Progress on the Toolkit, and there may be trouble ahead (so let’s face the music…). Also, cats. #ActiveCitizenshipToolkit

The Active Citizenship Toolkit is picking up fans and users. Two groups (one in Manchester, one beyond) have already started work as “crash test dummies”. They are looking at our list of “essential” elements and figuring out if they agree, and how to recombine, mix up, mash-up these for their own purposes. This is exciting!  Meanwhile, other people we trust are wanting to get involved too, at a more organisational level. Alongside this, folks are writing “level descriptors” for the few remaining elements.

A website is in the offing too (but probably not for a while).

If you want to get involved in proofreading, categorising, “etc”, please drop me an email to marc@climateemergencymanchester.net

Meanwhile, here below is the thinking of Adam, Calum, Chloe and myself on the following questions

  • What did you think when you first heard about it as an idea?  What we think now
  • What work have you done on it so far – what was the most fun/least fun (where fun might mean “rewarding, enjoyable, challenging” etc).
  • What haven’t we “as CEM”  done so well so far on ACT, and what could we do differently in future?
  • How could it all go horribly wrong? (distraction, burnout, vanguardism, navel-gazing etc) (Directly address the fear that Is it a distraction from the “real” or “more important” work of CEM)
  • What would success look like for you as an individual? For CEM? What other impacts would you hope it could have?

I’ve turned all of our concerns into a document and come up with a plan for reducing the likelihood/impact of these… In six months or so we will be able to judge (remembering of course that no battleplan survives contact with the enemy).

Adam

What did you think when you first heard about it as an idea?  What do you think now?

I think I first heard about it in March 2020 so it’s not been too long. It sounded like a very positive and constructive idea to bring a bit more structure around how to organise a group to become more effective at whatever they want to do and was very applicable to CEM and others. I think it’s still in its early stages and will need lots of further development from ourselves and others testing it.

What work have you done on it so far – what was the most fun/least fun (where fun might mean “rewarding, enjoyable, challenging” etc).

I’ve written a few element & level descriptions, copy edited some of the novice guides, coordinated supporters to help with guides and have been attempting to co-author a couple. It’s been fun to challenge myself to write in a style that I’ve not done much of before – technical consultancy reports are in a very dry and third person style. It’s also taken a lot more time than I thought to write anything on it as it isn’t something that comes naturally to me.

What haven’t we “as CEM” done so well so far on ACT, and what could we do differently in future?

Probably been realistic about how much time it might take to do some of these tasks whilst balancing everything else on our plates. We need to try to get more supporters involved to understand and test what’s been done so far so that we can put less pressure on ourselves to deliver everything.

How could it all go horribly wrong? (distraction, burnout, vanguardism, navel-gazing etc) (Directly address the fear that Is it a distraction from the “real” or “more important” work of CEM)

Oh the possibilities… I think my main one is that it snowballs in size to something that becomes difficult to understand/navigate and very time-consuming to manage, which leaves less time for everything else. Or we all prefer working on this and deprioritise the grittier scrutiny work – who else is regularly willing to do what we do? The emotional toll that goes with staring at the abyss that is our greenwashing and gaslighting local authority is not a pleasant thing – it’s much easier to look away or stick your head in the sand and pretend it’s all just going to be fine.

What would success look like for you as an individual? For CEM? What other impacts would you hope it could have?

For me it will be finishing off the guides I’ve started, gaining new skills and knowledge on activism that makes me a more effective and resilient member of the group. For CEM it’d be getting to a point where we’re skilled up, have used those skills in successful projects and become more resilient by covering any single points of failure within the group. I’d hope that other groups see the potential in it that we have, adopt and improve what we’ve done.

 

Calum

What did you think when you first heard about it as an idea?    What do you think now?

I’ll be honest, it seemed a bit like an interesting exercise, and one worth exploring, but one I wasn’t sure how much value it would have in practice. Having spent some time both working on it and thinking about its possible uses, I think it has tremendous potential – something we (and others) will have to work on hard to realise

What work have you done on it so far – what was the most fun/least fun (where fun might mean “rewarding, enjoyable, challenging” etc).

I’ve written a number of EDs and LDs, overview essays and education materials, and liaised with a supporter who volunteered to help with a specific item on GDPR. Helping people channel their skills and knowledge into non-obvious forms of activism like this has been something I’ve found unexpectedly enjoyable and satisfying! I’ve also found some of the thinking I’ve been doing on the more emotionally demanding elements to be hard going, but very useful.

What haven’t we “as CEM” done so well so far on ACT, and what could we do differently in future?

I don’t know that I can answer this directly – ACT is, to me, an inherently “learn by doing, trial and error” kind of exercise. We’ve had to learn to go with “good enough for now” across the many elements and accept that we will come back to them all in due course, in order to sketch out for others what this could do for their groups. I think we underestimated the amount of effort it would all take, but that’s not unexpected given the somewhat experimental nature of it.

