Documentary Film & Community Conversations: Powerful Tools for Promoting & Supporting Change

Documentary Film & Community Conversations: Powerful Tools for Promoting & Supporting Change

Change is loss; change is the gaining of something new.”

Last night I attended the screening of a documentary film “Metamorphosis” by Canadian film makers Nova Ami and Velcrow Ripper[1]. It was an informative, energizing and beautiful experience. The topic was Climate Change. Many films on this theme are all “gloom and doom”. In contrast, this film reminded me of the resilience and beauty of nature and of the importance of slowing down. It gave me hope and inspiration that we do have a “window of time” to make a real difference in the health of our planet.

We had an opportunity to meet and hear briefly from the film makers about their purpose in making the film before it was shown.

The Documentary: Real Life Experiences

Through the use of dramatic cinematography a number of real life examples of the impacts of climate change were shared through the eyes of people who are/were directly affected. This included:

  • The drought in Southern California characterized by swaths of cracked and desolate land, which due to the diversion of natural aquifers for the irrigation of large cities such as Los Angeles, has changed green, thriving and water abundant areas, to desert. Data was shared including the fact that a typical lawn in Southern California requires 4 feet of water per year to stay healthy and alive and rainfall typically is 13 inches per year. The rest is made up for by irrigation.
  • More frequent and powerful typhoons in the Philippines and Caribbean resulting in loss of life, the high loss of homes (needing to be rebuilt) and the uprooting of ancient trees.
  • Higher water levels and more frequent flooding in Venice
  • Devastating fires due to draught. The experience of driving through a burning forest to reach loved ones. One family’s experience of losing their home and how their entire town was decimated.

The Documentary: Innovative Solutions

A number of innovative solutions were shared that are currently being implemented in various parts of the world. They included:

  • Garden Pools – and the “army” of folks trained to convert drained swimming pools into gardens and ecosystems which are similar to what exists in nature; symbiotic relationships where one organism is dependent on another; e.g. ducks, fish (fertilizer), water from rain and dew, facilitating the growing of a variety of fruits and vegetables.[2]
  • Grid “Collective” – installing solar panels on roofs of homes in low income communities and training others to do this
  • Sculptured Human Art – facilitating the growth of new coral reefs
  • Garbage Art – to increase awareness of how much garbage we create as humans and using it to construct colorful and fun art pieces
  • Earthships – using used tires, cans, bottles, solar panels as well as rain water capture to create self-sustaining homes that are “off the grid” [3]

Community Conversation: Who was there and Why was it helpful?

After the screening, the film makers were joined at the front of the room by an academic, and a local municipal councillor who is advocating for “green” solutions, as well as a facilitator. The “floor” was open for us all to share how the film impacted us, to ask questions and share impressions.

It was interesting to hear the different perspectives of the panelists and the audience. A safe environment was created that enabled people to share what they liked about the film, what they might have liked more of, and how it impacted them. There was also a discussion of change and loss and how it is important to grieve the losses associated with climate change, as well as other environmental and life changes.

As the documentary touched on the importance of us as members of communities sharing our gifts and talents to create innovative solutions, a couple of special things happened that surprised me. One woman asked for permission and sang a beautiful song about Mother Earth. Another openly shared her painful, yet valuable learning experience of moving through grief related to what we as humans have done to the planet, and how the experience affected her mind and body; and the realization that this is part of the process of change. 

Lessons about change that I took away from the film

  • The importance of slowing down and being grateful for the beautiful world we have.
  • Reminded me that many of us are stuck in “psychic numbness”; on a constant treadmill of making money, so we can pay our bills, buy bigger and bigger homes and cars and consume more and more “stuff”. Being on this “hamster wheel” prevents us from reflecting on our beliefs and behaviors, experiencing and moving through the fear, anxiety and uncertainty of change, letting go of beliefs and behaviors that are no longer serving us and moving toward creative solutions.
  • The strength and resilience of the monarch butterfly; how going through different phases from caterpillar, to chrysalis, to beautiful butterfly and the 3000 or so miles each one flies each year, is remarkable. The butterfly reminds us that change is normal and can lead to increased strength, resilience and beauty.
  • The human imagination and how creative we can be to come up with solutions when we put our hearts and minds together toward a common purpose.
  • The importance of acknowledging that we all have gifts and talents to share; uncovering and sharing those gifts to make a positive difference.
  • The need to forgive ourselves and others for the harm we have done to our planet.
  • The value of holding community conversations around topics and engaging people from diverse backgrounds, cultures and experiences to generate innovative solutions to “pressing” challenges.
  • The power of the collective and community to support change.

