Sustainability Practicum Essay 2

We have progressed in this course from discussing sustainability in broad conceptual terms to working on specific planning and facilitation skills, such as systems mapping, scenario planning, and creative ideation.

Reflect – using at least one specific example from the readings, your experience, or general knowledge – on your views of how such skills can contribute – or not – to developing practical strategies to promote sustainability.

Post your essay as a comment to the relevant post of the MSoE’s blog, The Stream, by Monday, June 10th, at 9:00 am.


  1. zoe zeerip says:

    Our in-class work has left me with the greatest skill set yet. By practicing scenario planning and learning to implement human centered design into our solutions I feel we will continue to generate ideas that can be successfully implemented. I think back to the first day we identified driving sources in a system, determined if they were certainties or uncertainties, chose what two had the largest potential for impact, and created for future scenarios. I thought this was goofy, but I realized it allowed for everyone to talk about the goal of each future and find commonalities that they could agree upon, ultimately leading to an ideal scenario for all stakeholders. This was a structure of planning for the future that I was new to and now understand the benefits.
    In additions to scenario planning, there is the opportunity to implement human centered design to ensure the ideal scenario can be implemented successfully. Human center design works to ensure all ideas are viable, desirable, and feasible. A new idea or scenario must be viable for businesses, desirable for the people, and technically feasible. This means that you must be able to look at your project with a critical eye and gather advice from several sectors of society that will be interacting with your new scenario or creation. There is also a mindset that goes along with human center design that I hope to carry with me. Human centered design works to create empathy through engagement, optimism that there is always a solution, and a desire to keep making.
    I hope I can take these two assessment techniques with me to my home school and share them in my next group project. I hope that by doing so my class projects will become more efficient and effective. I feel that it often takes a while for group projects to brain storm while feeling unstructured. By having these two outlined assessments to work with, I think students will be able to see their progress and feel that they are contributing to the solution. Students studying sustainability, in particular, tend to need a long-term mind set, or understand the big picture. The human centered design encourages this because it encourages final execution that is perfect for all stakeholders. This means the solution creators are encouraged to be well rounded individuals and engage.
    I also hope to share this method of learning with one particular teacher back home. I feel that having a teacher teach these methods of solution generation will allow for class time to generate innovation and be more engaging. I feel class is often easy to loose excitement about. I think these two assessment techniques help avoid that.

  2. Maeve Sherry says:

    In any sort of scenario planning or creative ideation, the ultimate goal is to devise a strategy that the majority can get on board with. In order to accomplish this, learning to communicate effectively and openly is mandatory. It’s impossible to learn what the ideal future is or how to achieve it if you don’t know the stories and lives of those whom your plan affects. The concept of sustainability can be hard to convey to a diverse audience; sometimes using numbers and jargon is lost on people, and sometimes broad, flowery language is lost on others. However a common ground between all perspectives is the shared goal of preserving humanity.

    Optimism is a pivotal component of connecting people to the environmental movement. Methods like Human Center Design are based around the faith that humans can come up with solutions to any problems if they have unwavering belief that it’s possible to do so. Concepts like this are empowering, and encourage the teamwork that is desperately needed to produce collective action. In a similar vein is Ehrenfeld’s Flourishing. He describes the possibility that we can find our way to a sustainable future harmoniously with the natural world, as long as we stay motivated to work at this goal in perpetuity.

    Even though it might sound trivial to think that optimism and hope can lead us to solutions, it’s amazing how these intangible things can band people together when individuals feel that they can play a role in the solution. Although fear tactics have their place, I’ve seen that approaching climate change from an eco-tragedy perspective often makes people give up. This can make it seem futile to even try to find a better path. In my experience, when individuals understand their place in a movement and feel needed, they are much more likely to get behind it. Rather than portraying saving the environment as a lost cause, leading with the positive notion that sustainability is a possible future can inspire people to do their part.

  3. Dinatalia Farina says:

    Promoting sustainability can be a daunting task; especially depending on the audience you are trying to attract. Often times, as environmentalists, we try our best to convince others to adopt a mindset similar to ours. A mindset of consuming less, consuming mindfully or even changing your diet completely. In doing this, we forget to listen to the people we are trying to attract. For example, if we are trying to attract an audience of elementary school children, we cannot impose our ideals of consuming less, consuming mindfully and changing to a plant based diet, because their very survival is dependent on the decisions their parents/guardians make.

