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Lessons in listening – ULEX training for LWA members

Landworkers’ Alliance Forums 8. Landworkers’ Alliance Scotland Lessons in listening – ULEX training for LWA members

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  • 15/01/2020 at 7:16 pm #25781

    We are working towards a fair, resilient and more regenerative food system – how do we do this effectively, while still taking care of ourselves, our projects, and our communities?

    This is one of the questions I had in mind while jostling up a steep dirt track, packed in the back of a land rover, sat between a market gardener and a food policy activist.

    In early October last year, fourteen foodie folks from all over the UK gathered in the Catalan Pyrenees, for a week of immersive training – learning about facilitation and the ecology of social movements. All attendees are land workers in some capacity – farmers and foresters, shepherds and seed savers, growers and gardeners – and all members of the Land Workers’ Alliance. The LWA, a union of land workers that aims to improve member livelihoods, and create a better food and land-use system for everyone, secured the training funding via Erasmus. The course itself was provided by the ULEX project, who specialise in trainings for social movements, and was held at the site of partner project, the Eco-Dharma centre.

    So, then – how to be an effective agent for food system change?

    I thought that the answer to my question would lie in grand strategies and stealthy approaches – clever ways to outsmart and overhaul broken societal structures. Instead what I discovered (or rather rediscovered) is that meaningful system change is rooted in people, relationships, interactions, and communication. Much of what we learned on the training was how to communicate effectively – with ourselves, with our communities, on our farms, and in our social movements. Learning some tools of facilitation (an art in and of itself) made me realise how integral it is to focus on people and their interactions. For within these interactions can blossom working together more easily, progress towards shared goals, and healthier work environments. And it is this element – the cohesion of a project or a farm – that is the glue that holds social movements together and that enables them to drive forward.

    What do I mean exactly? For example, you could have the most beautiful market garden, hill farm, or urban growing project in your region. You could have a project that is efficient and profitable, biodiverse and regenerative. You could have a team of dedicated, informed, passionate people. But, without the fundamental building blocks of good communication and facilitation – and the understanding and progress that this can enable – it will be difficult to sustain success long-term.

    This seems pretty obvious to state – people and communication are important – but so often we can regularly forget this element. How often do you forget to communicate with yourself – listening to your feelings, your needs, or what is going on under the surface? Or how often does your farm go into full productivity mode every summer – dropping any spaces for inquiry, celebration, or transformation of conflicts? How often is there a brilliant and necessary project, that fails to progress and thrive because of interpersonal issues?

    So what tools did I come away with, to help this facilitation and communicate better, to enable my contributions to a better food system? There are lots, but I will share one below – the spaces of facilitation – that can be applied to any project, farm, or movement to help ensure there are spaces for people to be heard. I know for me personally, I will approach my next steps in food and farming more attentively – listening and engaging better to my own needs and thoughts, and the needs and thoughts of those around me. With luck, and practice!, this will help me to have more resilient and sustainable involvement on farms, but also in the wider food & farming movement for years to come.

    Spaces of Facilitation

    There are four spaces of facilitation, rooted in good communication – all contribute to each other, and all are necessary elements to ensure that projects or movements can thrive, progress and evolve. One of the tools I will now carry with me from this training, is trying to incorporate a little bit of each space into the projects I’m involved with.

    Decision making and governance
    – the space most of us will be familiar with – the processes where decisions are made, and the structures of a project. Examples are things like morning meetings to make sure everyone is updated, terms of reference, steering group or director meetings, a mission statement, or using a decision matrix.

    Cohesion and celebration
    – potentially our favourite space?! Space and opportunities for your project to bond and celebrate achievements. This could look like a harvest feast, a work party, playing games, or a potluck. Or, could be as simple as having a daily tea/coffee break, where no one ‘talks shop’ – just enjoys each others company. Helps to encourage good communication as people foster more understanding and empathy of one another.

    Emotional space and transformation of conflicts
    – probably the space we don’t actively cultivate in our projects. Is there a space to talk about how you feel with others, time to reflect on inner thoughts, or a process for resolving conflicts within your project? This could be as simple as having a brief ‘check-in’ with one another as part of your weekly meeting, encouraging quiet time or a quiet space, or having a clear process for conflict resolution in your governance documents.

    Collective inquiry – space to imagine a different way – to come together to spark ideas off of one another, taking advantage of collective knowledge and strength. Examples would be having a brain-storming or a ‘world-cafe’ style session on a problem. Or it could be, instead of the director or manager of the project always being at the helm with decisions or problem-solving, opening the processes up to others in the team.

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