DEEEP – a transformational action experiment

DEEEP4There was not much activity on this blog in the last, well, 11 months – my apologies to the faithful reader who comes here regularly (if you exist). This is because the DEEEP project took most of my energy since the beginning of the year. DEEEP? Read more about it in this short article, which was originally published in the Smart CSOs Blog on Theory and Practice. Enjoy – and come back! You won’t have to wait for another 11 months for updates – promise.

DEEEP4 – Advancing towards system change in in the development sector

The Smart CSOs Lab proposes a radical reconsideration of NGO practices in order to stimulate a system shift towards a more just and sustainable world. This is quite a challenge for NGOs, busy with daily policy business, trapped in topical silos and steered by the aspiration of short term wins, when the inclusion of our momentary buzz words in an official policy paper becomes the success story of the year.

Getting out of the business as usual and starting to pull the “key leverage points” such as systems thinking, cultural transformation and building a global movement is a major strategic shift for most CSOs. At CONCORD, the European Development NGO Confederation, the DEEEP4 Project was recently set up as an action experiment to try out some of the Smart CSOs thinking in practice, and hopefully to scale up its experience in the wider confederation.

DEEEP is an EC-funded, project-based support mechanism created by the confederation’s development education working group (the DARE Forum) 10 years ago. When DEEEP entered its fourth project phase, running from 2013 to 2015, many elements of Smart CSOs thinking where already considered during the drafting process, and more concretely implemented in the first months of the project, when the team and strategic orientation was set up. With our team of six and a range of stakeholders from CONCORD, we introduced Smart CSOs thinking in a two-days “DEEEP retreat”, the project’s official kick-off.

As result, the project’s stakeholders resolutely positioned DEEEP as a tool for social transformation: DEEEP’s vision is “systemic change through engaged global citizens”, and its mission “a renewed civil society based on values and citizen participation” – an ambition which goes far beyond previous project phases and the objectives of most development NGOs. The participatory vision process led to broad ownership of this radical repositioning of DEEEP, from a support mechanism for one CONCORD working group to a confederation-wide recognized tool to bring upon meaningful transformation within civil society and ultimately in the economic and political system. All work areas of DEEEP have integrated this transformative ambition in their respective strategies (for example to develop a “new advocacy”, to explore system change approaches through the research portfolio or to implement a resolutely emancipatory practice in the capacity development field).

The implementation of this vision results in activities which go far beyond a traditional charity approach to development education (reinforcing public support for development aid), and privileges actions with a more system oriented, cross-sectoral and long term citizen engagement with social change. For example, DEEEP facilitated the participation of CONCORD in the first ever European Citizens Summit, which united 230 participants from all sectors of civil society to explore a new vision and narrative for Europe, based on shared values such as solidarity and justice – a quite unusual business for a confederation whose main scope remains institutional policy work. A global conference in Johannesburg in November will explore ways to “Building a global citizens movement”.

Beyond the level of concrete activities, the positioning of DEEEP as a “transformational action experiment” results in a strong value base, which is shared by the team and the management, and which is the base line for all activities and decisions, also beyond the core business of development education. For example, ambitious internal “green policies” are being developed, and the HR policies follow a logic of empowerment rather then traditional line management. Instead of solely contracting a final project evaluation, a “critical friend” will accompany the project permanently to facilitate an emancipatory learning process. Regular team meetings and retreats allow staff to co-shape the projects development, and by applying a systems thinking approach, we try to critically assess all organizational practices and implement innovative and sustainable solutions regarding procurement, climate impact, staff policies, fundraising etc. The project tries to continuously cultivate seeds of new CSO practice through streamlined reflection and learning loops, which are rooted in the values and vision of truly emancipatory change.
Maybe the most positive experience of setting up DEEEP as transformatory action experiment is that interest and feedback from internal and external stakeholders is overwhelmingly positive: It seems that people are eager to see that things can be done differently by thinking bold on the vision and learning humbly at the same time. We would be happy to share our learning and learn from you, so please get in touch!

