Solution-Focused Action on Climate: Taking Up the Challenge 

Rush Wayne

We are pleased to feature another blog post related to the climate emergency, this time from Rush Wayne, a solution-focused enthusiast from the US, whose introduction to the Solution-Focused Collective came via Facebook. Here he reports and reflects upon an inspiring project in which Facebook played an important part.

“How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.” —Anne Frank

Introduction

In early October of 2021, in response to the growing alarm in news reports and social networks about the increasing dangers of climate change, I decided to try a personal experiment in climate change action via social media, an experiment that would be informed by solution-focused (SF) thinking. Although I consider myself something of a recluse and certainly not much of an activist or joiner, I proposed to challenge myself to take at least one action a day relevant to climate change, for an unspecified period of time, and to post my daily actions on Facebook so that others could follow along.

Drawing on SF thinking, I planned that my actions would be directed toward a positive outcome for the climate, more than simply toward “fighting climate change.”  Further, the actions would be small and easily accomplished by me or other individuals reading my posts – in contrast to the conventional thinking that only large and bold moves by governments, corporations, and environmental organizations could ever be commensurate to the scale of the problem. Finally, rather than aspiring to employ some special jiu jitsu of social change, I planned that the actions would comprise “doing more of” the ordinary, familiar kinds of citizen engagement – things like petition signing, donating, posting on social media, making the odd change in one’s “lifestyle” habits, self-educating, etc. – that go on all the time unremarked but that doubtless have kept the climate situation from getting even worse than it is.

In posting the actions, I did not and do not expect readers necessarily to agree with the ones I have taken or their rationales. The larger point of this experiment was to get myself moving about the issue and to see how feasible it would be to stick to an actual commitment for daily action. I had heard of certain personalities within the therapy/personal growth community offering to help people deal with their feelings about climate change, as there seems to be considerable fear and despondency around the subject. But I’ve long thought that taking action itself might be the most effective antidote to those feelings. Still, I had never been much of an activist, and I am uncomfortable with the heavy problem-orientation much activism typically entails. So I sought to invent my own way of moving forward.

Doubtless some might object that one needs a “political analysis” – essentially a diagnosis of the problem – before setting to work on an issue like this. Coming from an SF perspective, however, my expectation was that a detailed understanding of the “cause of the problem” would not be necessary to work for a positive outcome – indeed, it might limit my ability to recognize fruitful directions as I came upon them; and by taking action, I could learn much of what I needed to know about the climate arena as I went along.

As it would make for a very long read to reproduce every post from the 59-day experiment here, I have compiled and/or summarized somewhat more than half of them below. I’ve tried to include only the more illustrative posts, such as those that show the early evolution of the project, or those with significant commentary, or those that show the great diversity of sub-issues within the broader climate issue, or those that introduce a different sort of action from what had been previously posted. As many of the actions were time sensitive, I generally haven’t reproduced here the actual links to the actions included in the original FB posts.

Following the posts, I shall end with a number of reflections on my project.


The posts

Day 1 (October 2, 2021):

For my first post in the series, I simply wrote “Signed. My small-but-significant action for today to support a stable climate…”

For this action, I signed an online letter from Cascadia Wildlands, an environmental group active in Oregon and Washington in the US, to the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department to stop unwarranted post-fire logging of mature, green trees in the back country areas of Oregon’s Silver Falls State Park.

Day 2:

For my second post, I wrote, “Signed and sent. My small-but-significant action for today to support a stable climate.” and followed that with  “Uncontacted tribes are the best guardians of the natural world: by transferring their lands back to them, you will save their lives as well as their forest.” This brief comment referred to an email written by Survival International to relevant officials of the government of Paraguay to protect and support the land claims of the Ayoreo, an uncontacted tribe in Paraguayan territory, in consideration of the role of uncontacted tribes as prime guardians of the natural world where they live.

Day 3:

Signed a petition from Earthjustice.org (a top US environmental legal action organization) to the Biden administration to reject subsidies for new uranium mining in the US, as these would directly support destruction of fragile habitats and take away funds from urgent climate priorities.

Day 4:

Changed my introductory wording slightly to say “My small-but-potentially-significant action to help stabilize the climate for today.”  Signed and sent a letter from Rainforest Action Network to the executive officers of Chase Bank urging them to stop the financing of fossil fuel projects with their concomitant climate destruction, human rights violations, and rainforest destruction.

Day 5:

This was my first day reporting more than one action. Again, I changed my introductory wording, now to describe them as “small-but-potentially significant actions toward a sustainable climate.” On this day, I made a recurring donation to Physicians for Social Responsibility-Los Angeles to support Back from the Brink: The Call to Prevent Nuclear War, a US national grassroots campaign to prevent the growing threat that nuclear weapons pose to our future. I wrote, “A nuclear exchange of any sort would be game-over for the climate, and the US military is currently the largest institutional source of climate emissions on the planet.”

I also made one-time donation to SumOfUs.org to help send Tibetan ex-pat Dr. Lobsang Yangtso and her climate/environment team to Glasgow for COP26, to draw attention to the climate crisis on the Tibetan plateau, where glaciers supplying freshwater to millions are rapidly shrinking.

Next, still on Day 5, I signed a petition to the US Sec’y of the Interior to End Subsidies for States’ War on Wolves via Center for Biological Diversity (“wolves provide a number of crucial “ecosystem services” that promote healthy wildlands”).

Finally, I wrote, “Tried to repair my leaking toilet myself following instructions found on YouTube, potentially saving carbon emissions from a plumbers visit! Also potentially saving money, which I could use at my discretion.”

Day 6:

Signed petition via WorldBeyondWar.org in support of the Sinjajevina community’s campaign (Montenegro) to save their traditional pastoral way of life and reject the takeover of their land for a military training ground. I wrote: “Well managed grasslands fix carbon in the soil whereas military organizations are major contributors to climate emissions and take money away from climate solutions.”

Day 8:

Signed a petition from Food & Water Watch (fwwatch.org) to halt drilling on federal lands and waters, especially offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and elsewhere; another one from OregonWild.org to tell the Oregon Legislature to use our Oregon forests to help fight climate change; and one from NIRS.org to Biden and my Senator Wyden, arguing that nuclear power is not a climate solution and a nuclear-industry bailout had no place in the American Jobs Act or the Clean Energy for America Act.

Day 9:

I wrote: “Day 9 of my climate commitment. Today I set out to adjust the inflation pressure of the tires on my car, to help get better gas mileage. Usually I do this with a tire inflator/air compressor that plugs in to the cigarette lighter of the car. Today, however, after a first attempt to connect the inflator plug, the plug cap pulled off in the cigarette lighter and I was unable to remove it. Lovely! So the inflator is now unusable. That left me with the fall-back option of pumping the tires by hand with my bicycle pump, which is the way I used to do it when I was ten years younger. Today this proved to be a seriously strenuous, one-step-forward-two-steps-back kind of job, such that I only managed to get one tire up to pressure before i decided to stop for the day and try again tomorrow with the remaining tires!”

Day 10:

I wrote: “Today I finished raising the inflation pressure on the remaining 3 tires on my car (using my bicycle pump). That work went fairly quickly after yesterday’s challenges.

