(Summer ’16) Katie Arthur, G
Katie Arthur (G, Comparative Media Studies)
The UK’s smoggy industrial past and consumerist present means it is a top offender for carbon emissions. Between 1850 and 2007, the UK constituted a whopping 5.8% of global emissions and today the average UK individual has a carbon footprint nearly 3 times bigger than the global average. Helping to tackle this mammoth problem is Scottish based community interest company The Surefoot Effect. Over the summer, Katie will be working to provide The Surefoot Effect with a maintainable online outreach and communications foundation. Modeling outreach through currently under-utilized online platforms will increase the visibility and accessibility of the group, helping the team to reach new audiences and potential for change. In turn, this will ensure more individuals have access to the life-changing and planet-saving resources The Surefoot Effect provides.
Check back for her updates!
Entry 4: The end is just the beginning
20th July ’16, Final implementation and review
After 8 weeks, my time with The Surefoot Effect is now technically at an end. In the interim I have moved from the UK to Germany for an internship at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Secretariat. Coming here made me incredibly nervous but my experience working with The Surefoot Effect and the confidence it gave me in my professional skills in communications and outreach helped me quickly adapt to my role here. I’m now continuing my work for Surefoot on a voluntary basis, and though my time is a little tight right now whilst I settle in, the foundation of a sustainable online presence for the group means that between myself and the rest of the team, the digital aspects of Surefoot’s communications, particularly on social media, can be easily maintained.
Working with The Surefoot Effect has inspired me to keep fighting for a better world. Not only did the work help prepare me professionally for my time here at the UNFCCC but it helped motivate me personally too. When I was feeling the most overwhelmed by the issue of climate change, The Surefoot Effect taught me how to recognize and confront those emotions, turning them into something positive and powerful. My work with the team showed me the vital importance of active listening whilst reminding me that stepping up and speaking out is crucial too. The past eight weeks have re-energized me, laying the groundwork for my thesis on climate action narratives in the UK.
The values-based approach to change that The Surefoot Effect promotes encourages deep, transformative change in individuals, communities and systems. By empowering people to be aware of the factors that influence our daily decisions and the impact these decisions have on climate change, The Surefoot Effect catalyzes change from the bottom up. When I look around and the see the futility of carbon market solutions, how they replicate social injustice and exacerbate the problems in the economic system which has lead us to this point, I realise that it is only through this transformation in individual attitudes and awareness that we can achieve climate justice. Here I am reminded of Satish Kumar’s remarks from the opening of the Center for Understanding Sustainable Prosperity a few weeks ago in London: “Look at what realists have done for us. They have led us to war and climate change, poverty on an unimaginable scale, and wholesale ecological destruction. Half of humanity goes to bed hungry because of all the realistic leaders in the world. I tell people who call me “unrealistic” to show me what their realism has done. Realism is an outdated, overplayed and wholly exaggerated concept.” He said, “Give the idealists a chance!”
I hope to bring the lessons I have learnt from The Surefoot Effect into my academic work. Combining the idea of values-based change with climate justice, I am considering creating a workshop based on the idea of solidarity and privilege. Using the approach of Carbon Conversations, the workshop would ask individuals to recognise and perhaps question the values and beliefs that inform their opinions on climate change and privilege. The workshop would aim to help groups explore the notion of climate change in broader contexts than the dominant conversation in the UK allows us to think, promoting the idea of carbon debts, historical responsibility and alternative development trajectories.
More than that, however, I will take what I have learned from The Surefoot Effect into the rest of my summer, the final year at MIT completing my Masters, and beyond, as a reminder that even the smallest change can be hard, but it is always worth the struggle. In that way, the end of my official Priscilla King Gray Fellowship is just the beginning…
Entry 3: Community Voice
Coming to the end of my 8 weeks with The Surefoot Effect means some time to reflect on the impact of the work we’ve been doing. The United Kingdom has been in a fair bit of disarray over the past few weeks, with the cracks in the united front coming ever more to the fore. Surprisingly for me, my work with The Surefoot Effect and, in particular, the Carbon Conversations Facilitator Training I went on helped me deal with the strange ebbs and flows of emotion after the Brexit vote came in and one by one the leaders of the British political establishment stepped down from their ivory towers and resigned.
Amidst the flurry of Brexit, the ousting of our Prime minister and the Labour party coup, climate change presented itself as an ever more pressing issue. Theresa May became the new Leader of the Conservative party and her entrance meant a governmental cabinet shake up – and with it the dissolution of the Department for Energy and Climate Change. What these big changes in UK politics mean for climate change, carbon use and the funding for public service and community organisations attempting to tackle these issues is yet to be seen but, like so much of Brexit, the uncertainty is not easy.
