Episode #41 A New D.E.A.L: The Doughnut Economics Action Lab explained by Rob Shorter
The imagination needs mental and emotional space to enable us to create a vision of the more beautiful world our hearts know is possible. Rob Shorter wrote his dissertation at Schumacher on how we cultivate our imagination and change the cultural narrative towards the thinking that Doughnut Economics embodies.
In this podcast, we dive deep into the nature of imagination and how we can let it grow. We explore Doughnut Economics and how the model can transform our world. And we look at the work of the lab and how we might all be involved. Most of all, we explore how each of us as individuals can be part of the change we need to see in the world.
and Rob shares a song. Listen just for that…
We shall be known by the company we keep
By the ones who circle round to tend these fires We shall be known by the ones who sow and reap
The seeds of change, alive from deep within the earth
It is time now, it is time now that we thrive It is time we lead ourselves into the well
It is time now, and what a time to be alive
In this Great Turning we shall learn to lead in love (x2)
Manda: [00:03:48.22] Rob Shorter, welcome to the Accidental Goods podcast on this very wet and windy morning. I hope it’s not too bad where you are. It’s extremely stormy over here, so we may end up having rain lashing against the window as a background noise, for which I apologize to everyone in advance, but welcome. And today we want to talk about economics, doughnut economics in particular, what it is, how it works, how we can make it work. But before we get into that, I would really like to explore a little bit of how you got into it and how you became the person that Kate Raworth found to help her make city economics a reality.
Rob: [00:04:27.67] Thank you, Manda, and wonderful to be here from a bizarrely sunny Oxford. How did I get into Doughnut Economics and why me? I very much ask that question still now. My interest in Doughnut Economics started when I began exploring the world of new economics and alternatives to our current mainstream system. I was very lucky to be able to take time out to study a Masters in Economics for Transition at Schumacher College two years ago. And from the outset of that, I was aware of the Doughnut as a model and was a great fan of Kate’s book. And when looking at it, I was very inspired by the vision of how we can move to a place in which people and planet are thriving in balance: the safe and just space that the Doughnut model depicts. But my question was, how do we move to that? Are there any signposts that offer a business model to pick up or ways to organize within a community? And I carried that question. And over the course of the year, I was fortunate to meet Rob Hopkins, who was at the time writing a book on imagination and the power of the imagination (‘From What is to What If’) and illustrated through so many wonderful stories he had collected and building on his time in Transition, but also more explicitly looking at what is the imagination? Why is imagination suffering in a time we need it more than ever? I was inspired by these stories, as everyone is – I do love watching the reaction of people when they hear his stories and come alive.
And I was thinking, there was something common in a lot of these stories he spoke, about the way people were working together to meet various needs within certain places, very specific contexts. There was a quality that I was wondering, is there a way to share these to tap into what it is that could be some signpost towards a Doughnut Economy: a way in which we might really intentionally and skilfully build our collective imagination, give agency to everyone to be able to build the collective imagination so that we might move towards this space we’ve never been in. There’s no country in the world that is within the doughnut today.
Manda: [00:07:30.10] Can you tell us the basic principle of the doughnut, the meeting, the needs?
Rob: [00:07:34.51] Absolutely, yes. The doughnut gets its name from the shape: think of two concentric rings like a doughnut with a hole in the middle. The inner ring is the social foundation which depicts the needs that all people have to live a good life, they’re the needs that everyone has a right to around the world. And when we fall short on this, we’re falling short on life’s essentials and we fall into the middle of the doughnut, hole in the middle.
Beyond that, we actually go into the space of the Doughnut. But it’s not just a case of meeting everyone’s needs. We actually recognize that we are living on a wonderful, thriving planet of life-giving, life-supporting systems all around us. And so what the outer ring depicts is what’s known as the Ecological ceiling. It depicts nine planetary boundaries that come from Earth system science. The people who are working tirelessly to be able to understand the key life cycles of the planet and measure them. And with these nine planetary boundaries, we recognize the moment at which we are going beyond Earth’s carrying capacity for humanity. So, what we say with a Doughnut is, that we need to meet the needs of all people, within the means of the living planet. And that is the space within the doughnut, which is the safe and just space for humanity.
Manda: [00:09:05.78] Brilliant. Where you put an image of the doughnut on the podcast page, on the website, so that people can go and have a look at what the inner boundaries and the outer boundaries are to make sense of it. Because it’s much easier to see, I think, than to to explain.
Rob: [00:09:23.15] One of the great things about the doughnut, is that it is so visual. It is a compelling, simple visual. There’s something quite deep about its circularity and it really does appeal to people who don’t know anything about economics, which is one of my favourite things about it, because it’s sort of it’s more inviting than any of the equations or graphs you might get in Econ 101. This is a great starting point.
