Understanding and Developing Place as a Living Ecosystem (PART 1)
Workshop in Brittany, France, August 2015
Notes from the Field (PART 1)
These notes are PART 1 of a two-part series about my unique experience facilitating a Regenerative Development workshop in Brittany, France, this past August. PART 1 describes my intentions for the workshop, the process we went through over the 2.5 days, and highlights the key elements that I believe made the workshop a success. PART 2 presents our case study of the village of Crucuno where an ecovillage project is being planned; and the regenerative potential we uncovered for the project and the village.
PART 1: A Unique Workshop Experience
I was invited by my friend and colleague Anne Monmousseau, Executive Director of the University Terre&Mer (UTM), to facilitate a 2.5-day Regenerative Development learning experience for about 30 participants (architects; city planners; permaculture professionals; local change agents) on the beautiful peninsula of Saint-Pierre-Quiberon, in the Morbihan department, South Brittany, France. The theme of the event was: “Aménager le Territoire Comme un Ecosystème Vivant,” which roughly translates as: “Understanding and Developing Place as a Living Ecosystem.” The overall program included:
- A 3-hour presentation of the Regenerative Development approach (an approach developed by the Regenesis Group, Santa Fe, NM); (note: the PPT presentation can be seen on Slideshare)
- A visit to the village of Crucuno, about 10 km inland from the bay of Quiberon, where the future ecovillage will be located;
- Brief presentations from a few participants on diverse eco-systemic approaches to design and place-making;
- Multiple small and large groups’ reflections on the impact of the regenerative development approach on design-built professional practices;
- Application of systemic frameworks on a variety of participants’ projects to give participants ‘a taste’ of the regenerative approach;
- A preliminary exploration of the identity, vocation and regenerative potential of the village of Crucuno and of the ecovillage project. (Note: the goal of the workshop was not to perform a complete ‘Story of Place,’ a process that takes multiple weeks of work and research for a team of professionals.)
My Intent and Process for the Workshop
As I prepared for the workshop, I was reminded by my colleagues at the Regenesis Group that, beyond the development of my presentation and the design of the process itself, it was critical I prepare myself, i.e., be clear on my intent and purpose, my state of being and my will during the workshop. This was a great reminder of what Bill O’Brien, who served as CEO of Hanover Insurance, once said when asked to sum up his most important learning experience in leading profound change—he responded, “The success of an intervention depends on the interior condition of the intervener.” To that end, I asked my colleague Craig DeForest to coach me through that personal work.
Since it was my first visit in Brittany, I engaged in the process with no preconceived idea about the place, its people, or their past and future needs. I purposely held the attitude and curiosity of an explorer, trusting that what we needed to learn would emerge out of the place itself and the collective intelligence of the group. I aimed at creating a collaborative and co-creative environment where everyone involved could feel s/he had a contribution to make. I saw my role as one of orchestrating the process and guiding the participants in shared reflections and inquiries to help them gain new insights about 1) their professional practices; and 2) the vocation of Crucuno and the role the ecovillage project could play in regenerating the village and the surrounding area.
My purpose for the workshop, which I shared with the group on the first day, was:
“To engage you in a co-exploration of the potential of the regenerative development method and of its benefits, in a way that helps you develop a new perspective on the role you can play in regenerating Place and local communities, so that you may evolve your practices in a way that increase the regenerative potential and impact of your projects.”
As I prepared for the workshop, I reflected on the type of experience I wanted to create for the participants in addition to the delivery of traditional learning objectives. I created a “system of products,” which included:
- Learning Objectives:
- Awareness of the greater potential a project can realize when it is anchored in a deep understanding of the identity, vocation and potential of a Place and when it is understood as an instrument for regeneration (versus ‘an end in itself’).
- Understanding of the need for design-built professionals to shift from focusing on ‘things’ and problem solving to focusing on potential.
- Appreciation of the need to let go of professional ‘ego’ and preconceived ideas and, instead, tune in to what a “Place” may reveal of itself.
- Understanding of the benefits the use of systemic frameworks provide in guiding and expanding the inquiry and thinking process about a project.
- Awareness of the importance of self-reflection in regenerative work.
- Energized Participants’ State of Being (during the workshop), allowing them to:
- Engage in deeper reflections about Place and the regenerative potential of the project.
- Increase the level of collaboration, cooperation, support and sharing.
- Create mutually beneficial relationships.
- Increased Level of Participants’ Will (at the end and after the workshop) to:
- Be in service of Places and Communities.
- Continue to explore their regenerative role as professionals.
- Evolve their design-built practices.
I am fortunate to have had for audience a very engaged group of caring individuals and professionals who share the same vision for, and actively work toward, the emergence of a more conscious, mindful, collaborative and creative society where humans and nature co-evolve and live in harmony with one another. I am deeply grateful for the spirit of collaboration and co-creation present throughout the workshop, the depth and quality of the reflections and the numerous insights that were shared. I am also impressed by the level of support, care and love that impregnated the workshop throughout. Over the 3 days, a palpable energy field emerged that carried us through our process, deepening our relationships and investigation, helping us going deeper and deeper into our inquiry. A few process elements, I believe, participated in the emergence of this field:
- Except during my presentation on the first morning and small-group project activity on day 2, we remained in a large circle thus creating a sense of unity and wholeness at the group level. This sense of wholeness was not broken by the departure or arrival of a few participants throughout the 3 days.