 Parting Thoughts

Reflecting on last night’s experience and what I learned from the documentary, I began thinking about the importance of grieving all changes. I started thinking about how we might integrate video and film effectively into organizational change processes and to support social movements and societal changes we need in order to create a healthier world for us all. What are your thoughts?

I’d love to hear from you. Have you used film and video to support change processes you’ve been a part of? If so, where and how and what did you learn? I invite you to share your comments below.


[1] View trailer here: https://vimeo.com/248189180

  • [2] Symbiotic relationships are a special type of interaction between species. Sometimes beneficial, sometimes harmful, these relationships are essential to many organisms and ecosystems, and they provide a balance that can only be achieved by working together.” (Source: https://study.com/academy/lesson/symbiotic-relationship-definition-examples-quiz.html)

[3] Wikipedia description: “An Earthship is a brand of passive solar earth shelter that is made of both natural and upcycled materials such as earth-packed tires, pioneered by architect Michael Reynolds.

An Earthship addresses six principles or human needs:[1]

  1. Thermo-solar heating and cooling
  2. solar and wind electricity
  3. self-contained sewage treatment
  4. building with natural and recycled materials
  5. water harvesting and long term storage
  6. some internal food production capability.”
The Value of a Professional Facilitator: Why Would You Hire One?

The Value of a Professional Facilitator: Why Would You Hire One?

Creating a new project? Building a new partnership? Embarking on a strategic planning process? Building collaboration between multiple stakeholders or between one or more teams in an organization? All of these scenarios benefit from the skills of an experienced and skilled facilitator.

What is a professional facilitator?

A professional facilitator is someone who has been trained by a recognized organization and/or academic institution. In Canada, several recognized organizations that train facilitators are: the Canadian Institute for Conflict Resolution at St. Paul’s University – https://www.cicr-icrc.ca/en/ [1] ,

the Justice Institute – https://www.jibc.ca/ , and the Institute of Cultural Affairs – which also has an international/parent organization – http://www.ica-international.org/. A facilitator may also be certified by the International Association of Facilitators – https://www.iaf-world.org/site/. [2]

Role of a Facilitator

A facilitator’s role is to guide a group; to make it easier for a group to do its work. A facilitator takes the words and thoughts of participants and records them on a flipchart or laptop with projection. Facilitators are trained in processes to build consensus, prevent conflict and encourage creativity.

A facilitator has a strong process function versus being a content expert. Thus the role of a facilitator is not to contribute content, but rather to encourage the active participation of all group members and to ensure that their ideas are recorded as they stated them. In fact, people tend to get annoyed if you change the words they give you to your own.

It is helpful when facilitating groups to understand their “language” and the sector to which they belong. This enables you to know when groups are “getting off track” and to more easily summarize the ideas raised. It is also useful to encourage people to speak in “bullets” or “headlines” and there are various processes to assist participants to do this.

An effective facilitator is able to:

  • Create a safe environment
  • Listen
  • Observe
  • Paraphrase
  • Summarize main points
  • Use eye contact
  • Identify and interpret non-verbal messages; e.g. frowns and body language
  • Speak clearly
  • Write legibly
  • Ascertain if and when a group is “getting off track” and “bring them back on track”

Additional characteristics that are helpful to have as a facilitator are:

  • A good sense of humor
  • Flexibility
  • Openness
  • An interest in and sensitivity to people from diverse backgrounds
  • Lots of energy.

There are many styles of facilitation and each facilitator develops their own unique approach.

Benefits of an Outside Neutral Facilitator

You may be a leader, project manager or changemaker who has some facilitation expertise. If so, that is valuable. That said, it is useful to hire an outside facilitator for the following reasons:

  • They are a neutral third party and don’t have any biases or strong affiliations with any of the involved stakeholders
  • They can free you up as a leader to observe the group and team dynamics
  • They can enable you to contribute your ideas as a group member
  • They can provide a valuable “outsider” perspective on the group and its dynamics.