Manda: [00:09:54.27] And it’s very alive. I think it’s simple. It’s clear. It makes sense. And as you say, something about the the circular nature of it is very compelling. For people who don’t spend their lives thinking that economics, or who think it’s all about numbers when it isn’t: economics is about people and how we interact with each other.
So as I understand that you wrote your dissertation for the Masters on the the area of how do we get the narrative to the place of the living planet? Is that right?
Rob: [00:10:28.31] Yes. The dissertation was was an exploration very close to the research of Rob Hopkins. The jumping off point was was asking this question, ‘What are the conditions that cultivate the collective imagination towards the Doughnut?’ And my values very much lie in the role that everybody plays in a just transition and how we are all called to bring our gifts and our views and our lived experience and our aspirations to this collective imagining.
And I was fascinated when I did a project prior to my dissertation at the youth climate marches. I took a banner and lots of A5 cards. The big banners said, ‘What if?’ And it was very much building on the work of Rob’s book ‘From What Is to What If’.
And it was inviting young people to imagine a future and ask their own ‘What if?’ Questions which then they would write on these bits of card and I’d post up on, the banner. And so, their words were adorning this large banner and speaking volumes. Some of the things they came up with were fantastic. But what I was noticing that there was real difference in certain people’s ability to imagine. And that began me on this trail of understanding that we can’t just necessarily just switch on what some people refer to as the ‘muscle’ of imagination. That there are things that inhibit us from imagining. And there are things that really cultivates imagination. And there are dynamics between us as individuals and us when we gather together. So that’s really then kicked off this exploration.
Manda: [00:12:21.32] I’m so interested in this. I like to take a little bit of tone down this rabbit hole, because this is as I’m sure you know, one of the questions that absolutely obsessed me when I was at Schumacher. Which is ‘How can we create a change in the cultural narrative?’ Which is, I think, a way of saying something quite similar. But you’ve been more precise because you were looking specifically at the Doughnut and you were looking specifically at the collective imagination turning towards that. So, what conditions did you find did cultivate the collective imagination towards the Doughnut?
Rob: [00:12:56.62] Well, there are many. I wouldn’t say that I’ve come anywhere near to the full unknowing wonder of what the imagination is. I feel my workers has is gesturing towards what we might need. And it is certainly proving to be helpful to some people. But what I found was that there are some key areas. So, if I describe those, the first is Space. The imagination needs mental and emotional space. And the more that we can expand our sense of mental and emotional space, the more we open space for imagination to come through. And how do we do that? How do we do that is a great question. I think we you can look at it from the things in our in modernity that inhibit space. We live busy, rushed lives with the stresses and strains and trauma that keep us striving for distraction. And a lot of these things close down a sense of space. And there’s definitely elements of privilege in space.
And recognizing that some people are in a privileged position of having more space in their lives naturally, whereas others are striving from day to day to meet some of their needs. So, what ‘space’ does here is recognize that there are many elements.
Manda: [00:14:43.96] What occurred to me then is one of the things that Rob highlighted that seemed to me really structural in our society, is that the public schools to which the privileged entirely are sent. So, 100 percent of the privileged go to public schools. Not everyone who goes to public schools is necessarily privileged because scholarships exist. But it’s a a pretty large set/ And that public schools are ‘Dis-imagination machines’.
So the people who have the ‘Space’ that we so badly need, have had their imaginations actively inhibited from a very young age. Which strikes me as as one of the great ironies of our time, because, as you said, the people who didn’t end up at Eton, are more likely to be constantly stressed in the sense that they’re not living in a space where they feel able to explore boundaries.
On the podcast we’ve explored political theory quite a lot. And I’m thinking that this is really quite interesting. I’m looking a PhD in the face. That we need to explore what are the triggers to non-resilience? What are the things around us that leave us feeling not resilient? Which is equivalent, I think, of, say, not-Space. And then, how would we reverse those? Which I’m guessing is if I hadn’t interrupted you, where you were going.
Rob: [00:16:12.07] You raised the word Resilience. I think it’s a fascinating word that maybe isn’t fully differentiated between what individual resilience is and collective resilience is. And I’m fascinated about this idea that our current economic system pushes us toward being individually resilient. And I almost view this as though we imagine a tree standing alone in a desert. That is a resilient tree. It is fending for itself. But would you say that tree is in a really good place? I’m not sure. And then think of the resilience of a collective and think of a tree within a thriving ecosystem of a forest. And that is a resilient tree because it has this supportive web of life around it.