I also decided, however, to look into a fundamental question about climate action:  if global climate behaves as a “complex system” or even a “chaotic system,”how can we be sure that our actions toward a sustainable climate are indeed going to have the effect we’re hoping for? Is it possible that our actions could have the opposite effect to what we intend, given that climate is not a straightforward mechanical system? Which of the solutions, if any, promoted by the many disparate individuals, groups, corporations, and political constituencies, are already working?   And which, if any, are already making things worse, given that scientists’ climate projections have apparently underestimated the speed of the deleterious changes?”

I wrote “I will leave that thought there for the moment…” and as this was Indigenous Peoples’ Day, I shared a post from SurvivalInternational.org illustrating one way that the conventional wisdom on climate action, in their opinion, is currently getting seriously off track, with major conservation organizations actively fomenting the removal of indigenous populations from their land in the name of fighting climate change. I also linked to five suggested actions Survival had up on their website at that time, all based on the belief that indigenous peoples and uncontacted tribes are essential stewards of the planet’s most biodiverse areas.

Day 11:

I wrote: “Today I signed two petitions from WinWithoutWar.org. The first was to Congress to stop the Biden administration from further arming Saudia Arabia in its war on Yemen (which arming at the very least is a waste of tax-payer dollars that could be brought to bear on the climate crisis).

The second petition was to “remind the Biden administration of the widespread public support to end nuclear weapons use and remove these deadly devices from the world” before completion of the so-called Nuclear Posture Review where the administration is assessing and evaluating U.S. nuclear weapons policy. Building new and “better” nuclear weapons would, in my opinion, be another colossal waste of funds that could be otherwise brought to bear on the climate crisis, not to mention a source of considerable climate emissions and a direct danger to global climate in case of an accidental or intentional nuclear exchange.”

Day 12:

I wrote: “Today I downloaded and have begun to read the report from the Transnational Institute, via WorldBeyondWar.org, on the dangers of militarizing climate security. It appears to raise a number of important issues including alternative ways of thinking that may prove crucial in moving towards a sustainable climate.

https://worldbeyondwar.org/transnational-institute…/…

Day 13:

“Today I’m continuing to read the report I cited yesterday on the dangers of militarizing climate security. I also have signed and want to share a call from Rainforest Action Network to Procter and Gamble urging them to listen to indigenous communities voices and work harder to reduce their complicity with rainforest destruction & human rights abuses in North Sumatra. #KeepForestsStanding!”]

Day 14:

“Today, we are getting some great sun, so I am cooking a Delicata squash in my solar oven out in our back yard, rather than using our table-top portable electric oven. The solar oven is a “Sport” (see https://www.solarovens.org/) which I bought maybe 10 years ago. Using the solar oven will not actually spare much in emissions for us, since we already receive power from our electric company’s “green power” program (mainly electricity from solar and wind), but hey it is fun and the squash tastes especially good when cooked this way. Do any of you have a solar oven?

Meanwhile, I’ve also signed a petition or two today. One was from Food and Water Action urging the Oregon Department of Agriculture and its Department of Environmental Quality to strengthen water pollution regulations on factory farms in Oregon. The second was a local action via Cascadia Wildlands urging the Bureau of Land Management to drop their wrong-headed project to clearcut in the Thurston Hills overlooking neighboring Springfield (which project has already been rejected twice in court), and build community hiking trails instead.”

Day 15:

“Today (and the last few days) I’m trying to improve our household performance in the area of preventing food waste, by checking on what’s in the fridge and decluttering there so food we’ve prepared or purchased will be less likely to be forgotten and tossed. Food production is a big source of climate emissions, and 70% of freshwater is used to grow food. Yet, I read that 40% of food that is produced (in rich countries, at least) is wasted. This while hunger is a world wide problem, one that will likely be exacerbated by climate change. (On the other hand, I’ve read that 3% of the US military budget could eradicate world hunger…) Anyway, reducing our own food waste seems like a no-brainer if it helps the climate and saves us money at the same time.”

Day 16:

“Today I sent instructions to my yard crew to let the season’s falling leaves stay where they fall on the bare ground in our yard – rather than clearing the leaves with their blowers – so the leaves can help build the soil and protect it from washing away in the rain. This should mean the yard crew will use their gasoline-fueled blowers less, reducing emissions. It should ultimately also help hold carbon and water in the soil. It might even help provide some nesting sites for ground-dwelling bees.”

Day 17:

“Today I signed a petition from OSPIRG [Oregon State Public Interest Research Group] to the EPA [federal Environmental Protection Agency] urging them to beef up their plans to regulate toxic PFAS chemicals, which have apparently spread widely into our food, water, and natural environment. I figure that toxics like that are likely to harm wildlife and biodiversity, and among humans to lead to increased need for medical services, harming climate sustainability in the process.

Day 18:

“Today I will just share and comment a bit on an article in Positive News on the winners of the Earthshot Prize, which were chosen to offer scalable solutions to deforestation, pollution and other environmental challenges. I like what Costa Rica has done in doubling the size of its forests while engaging indigenous groups, although I suspect that eco-tourism is far from an unalloyed social good. The Takachar technology to reduce burning of agricultural waste in India sounds like it would bring a welcome change, but as with any technology, its rollout could have unexpected social and climatological effects (for one, aerosols from agricultural burning likely cool the atmosphere in India right now, so widespread implementation of this technology could result in higher temperatures there, even while reducing overall carbon emissions and improving air quality.)The coral project sounds good, although it does not deal with larger context of climate change that is killing coral. The Milan food waste system sounds great, and I’d like to see that replicated in my town! (What do the locals say about it?) The AEM Electrolyser, another technological fix, could also have unexpected ramifications, such as giving destructive industries a way to greenwash their activities, but at least it would provide a source of fossil-fuel-free hydrogen.”

https://www.positive.news/…/five-ideas-to-save-the…/…

Day  19:

“Today I did some reading about the role of peatlands in climate stabilization, learning that although peatlands cover only about 3% of the world’s land area, they store more carbon than all of the world’s forests, including the Amazon. As a result, the increasing loss and degradation of peatlands around the world poses a significant climate threat.

I also signed a letter to the US Forest Service…to deny a right-of-way to the Uinta Basin Railway to route oil trains through a roadless area in the Ashley National Forest in Utah. “More than 400 streams would be damaged. Ten thousand acres of wildlife habitat would be stripped bare or paved over, including crucial areas pronghorns and mule deer need to survive.” via the Center for Biological Diversity.”

Day 25:

“Today I joined with the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons in calling on Scotland’s NatWest Group – a corporate sponsor of the #COP26 climate summit – to walk its talk and drop its investments in nuclear weapons.”

Day 26:

“Today I have signed the call from a long list of organizations, to the participants in the COP26 UN Climate Change Conference…to stop excluding military pollution from climate agreements.”

Day 30:

“Today I joined Divest Oregon in calling on the State of Oregon (via the Oregon Treasurer and the Oregon Investment Council) to shift treasury funds from fossil fuels to climate-safe investments.”

