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Archives: 'Sustainability'

January 17, 2011

Noticing the Nature of things

It has not been hard to focus on nature so far in 2011. The floods across Eastern Australia, Brazil and Sri Lanka. The record snow falls in North America and across the UK and Europe. Whilst we are experiencing a La Nina cycle which historically brings more rain to Eastern Australia, at a global level we are witnessing unprecedented changes in weather patterns. Globally, 2010 was the equal hottest year on record and the wettest year.

One of my favourite news sites is and they tell stories through images – of Australian floods here. Images are one way to communicate the science and impact of climate change. Raw data and traditional science is completely failing to make an impact on human behaviour and policy. We remain short sighted in our planning and consistently fail to implement ‘worst-case scenario’ plans. Governments continue to put ‘national interests’ ahead of global needs. As a community,  we seem to lack the ‘empathy’ for those who are in the front line of climate change – both now and future generations.

Anyway, back to my story that links local changes with a global news story.

Image Source –

As floodwaters fall in Queensland and New South Wales, our own state of Victoria is in the middle of it’s worst flood event in living memory. My thoughts are with you all.

If you want to donate to the Queensland flood appeal, here is the link –

What we experienced in Aireys Inlet

I live a small town called Aireys Inlet which is here … and (very roughly) shaded in blue are just some of the regions devastated by floods. Our region along Victoria’s surfcoast didn’t escape the impact of the big rains with sections of the Great Ocean Road closed for days and caravan parks evacuated because of flash flooding from the Otways National Park. Very few (if any) homes were inundated … we were lucky.

The Township Scale and our Estuary we call the Painkalac

The coastal villages of Aireys Inlet and Fairhaven are separated by the Painkalac Creek.

“The Painkalac Estuary is a barrier estuary that is characterised by low tidal influence, seasonal closure at the mouth and a layer of fresh water overlying a salt wedge. Painkalac Estuary Management Plan

In other words … it opens to the sea at its mouth once (maybe twice) a year … most of the life is found in top layer of fresh (oxygenated) water … and it provides the local community with loads of recreational activities including paddling, fishing and bird watching.

The other thing that happens during big rain events is potential inundation of low lying houses. This happened a few years ago after many years of drought and when the sandbar (between the estuary and the sea) had become so big that water backed up to heights not seen for decades. This recent event, followed an opening in September last year so the estuary broke the sandbar open easily. Here are some videos and photos I took to show the changes over time …

A Great Documentary – Australia Eye of the Storm (La Nina)

This doco provides a great overview of the story that sits behind Australia’s big floods. It may not last on the ABC server for long, so be quick to watch it.

GeoffBrown | Just observations, Sustainability | Comments Off on Noticing the Nature of things

November 22, 2010

The day after Open Space

If you have my previous posts, you will be aware that I spent time working with the folks from Australia’s contemporary Circus and Physical Theatre sector. The event was called the Flashpoint Forum and was hosted by the sector’s peak body ACAPTA.

When the 2 days of Open Space was over on the Friday, everyone (26 plus a few others) came back together on Saturday. I’ll admit to feeling nervous about this day. I was asking myself questions like … “why don’t we simply continue Open Space for another day?”. Here’s a story the group created, performed and recorded in just a few hours. On the Saturday morning, the group decided they wanted to create something … a story that brought together the essence of their conversations … and product that could be shared with others in their sector.

Rewind to Wednesday …

Flashpoint started and people arrived last Wednesday afternoon. Dinner that night featured an inspired talk by Kelly O’Shannassy (CEO of Environment Victoria). Kelly’s key message was that we need to re-imagine the future, side step the barriers and move to solutions that create new systems, new ways of creating stuff and of working together. Kelly provided another dimension to our forum theme, “The World Needs Saving and Circus & Physical Theatre is the Answer”. The new dimension was about ‘re-imagining our future’ … re imagining the future of this sector to make it stronger.

After Kelly, we were all treated to the vocal and comical brilliance of Intimate Apparel.