And so I wonder, how can we bring about more resilient economies where we are resilient because of our neighbours, because of the people we work with, not despite them, not because we’re pitched up against them. And I think some of the institutions that you name – those in the privileged education system teach us to be the individual resilience.
Manda: [00:17:26.02] Do you think they do? I’m not even sure that that’s actual resilience. I think that we could have a whole different podcast on this. Because I think this is the tree in the desert that that looks like it’s OK until the situation changes slightly and then it falls over. So, I think what they are taught is how to thrive within a very, very narrow set of parameters. And I’m not sure that’s what resilience truly is. I think if we look at the psychology, look at this the through the lens of somatic experiencing or the people who are really interested in Polyvagal theory and start to unpick to what extent does any of us feel safe in this environment? And I think quite quickly, if you talk to people, there is no sense of individual safety or collective safety. There’s just a difference in our ability to fend off the unsafe.
Rob: [00:18:16.95] I think you’ve got a great point, and I wouldn’t profess to knowing enough to wade in on that particular one. But just picking up on the word safety, that is within each of these core elements that I started describing of what the imagination might need to cultivate. And I talk about the mental and emotional space. One of the key prerequisites to that is feeling safe – feeling physically and emotionally safe. And acknowledging and honoring our fear and vulnerabilities. And with that in the collective senses, is feeling welcome: welcome to be ourselves, invited to participate with warmth and sincerity.
These are these are some of the initial things relating to Space. And when thinking about Doughnut Economics and thinking about how the qualities we bring about when we gather. If we gather in a place that makes us feel welcome and a place where we feel safe, then we can start talking. If you if you go to a space to start discussing a new economic paradigm and you don’t feel there’s two things, then you’re not going to get very far. So Space really talks about how he feels safe and how we feel welcome and then moves on to things such as how do we give ourselves permission? Permission to get things wrong, permission to suspend that inner voice of judgment and cynicism.
And so it starts building up some of these elements where we can start we can actually start connecting with each other in a deeper way, start opening to alternative possibilities and slow down to really begin to notice what new things might emerge rather than repeating old patterns. So, space covers a lot of things and those are just a simple articulation of some of those.
Manda: [00:20:12.99] Gosh, this is so interesting. And are you finding that there’s an age difference in this? I’m thinking quite specifically of having been invited onto the Parish Council in the village where I am and I’ve been along to one meeting and I felt neither safe nor welcome, really, because I was coming from a very different place. And I’ve been struggling to think, how can I create a mutually safe and welcoming space in in this particular forum? And listening to you, I was imagining that your generation and those coming up have possibly got the language and the literacy of self-awareness and collective awareness more than the age that is of the ruling class and upwards. Has that been your experience or am I simply generalizing too much?
Well, my experience, I would say, is still very limited. And what I would say is I’ve witnessed extraordinary spaces of enormous vulnerability. And from those places come extraordinary growth and collective spaces where you feel anything’s possible, But at the same time, I don’t necessarily experience them, but I read about young people who are dealing with levels of stress and anxiety greater than any other generation before. And so there’s a disconnect between those two things. And I feel maybe the role of those who might be in the privileged position of having maybe been in those spaces that I’ve described before welcoming and setting up ways to welcome those who maybe have experienced greater levels of stress and anxiety.
Manda: [00:22:13.26] Yes. So, we need to create the generative spaces and let people find access to them.
Rob: [00:22:18.09] That’s it. The more we can open spaces of all different kinds, the better. And in the time of Covid, people are learning how to do that online. And I was reading things that people sometimes are feeling too vulnerable to potentially even show their face on a camera. So, techniques for how people can maybe start by pointing the camera at the ceiling and slowly move it down when they’re ready and acknowledging the some of the trauma that people are bringing to situations when we gather. So I wouldn’t know necessarily whether how much there’s a generational difference there. But I certainly sense that there’s an awful lot of challenge, at least still, with helping people feel safe and well.
Manda: [00:22:59.25] And at least we’re trying to address it. You wrote your dissertation, which I would really like to read. And then you ended up with Kate. When I was at college, Kate was one of our lecturers and if I had to name one single inspiring day (or three days), it was the days she came to talk, and everything fell into place. So, I’m assuming it felt like that for you. And then she opened up the Doughnut Economics lab. And you got a job there!
Rob: [00:23:38.95] I did. I was so fortunate to be able to to join Kate on this next chapter, if you cycle back to when Kate first came up with the idea she was working at Oxfam. It was 2012. And she came up with the Doughnut model, as I described before. And in 2017, having had some time and space to investigate this idea more deeply, she wrote the book ‘Doughnut Economics’.
