This morning Team MCFly went to the launch of the Energy Savings Trust’s “Green Communities” event (essentially their CafE programme rebranded and with more money ponied up by central government). There were some Very Good Bits. But… wait for it, wait for it.. frankly, it did have a whiff of ‘let’s tick the box marked engagement, get a couple of photos and some positive feedback from reliably effusive people, take a couple more photos and slap it all in the annual report.‘
There were approximately 140 people in the room, which is a turnout to be applauded and envied. Much much more could have been done, at minimal/zero cost, and it would have given everyone a warm fuzzy feeling when they heard “Energy Saving Trust” or “Foundation.”
The audience was sat in rows and subjected to your standard death-by-powerpoint series of presentations.
- The chair of the EST Graham Ayling, gave a bit too much detail about the EST, and used a few too many of the words you’d find on a “bullshit bingo” board. He said nothing that anyone in the room would have found objectionable or surprising.
- Two people from “DESP”- Davyhulme Energy Saving Project talked about the work they had done, initially in their local church and then with school children.
- Ben Williams from Foundation basically said that although they haven’t got the money from the big capitalists that they thought they would get (don’t you know there’s a credit crunch on), they still want people to send in applications for funding for ‘offset’ projects.
This was followed by a talk from a “TV personality” called Dick Strawbridge, who was very engaging for 10 minutes, but after 20 minutes or so began to pall a bit. We then had an opportunity to mingle, and browse the stalls of the sponsoring organisations (no other stalls were around) before a nice lunch, with a decent veggie selection for once. Everyone then sloped off, but for those who hopped on a coach to visit an “eco-house.”
So, a certain amount of information was disseminated (tick that box), a certain (but not large) amount of networking facilitated among stakeholders (tick that box) and photos taken (tick that box). But overall, a missed opportunity for genuine beyond-the-silos networking and community(!)-building, and for a species that has been missing opportunities to sort itself out for quite a while now, a bit of a disappointment too.
So, what are the Concrete Suggestions?
- Start with a short welcoming comments from the chair followed by him/her asking people to turn to the person behind them(they probably know the folks sat next to them) and discuss why they’ve come, what projects they are working on etc (this is an easy and failsafe icebreaker)
- “Enforced mingling” based on where people live, what jobs they do, what they are particularly interested in, what kind of projects they are running, what religion they are, and a random one (month of birth, first letter of the town/city of their birth). Getting groups of 4 or 5 people going, talking about a shared experience etc, even if for a few minutes, gives EVERYONE permission to mingle more. [Without these “permissions”, only those determined or bold enough to mingle beyond their known groups will get the most out of a day like this. Sure, there are always a few who want to be left alone to digest or stare into space, and they can keep doing that. But it’s the role of hosts to break the ice, and today the ice didn’t get broken nearly as much as it could have done.]
- Investigate Open Space Technology.
- One of the speakers should ALWAYS be tasked with injecting a little realism- if there is no acknowledgement of the challenges and difficulties that we face then it is frankly dishonest and unhelpful and undermines the credibility of the sponsoring organisaitions. If this stuff – community engagement etc- was easy, then we wouldn’t be in the mess we are in. Everybody knows that, but is too afraid of spoiling the jamboree atmosphere to come out and tell the truth.
So, really good that the EST and Foundation are doing this work, and it’s encouraging to see so many people in attendance. And it WAS useful for those who went, MCFly included. But nonetheless, these sort of events have not created the “stepchange”that is needed, and without a lot more of all the good things they want to promote- partnership, innovation, boldness- then these sorts of meetings will continue to perform significantly less well than they could (while still ticking the boxes around photos and positive comments for annual reports and upbeat newsletters).
Wordy rant over.