Day 32:

“In the last few days I have been reading about the crucial role that whales play in sequestering atmospheric carbon. Yes, whales! They capture carbon both by incorporating it into their own body mass (sequestering an average of 33 tons of carbon dioxide each over their lifetime) and by fertilizing phytoplankton, which themselves capture world wide an estimated 40% of all carbon dioxide produced. There’s a fascinating article on the subject of whales and climate here:                                      

From the article: “If whales were allowed to return to their pre-whaling number of 4 to 5 million—from slightly more than 1.3 million today—it could add significantly to the amount of phytoplankton in the oceans and to the carbon they capture each year. At a minimum, even a 1 percent increase in phytoplankton productivity thanks to whale activity would capture hundreds of millions of tons of additional CO2 a year, equivalent to the sudden appearance of 2 billion mature trees. Imagine the impact over the average lifespan of a whale, more than 60 years.” And “Enhancing protection of whales from human-made dangers would deliver benefits to ourselves, the planet, and of course, the whales themselves. This “earth-tech” approach to carbon sequestration also avoids the risk of unanticipated harm from suggested untested high-tech fixes. Nature has had millions of years to perfect her whale-based carbon sink technology. All we need to do is let the whales live.”

With these ideas in mind, I have been watching for online actions I might take to “save the whales” and other ocean wildlife. Here’s one petition I signed, from the Ocean Conservancy, addressing the problem of ocean noise, which harms ocean animals that rely on sound to survive…”

Day 33:

“Today I supported the Alexandre Family Farm with my purchase of 1/2 gallon grass-fed whole milk at our local employee-owned grocery.  “Alexandre Family Farm has become the Regenerative Organic Alliance’s first and only Regenerative Organic Certified™ dairy farm in the United States. The Alexandre Family Farm is also the first dairy to obtain Ecological Outcome Verification certification by the Savory Institute. These certifications acknowledge that the farm’s practices go far beyond sustainability to continuously improve soil biology as well as the entire ecosystem – water, land, air and animals.””

Day 34:

“Today I signed a petition from Freedom United raising awareness (before the COP26 Climate Day of Action) of forced labor in the clean energy supply chain, especially in the Uyghur region of China, and pointing out the destructive mutually-accelerating connections between modern slavery and climate change.

[Quoting Freedom United:] “The 4 largest solar panel suppliers in the world all source their polysilicon from the Uyghur Region. We cannot achieve environmental sustainability at the cost of human rights.”

Also, [I wrote], there is this provocative article. From the article: “Abolishing slavery is shown to be one of the most effective instruments for climate change mitigation, especially given that the costs of ending slavery seem on par to about $20 billion, or the expense of a single large nuclear power plant.””

Day 37:

“Today, following up on my post on Day 34 touching on the place of modern slavery in exacerbating climate change, I signed two petitions from two more campaigns coming from FreedomUnited.org, one calling on chocolate companies to “address the gaps in protection and the underlying drivers of child slavery and child labor in the cocoa sector;” the other calling on the EU to end its complicity in allowing modern slavery to continue in Libya (via funding of the Libyan Coast Guard)…I also registered for the “People’s Summit for Climate Justice” to be able to attend certain online presentations.  And I made a recurring contribution to WorldBeyondWar.org.

Day 39:

“Today I attended three more sessions of the People’s Summit for Climate Justice; the first showed in detail how some companies are using tree-planting, biomass carbon capture, and (in the US) pellet fuel manufacture to greenwash deforestation, land expropriation, and environmental injustice. The second offered some “resilient responses” to the climate crisis (but I came in about half way through the session, so I’ll have to find the recording later); and the third of these was comprised of strengths-based interviews of activists in the UK working to halt new fossil fuel projects across the country. This last one, entitled “People vs. Fossil Fuels: How we win,” was especially inspiring. Sadly, however, it was not recorded.”

Day 42:

“Today, I spent a large part of my day engaged with ideas about how people change, via online webinar/discussions hosted by 1) the International Focusing Institute, and 2) the Solution Focused Brief Therapy Association.

I also made a recurring contribution to Survival International (survivalinternational.org) and I signed the petition…from Oceana.org calling for specific actions from the US and Canadian governments to protect North Atlantic right whales.”

Day 43:

“Today, I again spent a large part of my day online with the Solution Focused Brief Therapy Association, further engaged with ideas about how people change.

I also signed a message via Public Citizen (citizen.org) to senior leadership at top multinational insurance companies to urge them to commit not to insure the East African Crude Oil Pipeline.”

Day 44:

“Today I signed a petition from SumOfUs.org to the French financial giant BNP Paribas, calling on them to stop funding deforestation caused by the soy industry, especially in Brazil. “Every year in Brazil, an area 115 times the size of Manhattan is wiped out to make room for soy farms.””

Day 46:

“Today, continuing on the theme of war as a climate disruptor, I signed a petition from Just Foreign Policy to five key US Senators, any one of whom could force a vote on US support for the Saudi bombing and blockade of Yemen, including a $650 million sale of missiles that can help the Saudis maintain their air blockade of Yemen’s airport. [Quoting Just Foreign Policy:] “Leading international humanitarian organizations say that the airport blockade has killed 32,000 Yemenis who couldn’t fly out to receive medical care, and it also causes an “almost complete halt to commercial cargo such as medicine, medical supplies and equipment coming into the country.” Over 100 members of the House and Senate have called on the Biden administration to use their leverage to force an end to the Saudi blockade and war. The administration has refused to use that leverage. This weapons sale amounts to a green light for the war.””

Day 50:

“Today I watched three talks by holistic management action-leader Allan Savory on YouTube:  “Allan Savory Speaks at the COP26 Peoples Summit – 2021 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pu1ZxG-jnCU),

 #1Climate – Allan Savory at Polyface Farm – 2014 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iPOF9ijyhvM) and Allan  Savory: Hope for Reversing Desertification and Climate Change – What You Can Do

(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=58Fu1_3EBVU).

Savory argues that problem-focused decision-making (which is the only form of management that governments use) will always make complex “wicked” problems like climate change worse, and only a comprehensive shift to holistic decision-making, focused on a “holistic context” (essentially an agreed-upon preferred future) can turn around our worsening global systems.

(The second and third videos were the clearest exposition of Savory’s ideas for me.)”

Day 51 and 52:

“I’m falling behind on reporting of my daily climate actions, yet still doing them. So, yesterday and today, following the theme of climate as a complex system, and considering self-education as a form of action, I have been watching full length YouTube videos of talks by Prof. Dave Snowden, more-or-less on the topic of complex adaptive systems.  Here’s one particularly mind-boggling talk out of many talks posted: https://youtu.be/nt9TvHWSf34

Days 53 and 54:

“Tuesday – continued my exploration of complex systems, watching more YouTube videos on the topic highlighting the ideas of Dave Snowden and Chris Corrigan.

Wednesday – made a recurring donation to the Savory Institute (https://savory.global) for their work in holistic management and regenerative agriculture; signed a petition via Friends of the Earth to Prime Minister Davis of the Bahamas to  stop Disney Cruise Line development plans for Lighthouse Point, a fragile coral reef ecosystem, and signed a StopLine3.org letter to Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison and Governor Walz to drop the charges against Water Protectors who have attempted to halt Enbridge’s Line 3 pipeline.”

Days 57, 58, and 59 (November 27, 28, and 29, 2021):

“These last days, I have continued delving into Dave Snowden’s ideas on sense-making for action in complexity, but I’ve decided to take a pause on my climate commitment and reflect a bit on what I’ve learned from it.”

Reflections

Ultimately, I demonstrated to my own satisfaction that it is quite feasible to make and keep a commitment such as this to take small actions on a regular basis for a limited period of time. Generally, there was no shortage of actions I could take online, although I may have benefitted from the outpouring of online activism from environmental organizations in the run-up to COP26.