Thursday …


History Trip – Once I got the group started with the ‘ways and wares’, I sat back and participants took the lead on mapping and sharing stories of Australian contemporary Circus and Physical Theatre. Everyone was completely engaged and energised by this activity and the outcome is going to become a book!

Another little harvest was a set of ‘key features’ from their history that we need to remember and carry forward into the future. I used a set of photos called Visual Explorer (CCL link here) to elicit these ideas.

Lifecycle of Emergence – You can read all about this activity in a previous blog post here.


Open Space Kick Off – You can read more about my approach to opening space here – a blog post about my teachers.

I admit to being nervous, however, the morning discussions and activities appeared to really engage the group and our theme became really clear.

This was my favourite offering to which everyone signed up in the second session …

Friday …


Open Space sessions – a new depth and focus emerges in the group conversations

A summary of each concurrent session was published directly to the ACAPTA Blog here by session convenors.

Late PM

Converging to the stuff that matters most – Non-convergence was used here like in this post by Chris Corrigan

A summary of each action was also published directly to the ACAPTA Blog here.

Then, after 60 second report backs from each action group, an offer came the group. A few wanted to capture their key insights from the forum – insights beyond the action topics. So, before the closing circle, we played ’35’ to capture the key insights. You can read about 35 at Viv’s blog here.

Even more performances … this sector knows how to throw a party and improvise!

Saturday …


Given the influx of new participants, we started by ‘re-living’ the whole forum from beginning to end.

It was clear the group wanted more conversation and this reinforced my self talk about continuing Open Space for another day. Instead, the group framed their own question and we entered a World Cafe process. The idea of creating something together emerged and the group set about creating their structure and story which became the video above.

To support the group, I offered the Story Spine and Pecha Kucha structures – neither were used but they did focus the group on the ‘process’ of their task.

PM – see video creation above and this post at the ACAPTA Blog.

In Sum …

The Flashpoint Forum taught me more about the concept of ‘holding space‘ than any event before. For the first time I was able to get out of the group’s way and provide a space and process to support ‘their work’. I noticed more about this group than any other I have worked with and responded in small ways to support them.

For the first time as a facilitator, I managed to STOP myself from trying to control stuff … and let the group work it out. This was true for the Open Space and for the more structured sessions. Lot’s of lessons here!



GeoffBrown | Creative Stuff, Facilitation, Humor & Fun, Space, Sustainability, Yes!And Improv | Comments (4)

October 11, 2010

Making your message Stick and Slip

I am currently researching and creating a Slideshow for a client on the topic of ‘Obesity’ – the same thing that Jamie Oliver rants about here and the same things that Nicholas Christakis discusses here at TED (which is a great video as her asserts the notion that Obesity is contagious and spreads through social networks!).

As an aside … as I bookmark ‘obesity-related’ websites on Delicious here, I am again thinking about how much has changed since I was researching topics at Uni 20 years ago!

The most graphic things I have come across (so far) are 2 videos put out by the New York City Health Department. Both are designed to communicate a single message … “Drink less sugary soda drinks because it will make you fat and unhealthy”. These videos are sure to help people remember the message (STICK) and share it with networks (‘SLIPPY’ – a term coined by Mark Earls here)

The first one – which is slightly comical but drives home a point nonetheless

Here’s the second one with a gross-factor amplified on the first

So, to all my colleagues in the sustainability field who are trying to enable change … what do we learn from our friends over in the health field? Strikes me that we are all trying to do the same thing … with the same group of people. When are we going to bring our stories of change together? Global Health (climate change etc) meets Human Health (obesity, happiness) …

Cheers, Geoff

admin | Creative Stuff, How Stuff Spreads & Changes, Sustainability | Comments (1)

September 29, 2010

The Girl Effect is back

The Girl Effect video released a couple of years ago was a stunning example of story telling and blended statistics with music, visual images and text. Watching it is an emotional experience … just the kind of emotion needed to connect with the story and facts.

