Photo by Alexis Papageorgiou
Photo by Alexis Papageorgiou

Learning for change: A transformation Lab in Berlin

Interview to Alice Priori_CitizensLab e.V.

Evolve_Magazine for consciousness and culture writes about CitizensLab

Evolve issue 41/2024: Life, death and transformation.

Our time is also a time of death. Wars and conflicts are destroying human life. Living beings and ecosystems are being lost or threatened. A way of life in which we have established ourselves is collapsing. Can we sense this dying? Are we that brave?

And do we find in it signs of transformation, the unthinkable rebirth?

CitizensLab (CLab) was launched in 2016 as a pilot project by the non-profit organization MitOst with the aim of bringing local activists together with European decision-makers. Since then, project manager Alice Priori and her team have been working to build a network of social innovators across Europe.
We spoke to her about the project, how it is evolving, and the challenges she faces.

Interview and text written by Mike Kauschke_Evolve Magazine

evolve: What principles is your work based on?

Alice Priori: We have identified three key points forming the basis of our experiential workshops and transformative processes. Firstly, we see people as an integrated part of a living system. We want to go beyond mechanistic thinking of separation and create a space in which participants can reflect on how this way of thinking manifests itself in their work, in their relationship to themselves, to others, and to the more-than-human world. What voice is missing? To what extent is the complexity of our interdependence taken seriously? How can we overcome our separation from nature?

Secondly, we talk about power dynamics. We bring in an understanding of power as a fluid dynamic, exploring our powerlessness and what empowers us, how we can activate our inner powers to build more collective strength. To this end, we create spaces for collaboration, collective sense-making, joint action, mutual learning, and building networks.

The third pillar is dealing with colonial thought structures. We need to address the consequences of capitalist and colonial thinking. We want to recognize the collective trauma that Western, Eurocentric society has failed to address and heal. We create a space in which the collective trauma caused by exploitative systems is visible, named, and acknowledged.

e: What kind of experiential spaces are you currently offering?

AP: This year (2023), we organized an “Art of Hosting” training in Berlin with more than 60 participants, focusing on the question: How can we shape a culture of care and kinship? This is the current focus of our collaborative research as a form of action research. We are organizing another transformative learning format for 2024 in Berlin, where we will delve more intensively into decolonial and power-dynamic questions, especially for people who offer meeting spaces and moderate groups.

Since last year, we have been initiating a community of practice of activists, facilitators, and artists in Berlin. We are doing this in collaboration with Ulex, a learning center in Spain. Through this collaboration, we are trying to build a stronger CLab collective in Berlin.

We have also launched a year-long online learning journey—a process in which we meet every three months, connecting with the seasons and the key points of change that I mentioned. We want to offer this format again, both as an in-person and online process, but we don’t yet have the resources for this.

e: What kind of people do you bring together at your events?

AP: We connect with people who are addressed by our invitations. We don’t offer training but a transformative experience and a space for learning. We usually invite people openly with an inspiring question, and anyone resonating with this question is welcome. In the Community of Practice in Berlin, some work with theater or film, some as artistic curators and event organizers, some are facilitators of regenerative practices, hosting, and creating meeting spaces, others are activists. For us, it is crucial that this work reaches a diverse range of people driving change. If we only offer these seminars to those who can afford 600 euros for three days, we are limiting our impact to specific areas of social innovation. Many individuals who belong to disadvantaged and marginalized communities lack access to these learning spaces. CLab strives to be as accessible as possible to everyone. This is also the reason why we cannot develop numerous offerings; they depend on the financial resources we can secure. Unfortunately, most available funds are associated with short timelines and limited formats that do not align with our approach and objectives.

e: When you design learning spaces, are there certain qualities that are particularly important to you?

AP: When designing our processes, we first give people the opportunity to arrive and really be present. At the beginning, there is a check-in, but also embodied practices such as breathing together or meditation. Sometimes we use storytelling and ask everyone to share their direct experience through a story. In this way, we create the space and time to bring in our whole selves. Then we use the practice of Art of Hosting to allow enough openness and uncertainty through questions and participatory practices. We want to trigger the feeling in the participants: Oh, we are losing control, the group is taking the lead. When this happens, creativity and new ideas can emerge. The best processes are the ones where the group thinks that they are doing everything themselves and don’t even feel that there is a container in which we bring a certain direction and intention. We also take time to be outside in nature. If we are in the city, we at least go for a walk along the Spree.

Another powerful process is to harvest together, to move and be part of the process and the learning experience. It is important for us to activate our diverse intelligences through art, body, music, and poetry.

e: How do the people who go through these processes change, and what new impulses do they bring to their work?

AP: Some people begin to question the entire situation at their workplace. Even in the so-called social sector, they realize how dysfunctional the systems are, how much denial and inconsistency there is. Some people introduce simple but transformative practices, such as conducting regular check-ins in their team meetings. Sometimes the changes are small and hard to track. People bring the new impulses not only to their teams and workplaces but also to their families and how they interact with their children. That’s why we talk about care and kinship, because we want to widen the circle of those we care for and take responsibility for, not just our immediate family, but also the people in the neighborhood, the trees, the birds, the whole earth.

Evolve Article_in German