Besides the strange implosion of British politics and all the fears and opportunities it brings, however, my work with The Surefoot Effect continued. The newsletter achieved above industry average results, confirming my earlier findings about a strong and dedicated core audience. As social media best practices were identified and utilised, both Twitter and Facebook found rhythms that maximised reach and engagement. The inclusion of more original materials, whilst time heavy, created a stronger online presence for the team across the board. The establishment of best practice for The Surefoot Effect’s online presence means that the team is now in a strong place to maintain its various platforms, the accompanying report I have been working on allows any new team member in the role to build on the existing foundation rather than beginning from square one and the report also functions as a potential basis to apply for funding for a regular social media role within the team, by highlighting the difference a permanent dedicated role can make to the reach, exposure and engagement of the team and their work. Hopefully this will mean that The Surefoot Effect are in a strong position to continue their online success after the project ends. The teams growing online presence will make their workshops more accessible to more people, in turn helping individuals to confront the values and emotions that affect the way they think, feel and act on climate change.
For me, working with Pam and The Surefoot Team has been an incredible journey so far. The Carbon Conversations Facilitator Training helped me find my voice again. It also helped me become a better and more active listener, something that has really helped me understand others better. The work has helped me understand that sometimes change may look small, but that doesn’t mean it’s not incredibly worthy.
Entry 2: “Give the Idealists a chance!”
11th June ’16, Implementation and Review at the Edinburgh Carbon Conversations Facilitator Training
I’m now in week 4 of my 8-week Priscilla King Gray project with The Surefoot Effect, meaning that tomorrow marks a half waypoint in my time here. The project has proven a slightly odd beast, with its being based primarily on a screen meaning its hard to feel tangible “end results.” Yet, taking a step back for this blog post allows me a moment of reflection where I can see the work I’ve been putting into the report alongside iterative steps like the newsletter template as beginning to build towards some concrete results for The Surefoot Effect.
With just 4 weeks left of the project, I’m now getting into the depths of iteration and review. The non-linear development of the project has meant that the actual implementation has been considerably less clear-cut than the initial project plan. It has, however, meant there have been opportunities for some interesting additions. This has included the recent live user testing that we were able to trial at the Carbon Conversations Facilitator Training in Edinburgh.
Carbon Conversations are one of the workshops that The Surefoot Effect makes available across the UK (and sometimes beyond!). Typically, the six sessions will be over a period of 6-12 weeks, facilitated by two individuals trained by The Surefoot Effect. The six sessions cover: Imagining a low carbon future; Home energy; Travel; Food; Consumption and Waste; and a final Check-in. Based on the structure of group therapy, the sessions allow a group of participants the time and space to tackle their emotional understanding of carbon and their personal carbon use.
I was lucky enough to attend the Facilitator Training and be greeted by a sunny Scotland too. Yet, more surprising than the weather was the immense personal and academic development I made over the weekend. The Friday ran us through a condensed version of the 6 Carbon Conversation sessions. The Saturday and Sunday were then used to help us explore facilitation as a process, including learning how to be an active listener as well as how to channel and negotiate the various emotions that arise in response to climate change. Over the few days, the group quickly gelled and found its rhythms, much like the groups do over the longer Carbon Conversations.
Our training facilitators, Pam and Liz, worked with the 10 of us to create a group space where our individual needs were meshed with those of the group. Time was given to everyone to speak yet silences were respected also. Having the space to reflect and be honest with yourself as well as the opportunity to discuss with others is something that seems to be too often missing from the way we learn, share, think and teach. As such I found the three days to be incredibly moving, allowing me to tap into the emotional resonances that shaped my thinking on climate change and, in doing so, learning how to respect that process in others.
This method of change, as beginning with the individual and looking at behaviour as based on emotions and long-term attitude shifts and commitment rather than short-term transactional benefits is also poignant for my thesis at MIT in Comparative Media Studies. The metrics of climate change are consistently failing us by not reflecting the true impact of the Anthropocene and reifying an understanding of change based on incomprehensible amounts of CO2. The work of Carbon Conversations puts change in the hands of the individual, making it relative and visceral. This method is something I want to incorporate into my work as I begin to reflect on the decolonial intervention currently happening in the UK climate change conversation.
Beyond my own personal thinking, the training also provided a space to explore some possible options for The Surefoot Effect. We introduced two options for the group: a live-tweet and a retrospective blog entry. These were followed up with a questionnaire sent to the group, surveying both their experience of the trialled digital communications as well as their perceptions of The Surefoot Effect’s online presence more generally. Most of the participants found the course too involved to live-tweet during the workshops. Whilst we emphasized that tweeting should only occur in the breaks, these were often taken up with processing the previous session and socialising.
Despite this, several other possibilities arose including people liking the idea of reflective blogs; themed twitter chats; and generally more social media communications. As the project builds into its final weeks these user insights will compliment the online analytics, providing a fuller picture of the best practice for The Surefoot Effect.
Entry 1: London Calling
24th May ’16, Creating a Sustainable Online Foundation of Community Engagement for The Surefoot Effect
A six and a half hour flight worked out to exactly three films. Unfortunately, in the brain fog of only three hours sleep and a 5am start, I’d forgotten what the third film was by the time I walked off the plane. As the plane descended through the clouds it was greeted by the snake of the Thames, and for a minute London looked like a toy town no bigger than the road mat I played on as a child…
There’s nothing quite like coming home, so the fact I get to do my Priscilla King Gray project in London is doubly exciting for me. My Masters work at MIT is currently looking at environmental activism in the UK and when I interviewed The Surefoot Effect’s founder, Pam, earlier this year, she mentioned not having the resources to look into what may (or may not) be beneficial for the group in terms of where energy is put online.