In my final post, I wrote: “While I posted many of the actions that I took, there were often additional actions I took but didn’t report. All in all, I estimate that I took roughly 150 actions, all quite small in the general scheme of things. In looking for small actions I wanted to take, I also learned a fair amount about the issues involved. I came to believe that some of the things “experts” recommend to fight climate change are not likely solutions at all, such as technology-based “carbon capture” or setting aside vast tracts of land in the global south for “protection,” while some of the more obvious measures (to me) such as scaling back war and militarism, are curiously absent from the recommendations of top climate experts and activists alike.”

Where I perhaps slowed a bit in the last 10 days, on the one hand I began to have trouble with the time management necessary to write up my actions for posting (I am a slow writer) while juggling the competing demands of my domestic life; and on the other hand, I was having a dawning recognition that something needed revision in my approach to selecting actions. This recognition became more insistent as I pondered the issue of complexity in the climate space.

I continued in my last post of the series (the following quote has been lightly edited), “I ran into a fundamental conundrum we all face in trying to take action on climate, which is that there is no way to get useful, rapid feedback on what effect any of our actions is actually having on the state of the climate. Yet feedback is essential in taking action within a complex system, as every action has unintended consequences. Even with the large actions of governments, we can barely get feedback within the sort of time frames that would allow us to correct course if we are making things worse rather than better, and the feedback we *do* get in the form of actual climatic changes rarely tells us what specifically is working and what isn’t.”

“This all means we are thrown back on following the so-called experts – when experts have a terrible record as managers of complex systems – or worse, following ideological leaders and just doing whatever they say is right. The only way out of this conundrum, so far as I can see, is to treat climate sustainability not as a goal one can fight for, but as an emergent property of healthy human- and natural systems, and fight for those instead.”

For me, this left me looking to support positions and projects that could verifiably improve quality of life for people and nature in specific contexts and specific locations, taking it on faith that if any actions can help stabilize the climate, such context-specific improvements in aggregate are among the most likely to do so.

This all came as something of an epiphany for me, which felt like the culmination of the experiment that started with simply wanting to act rather than be cowed by the enormity of the climate crisis. Ironically, it brought a shift in my thinking such that it now makes less sense to further pursue my original commitment as presented, one that approaches climate change as an issue separate from the more general effort to improve conditions of life on earth. Still, I am not turning my back entirely on climate-as-an-issue; I can see that that framework still has its value. And it clearly still makes perfect sense to use this kind of small-action-commitment-toward-an-outcome as a vehicle to increase engagement toward social change.

Such engagement need not be confined to individuals such as myself posting on social media; it could just as well serve as a useful focus for an action group, whose members all want to see change in the climate arena. Members could individually set their level and duration of commitment as well as their choice of actions, so that they could do what works for them, at their own pace, following their own beliefs and values. But by joining together as a group, whether online or offline, members could share what actions they take and get ideas for action from other members; and they could support each other in continuing their commitments. Beyond that, I have to say I like the math around doing this en masse. If individuals each averaged 2-3 actions a day, a group of eight could log about 20 actions a day, or about 1,200 actions from a two-month commitment like mine.

Of course, this kind of small action commitment, whether taken up individually or in groups, would likely adapt readily to other issues besides climate, especially in arenas where there are a good number of organizations already engaged.

How else might this sort of experiment be optimized?  I do think it would be valuable for anyone undertaking this kind of project to decide how long they want their commitment to continue, and set a time frame which could be revised later as needed: two weeks, one month, six months, a year?  When I began this experiment, I did not set a duration for my commitment, perhaps creating the impression that I was planning to continue until the climate crisis resolved. Since I stopped my posting of actions at 59 days, it could leave the impression that I had “given up” on my commitment, especially when coupled with a slowing of my posting activity in the final ten days or so of the project. In reality, while I was still geared for action, I was having some trouble keeping up with the “selecting, writing, and posting” end of things, so that at some point in my second month of posting, I began thinking in terms of a target of roughly sixty days of posted actions. I never stated that target explicitly, yet had I actually done so at the time, or had I committed myself from the beginning of the experiment to post for 60 days, there would be little reason to question whether my ultimate completion of some 150 actions in 59 days represented a significant accomplishment if not an unqualified success.

Thinking from an SF perspective, others undertaking this kind of commitment might decide to put more attention from the start into describing a desired outcome for their actions, crafting a more elaborate preferred future description than my “sustainable climate.” But now looking back, I think that the way I set about wading into the middle of things with only the loose outcome of a sustainable climate, gave me a certain flexibility to figure out in real time what kind of actions most spoke to me. And that in turn helped me to clarify what kind of future I most value. It remains to be seen how others might navigate the challenges of a similar framework for solution-focused action.

Rush Wayne is a Solution-Focus enthusiast and retired inventor who has been been turning his inventing skills and knowledge of SF towards new forms of activism for social change. Rush lives in Oregon, USA.

What if you bumped into Rob Hopkins on Plymouth Hoe?

Marc Gardiner

The Solution-Focused Collective meeting on 10th May looked at how solution-focused ideas and practices can be brought to bear on environmental matters.

A record turnout (17 of us) listened to the reflections of four solution-focused practitioners who’ve been considering this: Mirjana Radovic (Serbia), John Sharry (Ireland), Fred Ehresmann (England – and also working with John in Ireland) and Mark Allenby (England). The conversation then opened out to all, and it was a good one. See this subsequent blog by Fred.

During this open discussion, John Sharry mentioned the book From What Is to What If, by Rob Hopkins, a resident of Totnes, England and founder of the Transition Town movement, which has global reach. John sees the essence of solution-focused thinking in the book, which argues that better futures are best created by starting with asking “What if” the world could be like x, and imagining the rich detail. John said he doesn’t know Rob, nor whether Rob knows and is influenced by solution-focused practice.

Following some discussion of the book, we agreed this will be our text for the SF Collective Reading Group meeting of 20th July. I’ve since been reading it, and can see something of SF in there.

Cut to Saturday 5th June, and I’m on Plymouth Hoe for the start of Extinction Rebellion (XR)’s walk to the G7 summit at Carbis Bay, south-west Cornwall, an impressive action organised by Totnes XR. I spotted Rob Hopkins and decided to seize the moment and went over and introduced myself. We chatted for a minute, then I said, “I have a question for you: do you know about solution-focused practice?”

Mystery solved: the answer was “No.” So I explained a bit about SF, and the SF Collective, and about John’s reference to Rob’s book. He showed some interest, though he had other stuff to attend to right then. Later that day I emailed him details of the SF Collective. I wonder if he’ll look into SF, and us.

I find it interesting when different thinkers, practitioners and activists arrive at a comparable place via different routes. I remember when I first came across Appreciative Inquiry and was surprised to learn that David Cooperrider & co. had no knowledge of the work of the founders of SFBT.

So: to what extent does Rob Hopkins’ thinking in From What Is to What If contain something of SF?

If you fancy discussing this, read it and join us at our Reading Group – details below.

SF Collective Reading Group

Date: Tuesday 20th July 2021

Time: 6-8pm London time (BST)

Location: Zoom – please email solfocollective@gmail.com for the link

We look forward to seeing you there

Climate Collapse, Solution Focus and me

Fred Ehresmann

We are delighted to feature a post on the Solution-Focused Collective blog from Fred Ehresmann, who has been actively involved in responding to the climate crisis and considers here what a solution-focused approach can offer.