How could it all go horribly wrong? (distraction, burnout, vanguardism, navel-gazing etc) (Directly address the fear that Is it a distraction from the “real” or “more important” work of CEM)

What is CEM for? From the start, we had explicit goals of making connections between concerned citizens in Greater Manchester. That’s relatively straightforward talking to other “climate activists” but less so when groups are engaged in other issues. So for me the important thing is how ACT can enable the aims and goals of CEM (and other groups). If we start focusing on it as an end in itself, that is where we could come unstuck. 

What would success look like for you as an individual? For CEM? What other impacts would you hope it could have?

From a personal perspective, I’ve been working on the “dealing with staring into the abyss” elements; I aim to produce materials that will actually help people dealing with this situation themselves, or supporting friends and family who are. If I can make dealing with the ****ed up situation we find ourselves in even a tiny bit easier, that will have been worthwhile, on a personal level.

For CEM – I suppose I am looking for some ”ah-ha” moments, where we realise that without ACT we would not have had the capacity or ability to achieve something, or that we responded to a situation more constructively, robustly or expertly, and achieved a better outcome, because of it. On top of that – I think if ACT enables us to find common cause with other groups, to engage with and learn from people we might not otherwise have found a way to talk to, and to share in return what we have to offer, then I think that would be the biggest success of all. 


Chloe

What did you think when you first heard about it as an idea?    What do you think now?

ACT builds on earlier thinking and initiatives, which I have been aware of and even used myself at workshops. So my response was less ‘this is a good idea’ and more ‘this is a good way to scale up and learn from these previous attempts’. 

What work have you done on it so far – what was the most fun/least fun (where fun might mean “rewarding, enjoyable, challenging” etc).

My favourite part so far has been voting on which elements we as CEM and then ‘all groups’ need. I enjoyed going through the list and asking myself:  is this essential? Could a group function well without this? Why? Why not?

What haven’t we “as CEM”  done so well so far on ACT, and what could we do differently in future?

We need to work on discussing and developing it with a wider range of other groups. We are going to need a range of ways of explaining it, because different bits will chime with different people. It’s early days and there are some promising signs… but we should not proceed much further without some serious testing.

How could it all go horribly wrong? (distraction, burnout, vanguardism, navel-gazing etc) (Directly address the fear that Is it a distraction from the “real” or “more important” work of CEM)

It’s a huge undertaking. It could suck up all our time. It could distract or limit our ability to respond to other events. Or, perhaps more likely, we could get frustrated with ourselves and each other for not making as much progress on it as we had hoped precisely because we were trying to move forwards on it alongside other actions.

What would success look like for you as an individual? For CEM? What other impacts would you hope it could have?

Success for me (and I think CEM) would be for another group to say: we used ACT, we modified it to suit our needs, and our group now functions better as a result. Success+ would be for these groups to be campaigning about a range of social issues – housing, food, education.


Marc

What did you think when you first heard about it as an idea?    What do you think now?

I came up with the basic idea – of what was then called a “Climate Activist Development Scheme” in I think mid-2007 (It may have been a year later). I think it is a well overdue idea, but also one that I think will, sadly, remain quite niche.

What work have you done on it so far – what was the most fun/least fun (where fun might mean “rewarding, enjoyable, challenging” etc).

I am leading on ACT within CEM, so I’ve done a fair bit, from writing element descriptors and level descriptors, to metaphorical cattle-prodding of my CEM colleagues, to mapping out criteria for the website.  It’s all been challenging, but the writing of element descriptions and novice guides has perhaps been the most fun.

What haven’t we “as CEM”  done so well so far on ACT, and what could we do differently in future?

I think we haven’t demystified the process of using it well enough, or made clear the underlying motivation/need – that so many groups go up like a rocket and down like a stick because they don’t spread the skills and spread the opportunities for getting satisfaction tokens.

How could it all go horribly wrong? (distraction, burnout, vanguardism, navel-gazing etc) (Directly address the fear that Is it a distraction from the “real” or “more important” work of CEM)

Three dangers –

  • If we don’t get more groups as crash test dummies it won’t have been tested well enough (we will delay the launch if we have to).
  • If we don’t “pitch” it, explain it in ways that resonate with individuals and groups’ frames, then it simply won’t get the wider uptake we are hoping it will
  • If we lose momentum after the launch because we are knackered.

For each of these we have plans, but we could do with more folks to turn those plans into reality.

What would success look like for you as an individual? For CEM? What other impacts would you hope it could have?

For me personally – I’d like to see a project through to its “end”, which I haven’t done enough of in my life. I’d also like to learn new skills around project management, website building, volunteer management and a few other things.
For CEM? That it helps us drive an increase in the membership of the core group, the size of our supporter base and thus enables us to be more of a force for strong climate action in (Greater) Manchester.

More broadly, I’d love it if ACT made it easier for “active citizens” around the world to have useful conversations about what skills they need/have and at what level, what the consequences of absolute gaps and single points of failure are, and how an explicit language of skills/knowledge/relationships might help not just with group goals, but recruitment and retention of people, and internal democracy too…  That’s my fantasy, anyway. There are some quite serious – and possibly/probably insurmountable barriers to ACT being taken up.

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