A photograph of awesome change makers, activists and social entrepreneurs who came together at Youthline in Manukau to talk about how we can collaborate effectively to create the more beautiful world our hearts tell us is possible

Working out how to work past our differences to turbocharge change in Aotearoa

What happens when you bring 30 activists, technologists, change makers and social entrepreneurs into a room for two days?

Two weeks ago, I had the immense privilege of taking part in a two-day hui with 30 or so people who dedicate their waking lives to creating a fairer, more flourishing country and world.

The hui took place at Youthline in Manukau and was organised by ActionStation and The Collective Project for the purpose of seeing how we can work more effectively together as a ‘progressive movement’ for greater impact in our mahi.

We had people from Ara Taiohi, JustSpeak, Renters United, Council of Trade Unions, Anew New Zealand, Loomio, WWF NZ, 350 Aotearoa, Manawa Ahi, Hāpai te Hauora, Auckland Action Against Poverty, UNICEF, For Purpose, Handle the Jandal, PledgeMe, Greenpeace, RockEnrol, Progressive Coders Network, Young Innovators Collective, Living Wage Aotearoa, YesWeCare.nz, Access Alliance, Generation Zero, NZNO and SAFE attend.

Our wonderful volunteer facilitators Simon Harger-Forde and Silvia Zuur designed the hui with these specific outcomes in mind:

  • Everyone goes away with a better understanding of what others are doing for the election and opportunities to collaborate have been identified;
  • Lessons about past collaboration have been drawn out, and ways to overcome barriers identified and discussed;
  • A skills and offerings map / spreadsheet has been created of the individuals and organisations in the room and what each can contribute to any collaborative effort(s);
  • Individuals and organisations with significant overlap have been given ample opportunity to connect one-on-one.

The election was our reason for coming together, but the bigger conversations ended up being about how we build non-parliamentary political power from the grassroots, and beyond election cycles. In this blog, I’m going to share how the hui went, in the hopes that other groups looking to host conversations around effective collaboration might have something to gain. I’d love to hear what’s worked for you, and what hasn’t in the comments section too.

Day One

We opened with a powhiri (welcome) and mihiwhakatau (introduction) from the Youthline kaumatua (elder). He told us a wonderful story, the moral of which was that it is not necessarily just those who are older that have wisdom to bestow upon us, but sometimes the greatest lessons come from unexpected places, like a 12 year old boy who deeply influenced the kaumatua. The message: Everyone can be a student and everyone can be a teacher.

Then we got to work. Our focus for day one was on establishing what it is that unites the people in the room. We were asked to write down as individuals:

  • Why do I do what I do?
  • The big change that I want to see (related to the election) is…
  • The change that starts with me is…
  • How might working with others amplify that change?

This was a great way to get us tapping into our own personal motivators for doing the difficult and often thankless work that we all do. Next, we were asked to find people from our organisation (if they were there) and write down answers to the following:

  • My organisation’s purpose is…
  • The big change that my organisation wants to see (related to the election) is….
A photo of our organisation or group’s purpose on the wall

We then read these (the organisational ones) aloud to the whole group. This ‘elevator pitch’ style presentation of what we each do was a really wonderful way to get a feel for the different focal points of the groups in the room. It was also a great way to start to get a sense of where we overlap as organisations and individuals.

Then we dove into lessons from the past. We were asked to brainstorm all of the things that have been done to try and campaign for change in elections, and then map out what we think works and what we think doesn’t.

Ideas-jamming with smart and passionate people.

After that, we broke into smaller groups to talk about some of the different projects each group has going on for the election. The idea being that we have a bunch of smart, strategic thinkers in the room who have different insights and perspectives, what would it look like to get them to idea-jam on your project for an hour?

