Borne from collaboration between Mindworks, Greenpeace and the Presencing Institute, the Feel Think Act journey was originally designed as a new engagement tool for young activists to develop the skills needed to prepare for and adapt to the uncertain future brought by the climate emergency.
After prototyping this tool in Zurich and Madrid, we found how much participants were craving for spaces where they could take time to reflect on their often paralysing feelings of “eco-anxiety” and turn them into new opportunities for change.
Just as we were ready to roll this out in other countries, a new, more imminent crisis fell upon the world.
The COVID-19 crisis has exacerbated the emotional toll that many climate activists were already familiar with, but also increased the climate of fear, uncertainty, and despair for many others.
This new reality required us to rapidly shift from offline workshops to online zoom meetings, and re-think our Feel Think Act Journey.
We decided to put our platform to test for the present (COVID-19), and future (climate) crisis to come, and enable more campaigners and activists – beyond just young climate activists – to develop the resilience needed to transform emotional barriers into empathy for others and creative opportunities for collectively reimagining the future.
From physical isolation to collective resilience - the journey
From South Africa to Argentina, from India to Slovakia – just to name a few – the (virtual) journey starts with participants joining creative exercises to explore how the COVID-19 crisis is making them FEEL.
Participants start tapping into their subconscious emotions through drawing shapes and assigning colours to their current experiences during this pandemic.
By creating a safer space for sharing both collectively and within smaller groups, participants are gradually able to name and acknowledge their feelings whilst exercising and strengthening their sense of empathy for each other.
Once this inward-looking process is completed, activists are able to move towards the next step into the journey where they can THINK together about how the world around them has changed, what needs to be let go of, and what can be done to move forward.
Context-relevant emotive visuals, such as the one of a tired nurse imploring consumers to stop panic buying, are shared with participants to help them to make sense of their new reality.
“What would you need to give up from your existing life to solve this challenge? And what skills or habits in your life can help you with that?” are some of the questions that facilitators pose to initiate a new process of reflection.
At this turning point, participants will process the information they gathered about the world and themselves so they can start seeing, and even appreciating, how challenges can be turned into opportunities.
By accepting and adapting to the inevitable present and future changes, activists and campaigners can envisage the potential for re-imagining a new future together, thus moving from a sense of paralysis to a sense of agency.
This last step is crucial to feel empowered to ACT in the long-run and to navigate confidently through a new crisis. By sharing feelings, and building empathy for each other, participants are accompanied through a journey where they can explore together what as a society needs to be let go and what kind of future can be re-built out of the wounds left by the current crisis.
Thinking about outcomes as processes and journeys
There aren’t necessarily final outcomes of the Feel Think Act journey, as the possibilities these workshops initiate are endless. Activists might well come out of workshops with new ideas for new campaigns or creative tactics, but as the popular saying goes, what matters most is not the destination, but the journey itself.
By building emotional awareness, self-care and empathy, participants are able to envisage new possibilities for transforming challenges and re-imagine a new world built upon a stronger sense of community and resilience.
For instance, Greenpeace Canada’s volunteers and youth went through a Feel Think Act workshop together and envisioned a new post-COVID-19 world rooted in a new Just and Green Recovery program. This process involved much more creativity and imagination than the problem-based mentality that petition-style campaigning normally encompasses. Dialogues, discussions and different points of view are integral to building a better collective future.
Greenpeace India found the Feel Think Act process valuable for providing individuals in smaller cities with new opportunities to connect and strengthen resilience together. They started off with 25 people in the sessions, but were able to create networks with over 100 young changemakers in cities where Greenpeace India has not previously reached out to encourage them to engage and take action in diverse ways. Some of these actions included strengthening the farmer consumer connect, or taking on activities in lockdown like home composting and inspiring others in their neighbourhood. Starting with this, Greenpeace India was able to initiate youth groups in Kashmir, that started directly working with the Municipality to ensure policy changes, instead of only sending petitions.
Our experiment has taught us an important lesson.
If we, as campaigners and organisations, want to build people-powered campaigns and unlock activists, campaigners or supporters potential to shape up our societies in new creative ways, it is essential that we redefine the way we engage with our audiences in the first place.
Making space for deeper conversations is not only key to engaging with our audiences, but it can also help our audiences understand their feelings and emotions around many issues and uncover barriers to action that they are facing. By rethinking audience understanding as emotional understanding, we will be able to create additional and meaningful engagement experiences, which go beyond the traditional petition or donation asks. It will help campaigners and mobilisers to transition from being broadcasters to audience empathetic campaigners.
Incorporating a new human dimension into the way we campaign and communicate on the challenges we work on, be it climate change or global health emergencies, has become more important than ever. If there is something to be learnt from this pandemic experience, it is that we can’t go back to campaigning as usual.
Embracing and addressing the emotional impacts that our world is having on individuals and ourselves is the uncomfortable step we all need to take to make sure we all are equipped with the resilience needed in the face of our present and upcoming challenges.
Ensuring spaces for activists, supporters, colleagues or volunteers to build emotional awareness, self-care and empathy, will allow them to take better care of themselves, our society, and therefore engage more effectively in our campaigns.
We can choose to either resist those changes and suppress our emotions, or embrace this new reality as our new testing ground and allow activists and campaigners around the world to emerge from it more resilient and empowered than ever.
We are currently working on open sourcing the Field Manual and various Blueprints of the Feel Think Act Journey, while collaborating with Force of Nature to build a Train the Trainer program too. If you’d like to use the Feel Think Act Journey to engage with your target audiences be them the youth, supporters or the general public, email Tamas Hovanyecz: firstname.lastname@example.org, Project Lead.
Mindworks is a Cognitive Science Lab supported by Greenpeace East Asia, using insights from psychology, cognitive- and social sciences to help our campaigners, organisations and individuals build skills for effective climate change communication and action. We design audience empathetic campaigns, create tools, and host learning experiences internally for Greenpeace and externally for civil society organisations and leaders.
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