Community – Connection, Communication, Future #33 #cong19

Synopsis:

Community is an incredible teacher of social and emotional skills that will become increasingly important in the fast chaining world. A risk to the sustainability of these wonderful facets of the community is losing traditional ways of communicating as a community and reliance on digital platforms that do not champion the local. Technology offers opportunity but needs to be directed in ways best for the community.

4 Key Takeaways:

  1. The emotional and social skills fostered through community are valuable now and more so in the future.
  2. Communication is key for strong communities and at risk with the loss of traditional forms of communication and the pervasiveness of social media.
  3. Metrics of social media are not supportive of physical, intimate communities of depth.
  4. Can we envision a community communication platform that preserved the best of traditional communication and harnessed opportunity from technology?

About Carlene Lyttle:

After living in 7 different cities in 6 different countries Carlene was drawn back in the North West of Ireland looking for community, creativity and connection.
Like many, she returned after starting a family with an appreciation of the values of community and the opportunities for a fulfilling and engaging life living within a community. She wants to be part of a positive movement to make the area vibrant and exciting for her and her son.
Having worked in the high technology space sector she has seen the efficiencies that digital technology can bring. She wants to explore the opportunity to improve life in Inishowen with a specifically designed platform that delivers an integrated communication service. This is currently a project she is developing with the support of Social Entrepreneurs Ireland.

Contacting Carlene Lyttle:

You can follow Carlene on Twitter or connect with her on LinkedIn.

By Carlene Lyttle

Machine learning, artificial intelligence, robotics – with the speed of technology what does the future hold for communities? 65% of children now entering primary school will grow into jobs not even invented yet. As a mother of a four-year-old how do I prepare my son for a very different future from the world I live in?

Creativity, empathy, storytelling. Emotional and social intelligence will be the sought-after skills of the future. Community fosters these skills. I see them in spades in Inishowen where I’m living. For me a physical and intimate community life will be the best preparation for the uncertain future of work. We need to value creativity, empathy, storytelling. With meaningful value – support, attendance, time, money.

Physical communities have depth. They require time, thought, consideration, real connection. As pointed out by Eoin Kennedy in his submission ‘Have we lost the art of chat?’, communication is key to sustaining communities. Physical communities do not thrive on social platforms. The metrics of Instagram, Facebook, Twitter is to get response in the ten and hundred thousand. In a rural community like Inishowen with a population of 40,000 or a market town like Carndonagh with a population of 2,000, how can a rural communities concerns go viral? These platforms are made to go viral not rural. A post for a beach clean after a storm – 5 likes. The action will result in 3 bin bags of plastic taken from the ocean but will be deemed a failure on the social media scene. I agree with Max Hastings submission and the idea that platforms promoting aggressive approval of others and self-obsession, are the enemy of community.

Physical communities are already dealing with diminishing traditional forms of communication – local newspapers, parish bulletins, notice boards; as well as the decline in word of mouth communication as the traditional centres of congregation decline – pubs and mass. If groups within the community are driven towards social media platforms, communication becomes siloed, disconnected, and lost in social media noise. Our communication in communities’ risks being structured in isolated web sites, Facebook pages or Instagram profiles where information isn’t shared – hampering growth, duplicating effort, and resulting in missed opportunities. When local groups use communication platforms designed for a global response, the depth of community work is lost.

In 2017 Facebook made a manifesto on global communities saying it would “strengthen our social fabric and bring the world closer together”. Then they sold our data to Cambridge Analytica. As Yuval Noah Harai points out, in the excellent 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, a community cannot be built on a business model that captures people attention to sell it to advertisers.

Technology does offer opportunity. Its transformative nature can have huge positive impacts as the James Casey and Peter Kearns’ submission attests. The risk from technology is the thoughtless way we are adopting it without considering what impact it is having. Technology could help, as Pamela O’Brien explores in her submission on how can technology facilitate the idea of community rather than erode it. With Pamela O’Brien and Eoin Kennedy I recognise the need to actively preserve the best parts of traditional community and the communication forms that come with it.

To retain the creative, empathetic, storytelling power of my local community how can we replace the traditional forms of community communication, preserving the best and harness the undoubted power of communication technology to make connections which have depth?

The Magician and The Wind #32 #cong19

Synopsis:

I suspect the prevailing wisdom is that “Community is a Comfort”.
In my world “Community Crucifies”.

4 Key Takeaways:

  1. Communities are Imperialistic.
  2. It’s hard work to be an anti-imperialist
  3. You have your own wind
  4. Blow your own trumpet

About Paul O'Mahony:

I’m not the man I was last year.

Contacting Paul O'Mahony:

You can follow Paul

By Paul O’Mahony

The Magician turned her back to the sea
and spoke to the Wind:

“Come join us in our unity.
Take your place at the table,
you belong among us

“Together we grow stronger than our surroundings
We rise above the ground that supports us

“Feel yourself hugged by a multitude of villagers
eye’d with affection from every squinting window.

“Come inside your birthright
and sign the book of your life
written in invisible ink.

“Let us understand you better than you understand yourself.

“Let us guide you past the temptations
that fester under your skin.

“Let us make you whole.

“Our health, your health
Your health, our health.
Unity in unity.
Lose yourself in magic.

“Speak wind, speak our language.”

The Wind spoke:

“You touch me
In every orifice.
Your smell invites me into your cave.
I see your shadows
beyond the fire where I was forged,
your reflections on my mind.

“Have I the right to resist,
the power to deny,
the authority to cry ‘NO’?

“I shall not be bent into shape like a plashed hedge”
whispered the wind.
“This breath is not for turning.

“You can keep your unity,
Community

I’ll be no village clone,
I am grown to live alone.
I belong to a grander table,
better fed,
vulnerable as the weather,
fragile as glass.
I am an elementary particle.
Call me Neutrino
I am so small I pass through your imaginations
unimpeded and undetected.

Surely you see my city,
Diversity

“May you understand yourself
so poorly
you sink slowly
from your throne.

“I am the Authority
authorised to sing
louder than your choir.

“That’s what you mean to me.”

And the Wind blew the Magician into her sea
where she went in search of a victim
weaker than
an Individual Gust.
__________________

Have we Lost the Art of Chat? #31 #cong19

Synopsis:

Communication is key to sustaining communities and creating a collective sense of purpose.  The solution could be simpler than we think and small actions to participate more and embrace conversation will enrich both ourselves and the community.

4 Key Takeaways:

  1. We need patience for old school conversation.
  2. Communities need a sense of purpose.
  3. Listening is as important as talking.
  4. Small changes can have far reaching impacts.

About Eoin Kennedy:

Communicator, trainer, entrepreneur, digital marketer and founder of CongRegation.