    When reading Kahane and his chapter on listening, made me ponder, that is exactly what we have to do before attracting an audience. Listen. Listen to the people you want to attract and then base your actions off of what they have to say. Something Jack said in class really resonated with me and I believe it connects perfectly with the point I’m trying to make; “my opinions are firmly stated, but loosely held.” Therefore, in correlation to what I am discussing this is what environmentalists should be doing in trying to develop strategies for promoting sustainability. Firmly state your opinion, but recognize and verbalize that everything is subject to change, improvement, etc. This will help with promotion because now you know your audience and the people you are trying to educate. This also makes you seem relatable, when many people do not relate to environmentalist. Even listening to their firm opinions and helping them realize theirs are also loosely held as well is a great step in the right direction.

    Perhaps even doing a workshop on systems mapping of a person’s ideal system is a great step towards sustainability. This allows a person to really engage with their likes and dislikes and bring it to life on paper. Then the person promoting sustainable practices will bring in their knowledge and help them keep aspects of their design while educating them. This will help the person reflect on what they believe is right and wrong, and what they can and cannot live without. This a combination of Kahane and his idea of being reflection as well as a combination of Human Centered Design. We can promote sustainability while also being empathetic and truly understanding where people want to go with it. You just have to listen.

  4. Elissa Edmunds says:

    In developing practical strategies to promote sustainability, I believe there should be a mixture of different experiences, knowledge, and techniques that encompass multiple perspectives and expertise. In our sustainability practicum, we have learned skills ranging from human-centered design to scenario planning, but within our own lives, we have learned skills that help promote sustainability in other classrooms, fieldwork, through conversation, and research. From the two weeks we have been learning, I have acquired and learned about lenses that I had not previously had any experience with, and applied those to the work we did in class. Those skills, I feel, have contributed to helping me to develop practical strategies to promote sustainability, specifically in my group for our Big Idea project.

    From the Field Guide to Human-Centered Design, I learned that by believing that all problems are solvable, any idea is not too unrealistic or abstract. Even ideas that may scare us have the potential to help develop a plan or system that could help promote sustainability, and writing those ideas down and discussing them with a group does not have to be a scary process. The process provided for the Human-Centered design includes seven mindsets, which are empathy, optimism, iteration, creative confidence, making, embracing ambiguity, and learning from failure (IDEO, 2015). Considering these mindsets and from taking the time to understand what they truly meant, I felt much more comfortable sitting down with my group and throwing out ideas that I was not sure anyone would agree with. I learned that the process was not always going to be comfortable, and that it was okay to not just have one idea in mind—and that it was also okay that the group disagreed upon many concepts. However, those disagreements were not intimidating because I knew that my group and I all had similar mindsets. I felt relieved in knowing that my group was going to meet and discuss my ideas in a way that encompassed empathy, iteration, optimism, yet also recognizing that there could be failures.

    During class on Friday, my group’s discussion seemed to be going in circles. It was obvious that many of us were becoming frustrated because we could not seem to decide on what exactly our scope was going to be for our scenario planning. Some of us wanted to look at the issues from a larger scale, while others wanted to look at a more specific problem and scenario. Truthfully, I was beginning to feel like I was too tired that day to even have a discussion that required so much listening, processing, and trying to understand another person’s point of view. This, though, is when the skills that we had learned about came into play about openness, listening, reflectiveness, and being empathetic (Kahane, 2007). Once I began to remind myself of those skills, I could listen without trying to come up with a solution, but instead, just trying to understand. I conducted further research as well to try and understand the information being provided by other group members. At the end of class, we still had not come up with a decision, so we decided to allow each other to take time over the weekend to rest, process, write ideas down, and then come back together with clear heads. Those skills that we have learned ultimately helped me contribute more efficiently and empathetically in my group when we were trying to come up with strategies to promote sustainability.

    Kahane, A. (2007). Solving tough problems: An open way of talking, listening, and creating new realities. San Francisco, California: Berrett-Koehler.

    IDEO. (2015). The Field Guide to Human-Centered Design. Canada. Retrieved from Canvas.

  5. Colleen Dollard says:

    The exploitation of resources, people, and the environment are global problems driven by the overconsumption, negligence, and greed of wealthy nations. Sustainability and sustainable development offer solutions to the above problems and in essence aim to create a future where people and the environment are not exploited. Sustainability is about creating a world where, as John Ehrenfeld writes in his novel Flourishing, all life on Earth is able to flourish (Ehrenfeld and Hoffman 17). However, due to the complexity of sustainable development and the intercontinental problems it aims to solve, there is no easy, one-size-fits-all solution. To combat this complexity, planning and facilitation skills, such as systems mapping, scenario planning, and creative ideation are helpful in finding innovative and inclusive solutions.

