to be supported to find work in emerging industries where their skills are valued. This outcome may also act as a precedent for other redundant, polluting facilities, such as Hazlewood in the Latrobe Valley, to close.

The Coal Mine and Power Station is now what they call a ‘Stranded Asset’. It’s worth nothing and will cost millions of dollars and a decade of work to clean up. We now have a tangible example of a stranded asset in our own backyard. It’s a compelling challenge and is full of opportunities. We can create a legacy out of this mess and leave behind something that is beautiful and thriving … something that is good for our health, our economy and the air we breathe.

Well done to everyone who has been involved in action and conversations over many years. Ever since the Anglesea NEIP project more than a decade ago, people have been dreaming and scheming to see this day arrive.



GeoffBrown | Community & Belonging, Sustainability | Comments Off on Expect the unexpected

October 10, 2012

There is NO lever!

I love this latest cartoon from Hugh McLeod at Gaping Void

Hugh writes about it by saying …

“This cartoon was inspired by my friend, Mark Earls’ new book, “I’ll Have What She’s Having”.

Mark (@herdmeister), a former hot-shot London advertising planner, came to the conclusion that advertising needed to worry less about the usual buzzwords swishing around the industry, and more about the hard science of human behavior.

He calls it “Herd Behavior”. People are hyper-social creatures who behave en masse, not individually. And there’s a lot of new science to back it up.

Which renders a lot of old-school, command-and-control ideas about marketing and business rather misinformed at best, completely wrong at worst.

Marketers love to be lazy, love to think that humans beings are predictable… that if you only say the right thing in a sweet-sounding and clever enough voice, people will magically fall into line. Like some magic lever, just waiting to be pulled. Alas.”

If you want to have a conversation with Mark Earls and hear what he has to say about CHANGE (and how stuff spreads through communities), he is coming to Australia very soon! I’ll working alongside Mark and the 3 Pillars Network at their 3rd Annual Behaviour Change 4 Sustainability Congress. You can register here. 

In my own consulting work with clients this “Tyranny of Control” remains a pervasive force and one I find myself challenging constantly. When it comes to my practice of designing for and facilitating group conversations … there is no mechanical lever that sets off a nice, neat set of predictable outcomes. Viv McWaters and Johnnie Moore have written some great stuff on this and they call it the Tyranny of the Explicit. Here’s a little of what Viv has to say …

“Building your commitment muscle takes a leap of faith, often into the unknown. If you need to know what it will be like before you commit (which on the face of it seems reasonable) you will be forever stuck in what Johnnie and I refer to as the Tyranny of the Explicit – needing to know yet more information before acting.

Trailblazers, leaders, innovators all share a willingness to commit without knowing the outcome, without knowing if it will be worth it, without having done a risk analysis. They bust free of the Tyranny of the Explicit.”

So what are you trying to control at the moment? I’ve a got a few thing I need to ‘let-go’ of myself 🙂

GeoffBrown | How Stuff Spreads & Changes, Presentations & Slideshows, Sustainability | Comments Off on There is NO lever!

May 8, 2012

Graphic Harvest with Narration

I am currently facilitating a series of conversations between a group of people who have joined the 3 Pillars Network Active Learning program. The core purpose of this program is to connect people from all over Australia who work in the field (if you can call it  field?) of behaviour change for sustainability. The idea is to promote learning between practitioners, researchers and those in policy.

Last week I drew a map of the key things I remembered from the conversations. I love creating these maps after reading books and listening to TED talks. It helps to make links between ideas and create a story. Yesterday I shared my map with a participant who couldn’t make it to the session. I took her through the map, piece by piece, and wished I had recorded it.

Today, I did record it … it a first take and I have no idea why the video is compressed into half the screen?

Here’s the map …

And here’s the video – a 10 minute watch …

GeoffBrown | Brain Science & Research, Creative Stuff, How Stuff Spreads & Changes, Sustainability, Vizual Thinking | Comments Off on Graphic Harvest with Narration

March 1, 2012


I am heading to Vancouver in June to work with friends – Chris Corrigan and Steven Wright. We are currently designing a series of World Cafe conversations for the World Indigenous Housing Conference. You can read all about WHO is behind this gathering by clicking on the Conference Logo.

One of the crucial parts of the design is the Invitation (Chris writes about Inivitation here and here).

If an Invitation to a gathering was a small plate of nuts that needed to be cracked … then one of our key organisers has just cracked a few open! He has built a relationship with Mike Holmes – a well-known TV host, housing expert and philanthropist. Not only is Mike a keynote speaker at the conference, he has produced this video. They present a story that gets to heart of what an Invitation should. It speaks of the Need (the compelling reason why?), it’s Purpose (what we hope to achieve) and the People (who this is for).