Contacting Eoin Kennedy:

You can follow Eoin on Twitter or connect with him on LinkedIn.

By Eoin Kennedy

As a child I have vivid memories of unprompted visits to my family home of relatives and friends.  For each of these my mother had an uncanny ability to muster up a feast of sandwiches while my family and I got a chance to hear stories of the past, updates on family members and usual selection of tall tales.  We also had one of the few phones when we grew up and calls were long, lengthy and concentrated with long updates and sense of connection.

This was brought back to me in sharp relief when my door bell rang I was genuinely confused about what the noise was, having heard it so infrequently.  In the currently world of only scheduled visits I feel we have missed out on random encounters and more importantly a vital channel of communications.  However with a quick flick of my phone I can get vivid updates on what friends, family member and the community are doing but its not the same.  Social media is good at projecting, abeit controlled by a faceless algorithm, what people are doing but its does little to connect we with what they are feeling and driven by likes it tends to favour a false sense of positivity than a balanced portrayal of what is really going on in people’s lives.

My mother grew up in a rural area and retained many of those cultural values. She knew the importance of micro updates and face to face chats.  I now live in a rural area but experience less and less of these.

So how does a community communicate with each other and how is it changing.

  • Chats in store and post office.I frequently remember being frustrated with standing in a long queues as a neighbour updated the harassed staff with updates on what is happening.  As shops naturally focus on efficiency there is less chance for informal sharing of stories.  It still helps but the local book store, where the pace is slow, tends to offer a better opportunity for shared updates.
  • This is a uniquely rural occasion where neighbours gather for a mass in a local person’s house and are offered a glimpse into each others lives and stores from the past.  I have only experience this once and its rapid decline is matched by the decline of mass in general.  Both unlikely to return.
  • The age profile of mass goers clearly indicates how the transfer of knowledge from parish notes and chats outside the church is likely to go.  Those who do attend tends to rush to their cars leaving elderly members to catch up with each other, shielding the young from stories.
  • At the mart.From what I can gather the weekly mart sessions still offer famers the chance to share a tea/sandwich with commerce playing a secondary role to social interaction.  However the part-time nature and absence of younger farmers entering the poorly paid profession means this will also decline as a mode of communications.
  • When you look at the ‘Strengthening Rural Economies and Communities’ report by the Department of Agriculture Food and the Marine and the Department of Rural and Community Development an emphasis is put on the library system.  The report shows little in terms of how a community should communicate but is heavy on the supports and money spent.  The local library system is incredible but aside from posters, flyers and the occasional event it is under utilised in what it could achieve in helping to enable the rich flow of information.
  • Local community voluntary groups and Sporting groups. Every community has a vibrant selection of community groups from old age to Tidy Towns and these are a hive of people working together to improve and keep the community alive.  As Dermot Casey points out in his excellent submissionparticipation in these activities is what counts.  Merely by working together stories, introductions and genuinely caring are easily enabled.  Sporting groups especially the GAA, with parents waiting idly by to watch their children learn new skills, connects people from different walks of life and transcend the barriers than new entrants into a community find hard to penetrate.    The GAA, in particular in a move from a sporting organisation to its root in a cultural one, recognises this but it can tend to be a hard silo to break if children are not sporty.  All these rely on volunteerism, something that is difficult in the era of both parents working and the daily grind.
  • Yes funerals offer an unfortunate backdrop of community forcing people to reengage with each other.  I had the unexpected task of helping to dig the grave for a deceased uncle in law.  Although it may sound grisly it allowed me to meet neighbours, hear their stories and acted almost like an initiation ceremony to acceptance with neighbours I had never met.  Stories that would have been lost as memories faded were shared and I got a glimpse into daily life.  The small stories are what count the most.  Love it or hate it religion, priests, ceremonies and structure based on tradition have a strong role in keeping communities together.  Messages of love, respect and spirituality have been heavily rocked and challenged with a decades of abuse stories.  The institution may never recover but in moments of emergency, despair and tragedy the can still offer hope and solace.
  • School pick ups. Another great source but the 15 minutes of pick up time, pressures to get home to do homework and both parents working limit its potential for coherent conversation, mostly made up of top level ‘any sceal’ or ‘hows things’.
  • Coffee chats. Cong has a very small population for the range of coffee shops and hostelries, mainly supported by the volume of transient tourist traffic.  Since I moved here the season has expanded to 52 weeks from a summer focus.  The benefit of this is neighbours come out more to meet for coffee and I look in envy at groups of mothers gathering for chats after walks in the forest and sharing stories.
  • Community Centre. I have had the pleasure of assisting with the local community centre.  Thanks to local efforts and government assistance we have an incredible resource, something that was enabled by genuinely civic minded individuals who, to paraphrase a common start up community statement, ‘ate glass’ to make it happen.  Community days and groups act as a central locus for an amazing set of activities.  As a group we struggle with the best way to communicate the activities.  Websites, Social media from Facebook to messaging platforms like WhatsApp are a boom but they are more unidirectional (not exclusively so) and not everyone uses them consistently despite the numbers of smarts phones and accounts.  Postering and flyers are also highly effective as we dash by in our cars but are wasteful and I recently discovered are contrary to some Tidy Town rules.  Community centres themselves are difficult things to get right and rely on voluntary committees and strong executives and staff for their continued ability to thrive.  Financial demands and active engagement by the community are hard things to balance.  Merely having one is not enough to help drive sense of community and I am as guilty as the next person with not supporting consistently.  Excuses abound from tiredness, work, pressures of a young family but they feel like ‘the dog ate my homework excuses’.  All I know is that when I do actively engage I get out more than I put in and the collective contribution makes the community richer, stronger and more vibrant.  I am pretty sure Maslow has a strong take on this.
  • Just Dropping In.Although I see my uncle in law quite a bit we rarely have deep conversations despite living in close geographic proximity.  However when I take the time to just drop in (as per the start of this submission), without the distractions of other people I not only get updates and insights on what is happening locally but also a rich, detailed and fascinating glimpse of what life looked like a generation ago.  What appear as rambling conversations can produce golden nuggest and happen organically as we talk.  These stories help me to peel back the layers of the onion of the complexity of community through stories.  As a ‘blow in’ I don’t expect to ever reach the heart of what drives the community but each layer offer another new insight.  Older people in the community are the dying source of this and I often feel we are in danger of repeating mistakes of the past by not listening enough to wisdom of the past – the elderly are the bastions of this wisdom.
  • The Pub.No shortage of these in local communities and oiled by alcohol, music and chatter these maintain communication in addition to many other positive and negative attributes (excess being one of them).  The local bar person probably has a better insight into what is going on in community than anyone else.   Access to this channel of communication is naturally hindered by the ever stricter drink driving laws and I fear the era of self driving cars will arrive too late for many to be of use for older drinkers.  My occasional trips to local bars are rewarded with a different view of neighbours I pass on the roads.  My saluting from a speeding car does not compete against a sustained chat in a busy bar.  For some this offers the only chance to talk.
  • Although a phrase borrowed from the US, a community gathering to discuss what is happening in a local community is extremely important.  They are also extremely rare and full of dangers.  No community is not facing challenges and all have their share of built up frustration.  Many fail on the first salvo of grievances and it takes a skilled chairperson to navigate them. Airing grievances should be welcomed and the ‘bursting of the boil’ can be needed to create a bed of understanding so a community can start to move forward on collective consensus based principles.  Not an easy thing to do and I am in awe of those who can truly listen, emphasise and build.  Frequently people just need to be heard.  Which bring me to a point that Alastair Herbert will cover in his submission – the importance of listening.  In an era of megaphoning and finding solutions, something men are very guilty of and women have a unique understanding of, listening is a skill that is in short supply.  Listening without precondition is important for humans – we were born with two ears and one mouth after all.  We all need to be heard and understood and sometimes it is enough.  It also means that we are better at communicating.  Businesses have now reverted back to better audience identification through Buyer Personas and Messaging Session so they can target better.  As community members we should remind ourselves of this.  How can we communicate if we don’t understand what is going on in someone else’s world.  I often think that well intentioned government programmes may hear the wrong things or not probe deeply enough before activating complex structures.  The short term thinking of parish politics and threat of losing one’s seat can sometimes create more problems than they solve.
  • Mass Communication.Local radio and print despite threat of digital communications are still powerful mediums.  The daily death notices is highly listened to but conversations with skilled interviewers fuels real world conversations.  However it is broadcast and at best achieving knowledge sharing.
  • Social Media.Primarily Facebook and WhatsApp for sharing updates.  The ease of use makes them indispensable coupled with a central website.  However the loudest voices tend to dominate (positively and negatively) and as public platforms people are careful about what they communicate.  The rise of WhatApp favours curated lists of recipients and the volume of groups can make them very cluttered.
  • All the others!

