In late August 2019, Percolab, a horizontal-practicing change consultancy co-op in Montreal, was approached by a couple of higher education institutions in the U.S., and in Québec, to design a platform for community conversations around climate change for schools and universities. The design team was comprised of change consultants Louise Kold-Taylor, Samantha Slade, and myself. Our initial inquiry began with a simple, but charged question: “What is needed?” To which a first, simple answer arose: hosting. The conversations need to be held, with care, with supportive guidance. And so, we began to ask, “How do we host a safe and brave space to help deepen the questions folks are holding around climate change- in a way that supports collective solutions to arise, naturally?” Our design began to stretch its applicability beyond only serving the university communities and out toward any group, business, community, city, province, country.
Climate change is what we call a wicked problem; it is complex. It is also a systems issue. The pedagogy around systems-change is that the system knows the solutions to the problems it is facing and needs only a wholesome and supportive context- and some hosting- for the path forward, the solutions- to emerge. With the climate crisis we are facing now, and knowing that insights into the way forward can come from anywhere within the system, we must consult the stakeholders- and, in this case, we are all stakeholders. What contexts can we create wherein folks can be held where they are, in relation to climate instability, and also be gently invited into engaging with the crisis constructively? What is needed for us to begin innovating with one another, such that solutions from the collective can be accessed, harnessed, and directed into action?
This article recounts one particular action carried out with these questions in mind. A number of FlowGames were hosted at the endpoint of the Climate March with Greta Thunberg, in Montreal, on September 27, 2019. We, the designers and facilitators of this action, thought it could be valuable for folks to hear about our process. Via this article, I am capturing some of the thinking of our team, some of the known impact, and most of all, the questions we now carry forward into the next conversations and overall narrative around climate change. Whether folks are doing so consciously or not- we are all facing this crisis together, and we thought it vital to plant these seeds in the field of our continued collective inquiry on the matter. How may we relate to climate change, and to each other, in this charged and pivotal moment in human history?
FlowGame is a hosted, interactive, dialogic game that allows individual participants or groups to work directly and intuitively with questions that matter to them, raising their consciousness around what actions may be possible right now. Each participant takes a turn, working with their own questions, and alternately, serving the queries of their fellow participants, as “wisdom council” for them. The game itself is also a player, offering its own enticing, sometimes confronting questions. The collective ground of inquiry deepens, with each roll of the dice. Typically, a FlowGame can take a number of hours, an iterative honing into the issues most dear to us, over several rounds of the game.
The idea of hosting FlowGames at the March arose out of a conversation between Samantha Slade, Mary Alice Arthur (a FlowGame Steward and highly experienced facilitator from the Art of Hosting community), and myself- over a delicious lunch at a Korean restaurant in Montreal. Both Samantha and Mary Alice are seasoned FlowGame hosts, and I had just experienced FlowGame for the first time, at a workshop hosted by Mary Alice the weekend before. I found FlowGame to be a remarkably powerful tool to help participants see their challenges in new and unanticipated ways, and also a spectacular opportunity for folks to rise up in service to each other’s greater understanding. The purpose of our meeting that day was to get Mary Alice’s eyes on our design for community conversations around climate change. However, as our own conversation evolved, Samantha had a moment of inspiration (as is known to happen), and the idea of hosting FlowGames at the upcoming Climate March, was born. We had 2.5 weeks to determine what was possible, and to plan. Samantha would be out of town for that time period. At the Percolab meeting later that afternoon, an ad-hoc design team was formed, and we would see what kind of support-action we could offer at the Climate March, that might include- or be inspired by FlowGame. Mary Alice returned to Ohio, but before she left, she accepted my wholehearted request to be trained by her in FlowGame, and we did the training intensively over a few days, on Zoom, 5 days before the March.
