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The CLab Team harvesting the lessons of the Learning Journey

Lessons from Designing a Seasonal Learning Journey

Unearthing the core elements of our journey

As we reflect on the last year of work – and the beautiful CLab Learning Journey that came to a close as the summer began we’ve spent some time consolidating some of the key insights and the process we created.

At the CitizensLab, how we are together is just as important as what we do together. The hosting team has put lots of care and attention into these things that we felt have value for others designing and hosting spaces with complimentary intentions. It’s important in this time as we see more and more demand for spaces for people to gather and increasing numbers of people playing the role of hosts and facilitators, so we’re offering an insight into the behind the scenes, a forensic view, of the elements we worked with, to design up the learning journey 2021-2022.

MiroBoard with the collective harvesting of each season
MiroBoard with the collective harvesting of each season

4 seasons of beautiful connection sensitively delivered by a beautiful hosting team. The different offers that were invited in were powerful and a catalyst to drop learning and meaningful internal and external connection and conversation. I was left after all the sessions with a sense of new discovery and revelations. There was no sense of dogma or power play from the hosting team with a sense of being equally present in this space with us all accepting the things that unfolded on the journey. Deeply touching and powerful.

Learning Journey participant

A compelling invitation, in the context of a fast changing world

We are living in a crucial time, a time of awakening, of searching for collective liberation, of a sense of belonging and justice. We are also well aware that we are living in a time of collapse, where systems of oppression are dismantling our ecosystems and webs of life. We at CitizensLab feel the need and responsibility to navigate these challenging times through a collective quest, exploration, learning, and unlearning with others. Making a shift from spaces we’d created before about doing and collaborating, but instead designing a space where we can first cultivate ourselves, our own personal transformation so we can co-create and contribute to a commons of democracy that lead to radical changes of governance.

It was important that we created an invitation that spoke to people – and their full selves. Personal and professional identities intermingled, not seperate. Knowing that having people who are grounded in their own sense of awareness is a critical skill to cultivate while navigating a fast changing world

The journey has supported my very personal interest in how to live with integrity in our capitalist ruins and how to incorporate this longing for radical change in my research.”

Learning Journey participant

A focus on inner work as a route to outer change

Change starts with us.

An understanding of the need for inner personal change and transformation as a vital route and precondition to supporting outer change in the world is the base principle that underwrote this journey and the Clab’s approach.

This was a conscious shift from previous phases of work – where the focus was more on the outer systems change dimension.This shift came about as a response to the ‘doing’ culture that can often dominate in citizen-led work, recognizing that we also need to cultivate our ‘being’ capacities and tending to our inner realms. So we created an offering that put more emphasis on exploring the ‘being’ side of change through working with unlearning our cultural frames and embracing new worldviews.

To support this base premise we designed a carefully framed set of topics, one for each season – drawing on the work of the CLab in previous phases, matched with our intuition and sensing of what was in the field. These were the four topics that we believe are core to cultivating these capacities: embracing a living system perspective; creating healthy, collective power relations; decolonising ourselves; cultivating commons of democracy. Throughout the journey it became clear that the language we chose for the fourth season didn’t match anymore what we were experiencing. What emerged instead was a reframe of topic into cultivating cultures of care and kinship.

A seasonal rhythm

© Annie Spratt via Unsplash
Early autumn invites us to harvest the fruits of the summer
© Annie Spratt via Unsplash

We didn’t want this to be a one off session, but a longer term commitment for people.

We worked with the natural seasonal rhythm of the northern hemisphere for the Learning Journey, which provided a strong and familiar framing and attunement to Earth, and offered a connection to the more than human world and the rhythm of life. The seasonal rhythm also served as an invitation to challenge our perceptual summer culture and allow us to enter our internal winters with time for rest and reflection. Designing little rituals and subtle design touches in the sessions served as a reminder and echo of each season.

The topics are positioned according to the energy of each season – living systems in summer when life is abundant, power dynamics in autumn when we harvest the fruits of the summer and give to the earth what needs to be composted, going into the depths of the unknown and darkness of winter to explore how we decolonise ourselves and finally coming back into live in spring through an exploration of care and kinship.
It provided a familiar scaffolding that supported us in aligning energies, slowing down, in releasing old patterns. It is opening our capacity to embrace and accept a broader concept of time, to get closer and nourish our deeper essence.

Learning Journey 2021-2022
Learning Journey 2021-2022

I loved that we travelled together in accordance to the seasons. To create this collective reflection on the natural rhythms we go through was a meaningful experience

Learning Journey participant

The power of ritual

We used the power of ritual to transition between the seasons and mark our intentions. Ritual has been used by humans for thousands of years as a way to create meaning out of things that happen in our lives and in the world around us.

A composting ritual

In the autumn season where we explored power dynamics, we did a composting ritual. Each of us took a biodegradable object and whispered to it all the things we were ready to offer to earth to be composted and transformed. Old ways of thinking, and of acting, unhelpful patterns or unhealthy mindsets, and the bold ones also our beliefs and convictions. The ritual is about opening ourselves up for transformation and letting go of anything that prevents us from coming into our authentic expression of our power. We then went out, slouched down towards the earth and buried the object, offering it to the earth so that it/ we may be composted and transformed in ways we might not know yet.