 

By Tobias Troll, DEEEP project manager (tobias.troll@concordeurope.org) – 15 July 2013

Rio+20: The night is darkest before dawn

Sugarloaf in grief

Even the Sugarloaf is veiled in grief after Rio+20 outcomes

The Rio+20 summit is over. What does it mean for development education, global learning, active citizenship, saving the world and the kind of stuff this blog pretends to address?
After one week in Rio, my personal wrap up is, with Antonio Gramsci, pessimistic in intellect, but optimistic in will:

The outcome document is disappointing. While there are important bits and pieces – like affirmation of human rights and particularly the right to food and water, or the emphasis on inclusion of youth and the mentioning of non-formal education, there is a lot of “where appropriate”, “volontary” and other possibility forms. The paramount role of empowering, values based, critical learning to achieve a shift in paradigm how we relate to each other and the planet, emphasised in a number of side events (including by UNESCO secretary general Milena Bukova) is missing completely from the document.

The dark forces are strong. Education for sustainable development is a very big umbrella, under which all kinds of approaches to learning can shelter, even if they are contradictory. Deutsche Bank vice chairman Caio Koch-Weser sees the main focus of education to produce the human capital to assure growth, meeting labour force needs of businesses and emphasising discipline, focus and STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) – a very worrying conception of education, certainly not aiming to build whole and happy citizens which actively participate in the transformation of society. For Jeffrey Sachs, broadband for all and other technical fixes are main issues when it comes to education. A representative of the French ministry of education wants “to bring nature in the classroom”. Asked why the students should not rather go out of the classroom, in good Freinet tradition, he replied that in the cities, there is no nature – well, certainly more than in a classroom.
With these people – albeit in very powerful positions – a transformation of the way we learn and relate won’t the possible. How do we deal with this? How long will they maintain us in the night?

Day is coming. The nice thing about the days is Rio was the encouraging and increasingly focussed determination of civil society to shift the paradigm and to create another possible world. In particular the “Widening circle” initiative, which aims to catalyse the creation of a global citizens movement, seems promising: part of the “great transition movement”, a growing group of senior intellectuals and activists wants to connect the various people’s struggles like Arab or Marble Spring, Occupy or Indignados beyond their topical or geographical limitations through a international membership organisation – like a global justice union or party. While the name is maybe a little enigmatic (why not rather something like “citizens without borders”?), this initiative, about to kick off to a new phase in the coming months, certainly merits followup.

The night is still very dark, but dawn will come. The question is when. This depends also on us, I suppose.

PS: Check also out the report “The learning we want” from our Rio People’s Summit round table on “Empowering Future – Education as key for a just and sustainable world”, and a analysis of the Rio+20 outcomes from civil society perspective (with a special focus on education) by CONCORD board member Rilli Lappalainen on YouTube.

Can the People write the next Global Development Goals?

How to crowd source the sustainable development goals (or whatever post-MDG beyond 2015 development goals will look like) – asks Joe Mitchell in his highly interesting blog on “Global Governance 2.0″.

How can citizens all over the world participate in a meaningful way in global governance processes? Wouldn’t board grassroots participation in the writing of the next MDGs the ultimate demonstration of active global citizenship? How can global learning contribute to facilitate citizen participation in governance processes? How can “Global Civil Society” become more than an anaemic and institutional network of INGOs? Which tools (such as LiquidFeedback – intensively used by the German Pirate Party for grassroots participatory decision making) can be set up to organise such a huge and complex undertaking like crowd sourcing global goals? And, if crowd sourcing is a way to go, how to overcome the digital divide?

 

PS: These are busy times, and I’m sorry not having kept the enthusiastic publication rhythm on this blog. But there are some interesting ideas in the pipeline, including a critical reflection on the EP campaign, a post-colonial critique of the UN Decade on Education for Sustainable Development and sone thoughts on our representation of the world. I’ll keep you posted – and thanks to all visitors, commentators and followers!

Tobias