Seeking impact? Be small, smart and highly connected

Nigel Taptiklis
Dec 20, 2019 · 4 min read

Are you concerned about the nature and climate crisis and thinking how can I turn my city around?

Or are you seeing something awesome emerge and thinking this is great but it’s never going to be enough, unless…

Wellington Climate Action Festival crew, December 2007. Image credit: Silvia Zuur

I’ve been immersing myself in responding to our big socio-ecological challenges for over a decade. As a student and activist I helped organise seminars, film screenings and engaging climate action festivals; I wrote and presented submissions to policy-makers and worked for the co-leader of New Zealand’s Green Party. I then worked as a researcher to understand how communities might respond effectively to climate change, and at Wellington City Council to put my research insights into practice.

My research highlighted unexpected leverage points such as building trust and creating opportunities for experimentation, learning and innovation across sectors and scales. I applied these insights to establish a series of climate innovation challenges that have empowered fellow changemakers and helped them to create climate positive livelihoods.

Seeking change? Inspire and support people to collaborate and innovate, learn and grow together.

But my journey has been anything but straightforward and I couldn’t have done any of it without the many small groups of intrepid travellers who have helped make these adventures possible.

Much has changed in Wellington in just five years. In 2014 one such group started with the name ‘Smart Energy Challenge’ because a name mentioning climate change wouldn’t have got past the internal filters of the Wellington City Council. But after a couple of years it became the Low Carbon Challenge, and then in 2019 the Zero Carbon Challenge. The shifting frame made possible through new partnerships, exciting projects and inspiring stories.

Mevo, the world’s first climate positive carshare. Image credit: Mevo Car Share.

Along the way Wellington’s climate innovation efforts were complemented and reinforced by environment and climate themed Startup Weekends and hackathons. Other innovation programmes in Wellington got on board and resilience and biodiversity themed innovation programmes popped up too. Wellingtonians were rapidly exploiting a way forward.

But in the back of my mind I know that a growing climate positive business movement at the bottom of the world just isn’t enough. Enabling regenerative livelihoods will only matter if it’s also happening in every town, city and country, and regenerative livelihoods can replace degenerative livelihoods.

Smaller can be smarter

The situation we face is urgent. Solutions to the nature and climate crisis need boldness, speed and agility at an unprecedented level if we are to match the scale of our challenge. If we can’t accurately identify the challenges we face we won’t come up with an effective response.

While large organisations have resources, their creative problem solving ability is severely constrained. When the world changes they struggle to respond to new challenges.

The heavy lifting of changemaking is done by small groups of committed citizens, working to shift public opinion. Small groups have greater creative freedom than large groups. They are more free to accurately identify a situation and way forward because their thinking and conversation is less restricted than large groups or organisations. While their resources and tools may be more restricted, their numbers, and therefore the number and diversity of response ideas are not.

Small groups can also operate partnerships between multiple organisations, providing access to creative freedom and resources.

Accelerating regenerative livelihoods

When breakthroughs are made, groups with similar values and concerns that recognise the opportunity can rally or ‘swarm’ to accelerate change. If resources and political power can also be gained the shift can become embedded in the culture.

I think that what’s needed right now is to give small groups practices and tools to think and work together better; help them to be more connected; to channel the right support to their ambitious projects; and to share their break-though stories.

The smarter our small groups of changemakers can be together, the greater their combined impact. Are you investing in how your group can work better together?

Or are you seeing something awesome emerge and thinking this is great but it’s never going to be enough, unless…

Enspiral Tales

Stories from a bold experiment - creating a collaborative network that helps people do meaningful work.

Nigel Taptiklis

Written by

Bridging creative tensions to the futures we want

Enspiral Tales

Stories from a bold experiment - creating a collaborative network that helps people do meaningful work.

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