The latest Girl Effect video again sets the scene … Paints a picture of the Dilemma … and then points to a Resolution.

admin | Creative Stuff, Sustainability, Vizual Thinking | Comments Off on The Girl Effect is back

September 28, 2010

Coast Care Conversations and Stories

On a sunny winter’s day at the end of August, around 50 people gathered for conversations at the Fairhaven Surf Life Saving Club.

People from community groups and government agencies who are passionate about our coastal environment spent the day sharing stories and their ideas for the future. I was privileged to help the Coast Action – Coast Care team at DSE design and facilitate the event. Matt, the state manager of the program, does a great job at nailing the purpose of the forum.

The Harvest

My friend and colleague Chris Corrigan has re shaped my approach to the design of these events. Chris says “Don’t just design a workshop … design a harvest”. By harvest he means …

“There is no point in doing work in the world unless we plan to harvest the fruits of our labours.  Harvesting includes making meaning of our work, telling the story and feeding forward our results so that they have the desired impacts in the world.” Source – Chaordic Stepping Stones from the Art of Hosting website and more recently …

“Just as important as designing the process for participatory engagement is the imperative to be clear what you are harvesting from the effort. Harvesting refers to taking what has value from the process.” Source – Recent thinking on Participatory Engagement

And so for this Volunteer Forum, I encouraged the hosting group (Jess at DSE, Gail at GORCC) to plan for a Harvest so that we could continue the conversation with the workshop group and people beyond. Here is one example of something we created to share and carry forward …

Another way of sharing (and better understanding) the fruits of our labour was to ‘blog about it’. Rather than create a boring pdf report that no one would ever read, we committed to writing a series of blog posts that summarised what emerged from conversations and group activities. Here are the links to various posts written on the GORCC Blog … (and great work here by Gail Chrisfield of GORCC and Jessica Brown of DSE to bring this to life!) … these are mostly a collection of stories that were shared and explored by group members and now open for anyone to read and comment on.

Playful Whale heralds and great day for Forum goers – an overview of the day

And these blog posts came from a process (at the end of the video clip) we used called Jumpstart Stories – where participants share stories with each other and select the most compelling to communicate forward …

Taking the Initiative – by Andy Grey at Ecologic

Creating Interest in old and young alike – by Cate Barham who started the Ocean Group Coast Action group

Sending a Message – by Kristy Theissling of the Surfrider Foundation

Boxthron no match for community enterprise – by Judy Spafford of the Princetown Landcare Group

Cheers, Geoff

admin | Facilitation, Sustainability | Comments (2)

August 28, 2010

M*A*S*H* Up with Improv, Scientists & Alan Alda

On the eve of a month long trip away, Belina Raffy sent Andy Middleton and I this YouTube video featuring Alan Alda, some scientists and the Centre for Communicating Science – Stony Brook State University (USA).

For anyone who has been involved in workshops where I use Improv games, here’s a video to watch. For those who practice the art of Applied Improv with me, you know who you are … I think you’ll like this video. For me, this inspires me to do more and bring the gift of Improv to lives of more people and groups. Enjoy.

According to the Centre …

“Alda, the longtime host of PBS’ “Scientific American Frontiers” and a passionate advocate for solid popular science, has been leading an innovative effort to help scientists connect better with the public. Through the Center for Communicating Science, Mr. Alda has been teaching science graduate students to play improvisational theater games. The goal is not to turn them into actors, but to free them to talk about their work more spontaneously and directly, and to connect personally with their audience. Early reports from students say the workshops helped them in teaching, defending a thesis, and simply explaining their research to people outside their fields.”

admin | Being Present, Creative Stuff, Sustainability, Yes!And Improv | Comments (4)

August 17, 2010

Starting somewhere … the next chapter

My last post  told the story leading up to a local community event in Aireys Inlet that happened on Sunday. I am part of a Transition Town project called “The Mangowak Harvest“.