When my then 8 year-old daughter announced in November 2018 that the planet is dying and that she fears not living long enough to know what it’s like to be a teenager or a grown-up, all my solution focused and parenting skills deserted me, like so many rats scuttling off a sinking ship. All that remained was the trusty ‘Dad Joke’ – “Yeh, but not before Saturday as we’ve got hot chocolate to drink and the stalls to browse at St. Nick’s Market.” Two months later, my 32 year-old daughter let me know that her quest for motherhood was at an end because, “why would I knowingly put a person into a future that looks like that?” Again…where was the question to invite her to think differently? Why should she think differently…maybe she was thinking perfectly reasonably? Every potential solution-focused question that popped up seemed trite, formulaic and, frankly, cowardly.

And so began a two-year journey down the rabbit hole of problem talk. What is this thing that threatens my younger daughter’s sense of longevity? What is this future to which my elder daughter refuses to condemn her never-to-be-born child? Well, like pretty much most problems…the answers are complicated, which is probably one of the many reasons why we SF-ers prefer not to get involved growing conversations about them. Best focus on the solution, right? Unfortunately, this time…no, wrong. As Bill O’Hanlon points out, acknowledgement of difficulty has an impact on capacity to think in terms of possibility. Andrew Turnell and Steve Edwards have shown that it’s possible to talk frankly and constructively about what is problematic and worrying (in this case child abuse and neglect) and still nurture sometimes fragile conversations about solutions.

This particular problem, I was soon to learn, is a many-headed beast made up largely of two components: (1) What’s happening now that is really troubling; (2) Its impact in the future. As far as climate scientists are concerned, the consensus answer to component (1) is clear – climate collapse as a result of human activity. Many others have added their own penny’s worth along the way, ranging from the political – for example, the expansion of neoliberal capitalist growth economics, to the slightly more poetic – for example, our species’ disconnection from its identity as and connection to nature. There are plenty more where those answers come from. Either way the message is clear – we are in very serious trouble. So serious, even David Attenborough made a documentary saying so. How serious?

This brings us to future impact, where things seem to be very much more tricky. There are some apparently very credible climate scientists insisting that human extinction in the ‘near term’ is not just possible, but guaranteed. Others are slightly more circumspect and suggest that, while climate, political and social collapse are on the cards we still have time to adapt to cushion the blow and preserve what we can. And then we have the green economists, sustainability specialists and geo-engineers insisting that this is nothing that we can’t fix. As a dyed-in-the-wool SF’er I found myself gravitating naturally to the latter group since “there’s nothing wrong with you that what’s right with you can’t fix”, right?

And yet…something wasn’t sitting right. Stone-in-the shoe moment. I took the shoe off to have a look. The stone was my terror. Not just fear, but abject terror. And I would embrace anything that would make that terror go away. Did I really believe in my heart of hearts that the future was going to be OK? Could I look my daughters in the eye and say, with conviction, those magic words any parent would want to say “Don’t you worry…it’ll all turn out fine.” What if it didn’t? As Gail Bradbrooke, one of Extinction Rebellion’s founders, is reputed to have said “Hope? Don’t talk to me about hope – I hope it doesn’t happen to me. I hope that I’m long dead before the worst of it arrives here, because it’s already arrived in other parts of the world.” Preferred future? Good luck with that.

And then, as if by magic, in stepped my SF brain. Just in the nick of time. It reminded me that, right now in this moment, the future does not exist in reality – only in imagination. When I’m with a client, a couple, a family, a team, the only time that exists is now, as I stay present and listen intently with my constructive ears to what they have to say, which will offer the seeds of my next question. I cannot allow myself to be distracted by my mind dragging me off somewhere out there that hasn’t arrived yet. But we could imagine a future, right now in this moment. We could act, right now in this moment, in ways that are consistent with that future actually existing. And if we keep doing that as best as possible, maybe….just maybe. Hurrah for the next small step – for isn’t that what each moment is? A small step. Then another one. And so on. As the future gets created right now.

I was asked recently what my best hopes are for my climate activism. My best hopes for my climate activism are that my children and as many other people’s children as possible, are engaged, aware, adaptable to and prepared for the uncertainty that they face. My best hopes for my climate activism are that I can openly acknowledge and engage with the very real reality of the problem, in a way that is constructive and maintains possibility for the future.

And as for hope? That might need some re-defining before I sign up….but I’m still open to the idea. I am an SF Practitioner after all.

Fred Ehresmann

18 May 2021

Fred Ehresmann is a senior lecturer in mental health nursing at the University of West England, and a trainer in solution-focused practice. He is a member of the Climate Psychology Alliance’s outreach service, supporting people struggling emotionally with the climate crisis. In 2019, together with John Sharry, Fred ran a fascinating workshop at the UKASFP conference, Hopefulness in the face of climate breakdown, biodiversity extinction, and pending economic and social collapse – possibility or pipe dream?

A Bold Ambition – Dismantling Racism

by Rayya Ghul and Jonas Wells

At the Solution-Focused Collective’s Action Space held in July 2020, it became clear that one of the issues uppermost in people’s minds was the social injustice of racism and white supremacy and a desire to ‘do something’.  At the Action Space event, our guest speaker, Elliott Connie challenged all of us to look at our role in maintaining the white privilege that we who are white or ‘pass-as-white’ might have and to begin to act to dismantle it within ourselves as a first step.

To this end we, Jonas Wells and Rayya Ghul, invited people engaging with the Solution-Focused Collective to participate in a series of four, fortnightly discussion groups where we could explore how to do this from a solution-focused perspective.  These took place from October – December 2020.

We called the group ‘Dismantling Racism’, a very bold title and one which some members thought overambitious.  However, we quickly filled the 12 spaces we had offered and afterwards one participant told us:

“The title of the invitation, ‘SF Dismantling Racism Discussion Group’, sounded very attractive to me, because it collects a few of my biggest passions: Solution Focus as an instrument to change the world (in the smallest and biggest meaning possible), ‘dismantling’ as a rebellious, activist battle call, appealing my furious anger when it comes to injustice, and racism especially, and a discussion group as an active, triggering use of a conversation. The challenge remains : how to make use of our SF mindset, tools, conversation attitude, … to brutally change the reality of racism? But since the start of this discussion group it does not seem that (alone) crazy anymore.”

Our participants included people from seven countries and five continents – pretty good for only 12 participants!  All were white or passed as white with two members whose spouses are black.  We had people who had done a considerable amount of anti-racism work and some for whom this was relatively new.  There were people from therapy, academia, social work, government agencies and solution-focused Associations. 

We decided to run the group on solution-focused principles.  Rather than an anti-racism ‘course’, we wanted to create a space for the participants to co-create the discussion.  As a starter for thinking about white privilege and how it might affect us as people and as solution-focused practitioners, we populated a Padlet with a variety of resources and invited the participants to engage with something before the first discussion and to be prepared to talk about it.  Participants were also encouraged to add to the Padlet and we used it to collect some of our reflections.  It enabled common reference point for learning but also options for self-exploration.  People could choose what spoke to them and go from there.

The Padlet is private to the group, but here is a flavour of some of the resources. Click on the titles for direct links to the resource (unless the text colour is black).