I am conscious as I write this of the corollary of what I am proposing.  The ‘valley of squinting windows’ is a reminder to me that people knowing each others business is a double edged sword.  There is a fine line between delicious gossip and caring updates on peoples lives.  People have genuine concern for privacy and becoming the currency of idle chatter can be hurtful and destructive.  It takes a strong person to reject, limit and challenge gossip.  Not every in a community wishes to actively engage and communicate, preferring their own privacy.

I see story telling and communication as key enabler of sense of community.  Business have also embraced this with many now moving to a sense of purpose model, something covered by Paul Passemards submission.  Scholarly research  into Sense of community points to the psychological sense of community encompasses feelings of belonging, identity, emotional connection, and well-being.  Others point to Membership, Influence, Integration and Fulfillment of needs and Share Emotional Connection.

All very cerebal but again to my simple mind we are in danger of disconnecting with each other by not fulfilling human needs of listening and communicating.

This difficulty sense of community is not a startling revelation and is potentially in decline. Macra na Feirme in its “Know your Neighbour” campaign makes it more granular where it found that not being familiar with neighbours is more prevalent in urban communities, with almost one in six saying that they do not know their neighbours at all, versus just one in 20 of people in rural communities.

Most online article and searches on ‘Community and communication’ are focused on how to communicate with communities from the outside rather than communities talking to each other.  They are viewed as a homogeneous things to be exploited somehow.  I fear that as we try to scale communication with greater efficiency we lose sight of what it is.  Communication is a sum of lots of different parts each building on the from chit chat to collective documentation.  All elements in the chain are important we should not forget our basic human needs.

Conversation is art form and sometimes the transfer of knowledge is secondary.  The process alone connects us.  You also cannot rush it.  To an impatient ear much conversation can appear wasteful and efficient, with a desire that the person would ‘get to the point’ sooner.  The best conversations take place when there is mutually respect, understanding, empathy and most importantly trust.  These take time and I sometimes think of it as a test and ritual – interest in earlier stages generally leads to more information.  This is perfectly human, we need people to be interested/concerned with us and not just see us a channel to information.  Although it can seem frustrating that it can takes so long to get the information we need, I feel we have lost our verbal/listening tastebuds and ability to savour the process.  In the era of 140 character micro updates, which by nature of their brevity are highly efficient, we have devalued the ‘Art of the Chat’.

The challenge can seem great but I reflect on some of last parts of Geraldine O’Briens submission which recommends small iterative changes.

Do one small thing, talk to one new person, listen better and participate more.

All these take energy and a fundamental change in behaviour but lots of small changes can transform communities and in this we will all benefit.

Because Community Reveals #30 #cong19

Synopsis:

Colleagues with arched eyebrows ask, “Why Cong?” And I tell them, “Because community.” It’s community extending beyond the small town of Cong and reaching levels deeper than the conversations I enjoy every November.

4 Key Takeaways:

  1. I go to Cong because of community.
  2. I’m reverting to Old Skool community watering holes that are text-heavy and require deep reading.
  3. I like listening to community conversations through podcasts.
  4. I’m updating my thoughts. Search “big reveals at congregation”.

About Bernie Goldbach:

Bernie Goldbach, an American educator in Ireland, teaches creative media for business on the Clonmel Business Campus. He is @topgold on all good social networks.

Contacting Bernie Goldbach:

Reach out to @topgold on Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram

By Bernie Goldbach

Colleagues with arched eyebrows have asked me, “Why Cong?” And I tell them, “Because community.” It’s community extending beyond the small town of Cong and reaching levels deeper than the conversations. The connections grow new leaves through networks I’ve discovered and thoughts I’ve shared with people I’ve met on the streets of Cong every November. Eistaigh lom.

Humoured by simple mailing lists in the 1990s when I first noticed how full stops between words communicate passive aggression, I was chuffed to sit across from Sean McGrath in a Cong gift shop as we shared our memories of the earliest days of RSS feeds. Sean was one of the key members of an internet engineering community who helped articulate how information would be seamlessly shared across websites during the last century. Now that same elegant technical specification for Really Simple Syndication (RSS) distributes podcasts without any central control.

Unfortunately, my email services today often restrict easy viewing of mailing lists I use for edtech today. Had they been in use in the mid-90s, I might have never spotted the technical community discussions revolving around RSS. And I certainly would have never heard the respected voice of Catherine Cronin, something that seamlessly happens now since audio apps have become mainstream.

Always a prominent voice in huddles around Cong, the ebullient Maryrose Lyons sparked a memorable session of discussion 17 years ago with me and my wife about the protocols of recording public conversations.  I wonder how she would have expressed her alarm as an Instagram story back then. Her concerns take on a greater significance today in our era of surveillance capitalism.

