Those people (1) who actively think about climate change are a pretty small and scared bunch.
When people feel outnumbered and ignored, they have certain emotional needs. Normally those needs are not met. Then someone calls a meeting… And it’s like ants to honey, moths to a flame….
That is, as has happened so often – the danger in calling a meeting is in a whole bunch of people who don’t know each other come together, feeling good for having denounced the Tories/Manchester City Council/the species and then going home and waiting for another opportunity to do the same…
There is no consequence for taking up time and energy of virtual strangers, and the facilitators tend not to intervene to shut people up, because it would be an ‘infringement’ of ‘people’s need to express themselves’. But by confusing emotional processing with political planning, nobody ends up happy. Those who want to express themselves inevitably feel cut short, and those who came in the hope of doing something concrete go away irritated that they were basically used as a captive audience for other people’s angst.
But it doesn’t have to be like this. We can design meetings that get beyond this, and if we follow through on the design, and facilitate with firmness and compassion, something better can emerge.
(Fwiw, my proposed) Solution
Before the meeting
Explain very clearly – via a short blog post, and even a video if resources exist – what the meeting IS for and what it is NOT for.
I would have something like
“This meeting is for people who want to meet other people who are deeply worried about climate change and offended or angered by the lack of a decent response by both local and national government. It’s for people who are busy with their lives but who also want to take sustained action (over months and years) – perhaps only 15 minutes a week, but as part of a group that does more than just goes on marches or sign petitions.
The meeting will be about two things. First, our emotions and how we cope (or don’t). Emotions matter – we are not robots, despite what our society tells us to be. But emotions are not enough.
That’s why most of the meeting is going to be about what skills and knowledge and connections each of us has, and each of us wants to have. The meeting will be about connecting people who have skills with those who want them. The meeting will be about finding out what knowledge people feel they need to be effective in their actions for a saner world. The meeting in and of itself will change nothing.
This meeting is NOT for people who just grandstand and preen, who want to sell their newspapers or ideology, or demand that everyone join their political party or go to their protest.”
The post/video should also explain to people who cannot be there how they can be involved, get their involvement.
“If you can’t come to the meeting – because of childcare or work or other commitments, you can still be involved! Please check out our list of things you could do – divided into jobs that are simple, jobs that are complicated, jobs that are quick (15 minutes or less) and jobs that take a bit longer. ALSO, send us an email telling us what skills you have, what questions you have about climate change and its impacts.”
We’d love to have your statement on the wall of the meeting room, to show people who come that many others who wanted to could not be there, but we will only do this with your permission.
During the meeting
As people arrive, give everyone a name badge, and a label so they can write what suburb/part of Greater Manchester they are from, so they are more likely to start talking to people who might live close to them.
Give everyone the blurb about what the meeting is for, in case they’ve not seen it online.
Have flip-charts up on the wall with a few key questions and marker pens for people to start writing. Questions might include
What practical things can we do in the short term (next 3 to 6 months) to make sure that we and our friends, family and neighbours are better prepared for things like floods, power failures, etc.
What can we do force politicians to keep the fine promises they have already made? (please do not say “marches” and “petitions” – these will happen anyway, because there are groups that are simply addicted to them)
What can we do DIFFERENTLY as environmental groups to stop a wave of concern turning into puddles of apathy and burnout?
What do we need to differently so that people who are busy/don’t like meetings still feel part of a ‘movement’ that does things that work to increase connectedness, that increase our ability to look after each other and force politicians to make and then keep promises?
What don’t you know about climate change that you need to know?
What skills would you like to learn in 2016 to make you a more effective person to make changes in Manchester?
Encourage people to get together with someone else (either someone they know or someone they don’t, it doesn’t matter) and write answers.
Have statements of people who can’t be at the meeting on the wall too.
Call the meeting to start with applause or something similarly upbeat. Ask people to leave spaces near the door for inevitable late-comers.
A very brief thank you to everyone for coming.
Ask everyone to introduce themselves to someone they don’t know, and chat for a couple of minutes about why they’ve come, what they do etc.
First part of the meeting is about people’s feelings and the coping strategies that they work for them.
Ask people to BRIEFLY articulate their feelings, and also what they do in response.
[The key in this bit is to collect a lot of ideas about coping strategies. If it gets bogged down in people venting, then lots of people will mentally leave, and do so physically as soon as they decently can.]
Because you’ll have been talking about dark feelings for a bit, the mood may lower. You need a way/multiple ways of getting people energised. That might be reading out messages from people couldn’t come, or giving news of cool stuff that was happening elsewhere.
Personally I’d run “novice lines” based around the flipchart answers to the question “ skills would you like to learn in 2016 to make you a more effective person to make changes in Manchester”.
What’s novice lines? Well, briefly, have everyone stand against the wall. Then say “If you are good at skill x, step forward 1 metre. If you are really good, step forward 2m. If you are a ninja at the skill, step forward 3m. Then everyone quickly see who has some of the key skills. In the break they can share email addresses etc with those who want to know. You can also ask those people to perhaps do workshops at a future date.
At the half way point I’d have a ten minute break. Give people an opportunity to de-compress, catch up with old friends, make new ones. And leave if they want to.
In the second half (again, brought together with applause), I would focus more on what is currently happening that is good and just needs more participants involved (personally, I think there is very little, but I’ll admit to being out of touch) and then also on what we “should” be doing in Manchester. Perhaps a quick brainstorm about ideas [inevitably people will say ‘a march!’ or ‘a meeting in a church with loads of speakers’. We have tried these ideas. We know that, unless they are done quite differently, they suck in time, energy, commitment, and then the ‘afterwards’ does not happen adequately, leading to cynicism].
Perhaps focus on generating loads of things that individuals or small groups (of three or four people) could do to
a) build the capacity of individuals and small groups to make a difference in their street, in their place of work or worship
b) build the capacity of individuals and small groups to force decision-makers to make better decisions [good luck with this. I think it’s impossible; our lords and masters are, with rare exceptions, clueless muppets who have prospered in hierarchical institutions primarily because of their ability to compartmentalise, believe whatever lie they need to in order to shaft others sincerely, and generally play office-politics.]
The purpose of this section would be to build a list of “tasks”, that could later be divided into simple/complex/quick/long/recurring that can be put up on a website, but ALSO that people who are at the meeting can start doing as individuals but also ideally in pairs/threes/fours, with other people at the meeting, or others again.
Promise to hold the meeting again in three months time to see how people are getting on.
Finish with something uplifting, natch.
Have anonymous feedback forms for people to say what they thought, make suggestions for improvements to future meetings.
After the meeting
Get that list of jobs – divided into “simple and quick” “simple and long”, “complex and quick” “complex and long” circulated, where “simple” means no special skills needed” and “quick” means no longer than 15 minutes – posted asap.
Send out an email to everyone who came/wanted to but couldn’t, thanking them for their input, and including a link to the list of jobs.
(1) i.e. not those who don’t know about it, don’t care, or who have given up on knowing and caring and are instead intent on just getting through the day(s) without melting into a puddle of melancholy.