After hearing Pam talk about wanting to increase the groups’ twitter output and create an easily maintainable newsletter to share The Surefoot Effect’s myriad of activities, I applied for the Priscilla King Gray Fellowship so that I could spend some time figuring out what the team would like The Surefoot Effect’s online presence to look like, how to make their online content accessible and appealing to the teams different audiences, as well as how to ensure the online platforms are efficient for the group to manage in the long-term.
The Surefoot Effect is a company based in Scotland, with associates across the UK. Initially founded as a community interest company from a social innovation award, the group is a place where practitioners of values-based change can work together. The team and its associates carry out a range of activities across the UK, from workshops to introductions to the common cause and value based approach. Their work includes a 6 month long action-learning program funded by the Scottish government, which worked with several different organisations to embed a values-based approach. The group also trains Carbon Conversations facilitators, and works with communities to catalyse sustainably-minded behavioural change. The Surefoot Effect’s approach is values-based and transformational, aiming to equip people with lifelong skills for sustainability. They believe that the whole-hearted commitment of people is the essential ingredient for change, with time and space as the core means to empower people.
Due to the nature of The Surefoot Effect as a community interest company, team members only get paid for a day’s delivery and as such maintaining The Surefoot Effect itself is done on a voluntary basis. Because of this mode of funding, the team are currently under-resourced in this area and unable to commit time to investigating what would be best practice for their online presence. However, maximising usage of these currently under-utilised platforms would allow The Surefoot Effect to publish their work and reach out to new audiences. This visibility is crucial for the work of The Surefoot Effect, whose work comes from networking and word of mouth. Currently, face to face networking, phone calls and emails form the basis of The Surefoot Effects outreach.
Having a coherent online identity would act as a basis for advertising different workshops, sessions and talks run by team members, as well as creating a crucial intervention in the climate change conversation online. Once set up, this would enable The Surefoot Effect a low-cost, high-visibility way to reach out to new audiences. For example, as part of my research at MIT I also interviewed other environmental groups with the resources to carefully curate an online presence. They pointed to their online self-directed communication channels including Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn as important in reaching their target audiences, building the reputation and cultural capital of the group, and becoming thought leaders in the climate change conversation.
By working closely with the group I hope to ensure that I can create an online presence that is not only maintainable but that reflects the group’s values. This project hopes to achieve several iterations and reviews in order to judge best practice and outline a series of recommendations. The end of the project may see enough established that The Surefoot Effect are able to update their digital presence on a voluntary basis. More likely, the project report will be used to apply for funding by showing how beneficial the regular maintenance of the teams online platforms is to outreach and engagement.
I’ve now been back on British soil a week and despite a few minor hold-ups in the form of some pretty dodgy WiFi signal and a lack of online access due to my project partner being away to host a workshop in the Scottish highlands, things seem to be coming together. I began to survey the different online platforms for The Surefoot Effect and to compile my findings into a short report with space for the team members collective feedback, only to realise I was carrying out a Situation Analysis as is common in most communication strategies. It was at this point that I realised my report would be growing and changing as a single document over the 8 weeks of the project, rather than the 3-4 separate reports I had originally planned.
Having done a survey overview of The Surefoot Effect’s online platforms, I set about creating a questionnaire for the team members to complete. This week is focused on compiling my initial research with the responses from different team members, both through the questionnaire and unstructured Skype interviews. I hope to build a picture of what the team members would like to see this project achieve alongside what will be efficient and sustainable in the long-term, for both the group and their audiences.
In consideration of my original plan, the current situation is rolling the first and second weeks together a lot more liberally. Rather than seeing this as a disappointing start, I think it illuminates the on-going dialogic process that will inform the project from start to finish. It also highlights the lack of resources The Surefoot Effect has to negotiate their collective online communications and in turn the importance of this project in securing a sustainable long-term coherent identity and online presence for the group. As such, what seemed like an initial setback has been important in ensuring the project incorporates the needs of the team into the planning and iteration process.
Over the next few weeks, I’ll be heading up to Edinburgh to attend the Carbon Conversations Facilitator Training and trying some new social media strategies whilst I’m there. For now, being back in London, I’ve taken advantage of the incredible range of arts and academia that make the city live and breathe. A wonderful photography exhibition, ‘Strange and Familiar,’ at the Barbican Arts Centre, amidst the concrete futurism of Ballardian high rises, showed Britain as seen through the lenses of foreign artists. From the early 20th Century through to today, I got to see my place of birth and my place of undergraduate study through the eyes of a history and identity distant from my own.
I also attended the inaugural conference for the Centre for Understanding Sustainable Prosperity. At the conference was Britain’s only Green member of Parliament and all round bad ass, Caroline Lucas, as well as life-time environmental activist Satish Kumar and theologian poet, Doctor Rowan Williams. It’s inspiring to be surrounded by people all pushing for a better world and I hope this project will reflect that.