    I found that through using these three tools in class workshops, I was able to visualize how places are connected and what these connections mean to sustainable solutions. Systems mapping involved choosing a place that relies on external factors to function, such as Middlebury College, and creating a map to visualize these external connections. It allowed me to to find vulnerabilities of Middlebury College, such as reliance on natural gas, and think about solutions as to how to fix the vulnerability. Scenario planning is one of the most impactful tools that I have used in my college career. Though this method can be used for problems other than sustainable development, it broke down the complexity of sustainability by separating the five factors that contribute to any problem’s intricacy. These five factors are environmental, economic, political, social, and technological. After breaking it down into the five categories, it was then easy to imagine futures where these factors were either very influential in sustainable development or not. Imagining what the future could be through this systematic processes pushed me to think outside of the box and gain new perspectives. Because there is so much uncertainty about the future, acknowledging different futures, rather than predicting one that seems the most apt to happen, opened my mind up to different things that could happen and different solutions I might not have thought of otherwise.

    After freely brainstorming through systems mapping and scenario planning, human centered design helped organize these thoughts and make them a reality through a method of teamwork, creation and iteration, and engagement with the community. I found engagement with the community to be extremely important because it helps gain perspective on how the idea will work for them and expand the utility of the solution. With all of the complexities and uncertainties in sustainable development, these three tools help to view all of the connections, and help to develop a solution that is best for everyone involved.

  6. Gavi Kaplan says:

    One of the most common critiques of “sustainability” that has surfaced throughout our readings, from Ehrenfeld to Engleman, is the term’s undefined, unspecified and intangible quantity/value. For the layman, sustainability is a concept that remains up in the clouds. Credit to institutions like Middlebury that have a School of the Environment which attempts to teach students and community members the proper lenses through which to frame sustainability. How do we develop practices to promote sustainability? I believe that one of the answers to this vast inquiry lies in the certainties and uncertainties, what we do and do not know about our current and future state as a society. One certainty is that our materialistic, extrinsic values will persist over the next few decades. How do we work within this framework to “methodically think of the unthinkable” and push the concept of sustainability on a society keen, at times, to ignore it?

    Certain educational strategies have been effective for me here at the School of the Environment, and should be incorporated across the disciplines and grade levels to promote the mindset-change needed to take sustainability seriously. Mainly, I am referencing activities such as Curt’s gameplay (role playing for the sake of understanding environmental challenges), empathic listening (the story of Peter Forbes and Classy turned an abstract ideal into something concrete and tangible–I understood its importance), systems mapping and scenario planning (again, focusing on eliminating misunderstandings and future thinking through applicable education), and focusing on the vulnerabilities within systems. These strategies can be taught in a classroom setting and would foster a sense of caring and emotional connection amongst students. If we can catch American minds when they are young and malleable, we have a chance at the massive paradigm shift referenced and hoped for by Ehrenfeld.

    The second thing we can do is to capture the same type of American creativity, ingenuity, and wonder that was last harnessed by the Kennedy administration for the space race. This movement was successful because it contained a concrete end goal (“we choose to go to the moon in this decade and to do the other things, not because it is easy, but because it is hard, etc.”), and contained a time-linked notion of severity (we must beat the Soviets to it!). Americans love a race, a challenge, and end goals. I believe we could frame a “sustainability race” against say, China, a country that is taking charge in the production of solar technology. We must remove the undefined and unspecified value that is attached to sustainability, and it may be a good short-term solution to stage an energy race–to answer the question of “what do we want to sustain” as our energy capacity. Like the space race, this energy race would reverberate across many of the facets of American society.

    The bottom line is, we need a quick solution while we wait on the overall paradigm shift from a materialistic society focused on excess consumption and development to something more grounded in our biotic means. Until then, it may be difficult to sell a capitalistic society on the natural world as something other than a resource to further our ambitions. Going to the source, say, teaching EF/BC accounting to business students in an attempt to teach them the consequences rampant capitalism has on our natural and human resources could be a good place to start. We need first, a widespread change to our educational system, followed second by an inspirational campaign meant to shed the box we have placed ourselves in and promote creativity and ingenuity as a competition we can indeed win.

  7. Lydia Waldo says:

    The first two week of SoE focused on teaching us skillsets that are applicable for a myriad of situations rather than teaching specific, concrete facts whose relevance may only be useful in certain situations. In this way, the program differs from other courses I’ve taken, however overall I have found this learning to be more relevant and functional than that of traditional classes.