From his grizzled face to his economical expression, Brian Greene is a walking encyclopedia of all things internet. BHG is one of those “Old Internet People” who is distinguished by a high level of computer literacy. He could probably share a story about whо came up with thе acronym “lоl” and if asked via the Facebook Group for Irish Podcast Producers, Brian might spin out an audio story that explains why the meme is оldеr than thе іntеrnеt.

Most of the people I met before the first coming of the Congregation could be classified as “Full Intеrnеt People” and “Semi Intеrnеt People”. Thеy dialled in during thе lаtе 1990ѕ and 2000s, whеn thе іntеrnеt wаѕ becoming accessible аnd mainstream. They wrote blogs like Paul O’Mahony did when he moved from Bath to Cork with Baby Grace. Today, I’m more likely to hear @omaniblog sharing audio snippets using the closed app Limor or the open platform Anchor.

People in the Cong community who I already know also use direct messaging services like Twitter and WhatsApp. I’ve become dependent on archaeologist John Tierney for highly sophisticated technical and legal assistance he offers about Irish heritage sites. John has shared his perspective from the stage of Ashford Castle and he has led groups of my creative students on walkabouts around Georgian buildings and on tours inside walled towns.

The book “Because Internet” offers a perspective on “Semi Internet People” who use “thе internet for work and other funсtіоnаl tаѕkѕ, like rеаdіng the news. Thеу mіght mаіntаіn rеаl-wоrld relationships оnlіnе, but аrе gеnеrаllу mоrе ѕkерtісаl about electronic communication. Thеу’rе often hіghlу ѕkіllеd іn ѕресіfіс рrоgrаmѕ оr tаѕkѕ, lіkе Phоtоѕhор”.  Some of my most proficient digital animation students are like Zanya Dahl and they appear to be cast from this mould. Some analysts would place these GenZ students into the “Post Internet” segment of the community because they were born into families who already had an internet connection. They finished secondary school with Facebook, Twitter, and Messenger. And although they feel comfortable tapping into services like banking and weather forecasts, they are more likely to delete apps on their phones than subscribe to a new service.

I wish #cong19 would attract members of this new cohort into the Community of Cong. From what I can see, the 19 year old students in my academic classrooms often reimagine themselves as new online personas by the time they turn 21. For whatever reason, they ditch their old handles and discard their former avatars for new identities—sometimes three different times throughout the four year Honours Degree programme on the Clonmel Digital Campus where I see them mature into young professionals. And in surprising entries to Media Writing Journals I’ve reviewed, these post-internet teens aren’t having sex as often and they don’t drink as much as previous creative students I’ve watched during my previous 20 years teaching third level arts students. A significant portion of them now use text-based services such as Reddit and Discord to dive deep into topics of interest.

I think it’s worth reading the perspectives of other people about what community means to them. I’ve learned I’m not a boss of any community (if I ever was). As I plan to attend #cong19, I wonder how collegial conversation with these new faces will unfold in the huddles, during meals, and in the pub. I read various blog posts from prospective attendees and I wonder when did they first come online? Were they in Ireland when they first saw the internet? Will I meet people who waited until their phones could browse the web before they jumped into online communities? I’ll share my thoughts about community if you catch up with me during the #cong19 community huddles. And I’ll update my InsideView.ie blog post about “Big Reveals at Congregation” as people share what “community” really means.

 

Easily reach Bernie Goldbach on Instagram, Twitter, or LinkedIn. Or listen to his “Topgold Audio Clips” on Spreaker.

Bernie Goldbach has snapped and saved images from meetings of the Congregation.

Sean McGrath – “Community—A Disability Perspective” on the Congregation website.

Catherine Cronin – “The essence of the Open Education Community” on Spreaker.

Maryrose Lyons – “Average. Great. Or Extraordinary” on the Congregation website.

Brian Greene is “Radio Connecting Humans” at radio.ie.

Get on-topic advice about podcast production from Irish Podcast Producers and Listeners on Facebook.

Hear Paul O’Mahony on Anchor.fm or read him on Paulhomahony.com

John Tierney – “The hardest part of starting” on Congregation website.

Gretchen McCulloch – “Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language”, 2019

Zanya Dahl – “Communities are born out of thin air” on the Congregation website.

See more about #cong19 on Twitter.

 

Max Hastings – “The Effects Technology Has on People” on the Congregation website.

Ailish Irvine – “You are not the boss of my community” on the Congregation website.

 

 

 

 

Communities of Oak or of Pyramids #29 #cong19

Synopsis:

Environmental degradation is life-threatening for todays young people but it will not be stopped by the world-view that produced it. This is my account of how my world-view and that of my community of farming is changing. And a hope that in taking action we will find a path.

4 Key Takeaways:

  1. Our environment is being degraded; sometimes from our own actions in our own communities, more often by people with far more power than we have.
  2. The world-view of the communities we live in shapes our attitude to this.
  3. We need to help our communities to change their world-view in order to reverse the degradation.
  4. If we work together we might be able to change our path before it is too late.

About Conor O'Brien:

I come from a tradition of cooperative and local involvement and have always been involved in community and farming organisations. I am a director of Mitchelstown Credit Union. Also involved with a local group using walks on the Knockmealdowns and the Galtees to build the community. I help to organise a storytelling workshop on Cape Clear island in October every year.

Contacting Conor O'Brien:

You can follow Conor on Twitter or contact him by email.

By Conor O’Brien

It is no longer possible to claim ignorance of the reasons for environmental degradation; inaction is a deliberate decision. We need world-views that reflect reality.

This is my account of how my world-view and that of my community of farming is changing. It is also giving me hope that communities in our broader society can change how we view our environment.

I retired from farming 12 years ago, and am still part of the farming community; it is a good identity. I was a medium scale ‘progressive’ dairy farmer committed to using the Teagasc approach, and sometimes was among those who were ahead of it.

The world-view of progressive farming is one of maximising the growth of plants by applying the optimum amount of fertiliser and treatments. The soil was simply a medium to support the plants. Some soils had a greater range of minerals naturally available than others; any deficits could be made good by appropriate inputs. Insects and micro-organisms were treated as an incidental environmental feature.

I was sufficiently environmentally aware to avoid damaging hedgerows, or wild-life habitats at the field edge; leaving habitats like trees and small ponds as they were. Overall, I considered that I had respected my corner of the world; while I had been careless at times, I had done some good as well.

I have two brothers also farming; Ned in dairy, Pat in tillage. About nine months ago, we were each surprised when we realised that we had independently begun questioning our world-view of progressive farming as we knew it.