And it really sparked off. It’s now in 18 languages around the world. It is on bestseller lists internationally. We spoke about how it’s a simple visual and it is really capturing the imagination of people in all different settings. And I think Kate recognized that it was right to then offer this growing community of people coming to the ideas of Doughnut Economics to offer a space for them to connect and collaborate and turn the ideas into action. And so that’s what we’re now doing with a donor Economics Action Lab. The name is a lab. And it is a bit of an experiment. It’s not been done before. And we’re creating an online collaborative platform for people who have come to the ideas to to connect and inspire each other towards action, towards the Doughnut. And we’re doing that in many different parts across the society. We are focusing on cities, but there are other angles, too. So, if you were to view cities at a scale where local authority is potentially initiating the work, well, there are places all over the world where communities are initiating the work.
And so I’m the community’s lead and I’ll be working with communities and spotlighting where action is arising from between people who aren’t necessarily in a position of traditional power.
Manda: [00:25:49.99] So let’s look at cities first and then let’s come to communities, because that’s a very fertile area to explore. Did the C40 arise out of this or was the C40 happening anyway? And can you explain what the C40 is?
Rob: [00:26:04.36] This is where I will happily say I don’t fully know. And there are so many things within Kate’s work between 2017 and today that I still I’m not fully up to speed with. So, I wouldn’t be able to give you the exact definition of what the C40 is. But I do understand that it’s a global network of cities which are looking towards reimagining what a city is for and bringing in the ideas of things like Doughnut Economics and that Amsterdam is one of the C40 network. They will share ideas. And so I think that’s my best stab at what they are?
Manda: [00:26:43.36] Yes, they are cities that are taking bold climate action, leading the way towards a healthier and more sustainable future. And the point is that they set up by mayors of progressive cities locked in slightly less than progressive nations. Quite a lot of them in the states and in the UK. There are 96 member cities with seven million citizens and a quarter of the global economy, which is quite impressive. So, they are going to have a lot of impact. And I think what’s happening is they’re talking to each other about what can be done at a city level in spite of the actions of the overall federal or national governments. And they’re a sponsor of and a partner in the Doughnut Economics cities model.
Rob: [00:27:42.19] Yes, and that’s really exciting. It’s people taking action, taking agency where they realise that there’s great potential to work together. And having launched the Amsterdam City Doughnut and seen how the other C40 city mayors have responded to it really reinforces our belief of how change happens, in that change can come through seeing people like yourself do things you didn’t think was possible. A Mayor can be inspired by a mayor. And then how does that then translate all the way across society? A teacher being inspired by a teacher, a neighbour being inspired by a neighbour. And what are the other ways we can bring that thought into our work?
Manda: [00:28:37.82] Can you tell us a little bit more about what Amsterdam has done?
Rob: [00:28:42.89] So Amsterdam has been a city on a journey towards a circular economy for the last five years, I believe.
One of the people in my year, which was s just a couple ahead of you, Schumacher is is now working for them on circularity and how to be circular. It’s So inspiring. And they treally mean it. That’s the thing. It’s not just greenwashing. This is ‘We are going to be fully circular’.
And it’s that commitment at the city level to do that, which has given permission to change makers of the city of Amsterdam to grasp the model of the Doughnut. And I mentioned permission before in terms of the conditions that cultivate imagination. And I was referring to permission at a gathering at a small scale when we gather together as individuals. But this is permitted on a city scale. You open the city of Amsterdam, open the space for the change makers to step in and imagine what is possible for this city. And they recognize that the Doughnut brings together both the social and ecological dimensions.
This was before I joined the Doughnut Economics Action Lab. Kate and Carlotta, the other co-founder of the Action Lab, worked with the city and with a consultancy called Circle Economy and with Change Makers, which is people from business and other organizations to formulate what a downscaled Doughnut looks like for a city – for Amsterdam.
Manda: [00:30:14.57] Downscaled from a national level or from an international level?
Rob: [00:30:17.63] Downscaled from a global level. So the Doughnut as designed is the global view of the doughnut. It measures global impact of climate change, of ocean acidification and all the other planetary boundaries and the social measures such as the percentage of the population not meeting needs on things like health and education.
Whereas the downscaled version is recognizing the things that we find most important to measure at a level of the city. So, you might bring in more relevant social dimensions that are particular challenges in your city. You might bring in ecological measures that are more relevant, relating to the local ecology. Looking next door at what is the biome of which you are a part and how much carbon does your local environment sequester? What are the water and nutrient cycles and things like that, and then mirroring that within the city?