    Adam Kahane’s book “Solving Tough Problems” stands out specifically as a resource that’s helped to identify and implement the important skills necessary to developing practical strategies to promote sustainability. Since reading Part III, Listening, I am more aware of how I participate in class both in my Big Idea group and larger discussions and activities. At one point Kahane says “listening openly helps us to diffuse what could become a dangerous conflict” (Kahane, 2004) which helped to shed light on my own need to reframe my mindset. Instead of listening to respond or convince others to agree with me, I must work on empathetic listening where I simply listen to understand. Holly’s mini-mini workshop on Friday addressed this too, specifically the idea of not imposing yourself or your ideas on the person you are engaging with in conversation.

    The implementation of empathetic listening is crucial to promoting sustainability because we need to be open to hearing and engaging with ideas that are outside our comfort zone if we hope to make forward progress. I was incredibly grateful that we read about how to listen and the importance of listening openly before class this Friday. My group came to class ready to work and for the first two hours we did so effectively. We listened, brainstormed, and diplomatically discussed our ideas. However, at some point we hit a wall and started going in circles… our uncertainties on the scenario map were set, but we struggled to understand what each of the four futures would look like given the uncertainties we had set forth. I was frustrated because no one seemed to understand where I was coming from, and I was also confused about everyone else’s ideas resulting in our butting heads. After a few minutes of this though, we agreed as a group that we were exhausted from the week and were able to recognize, because of these readings, that we were no longer listening to each other or working effectively towards the shared goal. This awareness allowed us to step back and take a break instead of forcing our way forward, in hopes that that after having a few days to think on our own (the weekend) and solidify our ideas, we can both better articulate them and be more receptive and open as we listen and work to understand each other’s goals and understanding in the future.

  8. Sadie Rose Zavgren says:

    In our competitive consumerist culture, there is a tendency to be a maverick. This individualist mentality pushes people to work independently rather than teaming up and executing a really successful idea/product with an already existing company or organization. We look up to extremely wealthy people, such as Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerburg, and dream of mirroring their success. We have been told that if we work hard we can obtain a similar achievement. But rarely are we told to actively listen to others and work as a team. I believe the most valuable information we gained from the readings this week pertaining to developing practical strategies to promote sustainability, was the ability to learn from other people. The report highlighted the importance of speaking to people who face the problems we are attempting to solve, because they most likely have the answers. They encourage conducting interviews with people at all levels of the ladder in order to gain a layered point of view.

    This idea is further explored in Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All, a book written by Tom and David Kelley, the founders of They write that it is important for us to deeply understand human needs and to foster honest empathy. This can be accomplished by interacting with experts and non-experts, immersing ourselves in unfamiliar environments, and role-playing customer scenarios. It is also important to view people’s behaviors to help better understand the various factors at play in the lives of different community members.

    The reality that listening to others is crucial to successful development is further explored in Adam Kahane’s 2004 text Solving Tough Problems. The authors rightfully argues that talking is not enough, and that listening is perhaps even more important. It is crucial to be flexible and open to having our minds changed, because this will lead to growth and a deeper understanding. This candid openness will lead to sincere empathy and the ability to recognize and attempt to understand a person’s problems.

    I believe that possessing the ability to listen and being open to learning from others will help us avoid repeating history. These skills will be necessary when promoting sustainability because we must be mindful of the way our ideas may impact different communities. We must be open to critique, listening to other’s stories and ideas, and striving to work together rather than finding a way to profit from the next big idea that was most likely stolen from someone with less power than you, the wannabe maverick. It’s time to take a step back, open our ears and hearts, and find a way to help everyone, not just the elite and powerful.

  9. Thomas Wentworth says:

    Middlebury Foods is a student-run 501(c)(3) non-profit working to provide affordable, healthy food to the people of Addison County. I joined the team in September of 2015, and completely took for granted the operational systems and human relationships that were in place to make the program function smoothly. That oversight got completely rewired at a meeting, almost exactly a year later, when we collectively came to the realization: we are Middlebury Foods. This sounds like a slogan in a TV ad, to be followed by a catchy jingle, but it ultimately led to a ten-fold increase in the size of the team and deepened our understanding of our system. Although before we had been finding ways to expand our physical extent and financial accessibility, we were stuck in a mindset of least resistance. That is, we believed (because it was easy) that we existed within the system, not that we were the system. This little nudge allowed us to shift from a norm of complacency to one of ownership. Suddenly customer satisfaction was not a result of something working well (or poorly) in our existing framework, it was a direct result of our choices.

    If the seven of us in that room had disappeared, Middlebury Foods would have gone with us. This is not to meant to highlight how cool and indispensable we were, but rather highlight an additional layer that we did not recognize. The human-oriented design of Middlebury Foods, as well as the insular nature of an independently operating non-profit, allowed us to stop there. After thinking more critically through the mapping of a system, it became clear that although we are a human system, we exist within a complex web of other human systems, and surrounding natural systems. This has much larger implications. Although we had realized that we were responsible agents, we were not collaborating enough, within the team or with other non-profits. Not only do we need to have a sense of ownership over our impacts in the world, we desperately need a sense of community and humility. This means effective articulation and empathic listening. This means meditation and critical bioregionalism.