Articles:

Psychology Today – How Therapists Drive Away Minority Clients

Family Therapy Magazine – Dismantling systemic racism (p10)

Blogs:

Why I Left My White Therapist

Black Lives Really Do Matter: Reflections on Our Work in the Time of Protests

Podcasts: 

Very Bad Therapy 4. Race, Rupture and Repair

The Details with Elliott and Adam 3. Cancel Culture or Accountability Culture

Videos:

Black Psychoanalysts Speak

Improving Cultural Responsiveness in Therapy

Books:

Me and White Supremacy, Layla F Saad

So You Want to Talk About Race, Ijeoma Oluo

Anti-Racist reading list

Music:

SF Collective Dismantling Racism Playlist

Black Lives Matter Playlist

Other Resources:

Rochester Racial Justice Toolkit

We started the first session by exploring our best hopes and then co-created the subsequent three sessions from then on.  Two of the participants from the Zebra Collective (add link) who run anti-racism training offered to share some of their training with the group, and this was incorporated into the second session and was much appreciated.  The people who responded to our request for post-group feedback all spoke of how the loose structure really worked for them.

One said: “the expectation that I would have to contribute to an intelligent conversation caused me to think harder about how to prepare for the group – a fixed structure would have let me to ‘just do what was needed and no more’.”

Another said: “the Dismantling Racism group was excellent to be part of because of the enthusiastic discussion, the genuineness of those in the group, the effective running of the time and organisation of each session and that Jonas and Rayya regularly checked in with the rest of the group to ensure the discussion were going in a direction all participants were happy with.”

Running a group as a co-participant in this democratic way is not as easy as it sounds.  It requires a lot of trust – of the process, of the participants, of ourselves.  We embraced the idea of ‘hosting’; creating space, trusting everyone to bring what was needed and accepting that once the guests arrive there is an emergent process, and our role as hosts was to ensure everyone’s safety and comfort and that they had enough to sustain their participation.  The discussion group was not a diversity training group – it explored something else, a safe space for white SF practitioners who seriously wanted to explore issues of racism in new way with practitioners from different places in the world, working in different contexts and with different prior knowledge of the issue.

One of the truly remarkable aspects of the group was how rapidly people began to identify actions and projects they wanted to do in order to further their own anti-racism work.  This began in the third session and was consolidated in the fourth.  For some people this was manifested in conversations at home and in the workplace, and for others it was actions or projects within their sphere/s of influence.  Some of the group have decided to undertake joint actions such as writing articles. 

The original four sessions ended in December but some of the participants agreed to continue to meet and will be working together on projects and encouraging each other in our individual actions.  We will be sharing these as they manifest.

We hope to start a new cycle of Dismantling Racism discussion soon, so look out for that notification on the Facebook group and Twitter or subscribe to this blog.

First We Read, Then We Act*

by Guy Shennan and Marc Gardiner

The Solution-Focused Collective Reading Group first met early this year and got off to a radical start. Actually, it had been conceived in a radical fashion the previous September, when we presented at an event in Dublin called ‘Advocates and Allies’, organised by the Irish Association of Social Workers. Marc talked about Hilary Cottam’s book, Radical Help, while Guy called his presentation A Radical Focus on Hope. One of the pieces of reading that Guy drew on was ‘Towards a Paradigm for Radical Practice’, a chapter by Peter Leonard in the classic 1975 text, Radical Social Work.

It was actually that chapter that Guy first envisaged reading and discussing together with collective-minded colleagues – searching together for a paradigm for radical solution-focused practice perhaps? – but we decided we would start with something a bit more up-to-date, and a whole book too. That’s what found about ten of us in a (pre-Covid) collective Zoom meeting one winter evening, discussing Radical Help. It wasn’t evening for everyone, as we had an international gathering, with colleagues from Canada, Germany and Ireland, as well as from the UK. We’ve maintained this international flavour ever since, and have had people join from the US, Ghana and probably more countries besides.

We have met six times so far, with one more meeting to organise in 2020 (we meet roughly once every 6 weeks). We usually meet for about an hour and a half, and the discussion is sometimes structured by one or more questions that the person who suggested the reading poses – and sometimes it’s a bit more free-flowing (we hope it always flows to some extent!). Here are the questions Marc gave us for the first meeting, as one of the examples of more structured discussion:

  1. Radical Help/SF – fit, re principles & approach?
  2. How might SF enhance RH; RH enhance SF?
  3. What do you like best? What resonates most for you?
  4. Implications – especially for the SF Collective/SF for social action ideas & initiatives?

These led to such a great discussion that we were later inspired to offer a book review of Radical Help for the revamped Journal of Solution-Focused Practices, and were delighted when this was accepted. So if you are interested in some of our responses to these questions, you could read our review (given that this wonderful journal is now online with open access).

Since then we have discussed collective narrative practice, possibilities for adding ‘problem talk’ into or alongside solution-focused practice, solution-focused work with migrants, asylum-seekers and refugees, asset-based community development, and a chapter from Richard Rorty’s book, Philosophy and Social Hope. While we have usually focused on texts – as the name ‘reading group’ suggests – we have also watched videos, for example the one of David Denborough on the webpage of the Dulwich Centre website setting out his project, Can narrative practices contribute to ‘social movement’?

The shortest read so far has been four paragraphs from Psychotherapy and Society, a 1997 book by the English clinical psychologist, David Pilgrim. These begin with the provocative observation that therapists “may ignore the non-therapeutic value of talk”. Pilgrim illustrates this somewhat caustically with the example that “when and if psychotherapists get around to seeing poor non-fee-paying clients they are in a position to bear witness to narratives of oppression”. However, others, for example TV documentary makers, tend to do this job better. This was a rich discussion, which took place before the explosion of protest after the murder of George Floyd. As solution-focused practitioners wonder how best to respond to and engage with Black Lives Matter and other anti-racist action, this suggests one line to explore, as nothing about “bearing witness” to racism suggests it would be incongruent with a solution-focused approach working in parallel.

Two texts were considered in the discussion on SF work with immigrants, asylum-seekers and refugees, ‘Tasteful Solutions: Solution-focused work with groups of immigrants’, by Arild Aambo, and ‘Seeking Asylums and Finding Miracles’ by Sarah Wilshaw and SF Collective founder-member, Steve Freeman. Given Arild Aambo’s use of Paulo Freire, and Steve’s skills at creating acronyms to follow the EARS of Insoo Kim Berg, Brian Jennings posed some wonderful questions that connected the two papers, the first being:

  • In what ways might EARS and Noticing GEMS constitute a ‘liberating’ dialogue’?

Another discussion was on a very accessible introduction to Asset-Based Community Development, written by John McKnight and Cormac Russell. This lays out the core principles and elements of the ABCD approach, which we believed has a lot to offer to SF practitioners looking to develop a community orientation – and we think that our skills in asking questions and developing conversations have much to offer to ABCD people too.

This is something we think the reading group has been great in doing; finding texts and other material that lead to discussions about how SF can be enhanced by other approaches and traditions, and how we as SF practitioners can add to what others are doing too. Reading and talking can be a way of finding connections, and connecting to a wider world beyond SF practice is one thing that the SF Collective is about.