The Design Process
The design team (Hélène Brown, Antoine Daudelin, and myself- with key contributions by Clémence Ollier, Lori Palano and Louise Kold-Taylor), and the hosting team (Lori Palano, Jonathan Jubinville, Lucie Marcoux, Hélène, and myself) were teams that were working together for the first time. As such, we learned to collaborate with one another while designing, and while hosting. This is pertinent because, as we rise up to face climate change together, we will likely be called upon to work with people we do not know- and may not even like. What can override the tensions of differences is that we are all focused on something greater than ourselves- in this case, climate action. The fact that we all view things from a variety of perspectives is a crucial asset. Needless to say, the designing was rocky, in moments! But it was always meaningful, because we built with each other, and upon each other’s ideas, in trust and respect. We were also all very surrendered to the process- even it meant that we came to discover that an action was not possible- or that the conditions of such a huge protest would be too wild to harness… there were many elements we did not know; but overall, it was very inspiring. Some facilitators contributed to the design, but couldn’t stay, some contributed- but didn’t host, and some hosted, but were not part of the design.
We came to decide that we would prototype a drop-in version of the FlowGame, at the endpoint of the March, as a place of landing, deepening questions, and connecting with others. We chose to do a simple action, small- with however many hosts were available, and to see what would happen.
As the Climate March in the Spring of 2019 in Montreal had exceeded 150 000 people marching, Montrealers anticipated approximately double that number, especially once we learned that Greta would lead the March. For security purposes, the actual route people would follow was kept confidential until the day of the March. We had to work with a number of emergent forces.
The Day of The March
Once we knew the location, the hosts decided to meet up at a metro station nearby. I biked down to our meeting point, and, on the way, passed through the crowds gathering on the mountain- the starting point of the March. The growing energy of the climate defenders was palpable. The drums were going. It was exhilarating. Once we had all arrived at the meeting point, we took a full hour to determine where exactly we would place ourselves at the endpoint of the March. We found a slightly elevated spot on a rounded hill, right beside an enclosed playground. It was part of a large, grassy median-type area that spanned the length of the two wide roads on either side of it- all leading to the stage where Greta Thunberg would speak. The area was perfect, really; protected, enclosed by a fence to one side, near the playground, which would surely draw the younger families. It was near the crowds but not in them. The crowds of concerned citizens would later flow by us, for at least an hour straight, on both sides of this median area, in a way that seemed unending.
We were in touch with some people up on the mountain, and we estimated it would likely take them approximately 2 or 2.5 hours to get down to us from the time they left the starting point. That day, the weather was unseasonably warm, sun shining, and clear blue skies, while the days both before and after the March were cold and rainy. Our intention was to offer a place to anyone marching who wished to land, and process their questions. For safety purposes, we decided on the code “That’s a wrap!” if ever we found ourselves in a situation where the games had to be shut down. One of the hosts brought her 11-year old son along with her; he hung out reading a book, and agreed to guard all of our backpacks and jackets. We set up the games on the ground, and waited. A wonderful member of our community, Tatiane Reis, showed up on the day, with her boyfriend, Cristiano Silveira dos Santos, who took most of the amazing photos, documenting the action. Tatiane held up our sign that said, in French and in English, “Come Join A Game! What questions are you carrying in your heart right now?” Time stood quietly still while we waited. Then, suddenly, an entire squad of police encircled us, throwing open the backpacks, and getting in our faces about what we were doing there. It was quite a stressful moment, as they were all carrying guns, and were a bit rough with the young boy, whose Mom rushed in to protect him. The police stayed in formation around us for a few tense minutes, and then moved on. We put the backpacks back together and recomposed ourselves, telling ourselves that the cops were there for Greta’s security and the security of everyone. But as we looked back at each other’s faces, and at the beautiful games laid out on the green grass, the cops’ intervention felt unnecessarily violent and stood in stark contrast to the protest and to our purpose in being there.