So you take what’s right locally. But crucially, you also then look at how do you do that whilst respecting the needs of all people worldwide and within the means of the living planet. And so there have been clever ways pioneered in this methodology looking at how Amsterdam is linked in global supply chains? And therefore, when you buy something from a shop in Amsterdam, how is that impacting people in other parts of the world? And similarly, how is it impacting on the global boundaries?
And so what you end up with is a local and a global view of both social and ecological dimensions. And it’s a full, balanced view of what it means to be a Doughnut City, because you’re meeting the needs of local people within a thriving local habitat whilst respecting the needs of people worldwide in a thriving planet. And it’s a very powerful starting point to then undergo a transition towards the space in the Doughnut.
Manda: [00:32:34.10] And how far down the line is Amsterdam now on this?
Rob: [00:32:38.63] Amsterdam has published the portraits of what they chose – the measures they chose. That’s the dimensions of the local and global, the social, ecological and how they’re doing on those. Which is a really brave start to recognize that they’re actually part of a lot of global problems in the city because they are part of these global supply chains and things like that.
So they published that. And they are now undergoing a wider consultation with the city, working out what it means to bring this to life for citizens so that citizens really own this vision and then forging of the way forward. So, they bring it to life with mapping the initiatives currently underway. What’s already going on that is bridging the gap towards thriving in the Doughnut. They’re also looking at decisions they need to take on housing. How do they take decisions on housing when they now recognize that it has impacts on all of these things of the public portrait? And so that they are now pioneering the next steps of turning the public portrait into action and informing action in all different parts of the cities and development.
Manda: [00:33:56.22] I’m assuming that Amsterdam was quite a progressive city to begin with, for it to even have started this. How is it going down with the citizens of Amsterdam? Has anybody looked into enthusiasm or uptake or engagement or any of the measures that we could look at to find out how is this spreading within the population?
Rob: [00:34:18.84] Great question. I don’t know of anything that sort of captures it on a statistically representative basis. If you were to to find a representative sample of Amsterdamers and understand their awareness and enthusiasm for the model. I don’t know if that’s happened yet, but what I would say is that it is drawing a lot of people towards it and the interest is very high.
Manda: [00:34:42.75] And it would be hard. You can imagine if some of your city is saying that it wants to meet the needs of everybody in a way that embraces everybody and engages everybody. It would be quite hard to say that you don’t want to be part of that. You can’t imagine that happening except on a on a really deeply ideological level. And I got the impression that there are a couple of other cities picking this up too? One of the Brazilian cities.
Rob: [00:35:06.74] Yes, conversations are bubbling up from over 500 places around the world. Many, many cities from global, north and south. And what we’re so excited about is that, yes, it’s been trialled or pioneered by a global north city, but there are so many cities in the global south looking to take this on and make it theirs.
And it will be different. And we’re fascinated to see how that that works. So I’m not a part of all of those conversations.
Manda: [00:35:32.73] But 500, 500 city, that’s amazing. That’s most of the C40.
Rob: [00:35:37.38] Yes, it’s actually a mixture. It is a lot of the C40, but it’s a mixture of of scales as well. So we actually sometimes get whole nations looking towards this. Costa Rica are the closest I think I can say this. I’m not 100 percent on it, but one of the closest to actually being in the Doughnut at the national level.
I’m very excited about when Costa Rica publish and how many countries that were inspired. But I recognize that it’s not necessarily the same individual or group of people who bring the idea into action. You’ve got a complete mixture of all of the different societal stakeholders picking up this idea and asking how they are going to do this? If you were to think about it as an old school hierarchy from residents up through local organizers to city councils through to more regional authorities at a national level. If you’ve got people looking at this idea all the way up and down, it’s graspable at all those scales. And I think it’s very exciting.
I have a lot of friends in Brazil who are part of reading clubs, part of groups talking with local authorities. They are recognizing that engagement with the model is coming from many angles, which is very exciting.
Manda: [00:37:00.30] Yes, because in Brazil, obviously, the national government is probably not engaging with this given its political structure. But if we can do it from the grassroots up, that would be amazing. So let’s use that as a jumping off point, because you are involved more in the local communities and a lot of people are going to be living in places where whatever the size of their local authority, from Parish council to Town council to County council to City council in the UK – and equivalent structures abroad – it’s not coming from that level.
So we want people to be able to work from the grassroots level and move something upwards to the point where the local authorities follow because it’s so obvious and everybody wants them to do that. So I’m guessing this is where you’re involved? Can you tell us a little bit about, first of all, how did you get into this? I know we’ve looked a little bit at that, but let’s explore your stepping off point into this and then where is it going? And really, crucially, what can people do from here on in to help this happen in their local communities?