Our most recent discussion was more theoretical, and had perhaps the largest attendance yet, as we discussed ‘Truth without Correspondence to Reality’, a chapter in Richard Rorty’s collection of essays, Philosophy and Social Hope. This was one of three chapters in a section of the book called ‘Hope in Place of Knowledge: a version of pragmatism’. It was a vigorous discussion, as Rorty’s views on truth were not to the taste of all, but there was support for the view that pragmatism has some-thing to offer solution-focused practitioners. Another question to consider is whether it has something to offer solution-focused social action too. We suspect it does, and will be investigating further.

The meetings are open to anyone with an interest in SF and in the aims of the SF Collective’s manifesto. If you are interested, drop us a line, making sure to put Reading Group in the subject header of your email. We would love to have you join us!

* A paraphrase of a comment by Ralph Waldo Emerson: ‘First we read, then we write’

Boys in Mind

We are delighted to have a post on the Solution-Focused Collective blog from Boys in Mind, an organisation based in Bath, which provides a wonderful example of how the solution-focused approach can be used in collective and community-oriented ways.

Kate Murphy and Henry Bullock from Boys in Mind talk about the organisation, how and why it came about, how it operates and how it strives to be a model of a caring and compassionate  community, with equality at its heart. They want to nurture the growth of similar communities in schools and other settings. They also show how a solution-focused approach has been a key ingredient in the organisation’s development and work with young people, in particular boys and young men.

Kate Murphy is the Co-ordinator

What is Boys in Mind?

We are a broad alliance of young people, professionals and parents, aiming to reduce stigma around mental health, challenge stereotypes and ultimately reduce suicide, with a particular focus on boys and young men. Our film projects successfully engage boys, young men and others to talk and listen.

Why and how was Boys in Mind established ?

My previous role involved supporting schools in Bath & North East Somerset following the suicide of a young person. In the last eight years I worked there I supported seven schools and six out of the seven suicides were of were young men between the ages of 11-18. 

Looking at suicide and other data such as school exclusions and fewer boys and young men accessing services, we decided to do something more specific to address their needs.

Boys in Mind has evolved into an organisation in which young people, particularly young men, take the lead and decide what we do, how we do it and how to get other young people involved. We also work with parents and have recently involved young people and parents from a socially deprived area of Bath in making a film about the importance of community.

Following the 2019 UKASFP Conference at Bath Spa University, attended by ten of our team, we revamped our Vision, Mission and Values to express what we wanted our organisation to be, rather than what we didn’t want. So, for example, our values are now:-

Work in a compassionate and solution focused way. Promote positive images of boys and young men. Embrace and celebrate diversity.

The Boys in Mind Team

We have 24 team members with a range of ages, qualifications and experiences. 60% are male, eight are Youth Advisors (six young men, one young woman, and one non-binary young person) and many of the team have had challenging “lived experience” which they have coped with (or are coping with) in a variety of ways.

Tara Gretton, an experienced solution-focused (SF) practitioner and trainer, is a member of our team and other members of the team are – or are training to be – accredited SF practitioners.

Our team meetings are lively, inclusive and enjoyable. We usually start with a fun activity of some sort and then the usual format is along these SF lines:-

  • What have been your sparkling moments since the last meeting? (having  unashamedly stolen this idea from the UKASFP Conference opening plenary!)
  • Have there been any challenges and how have you coped with them ?
  • Anything team members want to share or have feedback on?
  • What are your hopes for the next few months for Boys in Mind?

Our SF Approach

All our team members have had solution-focused training, either from Tara Gretton or Guy Shennan, who is a long-term friend of Bath & North East Somerset, having delivered training for teachers and other professionals.

Staff from our 14 lead schools have also had a day’s SF training. We are encouraging schools to train their staff and students in SF approaches. At Beechen Cliff School, around 70 staff have had SF training from Tara  and wear special lanyards identifying that they are there to listen. She has also trained the student wellbeing team, and students across the school are being taught in PSHE (Personal, Social and Health Education) how to have SF conversations to support their friends and family members. We hope to promote this model across all our lead schools.

Our way of challenging stereotypes is to promote positive images of boys and young men. So, instead of railing against “toxic masculinity“, we prefer to champion  qualities like care and compassion and provide examples of these via positive role models. This is illustrated in our “Men who Care” films and the Q and A section of our website. Our Youth Advisors and the children and young people in our films are all role models, of course.

Our film projects are also run along SF lines. Groups of students explore a theme and are then supported to develop questions. In a recent film project at one school, called “What helps?”, six Year 11 boys asked five friends and two members of staff (chosen because of their empathy) the following questions:-

  • What gets you stressed?
  • What do you do when you get stressed? How do you cope?
  • Who can you talk to?
  • How can you help others?

We try to apply an SF approach in all our interactions with individuals, schools and partner organisations. A phrase that Steve Wilkinson, who used to work at an excellent local organisation, Mentoring Plus, often used was “Catch ‘em being good”, and I think that sums up well what we try to do.

Henry Bullock is a Youth Advisor for the organisation

My name is Henry Bullock, and I have been given an opportunity, redemption, a purpose and hope.

I am lead Youth Advisor for Boys in Mind.  My purpose here is not to explain my role, but to build a picture.

Imagine for a moment that the lights are too bright; sound echoes around you and forms phrases and words that shout and bully. Imagine the temperature being 100 degrees too hot. Now imagine being told to work, to concentrate and be productive. Think of a world where this was normal, where society insists that in order for you to be in any way successful, you must stop feeling these sensations and hearing these words. You must ignore the biggest and most influential parts of your soul and how you make sense of them!

I must stop being me, and start being more them or I will never succeed.

Using a Solution-Focused Approach

Imagine now a language, one full of hope, strength and compassion. One that makes this hyper-sensitive world just a little more tolerable, a language that has been adopted with such enthusiasm that it has changed every part of my life. Allowed me to grow and flourish. 

I am a paranoid schizophrenic, with autism and ADHD, so for mere words to have changed my life – is that nothing short of a miracle? Well yes, it would have been, but, as with much of my life, nothing is that simple. The language I am talking about has rarely been used on me. Instead I use it on others, my friends, my family.

To my surprise, my friends started to open up. People were talking to me! (Aargh!). It was during these impromptu conversations that I noticed something. I noticed that my friends were smiling. They were speaking about their day, their partners, their work, their children. Young men with whom I had grown up were disclosing more about their lives in a 15-minute conversation than they had during 20 years of friendship. It was at this point that I concluded: these young men were being asked questions about complex emotional and social interactions and they felt relieved. For the first time in so long, someone was listening to them, but not only listening, was asking them questions directly related to what they had just said. It’s that’s simple, ask a question and listen. A friend mentioned that after one of our conversations, he felt momentum in his life, he felt like the future was achievable again, and not one question had been asked about how he felt. There was no need to dig and carve away at some fragile disassociated emotion or thought, no advice giving, just simply listening and asking the right questions.

It is this simplicity and momentum that we at Boys in Mind are fuelled with; instead of raising awareness, we are being proactive, engaging with schools, communities  and individuals. 

I am incredibly proud to be a part of this “loose and fluid collective” of individuals and organisations. It is my hope that we all continue to notice the momentum we can bring to people’s lives. Including our own. 

UKASFP Conference 2020

Reflections from Steve Freeman

June is looming on the horizon and it’s all set fair for the 2020 UK Association for Solution Focused Practice (UKASFP) Conference on 25th and 26th in Stoke-on-Trent.  This year’s theme is Working with disenfranchised, disadvantaged and disconnected people, which looks like it was designed especially for the SF Collective although it wasn’t.  As with previous conferences there will be workshops on a range of topics. However, it does reflect the way that the social justice strand of previous conferences (which gave rise to the SF Collective) has been embraced by practitioners.

