Watching the World go bye-bye

I really really wanted to like it. I wanted to come away from the content of a lecture/presentation inspired and upbeat. I wanted… well, you can’t always get what you want.

The venue, while out of the way, was great- a church built in 174something. The hosting organisation, the Greater Manchester Centre for Voluntary Organisation, did a sterling job of making everyone feel welcome. The introductory comments by Caroline Downey of Bridge 5 Mill were brief and to the point.

The speaker came from the WorldWatch Institute, a Washington-based thinktank that used to give me food for thought back in the day.

And, well, you can see what’s left. The speech. Not the speaker, who was an obviously intelligent, well-informed, diligent and sincere man. But my gaia, his speech was a looong hour of my life, which I will never get back.

He was here to talk about the State of the World report for 2010, entitled “Transforming Cultures: From Consumerism to Sustainability.”

You can understand why Richard Sharland, Head of Environmental Strategy at the City Council was there- after all, culture shift is the joint headline action for the Climate Change Action Plan.

Culture, he said, “is the sum of all social processes that make the artificial or human-constructed seem natural” (from Welsch and Vivanco). To illustrate this point he had served up roast grasshoppers at the Washington DC launch. Custom(s) prevented that here, which is a pity, because that at least would have been a new taste, a new sensation…

He then spent the next hour (I kid you not) telling us what anybody turning up to a seminar called “From Consumerism to Sustainability” almost certainly already knows, if they’ve seen Morgan Spurlock’s Supersize Me, or read anything by Naomi Klein or… well, you get the picture.

He looked at the “six key institutions for changing cultures – education, business, government, the media, social movements and traditions.” and gave ‘examples’ of how work was being done in each. That’s fine as far as it goes (not far) but few of the examples were new, or problematised, or inspiring. At no point did he go into detail on the obstacles, the push backs, the psychological, social and economic forces arrayed against change, that enforce homeostasis.

He didn’t deploy potentially interesting ideas- meme warfare, impossible hamsters, reclaiming the streets, culture jamming etc etc.

And the Q and A was dishwater dull. Long answers given to short questions, fundamentals ducked or at best weaved (economics, agency, urgency). But at least we got to find out what some individuals were doing. It might have been well to start with that- a quick shout out asking people to describe in one or at most two sentences what they were doing.

Since we were told that the talk is “evolving,” here’s the selection pressure of robust practical constructive criticism.

  • find out what people already know (need only have taken a minute or two longer)

  • start from that, not preaching to the converted for an hour

  • spice up the slide show, with better pictures and better quotes

  • be much much more concise in content and punchier in delivery

  • keep it to at most a third of the time (“brief comments” doesn’t mean the best part of an hour!)

  • find out what people are DOING. It helps them, it helps you get material/examples for the next talk, the next book

  • Be much briefer in answers to questions from the floor, enabling more people to make their points.

  • Most of all, don’t treat any audience – any audience, let alone a highly intelligent and motivated one- like sheep for an hour.

It’s such a pity- for once the gender mix was approaching 50/50, (as opposed to the usual 2-to-4 to one male to female ratio. There was even a decent number of People of Colour in the room, which is virtually unheard of. We were even sat at round tables, perfect for mingling. But we weren’t helped/forced over the first hurdle, of classic “English” reserve.

In other news: Princes Charles was at the Museum of Science and Industry today, sharing a platform Richard Leese, who spoke of the Climate Change Action Plan/ “Manchester. A Certain Future.” According to HRH something is going to be STARTing in September.


About dwighttowers

Below the surface...
This entry was posted in Consumers, Manchester City Council, worldwatch institute. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Watching the World go bye-bye

  1. Sounds like you had a really enjoyable day…

  2. Phil says:

    another good and pithy report Marc – thank you. Glad to have missed it. Was actually watching Avatar in the IMAX at the time …two polar extremes of 'green' messaging???

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