Rob: [00:38:06.21] As I mentioned, the Communities Lead and I guess there’s an element of being in the current process of defining what that is. And we’re really learning as we go on this. And it’s very early days. We’ve heard from change makers in communities in many different contexts already applying these ideas in their local communities. But we’re just at the start. And the really exciting thing is that we’ve heard from over 500 places around the world about the City portrait, that’s what we’ve published, but we’ve not yet launched anything and really invited forward communities.
So I think when we launch in the end of September, that’s going to be a very exciting moment to see what might be an invisible community of global community of communities using the ideas. And that’s the point at which we really see what the potential there is. Because I would never profess to knowing what the Doughnut really, truly looks like for communities, because I can’t wait to be surprised by interpretations of it from all different cultures and worldviews and communities of people and place and purpose.
So we could ask, how do you even define a community? We have communities of purpose where to bring people together from multiple locations, or you have a community of place very rooted in that place, in the history of that place.
Manda: [00:39:35.83] And communities of purpose have been growing online a lot during Covid. That’s become a whole different level of connectivity. Jaimie Wheal who is measuring orders of magnitude of connectivity is mostly looking at communities of purpose, then feeding into communities of place.
So you said you had something that was going to launch at the end of the month, and I’m wondering if you can tell us a little bit more about what it is and what it does and how people might access it and what they might gain from accessing it?
Rob: [00:40:04.93] So this is the launch of Doughnut Economics Action Lab. And we’re launching not only the organization, but we’re launching our main experiment as part of this lab, which is an online collaborative platform for people who have come to the ideas of Doughnut Economics and wants to do something about it.
It’s for them to connect with each other and to share ideas and stories of the use of Doughnut Economics in in their context, in their place. It’s for them to use tools such as methodologies like how to create a city Doughnuts through to activities you could run in a community or a classroom. And there are explainers about the ins and outs of Economics so you can get up to get up to speed with all the sort of the essentials.
And the real aim is that we are starting something. This is the kernel of something which will hopefully grow into something we can’t quite imagine what it could be yet. Ideally, the community creates itself, starts monitoring itself and becomes a global community of people putting the ideas into action in all different kind of contexts. We mentioned the city and I’m leading on communities, but we want to connect with educators and businesses and national governments.
We didn’t set out intentionally to attract the interest of national governments. But as mentioned, Costa Rica are doing it and other national governments are interested, too. So, we have these broad themes, but also we’re so open to see how the community starts rising – what emerges from this distributed network of change makers putting the ideas and actions?
Manda: [00:42:00.55] Because this is the point, I think, of emergence from complex systems as if you could predict it from the start, it isn’t really mergence. So what it feels to me like you’re doing is setting up a complex system and then pressing the button and wait and see how it emerges that it’s so exciting.
Rob: [00:42:17.53] We’re setting the platform up with a spirit of thinking in systems as though we don’t know what properties will arise. But we’re setting up with the intention of paying close attention and learning and adapting, evolving and hat the community emerges from that. And so, we will hopefully be able to respond as and when things transpire.
Manda: [00:42:41.77] This is action research on a very large scale. Have you got people doing dissertations on this? Have you got people whose job it is, is to be monitoring angles of it and really exploring stuff? Because I’m imagining that if it takes off as it could take off, then very quickly it’s going to become very, very big and very, very complex and quite hard for one person to get their head around or even a dozen other heads round.
Rob: Fantastic idea. One of our team members, Andrew Fanning, has done his PhD in the measurement of the Doughnut at a national level. and if your listeners want to explore that, you can go search online for Leeds Good Life. And you can then look at any city around any nation around the world how it currently scores on the Doughnut metrics and Andrew is, as we speak, creating the academic literature around the Doughnut. So, the academic literature we will be then sharing on the platform. The call for people to look at how this complex adaptive system of the global community of change makers coming around that idea.
Manda: [00:44:07.20] I just looked up Leeds Good Life. So put that in the show notes for people as well, because I think quite a lot of people are going to want to follow this up. It feels so rich as if this is the opening of a door that answers your question of how do we inspire people to change their narrative? And partly it’s about talking to other people who are changing their narrative, and then the collective amplification of the narrative changes becomes the narrative change in itself.
It feels enormously exciting. I listened to a podcast the other day with a young man called Mark Lakeman, who I hope to interview later, who was part of the City Repair Project. And I’m thinking that if we brought the extraordinary dynamism of someone who basically just closed off an intersection and turned it into a village green in order to create social connectivity into this, then it multiplies exponentially. He did it once and there are 700 of them across Portland, and I’m thinking Portland is probably looking at the Doughnut quite hard at the moment. And then if Portland can do it, other cities in Oregon can do it. And then this is how it grows. It’s genuinely very, very exciting.