After a while, the crowds appeared, like two rivers, flowing to either side of us. Some folks ventured into the quieter median area, and some began to join the games. As ours were drop-in games, we crafted some prompting questions for people to work with easily, alternately inviting them to create a question of their own, if they wanted to. As Montreal is an officially bilingual city, the games were hosted in French and English and the questions written on the Q-cards were in both languages as well. The questions were: What has shifted for me today? What is possible now? What is the new story we want to tell? We hosted approximately 30 games total. We had 3 games going, two hosts per game, to help to hold the container. Some community members posted live on social media while the games were happening.
It feels important to mention that folks stopped for a game on their way to a further destination, that being: getting close to the stage to hear Greta speak. That said, by the time people got to us, they had been walking for close to 3 hours, and taking a moment to sit down, pause, and to deepen their questions in relative-quiet, turned out to be just the thing some people were looking for. The climate defenders arrived in various states-of-being, from angry to resigned to heartbroken to hopeful. One woman sat down with Hélène and I, put her hand on her heart, and just cried. One group of young room-mates arrived pretty jaded, but, by the time they took off again, they were re-engaged, coming up with new things they could do, as a household, to reduce their environmental impact. Many participants shared what seemed like already-well-formed answers, ideas and possible solutions to the climate crisis, in other words, what they already knew that they knew. The “opening of mind”- or the deepening of reflection- that typically comes in a FlowGame, with repeated rounds on a potent question, was rare in these drop-in games. However, what occurred to me nevertheless, was that the question of climate is being pondered by a huge number of diverse minds. Some very original insights were being shared, and, under different circumstances, these could be harvested, built upon in structured conversations with others, and directed into pathways forward. So many ideas, but here, all were passing like sand through fingers.
Hélène and I attempted to harvest key reflections participants had in our games. Here are some things people said:
* Can we stop this cycle of emancipation and inevitable self-destruction?
* This is a time for reflection before action.
* Will people truly act upon what we know?
* To create growth in our communities, we each need to set an example.
* Be part of something positive.
* We are waking up.
* Put pressure on politicians.
* Invest in the battle.
* Help sensitize others.
* What can we ourselves do, right now?
* There is still much beauty to appreciate.
* We can influence content by infusing it with deeper values.
Lori shared with me that she had a couple of high school students churn out what they may have thought to be “right answers” during the game, just as they would have done in school. There had been a mother and son who sat down for a game with her, who played the game within those habituated roles, with the mother explaining the cards to her son, and so on. Lori intervened a couple of times to support the young man in his own reflections, as a participant separate from, but equal to his Mom. To access the unprecedented knowledge we need- in the service of finding solutions for climate stability, we will need contexts that support each of us to step out of assigned roles, and into who we do not even know we can be.
The FlowGames at the Climate March gave us, as change-makers, a temperature-read around how folks are holding the issue. Engaging with the game allowed concerned citizens an opportunity to engage with the issue of climate change, in the company and support of others. One question at a time, people were able to hold, in stable attention, a topic that can otherwise be so overwhelming it causes folks to just shut down, and, instead- begin to imagine new solutions. The game echoed the powerful and undeniable interdependence felt in the March, and nourished it even further. We are all living this moment in our human history, but how much are we living it together?
The Monday following the March, people were still really high from the experience of protesting with half a million others. It was one of the biggest marches in the world, for the climate. It was really beautiful. Percolab had their weekly meeting that afternoon, and, along with members of the team who attended remotely and in-person, there were two guests. The hosts debriefed the prototype, and then we all reconnected with each other and ourselves, around the larger impact of the March. Some questioned whether there was an impact at all. Yet, there seemed to be something significant we could all feel. These games were just the beginning of the larger community conversations we will hopefully start having around climate change. They served as a temperature-read, and will guide us in our designs for future conversations. What is possible when we bring our voices together, collectively dreaming and beginning to create a life-affirming future for everyone? The passion to protect the planet is a flame in the wind. Like Greta, we must each charge ourselves with the responsibility of not falling back to sleep, and, together, keeping the torch lit.
Photos by Cristiano Silveira dos Santos
This article was originally published at www.percolab.com, on November 9, 2019.