The Power of Facilitated Processes

I’ve witnessed first-hand the power of a well-designed and facilitated process. An example is while leading the design team of an international development project in Nigeria that was to be implemented in 2 states – one in the Muslim North and one in the Christian South. With the support of my team, I facilitated a process whereby the key stakeholders in each state had the opportunity to identify their current situation, vision a desired future (after 5 years of project support), identify the gaps between NOW and THEN and what support they needed to move toward their vision. The participants in each state identified someone to present their key findings to a national workshop held a week later in the capital city. My team supported each representative to prepare a PowerPoint of the key workshop outputs to present at the national workshop.

Partway through the national workshop, the head of Policy and Planning in the Muslim state stood up and said “Brothers and sisters, I thought we were so different from you. I believed we were not as advanced as you educationally and that our challenges and visions would be totally different. Hearing you present today I now realize that we are essentially the same; you face the same challenges as we do and have a similar vision. I am so looking forward to working together with you to turn our vision into reality!”

Another participant stood up and exclaimed, “This is the first conference I’ve been to in this country where students have been together with representatives of different levels of government, health providers and academia. Students should be here as THEY are the leaders of tomorrow!”

Such peak experiences are highlights of this work. They make me passionate about the opportunity to design and facilitate processes that bring diverse groups of people together, change beliefs, foster collaboration, and create initiatives that make a difference.

In Summary

Well-designed and facilitated processes have the power to:

  • Foster increased understanding (e.g. among different cultural and religious groups)
  • Model and promote collaboration within an organization
  • Create new partnerships
  • Build ownership; and
  • Foster creativity and innovation.

If you have a new project you’re designing, a multistakeholder initiative you’re working on, need some visioning or a new strategic plan, I’d love to speak with you. Please visit https://pamela-thompson.com/process-design-facilitation/ to book a Discovery Session.


[1] Where I received my initial training in facilitation, mediation and conflict resolution

[2] I was a member of the first group of facilitators who were certified in Canada by the International Association of Facilitators.

Lessons from a Changemaker: How to Prevent Burnout while Living Your Passion

Lessons from a Changemaker: How to Prevent Burnout while Living Your Passion

As a changemaker, you are passionate about making a positive difference in the world. You may have chosen a career as a helping professional, work for a non-profit or an international development agency. You may be an academic doing research focusing on improving the health of women and children or you may be CEO of a socially-responsible company. Whatever line of work you’re in, you feel “called” to it.

One of the challenges of being a changemaker is that we experience much joy from giving and sometimes may overextend ourselves by sitting on a number of volunteer boards, or by continually pushing through fatigue to finish that one last thing, rather than taking a break and listening to our bodies. Do you relate?

I understand. I’ve almost burnt out several times in my life. When we continually push ourselves without listening to our bodies, we run the risk of experiencing adrenal fatigue or burnout. Dr. James Wilson in his book Adrenal Fatigue The 21st Century Stress Syndrome notes that:

“adrenal fatigue occurs when the amount of stress [physical, psychological, emotional, infectious, environmental or a combination of these] overextends the capacity of the body (mediated by the adrenal [glands]) to compensate and recover from that stress or the combined stresses. Once this capacity to cope and recover is exceeded, some form of adrenal fatigue occurs. “ (p. 11)

While working in Afghanistan with the Ministry of Public Health, supporting them to develop their first strategic plan and building the capacity of internal teams to do planning, I got pneumonia twice within the first 6 months of living there. I recall being at the front of the room facilitating a national multi-stakeholder workshop with my team and feeling an incredible burning in my chest as I wrote on the flipchart. It wasn’t until I arrived home for a short break a week or so later and I felt really low in energy and on my husband’s suggestion I went to the doctor and was diagnosed with pneumonia the first time.

So how can you as a changemaker stay healthy, happy and grounded while making a positive difference in the world?