Manda: [00:45:28.72] And in the process of writing this down, I have realized that Doughnut Economic Action Labs spells DEAL, which feels really ironic to me because that’s a kind of old scale neoliberal concept of closing the deal, but bringing it forward to this sounds very good.
Well, you can also look at it as the Green New Deal, so much spoken about. But yes, we do go by the name DEAL. I guess I was explaining it longhand. But day by day, we refer to ourselves as DEAL.
And I noticed also that you’re quite involved with Biomimicry or at least biomimicry 3.8 is one of the sponsors. And I wondered if you had any insight into how biomimicry is being incorporated into this?
Rob: [00:46:16.87] Yes. Biomimicry was a great thought partner in the methodology behind the city portrait. And I mentioned how when you downscale the global Doughnut to a place such as the city, what are the relevant ecological measures?
Manda: [00:46:33.04] So hang on a second. I think for people who aren’t familiar, tell us a bit about what Biomimicry does and is and the thinking behind that and then how we can apply it?
Rob: [00:46:42.37] Biomimicry is pioneered by Janine Benyus. It takes the idea that nature offers us a lead in the design of various design challenges that we face. And so it’s been used in in all kinds of technological innovations—.
Manda: [00:47:03.25] Things like using spider thread, spider webs as a as a concept because it’s so much stronger. It’s orders of magnitude more powerful than high tensile steel of the same weight or something like that. There’s an extraordinary YouTube video about Biomimicry and the ways that it’s being incorporated in high technology stuff. So I will post that video on the show notes and people can find that. But if you can tell us then how it is being folded into City scale Doughnut Economics, that sounds really exciting.
Rob: [00:47:38.98] So the to the ideas of biomimicry are taking nature as both mentor and measure. It’s saying, how do we learn from nature? And then how do we use that as our as our measure of of success?
And so that is how much might our wild land next door to our city sequester carbon? And how do we how do we potentially have dashboards on buildings saying, ‘I’m sequestering this much carbon’ or ‘I’m capturing this much of the sun’s energy and translating it into either solar power or as food on the roof’.
And having these kind of metrics to say that we are we are matching at Nature’s wonderful life, giving capacity of what this place would be if we didn’t have this city. It’s turning the city into circles and recognizing that cities were designed in straight lines and how we can actually bring more of the cyclical nature back to into our design.
Manda: [00:48:40.54] Brilliant. One of the things that really struck me was this concept that the city can be designed – intentionally designed – to give more back to the ecosphere within which it resides than did the land on which it was built. And I’m guessing that if the land of which it was built was the Amazon forest, that would be really hard. But if the land on which was built was industrially farmed farmland, then then it would be almost trivially easy because industrial farmland is a catastrophe. But to be able to really nurture great wildlife corridors to to realize that, hedgehogs need a ten acre territory, as we discussed in a recent podcast with Mary Reynauld. And how would we make a city hedgehog friendly and bee friendly and friendly for frogs?
And can we do that in ways that still meet the needs of the people in the city to live and have a thriving existence? And my experience of what happens when people engage with the living world is that it almost by the fact of that engagement enhances their lives. And so if that can be built in to the city and I guess in most cases now it’s a retrofit because there are very few cities being built from scratch that I know of, you might know differently. And so what we’re going to have to do is redesign our cities, our towns, even potentially our villages on all the scales in order to be able to do that. Does that sound like what’s going to happen?
Rob: [00:50:21.84] It does. And it sounds like the most wonderful challenge, because, as you say, it is in this process of of welcoming nature back and and designing with biomimicry in mind that I feel we begin to engage something between ourselves and within ourselves that is just part of the fabric of community. And this opportunity to welcome back the hedgehogs will bring us to life.
And I see it as a really important part of the community work within Doughnut Economics. I feel that there’s no one right answer. And it’s for communities to find what they believe is right for their place. And so, there’s always going to be a limit for what we can show from a central platform of what works. But I think it’s more giving the permission for people in all of the various diversity of context to take on this challenge and recognize that by meeting nature’s needs, we’re meeting our own in a beautiful way. So we wait to see how that’s happening.
Manda: [00:51:22.38] And in your distributive network, if somebody comes up and says that we’ve discovered the way to make our town hedgehog friendly, then everybody else will know it. One person only needs to do it. It’s fantastic. It’s the sharing of ideas and the increase in regenerative complexity feels huge. Sorry I interrupted. You were going to say something much more interesting.