    A dynamic tension (I hesitate to use “balance,” because that seems to imply stasis) between ownership and humility provides a lens through which we can do effective scenario planning and creative ideation. This larger sense of the system can allow us to identify imbalance in natural systems and target audiences in the human systems, and combine those to identify leverage points. By being receptive to the complexities of the entire system, engaging in what Adam Kahane would call “generative dialogue” (Solving Tough Problems, 2007), we can collectively develop strategies that benefit the people, and the place. Middlebury Foods is not perfect, nor will be any organization that I work with. But by being compassionate to the people around us and being thoughtful about our actions, we can move in the right direction.

  10. Rayna Berger says:

    In a world where complex problems reside at every corner, created “The Field Guide to Human Centered Design”, which moves through three main phases: Inspiration, Ideation, and Implementation. This process requires as well as leads to empathy, creative confidence, learning from failure, and taking risks. Emi Kolawole said, “In order to get to new solutions, you have to get to know different people, different scenarios, different places”. These skills contribute to developing practical strategies promoting sustainability in everyday life for many farmers around the world. In a field that is slowly dwindling in population, and consists of predominantly older, white men, innovation is begging at agriculture’s front door.

    For thousands of years we have moved crops and animals across seas, decreased biodiversity, and implemented genetic modifications. We choose what grows where and in what quantity. We domesticate animals and waste most of what we grow. For some strange reason, farming has turned into Human Centered Design. However, in this new era of agriculture, more and more farmers are realizing the impact of too much human centered design by seeing the effects of monoculture crops and mass animal farms. The world needs something different.

    After working on 13 farms in 9 different states across the country, I quickly realized that there’s a whole population of people doing things about food insecurity, healthier foods, and ecosystem restoration, rather than sitting around a table talking about how. Instead of “Human” Centered Design, these people are implementing “World” Centered Design, which includes non-human life. I offer this critique because as a farmer, one cannot be successful if one does not think about everything as an interconnected web. I would challenge everybody, regardless of career, to think broader than the human scale.

    Inspiration can come from anywhere; books, ancestral stories, an Instagram feed, or even research papers. It’s the process of understanding people, places, and things. Chris Sermons of Bio-Way Farm outside of Greenville, South Carolina, learned everything about farming from books. He took a risk and took on 120 acres of land. To this day I have never met a more educated person on native flora and fauna, permaculture design, and just a true passion for getting back to our Earth roots. Chris was awarded 2016 Farmer of the Year by the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association.

    Ideation is the process of generating ideas, testing and refining solutions. Tim and Mary from Snowflake, Arizona have about 50 years of experience and knowledge on ideation. They both spent time living on communes and intentional communities around the country, learning ideas, seeing what they like and don’t like, and piecing together their own dream to make reality. Finally deciding on land in the desert, they spent 20+ years building their off-grid Earthship from mostly recycled materials. When the first water collection system didn’t work, they relied on the nearest stream until they figured out a system that was successful. “Don’t think of it as failure, think of it as designing experiments through which you’re going to learn”, advice from Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO. Today their Earthship is available for public tours as people are inspired by its beauty and resourcefulness.

    Implementation is the perfect chance to practice and perfect the solutions. Eden’s Cove hog farm in Bastrop, Texas, taught me the problem with raising hogs. Regardless of the many ethical issues a vegan, vegetarian and environmentalist would have, meat is a huge part of our world’s diet, so how can we help make it sustainable? Well first off, pigs are migratory animals. Eden’s Cove learned that very quickly. After extending their fence line to include a pond, a shelter for cold nights, and plenty of trees for roaming, the pigs were noticeably happier by the amount the played and ran about. They also have a certified kitchen where they personally butcher, package, and even cure their meat. They have a very efficient business, as the market to their local community of farmer friends. This farm is also run by two bad-ass women.

    I could go on forever sharing stories and nuggets of knowledge I learned from “World” Centered Designers. There are incredible people out there who have inspired me, taught me, and encouraged me to take the farming world head on regardless of my age, gender, or views on the world. This is the time for innovation, let’s focus on World Centered Design to promote sustainability together.

  11. Matia Whiting says:

    We have progressed in this course from discussing sustainability in broad conceptual terms to working on specific planning and facilitation skills, such as systems mapping, scenario planning, and creative ideation.
    Reflect – using at least one specific example from the readings, your experience, or general knowledge – on your views of how such skills can contribute – or not – to developing practical strategies to promote sustainability.