  • Connect with and learn to listen to and trust in your body’s wisdom. Our bodies are amazing receivers and transmitters of information. They always let us know if something is wrong. Body scanning is an excellent tool when we wish to increase awareness of our body and the messages it sends us. Tara Brach in her book Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life with the Heart of Buddha, walks you through a detailed body scan and explains its power.
  • Spend regular time in nature. Go for a short walk at lunch or walk in the park after work. Go for a hike with a partner, friend or family member. The Japanese have done longitudinal research to show that when we walk among trees it reduces our heart rate, reduces our blood pressure and increases the number of natural killer cells our bodies produce (e.g. strengthens our immune system).
  • Set strong boundaries. If someone asks you to participate in a new community activity (e.g. fundraise for a local charity) or add an extra project to your already “full plate” at work, learn to say “no”. As givers we often say “yes” without thinking about what we already have on our “to-do” lists. I encourage you when asked to do something new, to take several deep breaths, go inside your body and ask yourself the question: Will this bring me joy? Do I really want to do this? Do I have time for this? And if the answer is “no” practice saying “no” without feeling guilty.
  • Get 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night. Sleep heals and replenishes our bodies.
  • Unplug from digital devices for 60 to 90 minutes before going to sleep. Artificial light from screens increases alertness and suppresses the hormone melatonin by up to 22% negatively affecting sleep, performance and mood. [1]

If you’d like to learn more proven strategies for preventing burnout and staying healthy, happy and grounded while living your passion I invite you to check out my #1 best selling book on Amazon Learning to Dance with Life: A Guide for High Achieving Women. FYI, men find it useful as well J.  In the book I share 7 keys to what I call Creative Living. 7 keys to “consciously cultivating improved health, happiness, fulfillment and inner peace in your life.” Each key has powerful strategies and proven practices backed up by research from neuroscience, Eastern psychology and the health-promoting and healing benefits of the arts.

I’d love to hear from you what strategies you’ve found useful to prevent burnout and reduce the stress in your life. I welcome your comments and suggestions below.


[1] http://digitaldetox.org/manifesto/

Change & The Changemaker: How Can You Support Others to Embrace Change?

Change & The Changemaker: How Can You Support Others to Embrace Change?

As a heart-centered leader and/or changemaker, it is important to support others within your team and/or organization to embrace change. This may be easier said than done. Here are a few “tried and true” strategies.

  • Openly discuss upcoming changes; (e.g. new leadership, reorganization) and ask people to share how they are feeling about the changes
  • Communicate about the changes and openly discuss how they may impact you and your team
  • Ask how people would like to be supported during the change process. I so relate to Brene Brown’s work, the examples she shares in “Dare to Lead”, and the importance of scheduling “rumbling sessions” during times of uncertainty and change. For example;

“These changes are coming hard and fast, and I know there is a lot of anxiety … I want to spend the next forty-five minutes rumbling about how we’re all managing the changes” (p. 35).

  • Encourage those team members who are uncomfortable with change to start slowly and integrate small changes into their daily routines (e.g. drive to work a different way, when dressing if they usually put their right leg into their pants first, start with their left leg, try sleeping on the other side of the bed … . Change is like a muscle; the more you welcome change into your life, the easier it becomes. Ariane de Bonvoisin in “The First 30 Days – Your Guide to Making Any Change Easier” identifies six “change demons” and their antidotes. The six change demons are: fear, doubt, blame, guilt, shame and impatience. She explains that the change demons “help us navigate through change by alerting us if we are off course and encouraging us to choose a different emotion to help us get where we want to go.” (To learn more visit: https://pamela-thompson.com/can-reduce-fear-change-power-beliefs/)
  • View embracing change as a creative process that opens us up to new possibilities (a foundational belief of my “Art of Change Framework”- https://pamela-thompson.com/2017/10/), and speak with your team about the value of internalizing this belief.
  • Use the change process as an opportunity to be creative and innovative and create space and opportunities for team members to share innovative ideas. William and Susan Bridges in their book “Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change” share some excellent examples of this.

I’d love to hear from you what strategies you’ve found effective to support others in your groups, teams and organizations to embrace change. I welcome your comments and ideas below.