Rob: [00:51:42.78] Well, not at all. I wanted to cycle slightly back to your comment about Mark Lakeman and just generally around this this work or the work that he did inspired me. He has this quote I’ve just pulled up in front of me, which is, “Like a snail needs a shell, like a fox needs a den, like a bird needs a nest, human beings need a sense of place. But not just a sense of place. They need a gathering place at every single scale of that community.”
And that quote for me captures so much of this comparison with nature that we are by restoring nature in our cities, we are restoring our own places at all scales of community, whether it’s in our gardens, whether it’s in our on our streets, whether it’s in the shared common place just around the corner and our local park or nature corridors or large gathering places. And how do we welcome back in in nature?
And in doing so, how are we then creating these gathering places which have a deep quality, a sense of place and sense of place which will bring about the space that I mentioned before that cultivates imagining. And I think it’s all wonderfully linked. So at the community scale, I’m so excited about how the concentric rings of placemaking bring about, I think, communities that would then thrive within the Doughnut.
Manda: [00:53:11.52] Yes, please do send me that quote and I’ll put it up on the website with the rest, because that was so beautiful. And yes, the sense of that we don’t even know what it is that we need. I think at a very deep level, we absolutely know, but we’ve been educated out of the concept that we need these places. We need that sense of the foxes den or the bird’s nest or the sense of community connectedness, I read something recently that someone had done a study in Alpine villages that have been almost not touched by the Industrial Revolution, even in the 21st century.
And the person who went there said, ‘You could say these people, that they worked 16 hours a day. But you could also say they don’t work at all.” Because their life and their work are completely interchangeable. And what they do is they live and they connect, and they build community. And in doing so, they meet all their needs. And we have created lives and a world where work and home are separated. And the work that we do may have no impact on the welfare of our home life at all, and that at some level we need to begin to reverse that so that we understand the connectedness of our communities and our need for each other, whether they are communities of purpose or communities of place. And that maybe in the end we begin to bring all those together.
I think the idea of you being Communities Leader is great. I’m so envious, Rob. It sounds totally wonderful to get up each morning and think how can we build the world differently and how can we help people to unleash those parts of themselves that know what they need and that have been crushed by the imagination machine of the system.
Rob: [00:55:07.66] That’s why really, I so pursued this desire for a magic formula that gave people a sense of agency towards that goal of combating this dis-imagination machine, giving themselves a sense of agency and cultivating our own collective imagination. Because I feel the potential is unlimited. So, yes, I completely agree with you were saying.
Manda: [00:55:33.76] So we’re nearly at the end of our hour. And generally, I think that us agreeing with each other is a really good place to stop. But actually, what I’d really like is for people listening to have a sense of the agency that they can take. So clearly at the end of the month, you’re opening the Doughnut Economics Action Lab, which sounds so exciting. And I imagine everyone listening to the podcast will want to go there and explore. So we’ll put a link there. But other than that, is there any one thing that ordinary individuals can do now to begin really to promote this sense of opening the world up, changing the narrative and shifting us to a new economic model?
Rob: [00:56:18.88] Obviously, first of all, would be to join the Action Lab. So we don’t ask for anything for you to join. It’s not like there’s a fee and we don’t take any of your data. Just jump on and start having a look around. A good place to start is by by having a reason, a watch of some of the videos and the material you can see there just to get a grasp of some of the ideas of Doughnut Economics. But I would say one of the best things you can do is just having a conversation. And I think one of the wonderful things about Brazil is that they’re showing us what a really great book club looks like. They’re they’re gathering around the ideas. And as part of Doughnut Economics, there are seven ways to think like a 21st century economist or just seven ways to think you could say. And discussing what that means for their place is a really good way to start because the book doesn’t offer any declaratory statements on what the answer is. It asks more questions. And I think opening a space, you can maybe create a book club online or something like that where you’re opening spaces to discuss those amongst your community of place or purpose. Whether it’s within a church or whether it’s within a climate movement or whether it’s a local community to discuss what that might mean for you. And I think that’s a wonderful place to start. Together and collectively we have the greatest power. So, starting those conversations would be my recommendation.
Fantastic. Thank you so much. This has been such an inspiring conversation. I will put links to everything in the show, notes to the Action Lab, to the book, to the C40 cities and biomimicry and circle economy and anything else that we can think of between us that people might want as resources, because this is how we make the difference, people. Along with the spiritual work that we’re doing, we can also make real practical changes now by asking these questions in our communities. And I think we need both arms of this. If we’re going to create that sense of emergence from complexity that we so badly need. So. Rob, thank you so much for coming on to the podcast.
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