    Throughout our second week in the Sustainability practicum, we have narrowed our discussion of sustainability from general concepts to specific skills, which include systems mapping, scenario planning, creative ideation. These skills, with attention and refinement, can play a part in constructing strategies to advance sustainability efforts.
    Mapping is a central component of promoting sustainability, as it both outlines the relationships and identifies vulnerabilities in a system. Collections of stocks and flows, system maps are key to understanding the interconnectedness of components. They not only demonstrate the existence of these relationships, but also reflect their nature, and are thus clear indicators of feedback and causal loops. Additionally, systems diagrams can be used to pinpoint vulnerabilities in a system, which allows planners to analyze the pieces of the system that are either the most susceptible to problems or will have the most detrimental effect if not functioning properly. With this knowledge, those planning more sustainable systems are less prone to surprises and have an idea of the larger scale effects of their actions toward individual components of the system. System maps are effective tools when promoting sustainability, as their strong visual component is accessible to a wide range of people, and the physical sight of interconnected flows powerfully communicates the relationships that allow a system to function. Liu et. Al’s article, “Complexity of Coupled Human and Natural Systems,” demonstrates the importance of systems thinking when integrating the human and natural worlds. Liu et al identify numerous examples of coupled human and natural systems, including one comprised of the humans, pandas and forests of Wolong China. The example outlines a Chinese community in which villagers are using Wolong forests for fuelwood. In doing so, they are depleting the main food source and habitat of the panda. A systems thinking approach to the issue recognizes that panda endangerment is directly linked to human behaviors, and that these relationships exhibit thresholds and spatial nonlinearity. Although policy makers in Wolong China tackled the situation as a system, they perhaps did not take the time to physically map it out. Their establishment of a reserve to protect panda habitat backfired when households split to better capture subsidies, and the demand for bamboo increased. Although systems mapping does not entirely rule out the possibility for surprise, it does provide some insight into the consequences of altering one component of the system. Perhaps an integration of systems mapping and scenario planning would have better prepared the government to protect the Wolong pandas.
    Scenario planning is a second important component in advancing sustainability efforts. Using the two-axis model that we worked with, one can begin to form an all-encompassing, thorough idea of the future in terms of two key uncertainties. Scenario planning assumes a more realistic mindset about the future that acknowledges its unpredictability. Instead of attempting to predict one future path, scenario planning embraces the unknown and look towards the possibilities of the future. Scenario planning opens several doors, and both mitigates the possibility of unwelcome surprises, but also gives people a greater sense of control over their future and spurring them into calculated action. Chapter one of Solving Tough Problems, by Adam Kahane, reveals this latter sense of future agency through a glimpse into the Mont Fleur conference in post-Apartheid South Africa. The members of the conference talked and listened to one another, and used important uncertainties to illustrate South Africa’s possible futures in light of governmental transition. The conference then presented these possible futures, giving the various groups a holistic idea of the nation’s potential paths, as well as a sense of empowerment to actively follow the most favorable path. Mont Fleur’s use of scenario planning allowed South Africa to be proactive instead of reactive, and the country’s governmental transition was smoother and less violent than anyone could have imagined.
    Finally, a third tool, creative ideation, can be used effectively to promote sustainability. Creative ideation takes a three step design-thinking approach to problems: inspiration, ideation, implementation. The inspiration phase is characterized by empathy, making connections, engaging with the system, and mapping its vulnerabilities. The following ideation phase is dominated by idea generation, building prototypes, and sharing and receiving feedback. Finally, the implementation phase is the creation and delivery of a product, and can have many rounds. Creative ideation is a methodological approach to today’s problems, and applies creative thinking to a wide range of systems, which can be immensely useful when working toward a more sustainable future.
    Systems mapping, scenario planning and creative ideation are all important tools in the sustainability toolbox; however, they do not exist in isolation. An integration of these tools both allows for a more realistic, all-encompassing, empathetic approach to todays environmental problems, and puts us in a position to start tackling these problems.

  12. Joshua Yuen-Schat says:

    This past 2 weeks we focused on three very unique tools that works on brainstorming and organizing our ideas that could be implemented in real life situations. At first, I was a bit overwhelmed with the challenge of having to address and solve a real issue that Middlebury College may encounter in 20 years. But as the week passed by, I feel more and more confident that these tools will provide me with the ability to analyze and implement a feasible plan to solving a wicked problem. I thought that these three different techniques have its own unique signatures, I plan on borrowing and taking what seems effective in each tool to create a hybrid version. These tools complemented each other very well, it’s also helpful to see various approaches and perspectives when faced with a problem.