Mike also says this …

“Everyone is bringing to the table, what each of us knows, so that we can make it right together.”

This little quote is at the heart of our design of the group dialogue and conversations which will feature on Days 2 and 3 of the conference. It acknowledges that no single person, group, culture or organisation has the answer to solve indigenous housing problems – they are way too complex and interconnected! Instead we need the ideas and perspectives from the whole field, brought together into conversation, to accelerate change.

I am looking forward to the conversation before, during and after this Vancouver gathering.


GeoffBrown | Facilitation, How Stuff Spreads & Changes, Story, Sustainability | Comments Off on Invitation

October 15, 2011

You are invited to talk, think, play and learn

I’m excited! This year I have been privileged to co-design a Sustainability Congress which is happening in Sydney next month with the 3 Pillars Network. This Congress has emerged from a network of people with unanswered questions and great ideas. This extraordinary group of practitioners and researchers have been on a learning journey together in 2011 – The 3 Pillars Active Learning Program

EARLY BIRD rates end this week on Friday 21st October for the Behaviour Change for Sustainability National Congress.

The reason I am excited has been the collaborative approach to the shape, the content and the design of the process. The content and themes for the gathering has emerged from the network of people I mentioned above – Active Learning Program participants. From here, Anne Cameron from 3 Pillars has worked tirelessly to invite, track-down and inspire speakers to bring something different.

Anne and I have co-created the content and style of sessions with invited speakers. Our focus has been to design an event that flows, where presenters have a conversation with delegates … where the ideas and questions build from session to session.

When you look at the Program you’d be right to call it a fairly traditional conference format … keynote speakers and facilitated sessions. But, our speakers are bringing stories that fit the purpose of the event. They have been challenged to stay open to the conversations and questions that emerge. None are bringing ‘off-the-shelf’ presentations they have done before.

Behaviour Change in the context of environmental sustainability is not broad enough. This year, we are diving deep into the connections between fields – sustainability, human/population health, communications, evaluation, story-telling and complexity.

So, I invite you to Sydney in November to talk, think and play together. Let me leave you with some images and ideas that I can see emerging in this event …

When different fields collide … unexpected and edgy things are created


Sensing your own mental-models (about change) is like trying to see the color of your own eye … without looking into a mirror. So, be prepared to stir-it-all-up to see what lies beneath


And if you ever start to question why you do what you do, just remember …


Image sources – 1 & 23


GeoffBrown | Facilitation, Sustainability | Comments Off on You are invited to talk, think, play and learn

August 1, 2011

Creating the Conditions for Emergence

“As Bloom once told a reporter: “We were looking for exceptional kids and what we found were exceptional conditions”. […] The “exceptional conditions” we found can be summarized under the headings of opportunity to learn, authentic tasks, and exceptionally supportive social contexts.” ~ Lauren Sosniak, p289.

I found this quote here in Doing What Works in Solutions Focussed Change and it got me thinking about my work, parenting and change.

In my last post, What are you a student of right now?, I shared this little word-graphic on the fields and practices that shape my learning …


As parents we pay attention to our children and hope that they will end up happy, with a healthy mix of self confidence, resilience and empathy toward others. We are also blind to much of what others, outside of the family unit, can plainly see. Lately I’ve been playing around with some ideas and they are all about cultivating the right conditions at home … conditions that allow my children to learn, make mistakes, say yes more often(!) and reflect. The quote above has me determined to experiment a little more and be much more playful along the way.

Here are some things I am playing with to help create more ‘exceptional’ conditions …

– Play improv game more with my kids and get them comfortable with the discomfort of ‘not knowing’ the next step, the script and in co-creating something in the moment with each other

– Use Playback Theatre methods (like Machines) to allow them to explore and express emotions by using their bodies and movement

– Open up daily times for reflection (conversation) on events and moment that occur during the day. Sometimes we find out about a significant event that happens at school weeks later. As parents we ask “Why didn’t they tell us about this?”. Well, maybe in the hectic day 2 day schedule of life, we didn’t provide them with the opportunity to open up and share these precious moments

– Play more ‘noticing’ games that orient the focus of family attention to the present moment. The stuff that is unfolding right in front of our eyes now … the bird tapping at the window … The wind in the trees … The silence of the moment. This requires that we, as parents, be present first. That our kids hear and see us being absorbed in the moment.

These all appear to be simple, small things. In practice they are actually very challenging. Creating the types of conditions needed for our kids to thrive has a key question at it’s heart … “Who am I being, that my children need me to be?”