The trigger for me was a friend who wanted space to grow vegetables without chemical inputs. In Ned’s case it was a curiosity about maximising output on an outlying farm using a low input approach. For Pat it was a question about reducing inputs by avoiding ploughing. Initially none of these initiatives challenged our world-view but as we went deeper into them we began to come across work that did challenge it, and appeared to have solid scientific credentials.

The new information showed that with our focus on ‘the green plant’ we were dealing with only a third of the total earth ecosystem. We were ignoring the other two-thirds of fungi and other organisms which comprise the earth and soil in which the plants exist.

The Oak and the Pyramid

The world-view of intensive farming is a microcosm, a fractal, of the larger world-view. In this view we are external manipulators of the earth as a global test-tube which will not damage us if it fails. The criteria of success is power and control of the surplus produced by maximising the growth of components in the system. Considerations for the needs of the broader ecosystem become irrelevant to the pursuit of success. Any surplus flows up; power is exercised downwards. The structure is shaped like a pyramid in which the components are shaped to support the structure of control.

In an oak forest an individual plant grows as a result of the whole ecosystem growing, and no one tree can dominate the system. Oak trees have a greater diversity of organisms living on them than any other plant in our ecosystem because they need the contribution of each organism. The trees exchange the sugars they produce through photosynthesis for the minerals that the various organisms absorb from the ground.

All models are wrong, but some are useful. An ecosystem is not a full model of society but it could help us to see around the huge world-view of society as a pyramid of power. By seeing ourselves as part of an ecosystem, just as much as an oak tree or the organisms around it, we recognise that we and our communities are not bystanders but intimately involved with it.

Trust is essential in communities. There are no free lunches in nature, nor is there limitless growth and power. It depends on exchange, and just as finance is the currency of exchange in a pyramid, or carbon in an ecosystem, trust is the currency for communities. Trust is a personal commitment that grows through our interactions with others. It grows faster through real interactions than through the virtual ones of social media, but social media can be powerful in supporting real interactions.

It is right to be realistic about the environmental damage; but we should also be alert to the possibilities for change. The oak tree world-view is not strange to us. Just as the organisms of our soil have withstood our farming practices, so also do we have a pattern of strong communities and voluntary organisations; they are a real existing part of our world-view. Congregation itself is an immediate example. We do not have to learn how to build structures where trust can grow; they are waiting to be recognised in our own lives.

Changing our world-view of farming was not easy; it brings uncertainty and doubt about one’s future path as well as regret at what one now views as mistakes. It is a journey that one starts without realising the implications. It can not be done alone, nor with people in whom one lacks trust. We were helped by finding that there were other farmers on the same path. We were surprised by how much support there is outside of the pyramid. The change came from access to information through the internet, and the discussions, walks, and growth of trust that came through the groups.

Being part of a supportive community is like a walk in an old forest; no one ever regrets it.
The oak tree or the pyramid. There is the world-view to choose.

A major part of the change in thinking derived from the work of two Australian scientists, Drs Walther Jehne and Christine Jones.

Christine Jones.

Walther Jehne.

“ approximately 60% of the ‘greenhouse effect’ is due to water vapour, 20% due to carbon dioxide and 20% due to other gases including methane and nitrous oxide. Emissions from the burning of fossil fuels represent only 3 to 5% of the atmospheric carbon flux. Improvements to photosynthetic capacity, groundcover management and soil microbial status hold the key to both adaptation and mitigation of climate change and global warming.” Dr Christine Jones.

Community Resilience – Fun, Diversity and Connection #28 #cong19

Synopsis:

This paper explores the concept of community resilience as it has developed a number of knowledge areas as diverse as psychology and permaculture. Common factors that build both individual and community resilience include diversity, vulnerability and creativity.

4 Key Takeaways:

  1. Focusing on resilience directs attention towards what assets exist within communities, and how these can be augmented and used to deal with change.
  2. A resilient community takes intentional action to enhance individual and collective capacity
  3. A resilient community proactively responds to, and influences the course of social and economic change.
  4. Diversity, vulnerability and creativity are essential elements of resilience at individual and community level.

About Celia Keenaghan:

I’m a sociologist committed to inspiring people to work better together so that together we develop resilient children, adults and communities who can create a society that is fun fair and fantastic!

In 2011 I set up Keenaghan Collaborative now providing services in Facilitation, Mentoring and Training. I am also working with IT Sligo in setting up a community Education Mentoring programme.

I have worked in business, public health, community development, education and social innovation. I have been a driver of many local and national initiatives including the pioneering youth charity SpunOut.ie. I write, sing, dance, play the accordion and the early Irish harp and enjoy supporting purpose drive enterprise.

Contacting Celia Keenaghan:

You can contact Celia by email.

By Celia Keenaghan

Community resilience is looked at from ecological, economic, social, healthcare and psychological perspectives with subtle differences in definition. I was recently surprised by a community workers definition – something along the lines of ‘they expect us to keep taking a kicking and then they kick us some more’. My interpretation is one that involves agency, power and purpose. I believe community resilience “shifts the focus away from a purely deficit model of deprived communities – the things that they do not have – and directs attention towards what assets do exist within communities, and how these can be amplified and used to cope with change and even thrive” .

An Asset Way of Thinking :
• Start with the assets
• Identify opportunities/ strengths
• Invest in people as citizens
• Emphasise the role of civil society
• Communities & common good
• people as citizens and co-producers with something to offer
• Help people take control of their lives
• Support to develop potential people as the answer

An analysis of definitions of community resilience found that definitions which are most valuable in terms of improving the ability of communities to recover after disasters explicitly or implicitly contain the following five core concepts:

Attribute: resilience is an attribute of the community.
Continuing: a community’s resilience is an inherent and dynamic part of the community.
Adaptation: the community can adapt to adversity.
Trajectory: adaptation leads to a positive outcome for the community relative to its state after the crisis, especially in terms of its functionality.
Comparability: the attribute allows communities to be compared in terms of their ability to positively adapt to adversity.

Looking at personal wellbeing, The New Economics Foundation has set out five things that we can all do to improve our wellbeing.

1. Connect…With the people around you.
2. Take notice…Be curious.
3. Be active.. get out for a walk in nature.
4. Give… Smile. Volunteer your time.
5. Keep learning…Try something new. Rediscover an old interest.

All of these are central to community wellbeing.