    The systems mapping is a collection of interacting parts that make up a system. It allows for a holistic mindset where you have the ability to identify leverage points such as weaknesses and opportunities for change. It forces you to think about the processes it takes to obtain a certain object. To take in account of the things that we don’t see as consumers and to go up the commodity chain till you reach the top. I thought that this was relatable to the reading about “Shadow Places,” because we as consumers have been so disconnected to our environment and uneducated about the source of our materials. We no longer slaughter animals for meat or farm our own produce. We no longer need to get our hands dirty, we’ve become so sheltered from the reality of our behaviors and actions. Our wants and needs come at the cost of living organisms and plants. It’s something that we all have to live with, but to be ignorant of this fact is unacceptable. We need to take ownership and responsibility for our actions, also understand that our actions are directly affecting our environment one way or another. No action comes without a consequence.

    The scenario planning tool is another great tool which accounts for the consequences for various actions. It reveals that we have more than 1 choice, and each choice have a different outcome. The first step is to focus on a specific question, then identify the driving forces (social, technological, economic, environmental and political) that contribute to the question. Next, we label each driving force as a certainty or an uncertainty, then we pick the top 2 uncertainties to be placed on the axis of a chart. Lastly, you end up with four scenarios each combine with different uncertainties to make it uniquely its own. This a great way to open up to new ideas and look through different lens. We have been trained and condition to think binary, meaning we only consider two possibilities which are polar opposites. It’s either right or wrong, therefore we don’t consider all the other possibilities and factors that could affect the outcome. It definitely has been challenging to place myself into the different scenarios without having my own biases dictating my views. More importantly, I learned that this tool forces you to imagine things you wouldn’t think of that may in the future play a vital role.

    The Human Centered Design (HCD) is a highly comprehensive plan that you can design to develop solutions, with humans as the center piece of every single step of the way. On a macro level, it’s broken down into 3 main steps: 1. Inspiration, 2. Ideation and 3. Implementation. There is a logic and order to everything you do, but most importantly it takes into account social justice, equity, economic and social benefits, etc. What spoke to me the most is the diverge and converge mindset, where there’s a constant cycle of information. This cycle generates new ideas and is constantly adapting to the current information available. I think that this is one of the most crucial skills to have, the ability to adapt to different surroundings because we currently live in a world where our environment and society are constantly changing. In order to maintain stability and resilience, we have to constantly look ahead and plan for the unknown.

  13. Elizabeth Roginkin says:

    While the concept of sustainability can be broadly interpreted, a common thread connecting most understandings of sustainability is its human-centered approach to ensuring growth toward a future in which society lives within its means, emphasizes adaptability and accounts for the needs of both human and non-human life. However, in order to achieve and move toward a more sustainable future, it is important to stress strategic individual and group action. Many of the strategies we discussed in class – including systems mapping, scenario planning, and creative ideation (especially when applied together) are all very much applicable to nurturing the skill sets necessary to approach the goal of enacting meaningful environmental change.

    As many environmental issues are multifaceted, differ in scope and severity, and are weaved through various societal frameworks, there is rarely ever a single “cookie-cutter” approach to promoting sustainability. Rather, a holistic approach which takes into account the fact that Earth is a large coupled human and natural system with smaller coupled systems within it (and therefore requires flexibility in problem-solving) is more likely to lead to positive change (Lui 2005). Although such a comprehensive approach may seem daunting, scenario planning – as the “methodical thinking of the unthinkable”, can help avoid potentially paralyzing “brain-lock,” by breaking down the planning process into more manageable pieces (Gourreau 2001). As we learned in class through several scenario planning exercises, it is easier to visualize possible future and their individual implications after first listing driving forces and prioritizing uncertainties. Similarly, the process of systems-mapping allows for a more complete understanding of complex entities and problems as deconstructing larger systems into their components (stocks and flows) can demonstrate visually how various parts are connected while also describing the magnitude and strengths of the connections; systems-mapping is additionally helpful in terms of identifying weaknesses, or points of leverage in the system.

    Both systems mapping and scenario planning are skills that can be encompassed within the greater bounds of creative ideation and human centered design which aim to find a favorable point between feasibility, desirability, and human applicability for problem solving. Through the Inspiration Phase (which involves team-building, communication, analogous system research, and systems mapping) and the Ideation Phase, (which involves generating and sharing ideas, prototype construction, and scenario planning) possible solutions to sustainability issues may be discovered and enacted through the final phase of implementation. The hallmark of creative ideation however is an emphasis on the fact that no proposed idea is too crazy. In fact, it encourages casting away self-imposed limitations on creativity, and generally straying away from the conventional (Kelley and Kelley 2013).