I can’t remember where I heard this little lesson, but it comes from Theatre … “Act like people are always watching, even if no one is there.” This lesson was in reference to a live performance where actors played out scenes in many rooms of a house. The audience moved from room to room, at their own pace, in their own time. Many rooms contained only actors and no audience, but the performers kept on going … as if the audience was present.

Imagine if we all, as parents, as leaders, as friends, as co-workers, acted with integrity and honesty … even when no-one is watching.


GeoffBrown | Facilitation, Living Systems & Complexity, Space, Sustainability | Comments (1)

March 24, 2011

Our Mindset, Metal Models and the Human Condition

For the last few years I have been learning more and more about the human condition, our mental models and the mindsets that shape our behaviour and decisions.

Chris Corrigan provides a very nice description of ‘mental models’ in his paper on Participatory Engagement

“Mental models are those frames of reference that define our thinking and how we view the world. They are frames that we take for granted, and to view our own mental models is a bit like trying to see the color of our own eyes without a mirror.”

Because our own models of world are so obscured, we are pretty good at leaving them unexamined … to us they speak the truth. However, for transformational change to occur, the process of questioning our mental models (and underlying assumptions) is a critical step. It’s a process and a conversation we need to engage in more honestly, with ourselves and in groups.

Lessons from Castlemaine 500

Between 2006 and 2008 I lead a community, behaviour change project called Castlemaine 50. You can read about it here.

Because we failed to reach the project energy reduction targets, my own mental models and assumptions about human behaviour change we challenged! For a while the results turned my world upside down, but with wise people around me, I began to ask questions and look for new ways of understanding human behaviour and how stuff spreads and changes through communities.

It’s our mental models and underlying assumptions that need to be challenged and focusing on the behaviour change tools will only produce more the same. So, our project report included a whole section on mental models and mindsets and the headings looked like this …

In this chapter we introduced the concept of ‘Complexity’ by using Dave Snowden’s Cynefin Framework. We explored a different model of change in viewing people as a social species driven to connect and be influenced by those around us – often subconsciously.

3 years on, I am still learning. I am continuing to challenge my own worldviews, which has re shaped the way I facilitate, the way I parent and has increased my ability to pay attention and notice what is happening in the moment. In my consulting work I am challenging clients to explore their own mental models, assumptions and principles. I am supported in this journey by those around including Viv McWaters, Chris Corrigan, Anne Pattillo and Johnnie Moore.

Here are some of the latest videos that have reshaped my own view of the world around me …

1. The 2 Loops Model of How Systems Change from the Berkana Institute

Chris Corrigan introduced me to this model and we ran a session together at the 2010 Show Me The Change conference on this and complexity models. Meg Wheatley and Deborah Frieze have also written a great paper that explores ‘Emergence’ through Networks, Communities of Practice and Systems of Influence – Titled: The Lifecycle of Emergence

Two Loops: How Systems Change from The Berkana Institute on Vimeo.

2. TED Talk by Brene Browne on The Power of Vulnerability

I loved this presentation and it opens up so many questions about ourselves, our teams and the way we lead.

3. TED Talk by David Brooks on the Social Animal
David explores new insights into human nature from the cognitive sciences with massive implications for economics and politics as well as our own self.

4. Ted Talk by Barry Schwartz on Using our Practical Wisdom
A classic on why ‘Principles and Practices’ are needed in the complex space, rather than the ‘Tools and Rules’ which are effective in simple and complicated spaces.

5. Matthew Taylor explores 21st Century Enlightenment

The focus on our collective ’empathic’ capacity stood out for me in this animated lecture. How do we nurture this capacity in ourselves and in others?

GeoffBrown | How Stuff Spreads & Changes, Lessons from C500, Sustainability | Comments (3)

March 12, 2011

What do we mean by the terms ‘community’ and ‘networks’?

I’m excited because over the next 4 weeks I have 4 days of reflective and learning time set aside with some wonderful people. Next week, I am spending the better part of 3 days with a group of people who follow each other’s blogs, share a similar workspace and push the boundaries of learning and practice. Can’t wait for that.

And to make things even better I have a paid job with the 3 Pillars Network and a NETWORK of 30 or so practitioners in the behaviour change field … and to be more specific that’s behaviour change that relates to sustainability. BUT, are we a NETWORK, or are we a COMMUNITY? Enter Matt Moore and Nancy White to help answer this question.

My 4th day of learning in on April 11 and I get to spend a day with Nancy White in some ‘deep engagement’ in a session titled Crossing New Boundaries in Online Community Management . I am really excited about this day. Firstly, I can’t wait to finally meet Nancy whose work, graphic facilitation and writing has inspired me to seek out new areas of practice.