Much research has been done to see what makes the difference in how a community ‘bounces back’ from a traumatic event. A University of Queensland Stanhorpe Study
identifies factors most commonly reported to enhance community and individual resilience (psychological wellness). These include
• Social Networks and Support
• Positive Outlook
• Early Experiences
• Infrastructure and Support Services
• Diverse and Innovative Economy
• Sense of belonging, meaning and purpose

So what can we do to enhance community resilience. There are so many doing so much in this area for all walks of life, some I’ve had interaction with include GrowRemote, Men’s Shed,  Havin A Laugh, Geniusu

Does your community promote a sense of determination and an optimistic outlook for the future? Think about sharing stories of success, or what was learned from things not working out. Don’t underestimate the value of fun activities for community gatherings. Learn from nature – value diversity. The core values of permaculture are:
1. Take care of the earth: Provision for all life systems to continue and multiply. This is the first principle, because without a healthy earth, humans cannot flourish.
2. Take care of the people: Provision for people to access those resources necessary for their existence.
3. Share the surplus: Healthy natural systems use outputs from each element to nourish others. We humans can do the same. By governing our own needs, we can set resources aside to further the above principles.

Communities in the 21st Century #27 #cong19

Synopsis:

The idea of community is ever evolving. As technology has developed it has facilitated the evolution of the idea of community from ‘a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common’ to ‘the condition of sharing or having certain attitudes and interests in common’. How can we capture the best parts of the former while enjoying the benefits of the latter?

4 Key Takeaways:

  1. How does your idea of community differ from that of your grandparents or of your children (if you have any)?
  2. As the idea of community has changed over the years what have we lost? and gained?
  3. How does technology facilitate your idea of community?
  4. What are the challenges facing our young people as the concept of community continues to change?

About Pamela O'Brien:

Pam O’Brien is a Maths and Computer Science lecturer in Limerick Institute of Technology. The integration of techology in education is a key driving force and is an area to which she devotes a significant effort. She organises the ICT in Education conference (http://lit.ie/ictedu), an annual event which provides an opportunity for educators to share ideas for the integration of technology in teaching and learning. She is an advocate for the student voice and the maker education movement and has been been involved in CoderDojo for many years.

Contacting Pamela O'Brien:

You can follow Pamela on Twitter or connect with her on LinkedIn.

By Pamela O’Brien

When we talk about community we are often referring to the most commonly used definition “A group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common.”. However, there is another definition “The condition of sharing or having certain attitudes and interests in common.”.

For my grandparents the idea of community was very strong but was very much embedded in the locality in which they lived. Many people from my grandparents generation got little opportunity to travel much outside their own locality. My childhood and early adulthood was spent hearing my grandmother ‘trace’ the relationships between the various families within the parish and telling stories that emphasised the importance of that community based support network. She spoke warmly of going ‘ag cuardaoich’ to neighbours houses. This is something I witnessed myself many years later when a grandaunt was living in a nursing home. Some of the residents had mobility issues and so were not able to participate fully in the daily life of the home. Some of the other residents went ‘ag cuardaioch’ to their rooms in the evenings. It was so lovely to see the joy these visits brought to both the people being visited and those who were visiting.

Many of my parent’s generation emigrated to find work as there not too many opportunities for employment in Ireland in the 50’s and 60’s. In my own family, most of my aunts and uncles ended up in England. This was back in the days when it wasn’t so easy to travel so for most of these people trips home were few and far between. The Irish community abroad became very important for these emigrants with the local Irish club becoming a focal point for themselves and their families. Despite the different location, the most important community for many people of this generation was still very local to where they lived.

Looking at my generation, we are probably the one that has seen the most significant change in this idea of community. With the advent of cheaper flights and the introduction of the internet it is now much easier to stay in touch with people regardless of their geographical location. So the idea of community has been turned on its head. For us community is no longer confined to where we live. When I was growing up we didn’t even have a phone in our house, so communication with those who were travelling or living in a different place was often confined to letters. Fast forward 30 years and now I can’t imagine being without my mobile phone!! Through this piece of technology and the many apps that run on it I can stay in touch with family and friends dispersed throughout the globe. It has also allowed me to connect with so many people on a professional basis, who I would never have had an opportunity to connect with even 20 years ago. What I love most is that so many of these professional contacts have become good friends because of the ease of communication through social media. This has mostly come about through the combination of some face to face contact combined with ongoing social media contact in between. For me, face to face contact, even if only intermittent, is crucial to sustain these relationships.

For my children’s generation their idea of community is completely different in some ways to even mine. They don’t have any concept of a life without the internet or social media. For them geography doesn’t hugely come into their sense of community. In many ways the world has become their community. There are significant positives to this but there are also some negatives. Despite the appearance of being so connected, many of our young people can feel adrift. They can have many ‘friends’ but very few people they can really connect with, which can be problematic when they are experiencing difficulties. We all need that network of people that we turn to when times are tough. These are the people who help us to get things in perspective. But it can be difficult to open up to people you only know through social media, who, let’s face it are living their best life if their Instagram or Snapchat stories are anything to go by!! Many of us have a tendency to compare ourselves unfavourably to others but this feeling can be magnified for our teenagers who are trying to find their way without the support network of a local community. In my experience this is particularly the case in the early teenage years as our children navigate the first few years of secondary school where friendship groupings can go through considerable churning as new alliances are forged and seemingly unbreakable friendships are pulled apart. Our job as parents is to help our children to navigate these challenging years but that can be easier said that done!!

Technology has helped to facilitate the connections that allow us to belong to multiple communities in a way that our parents and grandparents couldn’t. The challenge going forward is to preserve the best components of the more traditional view of community while leveraging all that is good about the ever evolving concept of community.

 

Community is an Act #26 #cong19

Synopsis:

Community isn’t a thing. Its an act.

4 Key Takeaways:

  1. Community is an act, a verb not a noun, and only exists through participation
  2. We shape and are shaped by our communities and by language online and in the real world
  3. Physical communities can protect us from online harm, possibly
  4. Enable people to participate and interact and you enable them to create and change the world

About Dermot Casey:

Dermot is a husband of one and father of three. He’s trying to live in his body as much as his head these days to find some more space. When not avoiding writing blogposts for Congregation he takes a critical look at startup ideas on a daily basis while looking to invest in early stage companies at NDRC.

Contacting Dermot Casey:

You can follow Dermot on Twitter or contact him by email.

By Dermot Casey

One email begins “We’d like to thank you and other members of our community” while another notes “as valued member of the community.” Member of the community? What are they talking about. As Inigo Montoya said “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means”. It’s inconceivable that being on the end of a mailing list means I’m part of a community. If email lists that I once subscribed to, that I’ve forgotten about because Gmail hides them from me aren’t a community, what is community?

The dictionary tells me it’s a noun, a “group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common” “Montreal’s Italian community” (or Dublin’s Tipperary Community). That definition leaves me unsatisfied.

Over the past few months I’ve been helping to build a fire pit for our local scout troop. The scout troop is a big part of our kids life. They’ve have learned so much, and benefitted from the generous time given by so many people over years. The project to build the firepit started late last year. A permanent spot where we can have 30 or 40 people sit together, cook and chat and share with each other. As the project kicked off and as the first few reminders came in on WhatsApp I was too busy to help out. Gym, daddy taxi service and work were useful excuses at the start.