    When considered together, the aforementioned strategies and skills can truly be useful in addressing complicated problems. One example of what essentially was problem solving through creative ideation is the manner in which New York City handled the ever expanding issue of deer overpopulation in the borough of Staten Island. With no natural predators, the population of deer had been allowed to continue growing unchecked leading to overgrazing (which threatened native species) and an increase in deer-car collisions as the deer began to spread out from forested areas into green spaces in more developed neighborhoods. Since hunting is not allowed in NYC, and animal rights activists opposed other lethal measures, one “crazy” idea proposed to deal with the situation was a trap, vasectomy, and release program for the deer. Although the thought of performing vasectomies on hundreds of deer seemed initially laughable, experts realized that such a program would ultimately prove less costly than other proposed measures, and would drastically reduce the herd size in coming years. Current estimates seem to show that the program is working as new aerial counts show less deer on the island, and deer collisions have decreased by around 30% since the start of the program. If the “big idea,” of the vasectomy program had been immediately discounted as implausible, the deer problem would likely be much worse than it is today. As this case shows, by exploring solutions outside the realm of conventional thinking, meaningful sustainable change is possible!

    External References:

    Sanders, Anna. “City Spent $2,778 per Deer Vasectomy on Staten Island so Far.”, 17 Mar. 2017. Web.

    Sanders, Anna. “Sterilize Staten Island’s Male Deer: City Unveils Plan to Cut the Herd.”, 12 May 2016. Web.

    Sanders, Anna. “Deer Herd Increased 9,000% in 9 Years on Staten Island.”, 21 Apr. 2017. Web.

  14. Dakotah Kimbrough says:

    The past week has greatly expanded my knowledge of the mindsets and skills needed to solve complex problems. Through talking openly and listening actively, I’ve learned how to work together with others in ways that empower both the individual and the group. Techniques such as systems mapping, future wheels, and scenario planning offer a holistic approach towards viewing the interdependent elements within a system, and help to broaden our understanding of what could happen in the future. Additionally, the non-dual mode of thinking and cyclical nature of development inherent within Human-Centered-Design force us to consider the true impacts of our decisions and include the knowledge of the communities we are learning from. Such a paradigm is essential in progressing from the trap of dualistic and linear thinking so oft encountered in Western thought and design. However, while this HCD framework is certainly an improvement in our understanding of complex human and societal systems, I am not sure that it is successful in incorporating environmental concerns if we are focused on the question of sustainability.
    This approach to design appears similar to the process used in the creation of Anathoth Community Garden, the place I have chosen to study in Understanding Place. I was only a child when the seed Anathoth was planted, but I am intimate with its origins. In 2004, after a murder strained racial tensions in my rural community, a prayer vigil was held at the site. Scenobia Taylor, an elder black woman, claimed that she received a vision to donate 5 acres of land so that the community may heal. It was given to a nearby church of mostly-white parishioners, and this was where the work started. At the time in North Carolina, the state was buying out tobacco farmers in a process that left smaller, and mostly black, farms on the edge of existence. The Cedar Grove United Methodist Church and its pastor, Rev. Grace Hackney, saw this injustice being carried out and sought to affect change at the local level. Paradoxically, even though the land use around was mostly agricultural, poorer families had trouble finding affordable and good food. Through her “Food, Faith, and Farming” series, Rev. Hackney hosted discussions and roundtables at CGUMC about what should be done to alleviate food injustice in the community and the gifted plot of land. Contesting opinions abounded, with some of the white churchgoers even wanting to refuse the land from a black woman and others thinking they should just plant crops for church profit. However, those who had experienced the tough realities of hunger and injustice advanced the idea for a community garden, where they would have access to fresh, local, and affordable food. Rev. Hackney furthered its mission in being a place where we can come to know God’s creation through the hard work and loving our neighbors and the land. The garden is still growing thirteen years later, and I am honored to have been a part of that through my internships and volunteering with Anathoth.
    Such a vision could not have been realized without the opportunity for all voices to be heard and incorporated. Had traditional politics and relations played out, the different community parts could have entrenched themselves further in their own views. Gracefully, through starting small in a supportive and generative environment led by a caring and stimulating facilitator, this humble little patch of earth has grown into a bountiful garden of creation. Yet I can only think that in the face of a changing climate, this garden will only continue to flourish if we factor in the limitations and conditions that nature presents us with. Surely we are on the right path if we pursue organic methods and materials in our physical experience, but how can we pursue nature in mind and spirit as well?

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