Of late, I have been struggling with online communities and particularly in ways of leading and managing. I need challenge my own mental models on this and along comes this timely session …

“Five years ago, the job title “online community manager” was rare. It was an addition to someone’s existing job, or they simply volunteered. Today, every organisation has or wants an online community (whatever that means). We are working both with bounded communities and broad, diverse networks. We need to be more deliberate in how we integrate community strategies into the heart of our organizations, how they impact our real work, and how they shape our organizations.” Part if the invitation to the session.

So back to my question about the Behaviour Change for Sustainability NETWORK … or is that a COMMUNITY? For those participating, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Now here’s the primer from Matt and Nancy …

GeoffBrown | How Stuff Spreads & Changes, Sustainability | Comments (2)

March 6, 2011

My wife is now blogging!

Given the volume of tweets that I share with the world that are about growing, harvesting, preparing and eating food, is it any surprise that we have set up a blog called Home Harvesting?

But one day … Ingrid turned to me and said something that resonated instantly in both of us … and of course I tweeted it …

This summer has produced a bountiful harvest at home. We have struggled to keep up with the fruit, vegetables and eggs we have produced. For the first time, nothing has gone to waste – we have harvested, prepared, consumed (and shared) almost everything. And now 2 weeks after that comment, Ingrid has started her own blog!

The focus of Home Harvest will be recipes, and believe me, Ingrid is a master cook and has that rare knack of being able to combine food in the right way. The recipes will focus on home garden harvests and I will throw in some stuff about how to grow the food and cultivate the right conditions in the home plot and orchard. I’m excited! We’re excited and finally all those 1-off recipes that Ingrid masterfully creates will have a home that we and everyone can enjoy.

For those that follow my writing at this blog, they will know that the term ‘Harvest’ has another meaning. Slowly but surely I am beginning to see more clearly the links between the social world of humans and the emergence and complexity of nature. More writing to follow on what I learn from growing food and apply to my practice. Geoff.

GeoffBrown | Creative Stuff, Facilitation, Sustainability | Comments Off on My wife is now blogging!

February 7, 2011


On the topic of what’s UNREASONABLE in the world, Seth started a useful list here … Andy built on the list here … and I am continuing the trend here.

I don’t agree with any of these statements (of course!) and their impact is in the gut reaction they evoke. I think there is a workshop activity in this … small groups crafting ‘unreasonable’ statements to unnerve and disrupt the status quo in their world.

My List – inspired, in part, by the things that I notice that leave me asking “Why!?!”

It’s unreasonable to expect government agencies to launch a community engagement process that leads to completely new ways of doing business and that seeks to transform stakeholders to co-creators – inspired by Chris Corrigan’s thought on Participatory Engagement (which are of course in favour of new ways and transformation!)

It’s unreasonable to expect ordinary people to share/rent/give-away their unused/unwanted material possessions with other people who need them – inspired by the Gift Economy and by the need to ‘share more’ to create a sustainable planet and connected communities

It’s unreasonable to enter into a conversation with a complete willingness to emerge a slightly different person – inspired by a quote by Theodore Zeldin

It’s unreasonable to think that government institutions would provide their staff with unlimited access to the online knowledge, networks, tools and learning communities that exist on today’s internet – inspired by my exasperated response when I hear staff tell me … “Can you send me that video on CD because we can’t access YouTube here at work” 

It’s unreasonable for teachers to accept offers of classroom help by their student’s parents who are passionate about the learning of children – no need to explain this one!

Here’s Andy Middleton’s list:

It’s unreasonable to build the solutions to what’s needed for a healthy planet into every business decision you make.

It’s unreasonable to only set goals that are good enough to get us where we’re trying to go, rather than just nudge us forward from the present.

Here’s Seth’s list:

It’s unreasonable to get out of bed on a snow day, when school has been cancelled, and turn the downtime into six hours of work on an extra credit physics lab.

It’s unreasonable to launch a technology product that jumps the development curve by nine months, bringing the next generation out much earlier than more reasonable competitors.

It’s unreasonable for a trucking company to answer the phone on the first ring.

It’s unreasonable to start a new company without the reassurance venture money can bring.

It’s unreasonable to expect a doctor’s office to have a pleasant and helpful front desk staff.

It’s unreasonable to walk away from a good gig in today’s economy, even if you want to do something brave and original.

It’s unreasonable for teachers to expect that we can enable disadvantaged inner city kids to do well in high school.

It’s unreasonable to treat your colleagues and competitors with respect given the pressure you’re under.

It’s unreasonable to expect that anyone but a great woman, someone with both drive and advantages, could do anything important in a world where the deck is stacked against ordinary folks.

It’s unreasonable to devote years of your life making a product that most people will never appreciate.

Fortunately, the world is filled with unreasonable people. Unfortunately, you need to compete with them.

admin | Just observations, Sustainability | Comments (1)