How can we let ourselves be composted by the earth?
©Juliette Watson via Unsplash

A cadence of each season

Tired of one off sessions, knowing participants had full and busy lives we opted for each season to have four sessions within a two week period, giving enough time in between for reflection but not too much we would forget everything from the last session. Each session followed the same cadence of sessions, each 2 hours a piece.

Landing & Deepening: expert speakers and practitioners offering input which we digest together in small and big groups.
Integrating: exploring how we can integrate the learnings into our lives through embodied practices, art, music, ritual.
Practising: inviting practitioners and exchanging around how we can practice what we learned together with a Community of Practice.

Sensemaking after each season - looking for the meta patterns

Soon into the first season, we found ourselves adding an additional session – initially just for the hosting team, but in the end for anyone from the cohort that wanted to join. A few weeks after each season intensive, we would reflect on the sessions as a whole. Look afresh at the notes, be curious about the patterns we saw.

To do this, each time we asked ourselves the following questions:

What are the patterns we see?
What is surprising?
What are we not seeing?
What lies beneath this all?

Using different senses to support us to make sense and spot some of the patterns for power dynamics, we were talking a lot about embodied responses, so we experimented with expressing what we saw through movement – without words. An emotive way to represent and express our collective experience.

These sessions helped us to write the seasonal blogs (winter, spring, summer..) and some of the memorable phrases from each season were really distilled in these sessions “seeking intimacy with life” and wanting to “cultivate a culture of care and kinship”.

I really appreciate the collective harvesting and would suggest making this a more official part of the journey because it was so rich each time.

Learning Journey Participant

Tapestry of Wisdom Holders

Wisdom was also transmitted from the more than human world
© Robert Larsson via Unsplash

We knew this journey wasn’t about teaching in a broadcast sense, but offering a smorgasbord of provocation and ideas to get curious about, offers of framings as a launch pad for the group to explore and dive into. Knowing also that wisdom wasn’t always about bringing others into the space, but working with the wisdom of the collective as a key source.

We designed the sessions through conversion with each wisdom holder – and allowing the content to emerge based on previous sessions and wisdom holder’s interests. Encouraging each wisdom holder to move away from neat narratives and perfectly formatted slides and materials and inviting them to be speaking, singing, performing – more from the experience of their own journeys and narratives.

We invited a wide range of wisdom holders from various (cultural) backgrounds including indigenous leaders, BIPOC trainers, therapists, academics, musicians, artists and many more. Through them we were also reminded of the wisdom that the more than human world holds for us.

Design for multiple senses and a plurality of ways of knowing

What does a more embodied way of learning feel like?
© Rishabh Dharmani via Unsplash

This journey started 18 months into the Covid-19 pandemic, where we were starting to feel the zoom fatigue and seemingly unending online format. So we were looking to experiment with the quality and format of the online session. This made us really pay attention to the format and intentionally use methods that support our multiple senses to be present and unlocked, through conversation, music, poems, drawing, writing, somatic practices, meditation and journaling.
Extending to the preparation of people for the sessions – inviting warmth, support, candles in people’s physical locations in winter or preparing a bowl with water for a blessing ritual in the summer.

I loved the holistic approach: body, soul, mind, feelings.

Learning Journey Participant

Going deep in community

There was such a simplicity of being in conversations with each other. We learnt that with the right container you can go deep fast, even among relative strangers who have only just met each other – brought together by an invitation that spoke to them personally.
We found ourselves using triads often, the power of 3 working its magic. Practising the art of being in circle, in community and part of a collective of kin. Connecting our stories as a new way of overcoming the old paradigm and worldviews. In the process, creating a supportive space to dive deeper into the questions emerging from shifting our perspectives and the tensions of embodying the transitions into a new paradigm and our ways of being in the world.

The CLab journey has been such a beautiful experience. It has been refreshing to be in a community with inspiring people. To laugh, grieve, cry, learn and unlearn together.

Learning Journey participant

Hosts enjoying the journey

We designed for ourselves, and flexed as we went. Remembering that when the space is hosted, held emergent in a way that allows for a more authentic and deep sharing. Each of us learning about different approaches and ideas, coming with live questions for how the topics were showing up in our lives as well. Not seeing ourselves as separate to the participants, but part of the community.

Learning informing strategy and action

This isn’t just a learning journey for the sake of it.The intention is that participating in this experience supports people to make choices and be intentional about where they put their time and attention as a consequence.

It was also a way for the Clab to develop and evolve who it is and what it does. The learnings from the journey is now informing our next steps as an organisation. It became clear to us that we would like to operate more on a local level to cultivate more intimacy with place.

The research question that emerged in the last season has now turned into our action research.

“ How can we nourish cultures of care and kinship to co-create regenerative ways of living?”

This is now the golden thread that weaves through all our current projects. We are bringing it into a workshop series with a local neighbourhood, to a training series and new community of practice of Berlin based facilitators and activists as well as to an Art of Hosting training we are organising.

We are also exploring how we can deepen the themes of this Learning Journey in a second cycle next year.