Here’s the story of what actually happened (simply click <> through the slides at your own pace) …

If you liked this Story and want to share with others, here are a couple of things you can send them via email or the web

The url link to the Slideshow –

The html code to allow the Story to embed into websites –
<div style=”width:425px” id=”__ss_4985572″><strong style=”display:block;margin:12px 0 4px”><a href=”″ title=”Aireys Inlet Story WAW2010″>Aireys Inlet Story WAW2010</a></strong><object id=”__sse4985572″ width=”425″ height=”355″><param name=”movie” value=”″ /><param name=”allowFullScreen” value=”true”/><param name=”allowScriptAccess” value=”always”/><embed name=”__sse4985572″ src=”″ type=”application/x-shockwave-flash” allowscriptaccess=”always” allowfullscreen=”true” width=”425″ height=”355″></embed></object><div style=”padding:5px 0 12px”>View more <a href=””>presentations</a> from <a href=”″>Geoff Brown</a>.</div></div>
And a run of photos to show more …

Our community has questions of ourselves and our political leaders:

We have statements to make:

And working together, with children at the centre, is our operating principle

and looking after our own stretch of coast is core:



admin | Creative Stuff, How Stuff Spreads & Changes, Sustainability | Comments (1)

July 6, 2010

A turning point in my life

Recently, I have had many requests for copies of the Castlemaine 500 Report – a report that I co-authored in relation to a community scale sustainability project that ran a few years ago in Castlemaine. You can read more about the project here.

Why was this project a turning point in my life? Here a just a few reasons …

  1. The failures of our efforts to bring about change (i.e. sustained reduction of household energy use) were confronting. I was lucky to have a client (thanks Bron) and a team (you know who you are) willing to go on a learning journey and explore ‘why’. After 12 months we responded to our observations and changed direction. We started to focus on the emerging stuff that was working … that leadership and capacity of the community itself.
  2. Our ‘inquiry’ lead to new ways of thinking and, for me anyway, a whole new worldview on ‘How Stuff Changes’ emerged. If there is 1 section of the report to read, I would direct you to Chapter 3 Principles: Getting the Mindset Right. Much of the writing in this chapter informs everything I do now.
  3. The people and community of Castlemaine. Let’s face it, relationships between people are everything and I have been gifted with a whole new network of people.
  4. This blog space emerged from my need to connect with others during the ‘dark days’ of running this project. Thanks to Viv McWaters, I started writing in this space and connecting to others around the world. Through blogging and ‘showing up’ and contributing to other people’s work, I find myself blessed with a worldwide network of great thinkers, writers and artists who I can call on at any time to collaborate with.
  5. In writing the report, Curtis Riddington and I decided at the outset to create a ‘remarkable’ report story – that is, something that would be ‘remarked on’ and even criticised. We employed a cartoonist (Simon Kneebone) and a design company in the Netherlands (Studio GloriusVandeVen). Our first drafts of the report were described as being ‘way too harsh’. In the end we toned it down and I regret we removed the stuff in the first paragraph about the importance of learning from failure.

In sum … Nowadays I expect to fail more and therefore I learn more . When trying to ‘change things’ I am a disrupter and expect criticism (keeping everyone happy when dealing with complex stuff is futile). Share everything, give it away and connect with others and often. Let go of control and be prepared to improvise. Before you try to change everything … start by simply opening your senses, slowing down and noticing more.

Cheers, Geoff

admin | Being Present, Facilitation, How Stuff Spreads & Changes, Lessons from C500, Sustainability | Comments (2)

June 23, 2010

What will it take?

A story and questions conjured from viewing, and brought to tears by, images …

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admin | Creative Stuff, Just observations, Sustainability, Vizual Thinking | Comments (1)

May 1, 2010

Using Improv to ‘Save The World’

If you want to hear 3 people talking about how Applied Improv can ‘save the world’ … then head over here to my podcasting blog Winkipod!

The names, the voices, stories and laughter from these 2 wonderful people will be revealed at Winkipod …

AM HS SD panel Noc 2007 miniBelinaCrab

anim_winki1Winkipod-cast link – Using Improv to Save The World

Cheers, Geoff

GeoffBrown | Facilitation, Podcasts that Rock!, Sustainability, Yes!And Improv | Comments Off on Using Improv to ‘Save The World’