We were operating with an understanding of ‘Friend-D.A’ (a friendly non-disclosure agreement) so I won’t share what other groups plans are. But here’s ours:

This election year, ActionStation want to engage 170,000 New Zealanders (of voting age) in a nationwide conversation about where we want our wonderful country to be in 2040 (200 years on since the Treaty of Waitangi was first signed). Imagine New Zealand is on the cover of TIME magazine in 2040. What story do you want the cover to tell?

170,000 is equal to 5 per cent of the voting population, or enough voters to represent one seat in Parliament.

To do this we will use a mixture of online and offline channels for discussion and engagement. We will:

  • Empower members of our community to have digitally facilitated peer-to-peer conversations through a purpose-built web and mobile application;
  • Host town meetings in the main centres around the country (Auckland, Christchurch, Wellington, Dunedin);
  • Empower our community and allies to have in-person ‘civic diners’ where hosts will bring groups of people together over food to have this discussion, and the data is fed back into a central database.

The data that these conversations generate will form the basis for a ‘People’s Agenda for Aotearoa New Zealand’ (alternative names very welcome!)

We will then present this crowdsourced vision to political parties to ask how their policies stack up against ours. We will then publicise the results, and encourage people to vote for parties that most closely align with this people-powered vision.

Through this process, we aim to shift the usual boundaries of what is possible in politics to enable the best kinds of transformational change to happen. In political terms, this is also known as “shifting the Overton Window”.

One of the most helpful things that came of this idea-jam session for ActionStation was the realisation that if we’re going to be building an web and mobile app to empower members of our community to have great conversations about things that matter, we should make that tool available to values and mission aligned organisations as well — so that’s what we’re going to do!

Day Two

On day two, the consensus in the room from this group of action-oriented folk was to move into a bit more of a focus on where to from here. We’d done some good thinking about why we do the work we do, how working together can turbo-charge that, now we want to focus on what do we do to put it into practise.

Introducing The Collaboration Charter

The Collaboration Charter was co-created by the people in the room on day two. It outlines what unites us, what our shared criteria for impact is and how we will work together for change. It is a living document, by no means complete, and in my mind should always be evolving as needed. You are welcome to share it, adapt it, and use it as you see fit.

The idea was we wanted to create an output for our time together — something to help us guide our collaborations.

Click here to download a PDF version

Click here to download a Word version (coming soon)

After the creation of the Collaboration Charter, we moved into a session on “Asks, Needs & Offers”. Each group/individual had the opportunity to make an ask of the rest of the group. We captured these asks and offers into a Google Spreadsheet (screenshot below) so that we could all have access to helping each other beyond the hui.

Asks & Offers spreadsheet. Let me know if you’d like to be invited to the Doc.

I’m not sure how effective this database has been so far. I’m inclined to think that in order for this digital library of asks and offers to be effective, it needs a librarian to help facilitate connections. The trouble is, all of the organisations and individuals who came along share a common problem too: There is more work than there is hours in a day when it comes to building a fairer, more flourishing, more just, and more compassionate Aotearoa and world. This is something I think we need to collectively think about investing in, because according to a lot of the wisdom I’ve read about collective impact models, a backbone organisation focussed on processes and communication is key to success. Large-scale social change requires broad cross-sector coordination, yet none of us have the time to foster good connections. This is definitely a gap in ‘the market’ if you’re looking!

We came together because we are open to exploring how we can combine our power, skills and ideas to make that happen. Or at the very least, not undermine each others campaigns and hard work. We have enough challenges trying to fix massive problems in the world, and a friendly face to an ally organisation or individual can go a long, long way. My colleague Marianne noted the physiological difference in her body being in a space for two days where the central kaupapa (value/subject) was collaboration. Often in our world of rapid-response, media-driven, fast-paced politics, we operate in opposition, reactionary, adrenaline-fuelled ways and it was lovely to come at our mahi from a place of grounding, mutual trust and shared values.

We are hosting another half day hui in Wellington in April, this time focussed on our shared story for Budget 2017. If you’re interested in coming along to that, let me know!