I’ve been challenged to explain how you could design a film showing that involved a “facilitated small group discussion that generated ideas of what we can do in Manchester, and built connections between people who didn’t know each other, THAT would be something.”
This instead of “the usual platitudes and evasions and invocations to ‘Build A Movement’ from a bunch of people at the front? No, that won’t work. How do I know? Because we’ve been running that experiment for a Very Long Time.”
See here for more on the pathologies of the Q and A session, and the institutional sexism of traditional meetings
So, it starts before you even show the film. As people come in you have people tearing tickets and and welcoming people, saying “Please feel free to talk to other people. They probably are as concerned about climate change as you are. There’s a flipchart up there with questions you have either about climate science or climate politics. ‘No question too stupid!'” [And you get those questions answered, with reliable links and sources, very quickly, and the whole lot put up on the website of the sponsoring organisations].
You also have the screen that the film will be shown on saying
“This film talks about the need to build movements to challenge climate change. You can do that by talking to the person to someone you don’t know. Why did they come? What are they interested in getting involved in in Manchester? Food? Transport? Energy? Democracy? Aviation campaigning? Something else.”
Then you welcome everyone
“Thanks everyone for coming. We’re going to show the film, then have a short comfort break. And after that, instead of doing the usual Q and A that is dominated by a few people, we’re going to do something a bit different. I know that might seem unnecessary and hippy, but the traditional format has not worked to build a movement. So we are going to innovate. Now, before we show the film, please turn to someone you don’t know and just exchange names and say hello.”
After the film.
“Right, that was pretty heavy. Just turn to the person next to you and have a very quick chat about what you thought – how it made you feel. Or if you don’t do emotions, what you’d like to take action on here in Manchester. Then we’re going to have a five minute of comfort break before getting into lots of discussions and networking about what we DO here in Manchester.”
Five minute break.
“So, just to recap with everyone about what has been happening in Manchester over the last few years on climate change. Way back in 2009, Manchester City Council and stakeholders came up with the “Manchester Climate Change Action Plan”, which said there was going to be a 41% reduction in carbon emissions from the city – not just the council, but the whole city, by 2020, and that there was going to be a “Low Carbon Culture”. They are way off their emissions targets, and the low carbon culture thing is dead in the water – only a quarter of the councillors have even done the one day “carbon literacy training”. So, that’s pretty depressing. The point is though – we already HAVE a bold and radical plan. We don’t need more plans, we need groups of people who are able to take action, and force the council and businesses to keep their promises.”
“We are NOT going to do a traditional Q and A session, because those tend to get dominated by the confident, the male and they leave other people thinking that they will never know enough or be confident enough to get involved in action.
So, we’ve got teams of people – facilitators and scribes – who’ve agreed to get conversations going on whatever topics people want to talk about, learn more about.
Listen up, because we’re going to have different groups in different parts of the room. I’ll first say what the groups are, and then say where they’ll be. There will also be someone holding a stick with the key word standing there, waiting for you all to come over!
If you want to talk about food – food growing, being vegetarian, encouraging people to eat less meat –
If you want to talk about transport – public transport, cycling, getting cars off the road
If you want to talk about energy – how to decrease the amount we use, how to get involved in campaigns to insulate more houses…
If you want to talk about democracy – why the council has broken almost all of its promises and what we can do about it – over here
If you want to talk about the film – what you liked, what you didn’t, then over here.
“We’ll do this for 20 minutes. The facilitator will make sure nobody dominates and that new people get a word in edgeways. The scribe will capture the main points of discussion, but not use anyone’s name.
Then we will gather for a VERY quick summary of each group from the facilitator.
“If you want to switch groups, that’s fine, but please listen to whatever group you go to for a few minutes before jumping in with your opinions.
If you’ve other comments or suggestions that don’t fit into those groups, please put them up on the flipcharts here.
All the summaries, and answers to your climate science and policy questions, will be put up on the website xxxxxx in a few days’ time.
For this you will need 5 facilitators and 5 scribes, of course.
You could also have someone making a short film about what people thought of the film, what they want to see happen in Manchester.
Some people will leave because of this format. I’m guessing three broad reasons for this;
a) some of them wanted a chance to pontificate and dominate and realise they’re not going to get it. Good riddance
b) Some will have wanted to sit there passive and not venture opinions or ideas. There’s a collusive relationship between sages on the stage and the ego fodder. This format challenges that. So be it.
c) Some people will just be too freaked out to contribute, since this isn’t what they expected. That’s a pity, but by comforting the ‘lowest common denominator’ you would lose the other energy and connection. You can’t have everything.
Of course, event organisers who are opposed to this format (because they’re used to dominating) or are too scared to innovate, will point to the fact that some people leave as “proof” that the format is exclusionary. That’s to be expected, and is precisely how innovations are killed, and how incumbents defend themselves.