Transforming Politics in the 21st Century 11 Jun 2015

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I’ve just returned from a debate at the RSA on transforming politics in the UK. The resounding – and familiar – conclusion is that the adversarial party political system is so over. Fit for purpose 200 years ago it now woefully ignores advances in technology, citizen empowerment and expected standards of public service. Click here to join the […]

Next debate: Sun Mar 8 International Women’s Day 2015

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Click here to join the discussion on Sunday Mar 8th (4pm UK time, 5pm CET, 12pm EST) The original version of the film The Battle of the Sexes was made in 1914… and while it might sound anachronistic it seems we’re not done yet. The most likely person to kill a woman is still her partner. 44% of women in […]

Report: What is nationality? Dec 2014

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Nationality … what matters to you and why? How can we make it work for us? Post Scottish referendum and with serious ongoing challenges in Ukraine, Syria and Palestine to name but a few, in this Thinking Tank we took an open minded, open hearted and challenging look at the concept of nationality and its value […]

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Communicating Sustainability. Thinking Tank 21.11.09

There were clearly two camps in November’s Thinking Tank and many statements split the vote.

Some overlap though on the issues and the challenges – and the wordcloud below shows the importance of changing people’s minds through costs / taxation, making sustainability affordable and increasing impact of information via clear labelling.

The following two statements got the highest level of support:

  • Its easier to agree that “something should be done” than on what that something is or who should do it
  • It is a moment for inspiring leadership. If whole countries cannot get their act together then at least transition towns can lead the way. Then counties? States?

Maybe then the issue is not so much to agree on the technicalities (definition, scope etc) but to gather support for the concept. After all many broad ideas such as love, good citizenship, decency are not easily pinned down — but widely accepted and worth pursuing nonetheless.

30% of participants classified themselves as “mostly sustainable” or “activists”. The majority  self-classified as “I try to do my bit”.

Key Issues

Participants identified a set of conditions for effective action on sustainability

1. Clear up the confusion

  • I think the apathy is partly because people are unsure about what they should do
  • labelling that makes impact clear, tax to increase the cost of things that use up resources, and increasing general awareness

2. Improve the offer

  • make sustainable products look and feel like other products, same quality/same price/same comfort
  • Another seems to be to make it easier, more convenient, more fitting into normal life either at no cost or the same cost ( rather than charging extra)

There is recognition by some of this unrealistic position given current economic models. Non-sustainable products are artificially cheap as the true costs are not passed on to the consumer. Therefore penalties may be required to level the playing field.

3. Improve the motivation

  • better to motivate people and reward them for their good behaviour instead of punishing them

Divided opinions

The following comments split the group and may point to potential difficulties for getting sustainability across to the population as a whole.

1. Communicating sustainability

  • Most people just don’t think about tomorrow
  • It’s not that people don’t think about tomorrow, just  that we are busy getting through today
  • It’s just common sense. It’s the non-sustainable approach that has been imposed on us.
  • My kids respond best to the “Hole in the Sky” concept (their language not mine). They can see the sky. A hole would be scary. Easy to say to each other  “don’t do that or you’ll make the hole in the sky bigger”

2. The business of sustainability

  • Sustainability is big business for many, many consultants and advisers
  • Overcomplicated, elitist greenies making it too hard to understand

3. The economics of sustainability

  • At the moment, behaving unsustainably is “free at the point of purchase”. We could change that with a “damage tax”
  • Develop an i-phone app that keeps track of my ecofootprint, rewards me when I reduce it, makes cool suggestions etc

If you would like to see a full list of statements please email me

Why is Sustainability boring? Thinking Tank 22.10.2009

In this lively debate featuring participants from the World Bank, Insead, green organisations and business, joined together to identify their shared views on sustainability. The debate centred around turning sustainability into something for everyone.

The issue is described as boring, complex and confusing rather than inspiring or motivating. There are lots of words around the need for a change of approach.