Eventually I made time. A few hours on Saturdays shifting cubic meters of sand or cement. One day over Christmas moving a 1000 cement blocks. Slowly from a plan, to a hole in the ground, shovel after shovel, and block after block, it has taken shape. A group of parents giving time when they can. Sharing a cup of tea and sandwiches at the break. Tired and sore the next day. The good kind of sore, the kind that is earned. And that’s the heart of what community is. It is a verb not a noun. It’s not a thing. It’s not something we belong to. That’s always felt a little odd to me. Community is an act, made not given. And it is an act performed by the people in the community.

One of the most powerful metaphors I’ve come across for the human mind is that of a whirlpool. When we are alive the whirlpool of consciousness moves with force and intention. When we die the whirlpool is still. The elements of water remain but the mind is silent, gone. So it is with a community. It is a living thing. It is created in the actions of the members of the community. The school community exists in the actions of the parents and the children and the teachers. When people talk about a community dying, they are talking about the ebbing of participation. The wasting of muscles which must be exercised to be of use. Community exists in the repeated actions of the members of the community. And we ourselves are enriched and recreated through participation in the acts of community.

This participation shapes us as much as we shape the community. UCD Researcher Abeba Birbhane talks about Ubuntu idea that people are born without selfhood and acquire it through interactions with others, the Zulu proverb that ‘A person is a person through other people’ [1]. Aristotle said you are what you do repeatedly. The Ubuntu might say you are who you interact with repeatedly. It echoes what businessman Jim Rohn once said “You’re the average of the five people you spend most of your time with.” Or as my mother says. ‘Show me your friends and I’ll show you who you are’.

I’ve often wondered if online communities are communities. Is the act of online conversation able to build a community? In my first job I persuaded the Head of Innovation to connect the ESB to the Internet on the basis of getting access to Usenet newsgroups. ‘People really take time to answer questions from strangers on computers?’ was his initially puzzled response. They do. Is it an act of participation? It can be.

I’ve actively participated in online groups over the years which feel similar to other communities in that they’re defined by active participation. Years ago the ‘Campaign for Trustworthy evoting’ took action into the real world in an important way. And in part I’ve been shaped by people I’ve interacted with online. As have many of us. Abeba Birbhane quotes Mikhail Bakhtin that “truth is not born nor is it to be found inside the head of an individual person, it is born between people collectively searching for truth” in conversation then we are all capable of shaping, and being shaped by in online communities.

That gives me pause. Kranzbergs first law of technology is that ‘Technology is neither good nor bad, nor is it neutral’[2]. It shapes and creates the world in new and sometimes different ways. The virtual nature of online communities causes problems. We see this in how some people are radicalised online. Particularly young men. I suspect that these are people who are searching for something, searching for a community to belong to and are not anchored in communities in their day to day life. We are social creatures As human beings community helps us in an act of becoming.

And at the same time we are worried about the death of communities. We have a fraying of community these days because we have an absence of time. People are commuting longer distances to work, and they are frequently working longer hours and there is a growing precariousness to work (the gig economy). All of this leaves us without time and without the energy to create and nurture communities. And communities take time and they take energy. The act of participation takes energy. We often default to online communities because they take less time and a lot less energy.

It is essential that we are embedded in real communities at local, national, and international levels. We are physical beings and physical presence is important. Participation bonds people together and can also anchor people. Irish communities to an extent protected against disinformation during the Repeal referendum. These mechanisms and these communities were built up over years of hard work. It would be good if we could use physical communities as a sort of inoculation against the vague online disinformation disease spread on and by Facebook and other social networks. Building networks of trust and truth. These human mechanisms are what makes the climate strike a potential for real change. Participation by millions locally, nationally and internationally. People changing by interacting and participating with each other, changing each other and changing the world.

We need to make space and enable people to become part of their own community. Whatever that community is. I look at admiration, and a little bit of awe, at Tracy Keogh and Grow Remote which is about building community and building communities of communities, online and in the real world. It is about participation and is helping people to create and recreate themselves and their communities. Like all great communities it is an act. A class act. Like Congregation itself.

[1] https://aeon.co/ideas/descartes-was-wrong-a-person-is-a-person-through-other-persons

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Melvin_Kranzberg

Is one? In one? Or Both? #25 #cong19

Synopsis:

The emphasis on community invariably leans towards the town or village in which people live or the club to which they belong. There are acres of literature on the benefits of successful communities in these areas
But what about creating a community within a business to realise some of those benefits?
This paper explores some of the benefits and difficulties of doing so

4 Key Takeaways:

  1. Creating a real community within a business takes time.
  2. It challenges everyone – especially managers
  3. It can be risky but the benefits are substantial

About Paul Passemard:

I am an engineer by background and worked in the oil industry for 25 years before setting up a management consultancy that worked across the private sector, central UK government and local authorities

Contacting Paul Passemard:

You can contact Paul by email

By Paul Passemard

If you Google ‘businesses, communities’ and include whatever other qualifying words you care to insert, the search engine reveals an interesting and very one-sided set of websites and commentaries.

One result of the search shows a significant emphasis on exhorting businesses in the community to display social responsibility, to become involved with the community, to make charitable donations, to provide local jobs, to buy locally and how it is good for the business if employees volunteer to do work in the community.

With the same Google search there is significant other content in the same vein – covering how to build effective and vibrant communities in your local town or village. Some of these searches describe a number of the characteristics displayed by successful communities

  • Shared vision
  • Common values
  • Maximising individuals’ strengths
  • Balancing the needs of the leadership group
  • Working as a team
  • Mobilising others
  • Pitching in – participating
  • Taking responsibility – being accountable to the community
  • Looking ahead
  • Recruiting and mentoring new leaders
  • Walking beside and not leading from above

Does this sound familiar? The words may not be in strict management speak but doesn’t it sound almost exactly like the characteristics you would want to see in your business? The way you would want you and your employees to behave and work?

So, the question is – is your business a community and if not why not? Is your business missing out on the most beneficial aspects of community by not being one?

Let’s re-introduce some more familiar management language and examine some of these characteristics in more detail.

Shared vision.

Perhaps the single most important element in a real business community is a commitment by its members to a shared vision of the future. There must be a consensus on the answer to the question, what does the community (business) want to be when it grows up?

The failure to reach agreement on the group’s mission has led to the demise of many a would-be community. If management’s vision of the future is grounded entirely on profits, stock options, executive bonuses, and special privileges, then community is impossible to achieve with a group of employees in search of job security, higher wages, and increased fringe benefits.

Common values.