Change & The Changemaker: The Importance of Understanding Change

Change & The Changemaker: The Importance of Understanding Change

I so relate to this definition from Ashoka (https://www.ashoka.org/) that “a changemaker is someone who is taking creative action to solve a social problem.” They go on to say:

Not every changemaker needs to launch their own start-up or be the president of an organization; changemakers can find opportunities to make a difference in any number of roles. They may have no ties to an organization; they may take action as an individual or as part of a group; they may organize as a part of broader community or they may work within a formal organization. “[1]

Are you a changemaker? If so, it is critically important that you understand change and how you respond to it. Here are a couple of questions I encourage you to think about and write down your responses to:

  1. When you think about change what words or emotions come up for you?
  2. Rate yourself on a scale from one to ten related to how you typically respond to change; “one” being “scares me to death” and “ten” being “I thrive on it’.

Many of us who declare ourselves as changemakers, including those of us who are leaders of teams and organizations, respond to question #1 positively. For example, when I think of change, words such as: “excitement”, “adventure”, “opportunity”, “creativity” come up. Based on my experience with other changemakers and leaders they respond similarly. In terms of question #2 many changemakers and leaders typically rate themselves as a “nine” or a “ten”. That said, when they ask the same questions to members of their teams or groups, responses to question #1 may be “fear”, “uncertainty”, “anger”, “overwhelm”. And for #2 their responses may be closer to “five” or “six” on the rating scale.

It is important to acknowledge that how you respond to change when YOU initiate it is quite different than when it is imposed on you. If change is imposed on you, your reactions and how you rate yourself on the scale from “one” to “ten” typically change toward the negative.

So how do you as a changemaker and/or leader, effectively navigate change and support others around you to embrace, rather than resist change? Learning some facts about change and openly exploring how you and your team respond to change is a good starting point.

Some Facts about Change

  1. Our bodies are hard-wired to react to change, to protect us and keep us safe

Our amygdala (part of the brain) is constantly scanning our environment for potential threats including things that are different. When it notices something it perceives to be a threat, it sends messages to our bodies that put us into fight, flight or freeze.  When we are angry, feel like running away, or our minds freeze, we are NOT in a good position to make any decisions, or to positively influence others.

2. Our past experiences with change affect how we respond to it. For example, if when you were a child a relative you were close to died and no one let you see the person at the wake and didn’t discuss the person’s death with you, as an adult you may fear death and not feel comfortable speaking about it. Similarly, if when you were a child and when changes happened, you typically learned to “get on with things” and to not express your feelings about leaving a particular school, relationship, home … , then this will likely affect how you respond to endings as an adult.

3. We store beliefs and emotions in our bodies. Dr. Bruce Lipton, a stem cell biologist by training, in his book The Biology of Belief, documents research conducted by himself and others that all the cells in our bodies are affected by our thoughts. Dr. Candace Pert, an internationally renowned researcher and biochemist in her landmark book Molecules of Emotion, shares evidence of the biochemical links between the mind and body. That being the case, if we have had negative past experiences with change, that will negatively impact how we respond to change in our personal and our professional lives moving forward.

4. The good news is that we can change the physiological structure of our brains (create new neural pathways) with our thoughts. [2] The implications of this body of work to us as leaders and changemakers, is that we can learn, model and teach others how to embrace rather than resist change.

Why am I so passionate about this?

If we don’t learn to embrace change we:

  • keep repeating the same patterns in our lives and remain unhappy & unfulfilled
  • Feel constantly under stress leading to chronic health issues and negative impacts on our relationships & our businesses
  • Expend a lot of energy resisting change

The bottom line is if we don’t learn to embrace change, over time it negatively impacts both our personal and our professional lives.

How can we reduce our fear of change?

We can:

  • Better understand how and why we respond to change
  • Learn a proven model and tools to help us reduce resistance, and embrace and successfully navigate any change

The more you understand change and the more self-aware you are about how and why you respond to it, the more easily you can embrace and move through it.

What has been your experience with change? How have you effectively dealt with change in the past? I welcome your comments below. Feel free to share this with people who you think might find it of interest.


[1]

https://www.evansville.edu/changemaker/downloads/more-than-simply-doing-good-defining-changemaker.pdf

[2] Doidge, Norman, The Brain that Changes Itself. London: Penguin Books, 2007