Guest blog by Robin Duval
I attended the Firestarter Festival for the first time this year. After completing the ULab in late 2019 I decided to run my own event as part of the data collection for my MSc dissertation regarding the impact of urban development on rent and well-being in Govanhill.
The event used Social Presencing Theatre (SPT) to create a 4D map exploring existing power relations between decision makers and impacted communities and then shifting these relationships using mindfulness and movement to envision a future for Govanhill for people from all backgrounds. The morning focused on practical exercises aimed at encouraging empathetic active listening, grounding individuals in their bodies and developing awareness of group dynamics using Joanna Macy’s Systems Game. In the afternoon participants volunteered for roles to create the 4D map.
Modelling the system using SPT enabled participants to develop greater awareness of the social field; how the quality of our relationships influences collective behaviour and practical results. 4D mapping enabled the group to embody the roles of different actors in the system, explore how they relate to and perceive others and identify opportunities to participate, influence and change the social system.
4D mapping roles included: a local property owner, a local councillors, a housing association worker, a private renter, a social entrepreneur, a church community worker, an elderly Scots residents, a young migrant and a representation of the earth and the highest future aspiration of the system, which in this case was affordable wellbeing.
Event participants commented that, during the development of the map, they saw a shift from centralized ownership-based power to decentralized socio-ecological power; participants moved from dispersed positioning with the property owner on a chair in the middle, to a closer circle of participants with the earth at the centre and the property owner on the outside.
Another reflection uncovered an inner dissonance between societal aspirations and personal experiences of wellbeing through the recognition that ecosystem health and quality of life are mutually dependent. This participant noted that when the earth and affordable wellbeing were positioned away from each other they thought ‘yes that’s what we do, we say we have to treat nature this way because we want to live in nice comfortable houses and have an aspiring lifestyle so we pit them against each other’ when really you can’t have one without the other. ‘If you ask yourself what’s really going to make you well, you’re going to go to nature.’
One participant articulated that the health of the global socio-ecological system requires a shift in perception from people doing what’s best for themselves to deciding what steps are best for everyone. Another participant expressed a frustration with people centring power around the property owner and felt that noticing ‘the interrelation between people’ is ‘more necessary and able to change things’. This acknowledgement of people’s interconnected wellbeing is core to shifting paradigms towards a co-creative economy.
People appreciated the space to just explore things without being rushed to an end solution. There was a desire for more opportunities to explore how people relate to one another, to enable people who don’t usually acknowledge one another to do so, and to create a space to identify what steps can be taken to collectively benefit people in this community. People appreciated the use of active listening exercises which used I saw, I heard, I felt responses and said that they’d like to see these methods used more often in community spaces.
Sensing Journey interviews were also conducted with local community development organisations and social enterprises. Data from interviews and the event informed interlinked intervention proposals at personal, relational and structural levels. These included: influencing personal attitudes and behaviours; strengthening community cohesion; creating structures to support equitable life opportunities; and affecting the system purpose.
Transformative adaptation requires relational presencing (open mind, heart and will) where our interactions shift who we think we are (self-identity) and what we think we know (values). These interactions influence our individual and collective enactment of the system through changes to behavior and social organization (Pelling, 2011, Scharmer, 2018). Whereas, attitudes of judgement, fear and cynicism lead people to disengage and desensitize from the challenges others experience, and from their own agency and responsibility as a social actor who’s relational attitudes influence systemic conditions (Scharmer and Kaufer, 2013). Qualities of relating provide a leverage point to influence the social construction of systems by asking ‘what’s happening through us’ (Macy and Johnstone, 2012).
The social and ecological externalities of competitive free-market paradigms reflect uneven power dynamics in society which influence behaviours and relationships. Approaching social justice challenges and emerging operating structures with curiosity, compassion and courage could trigger a shift towards a co-creative economy (Scharmer and Kaufer, 2013). This would address these challenges at the level of paradigm by incorporating structures and relational attitudes to enable equality of opportunity and support collective socio-ecological wellbeing.
Robin Duval lives in Strathbungo and has just graduated from an MSc in Sustainability and Adaptation at the Centre for Alternative Technology.