- Each day, we began with a centering/grounding visualization exercise facilitated by Anne Monmousseau to bring the participants “into the room.”
- At the beginning and end of each morning and afternoon session, we asked participants to check-in or out by sharing one single word that came to their minds. The approach was not only effective in getting the pulse of 30 people relatively quickly but, more importantly, it helped each person focus on the essence of what s/he was thinking/feeling/processing; this created a collective picture of where the whole group was at different stages of the process.
- Each session included small-group reflections on important questions. For instance, we began the first day with a reflection on: “Why does the Planet need me to evolve my professional practices and in what way should my practices evolve?” On the second day, after a brief imaging exercise, we broke into 3 groups to perform a Bohmian dialogue around the questions: “What personal or professional transformation is required in order to create and sustain the vitality and viability of the regenerative environment that you have previously imaged? What’s your level of Will to realize that vision?” On the third morning, before engaging in the exploration of the identity and potential of Crucuno and the regenerative role of the Ecovillage project, I asked: “What should we remain aware of, and sensitive about, to ensure the quality of our reflection? What barriers or constraints are we imposing on ourselves that we need to transcend?”
- The debriefing of each group activities included “meta” level questions, which helped participants reflect on their learning and personal experience. For instance, after the Dialogue on Day 2, I asked: “In what way did this reflection/dialogue change your way of thinking?” and “What did you feel during this exercise? What was your level of energy?”
Such carefully designed processes, crafted questions and mindful intentions for the workshop are essential ingredients in creating a powerful container for co-creation and emergence (and are typical of the work of regenerative practitioners who have trained with the Regenesis Group).
Intertwined with all of these design elements was the palpable energy of the place itself. Crucuno and its megaliths are unique: the massive dolmen at the center of the village, the “Quadrilatere” not very far from it (another impressive megalith site) and the stories that a local shared all had a huge impact on the group experience. We all felt this unique energy and the sense of Place when visiting the village (you can read about Crucuno in PART 2). The theme of the megaliths remained ever present in our conversations to the extent that some people felt that an over emphasis on them was, somehow, taking us away from our main purpose—that was to uncover the distinctive characteristics of Crucuno and its vocation. Their mysterious aura is indeed impossible to ignore and is reinforced by the fact we know so little about them.
A Journey to Be Continued
During the afternoon of the last day, a few of us met to debrief our experience and discuss possible next steps. Many participants shared their “positive frustrations” about the fact they felt they had only skimmed the surface and that they were still hungry to learn more about the regenerative approach. A few had assumed the workshop would be a conventional training and had come with the intention to learn a methodology and specific set of tools they could apply afterward. This, however, had never been the intent and in the future, I need to be paying more attention to the way such a workshop is being advertised.
My objective wasn’t to deliver a training and I did not expect participants to fully grasp the regenerative frameworks that supported our inquiry. One of my goals was to give participants a sense of the potential of the approach. But more importantly, and as stated in my purpose statement and the “system of products,” my intention was to mainly engage them in a reflection of the greater potential a project can realize when it is anchored in a deep understanding of the identity, vocation and potential of a Place and when it is understood as an instrument for regeneration. I wanted them to appreciate how a shift from focusing on the functional aspects of a project to focusing on how Place and its vocation can unlock the energy around a project and uncover possibilities beyond what could have been assumed at the onset. Considering the desire from many in the room to continue the learning process, I believe we began to realize this objective.
Building on the momentum, I suggested the University Terre&Mer (UTM) to create a Regenerative Lab under their umbrella to continue to support the ecovillage project of Crucuno. I committed to work with members of the Regenesis Group to create a course in French that incorporates core elements of The Regenerative Practitioner Series in addition to a “Story of Place” applied training on the village of Crucuno—the whole thing delivered through the Lab. I also plan to work with UTM to define the organizational principles of the Lab, which of course needs to operate as a regenerative entity. UTM will search for funding to support the activities of the Lab and will organize a second workshop on Regenerative Development next year.
I want to end these notes with a quote from an email sent to me after the workshop by the architect Bernard Menguy:
“Merci à toi également pour le message « régénérant » que tu as fait passer, pour qu’il devienne régénératif, la mise en place de la formation que tu proposes d’étudier est essentielle. Je reste dans l’attente d’en savoir plus.”
“Thank you also for the ‘enlivening’ message you brought to us, for it to become regenerative, the course you proposed is essential. I look forward to learning more.”
I want to thank my colleagues Ben Haggard and Joel Glanzberg from the Regenesis Group and Craig DeForest, an independent consultant, for their input and support as I prepared for the workshop. Their suggestions on the process and their help in preparing me to facilitate it were tremendous.
I am deeply grateful to Anne Monmousseau who saw the potential in presenting the Regenerative Development Approach to a French audience and who fully trusted my ability to deliver a powerful learning experience. There is no magic in that, considering the quality of the events offered by UTM to support the transition to a more sustainable economy, the organization is able to attract people of integrity and high-level consciousness—a strong element that contributed to the positive outcomes of the workshop. Many thanks to the UTM staff and other helpers, who took care of all the logistics, captured pictures, and recorded the event, which allowed me to concentrate on my work.