The following two statements got the highest level of support:

  • I think the issue is less that it is “boring” and more that it is “confusing” because it means so many different things to so many different people.
  • The language is all too academic and easy to feel remote from… we need real down to earth stuff that people can get their head around and feel inspired to make the change

Based on this output, we will be building on the last debate in the November Thinking Tank—we hope you can join us to start to work out some ways forward on this challenge.

See the report The Thinking Tank Report Sustainability is Boring

Key Issues
1. Low levels of engagement in the issue across population as a whole

  • It’s not just the perceived sacrifice, or injustice,  – it’s the likelihood that 95% of the rest of the population won’t do it!

2. Too many issues wrapped up under one umbrella making it very difficult to communicate

  • Sustainability is a BIG word and means many different things: environment, social wellbeing, social justice, etc

3. Even if the issues are communicated, the need to make changes, some of them uncomfortable, makes it unlikely

  • It is maybe more difficult then boring.. fundamentally it is about changing way of doing things and that is never easy
  • At an intellectual level we can understand Sustainable Development but at a personal level, if it involves hard choices, it is much more difficult

Next steps
So there was general agreement about the scale of the problem… Now how do we move forward? The most popular suggestion was

  • I’m all for picking a couple of key issues, making it simple, widely understood and causing change (think drink-driving and how that shifted its social acceptability
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The Future of the Family. Thinking Tank 10.10.2009

The most supported idea (over 8o%) was that the perfect family would be a family full of support, affection and belief in you This was despite the fact that half the group agreed that family can be seen as a restriction Overall, we had two main points of view represented in the debate, those supporting […]

October 10, 2009 0
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Unemployment: no more jobs for the boys? Debate 24.09.09

Pause for thought While it was sympathetic to the challenges of the unemployed, this debate focused much more on the value of unemployment to society and to the individual as a pause for reflection. The most supported statements from the whole debate were: An opportunity to change direction should one wish to. It can be […]

September 24, 2009 0
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H1N1: Mountain or Molehill? Health debate 10.09.09

The first surprise in last month’s Thinking Tank was that 80% of you feel that swine flu is “no big deal”. This, despite the fact that 60% had friends and family who had contracted the disease (presumably with no serious consequences). The discussion took a philosophical turn with much reflection on swine flu: As a […]

September 10, 2009 0
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Business as usual or time for a change? Thinking Tank 27.08.2009

Overall the group are aware of the need for a change in style in this Thinking Tank carried out in partnership with Aspire Coaching. The time for rigid leadership styles is over, in our fast changing world, flexibility is key. Someone like Obama is changing what being a leader means 80% of comments about leadership […]

August 27, 2009 0
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School’s out for ever. Education Tank 05.08.09

The word cloud for the whole debate looks like this (the bigger the word, the more it was used / supported) In our debate on education we covered the good and the bad of the current system, the values we felt education should have and the ways forward—advice to the education minister. Participants came from […]

August 5, 2009 0
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Do we have to suffer to be beautiful? Health debate 07.07.09

The conversation was dominated by concerns about body weight—plastic surgery, tattoos, piercing were barely mentioned. There was a spirited defence of heavier bodies by some  and almost universal disapproval of extreme thinness and its promotion. The beauty industry has more effect on our body image than partner, family and friends, but 40% still feel their […]

July 7, 2009 0
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Does corruption matter? Thinking Tank 04.06.2009

A lively debate at a time when corruption—particularly among politicians and business leaders—is often in the media. The group debated personal and public corruption, and the difficulty of defining what is acceptable (according to personal circumstances and cultural norms). A key conclusion was the need to instil a clear sense of right and wrong in […]

June 4, 2009 0
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New Year New Politics? Thinking Tank 07.01.2009

As Obama steps into his new role, at the Thinking Tank we started the year with an experiment in reaching political decisions without political parties. A number of you proposed motions and we worked together to look at the key pros and cons and reach a decision. And yes, it worked. Online technology offers different […]

January 7, 2009 0
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