The Solution Focused Collective hope to be hosting a workshop to discuss our progress since last year’s conference in Bath. There have been significant developments in membership, presence and discussion. We will be inviting delegates to share their views on the Collective and our next steps.

I’ve noticed for a while that most attempts to discuss social equality and social justice are based in problem-focused, expertise-based, trauma-obsessed and generally well-meaning thinking. The conference will provide alternatives which view people as inherently competent, are resource-informed and evidence-based.

The UKASFP Conference will have contributors and delegates working with established models such as Housing First. We are hoping to have delegates from organisations, groups and individuals involved in and with experience of homelessness and its related social complexities. Meaningfully adopting Psychologically Informed Environments (PIE) by taking a solution-focused approach. Accepting and working with all available expertise.

Research in, and an evidence base for, the solution-focused approach are building. This research often involves the usual suspects in terms of commissioners, participants, methodologies and results. One of the exciting developments which will be presented at the conference is research involving people with lived experience who have specified a solution-focused methodology.

While the conference hasn’t been planned with the SF Collective in mind per se, the themes and delegates suggest that it will be a great forum for the direct action that the Collective is keen to pursue. We hope to create an environment in which the Collective has an opportunity to develop and its themes to coalesce during the conference and to promote and influence practice and thinking.

I’m looking forward to seeing in Stoke the next steps of a Collective whose genesis and development are entwined with UKASFP conferences.

A mind-expanding exercise that expanded around the world

by Guy Shennan

The first in a series of blog posts that explores the theme:

What might collective solution-focused practices for social change look like?

This post shows how a little idea – an exercise that nine people took part in that lasted only a few minutes at the beginning of a medical teaching day – has the potential for growing and encompassing many social, political and national contexts.

I was on my way to gym on Thursday morning last week, when I received a text from George, asking me if I could come up with an opening mind-expanding exercise for the day’s session. I said I would have a think while on the cross trainer.

George is a GP I work with one day each fortnight, when a group of seven graduate medical students come to his surgery for their Medicine in Society module. We focus on a particular topic each week, and on this day it was to be mental health.

I remembered a talk I had given a couple of months ago, in which I had shared some thoughts about how solution-focused practices might enter a more social arena, and suggested that we could facilitate public conversations, perhaps with a question like,  “Suppose we woke up tomorrow to a world that was socially just, what would we notice?”

This seemed to be an opportunity for a question of this type, and the exercise took shape as I went to work on my physical exercises.

An hour or so later, as the nine of us sat in our customary circle, I asked if everyone knew the game, ‘I went to market’, when the person who starts says “I went to market, and bought …” and adds something they bought, some apples, say, and then the next person says, ‘‘I went to market, and bought some apples and…” and adds what they bought, and so on. Of course everyone had, so I explained we were going to play a version of this, and wrote the amended opening on the white board:

“If I woke up tomorrow to a world whose conditions were just right for good mental health, I would notice…”

And so we went round, with just the smallest of interventions from me to encourage people not to paraphrase previous responses, but to echo them closely – after all if someone went to market wanting to buy some apples, it wouldn’t do to generalise this to buying some fruit, otherwise someone might come back with some oranges.

Michael was the ninth to go, and he must have been listening closely, for he was able to recount what we would all notice. And following the lead of George, whose go it had been just before him, he nicely changed the “I” to “we”:

“If we woke up tomorrow to a world whose conditions were just right for good mental health, we would notice less stigma towards mental health, more freedom to talk about mental health together, better social services and housing, geared towards alleviating bad mental health, more green spaces, less pressure to be a certain way, kindness on the streets, less pressure from social media, and a world where we listened to each other, and maybe a better education in terms of recreational drugs”.

As George said afterwards, as well as beginning our day on mental health by describing part of a context which would support the mental health of us all, it was also an exercise that required us to listen to each other – given that we had to repeat what each person before us had said – and this was one of the conditions for good mental health that was on our list.

So that was Thursday.

The flexibility and applicability of a question like this showed themselves the next day, when Marcos, a solution-focused psychologist from Bolivia, contacted me on Messenger. He told me that later that day he was to participate in a public conversation, with lawyers and psychologists, and that he would be talking about solution-focused mediation, for national reconciliation. The event had been organised by university students interested in political psychology.

This was to follow a month of unrest and terror, with looting and deaths on both sides, during which time Marcos’s personal involvement had included being on a roadblock defending his neighbourhood. The attacks had been at night, and it was only now he could sleep well.

Marcos apologised (unnecessarily) for contacting me only a few hours before the event, but it was only now that things were being organised again since the end of the immediate conflicts. He wondered if I had any suggestions for what he could share with his fellow Bolivians.

As it was fresh in my mind, I shared with Marcos the exercise I had done with the medical students the previous day, and said that even if this wouldn’t fit into what he was doing, I hoped it might trigger some ideas.

I wondered whether Marcos could somehow ask a question, or encourage others to ask a question, like –

“If we woke up tomorrow morning, to a country where there had been national reconciliation, what would we notice?”

– and somehow adding this into the public conversation, people taking it in turns in asking and answering it perhaps.

As Marcos had also written “everything here has just begun to organise since the end of the conflicts”, I also wondered whether he could ask “How have we managed to begin to organise again?”

And, “Since we have begun to organise, what tiny signs of hope have we noticed?”

In his messages to me following the event at his university, which had been attended by about 50 people, students, academics and the general public, Marcos wrote:

I am very happy for the questions you shared with me. I could use them at the end of the conversation, I was very curious to know what would happen. The experience of practising SFBT is something different. I really enjoyed watching the public assemble their  favourite future. These questions allowed in a short time to generate a positive climate of hope. I am more sure of the great potential of SF in my country.

I talked a little about the solution-focused approach and then used the question: What would be the first sign you would see if there was already national reconciliation? and then according to the sequence that you suggested. The students had great ideas and for me it was interesting to ask them to use “we” at the end. I was the only exhibitor who interacted in this way with the public.

The students described the experience as a chain of ideas that is growing. It is incredible how things tend to be polarised and although the intention is not that, we end up polarising ideas. But with this question we were talking about a common good, and it was not necessary to defend an opinion, it was more important to contribute to the chain of ideas.

Interesting things happened. For example, one of the students said she would see more understanding, but that was very difficult to happen. Then I asked her if she ever saw a sign of understanding in the country and she replied, yes –  when we qualified for the World Cup. We didn’t have more time to talk about it but we could definitely have talked for hours on the subject with the other students.

…Now I’m thinking of organising something with my group of enthusiastic SFBT students for national reconciliation, but I still don’t know how…

Not knowing is a creative place to be, especially sharing our “not knowing” together, and I am excited about the possibilities here, and about learning from what Marcos and his students do in Bolivia, and being able to apply this to my work with students and others here in London.

footnote

I love working with George, who I first came across via an article in Context magazine in 1999 – ‘Using solution focused therapy in the GP consultation’. When I met him for the first time in person many years later, about training Tower Hamlets GPs in SF, I was pleased to be able to give him a photocopy of his article, which he had mislaid. I can thoroughly recommend another article, featuring George and other socially conscious doctors, in the New Statesman magazine – Towards Eternal Winter – Can the NHS Survive?