Shared common values are another important characteristic of a business community. In workplace communities’ employees and managers alike view themselves as parts of an integrated whole pursuing, a common mission which is consistent with their own personal values. If there is nothing more to the business or the organisation than each individual looking out only for his or her self-interest, then community will never be.

Cooperation, trust, and human empathy are among some of the shared values, which are vital to the formation and survival of communities.

Boundaries.

In every community there is an ongoing tension between the group’s need for exclusivity on the one hand and the desire for inclusiveness on the other hand. To manage this, it is important for the community to have boundaries. A workplace without boundaries will not remain a community very long.

Associated with participation in a business community or team should be responsibility, sharing and well-defined performance expectations. Teams working within a community also require limits and boundaries.

Empowerment.

Perhaps the most troublesome and difficult attribute of a workplace community is empowerment — the creation of a system of governance and a community decision-making process, which empowers all community members;

Unfortunately, many corporate managers are into having — owning, manipulating, and controlling money, power, people, and things. They need to be in control, and often display behavioural patterns, which are aggressive, competitive, and antagonistic. Those in the having mode are afraid of losing what they have to someone else.

Power sharing may be very threatening to corporate managers. For an organisation to have the possibility of becoming a true community, its leaders must be prepared to risk some loss of control. This is a higher price than most corporate executives are prepared to pay. This also gets to the crux of why there are very few real workplace communities.

Some company senior executives naively believe that community can be mandated.  Community cannot be ordered from above. Top-down community-building initiatives are perceived by employees as deceptive attempts by management to manipulate them.

Education. Recruiting and Mentoring New Leaders

Despite the many virtues of community, life in a workplace community is not without its issues There is often a low tolerance for nonconformity and opinions, which differ from the community norm. Invasion of privacy and nosiness are not uncommon. Rarely are envy, greed, and competitiveness absent from such workplace groups.

For all of these reasons, it is important for the community to have an effective education and training programme to teach members community values, decision-making, governance, responsibility, growth and development, power sharing, and tension reduction.

Is it worth it?

From all of the above it is clear that there are no shortcuts to community in the workplace. We may say we want community, but do we want to risk the time and energy that community requires? Are we prepared to pay the price in terms of loss of our cherished individualism necessary to sustain community?

Under the most ideal circumstances, community building in the workplace is a slow and tedious process. The risk of failure is substantial. But the possible benefits include improved morale, reduced absenteeism, increased productivity, and more meaningful lives for all concerned.

Is it time for New Paradigm for Community? #24 #cong19

Synopsis:

Perhaps we should have started to think about ‘community’ ten or fifteen years ago but it’s not too late. If we made mistakes in the past, the biggest was not having a clear vision for our community, and this inhibited the decisions we needed to make.
The good news is that we get to choose the story of our community, but we must, as the late Dr. Stephen Covey suggested, start with the end in mind and write a fairy tale ending. We get to choose the characters; we might even get to choose the Hero.

4 Key Takeaways:

  1. The best time to build a community was 10-15 years ago, the next best time is Now.
  2. We need to start the story of community with the end in mind
  3. We do need to get serious about slewing carbon-breathing dragons
  4. We get to write a narrative with ourselves as the Hero.

About Bernard Joyce:

Bernard Joyce is from rural Mayo doing many of the things that people in rural Mayo do, like coaching GAA and soccer. He likes to run, sing, play a bit of trad music and has recently taken up Yin Yoga. Never really took to farming though so ended up planting 36,000 trees and now classes himself as a carbon farmer, though was spotted recently in Athenry Mart, eyeing a few Galway Sheep! Recently completed a MSc in Management for Sustainable Development with a dissertation on Climate Change Adaptation and Local Economic Community Planning. Volunteers as a Cool Planet Champion for Mayo and is actively involved with Grow Remote in promoting Remote Work in Mayo as a way of revitalising rural areas and getting cars off the road. Working at the moment on a project about Community Investment Models for Renewable Energy and building an app called Villigr to help get more people engaging in decision-making with support from Social Entrepreneurs Ireland. (Villigr.Eu)

Contacting Bernard Joyce:

You can contact Bernard by email, follow him on Twitter, connect with him on LinkedIn or see his work on Villigr.

By Bernard Joyce

There is a saying that the best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago. The next best time is Now.

The same could apply to building a community, the best time was possibly 10 to 15 years ago. We had been on a bit of a binge of building houses and apartments up until then but when it came to communities, it was more of a demolition job. In fact, when the old brown stuff hit the fan, we ended up demolishing the houses and apartments we had just built.

The economically illiterate among us were offered the ladybird book on the miracle of unbounded economic growth as, “well, imagine a tiger, and now imagine a tiger that is Celtic, there you go, just enjoy it”…and then, “well it wasn’t a tiger anymore but, well, here is the thing, imagine a bubble, and what happens a bubble…? There you go again, but never mind, oh look! New BMW!”

The economists turned authors now cast the tiger as a wolf, in well, tigers clothing in the revised fairy tale. We were all scolded for straying off the path and not having noticed Granny’s excessive incisors!
But the Magic ReadyMix Porridge Pot stopped pouring its’ cheap credit and even cheaper concrete. Goldilocks, the Three Bears along with the Three Pigs were bundled into cheap hotel rooms until someone could write the Happy Ever After ending.

Dr. Stephen Covey, in his “Eight Habits of Highly Effective People” suggests that we should. “Start with the End in Mind” and that is not something we have been good at doing in Ireland. Too many stories have ended in tears, real tears.

We can’t, of course go back and rebuild community as it should have been. We only have, as the philosopher advises, the present. We must do it now, but we must start with the end in mind.

The 16-year-old Swedish climate activist, Greta Thunberg fears that there might not be a fairy tale ending, certainly not for the children who are hoping to see out the end of the century.

We should have acted earlier, we should have kept people at work during the downturn by retrofitting our building stock, rolling out renewable energy, developing innovative solutions…but we didn’t…we have only now and lots of hindsight.

But now, we get to write a new story, we get to choose new characters, we get to set the scene but most importantly, we get to write the ending.

It is time for a New Paradigm for Community, one where we get to start with the end in mind. That end can be one of catastrophe, or can be a fairy tale ending, driven by our imaginations, where we get to slew the carbon breathing dragon for once and for all.

Dragons of course, only exist in stories, and tend to be a bit of nuisance until the hero finally emerges victorious at the end of the story.

When we talk to communities about what the next steps to make their town, or village, or city or neighbourhood more resilient, we don’t always know where to start. By starting at the end, we get to trace our steps back. There are many stories and narratives going on in our communities at the one time, there may be different visions, there may be complexities.

All that means is that our story becomes more colourful, the ending more powerful. The Hero may not emerge at the very beginning. That Hero might be You.

Take five minutes now to write the fairy tale ending for your community, then share it with 5 other people…and just wait for the magic!