Regen Melbourne: an evolving journey

From small community get togethers to bold system demonstrators

Who we are

The origins of Regen Melbourne were born in October 2020, as a small community got together to imagine a different future for the city using Doughnut Economics. From there, we’ve grown through three phases, this piece captures some of that story. 

Phase 1 (2020-2021): Community Building and Insights Gathering
"Towards a Regenerative Melbourne"

Phase 2 (2022): Experimenting and Learning
"Reimagining and Remaking Melbourne, Together"

Phase 3 (2023): Shifting systems
"Bold Projects for a Regenerative Melbourne”

Phase 1 (2020-2021): Community Building and Insights Gathering

"Towards a Regenerative Melbourne"

Regen Melbourne was born out of the dual crisis of the Black Summer fires and the COVID-19 pandemic. Much of what follows in Regen Melbourne evolution was and continues to be shaped by our experiences during 2019 - 2021. 

From late 2019 into early 2020 Melbourne was shaken by the devastating impacts of the Black Summer fires, having witnessed billions of animals perishing while having unprecedented levels of smoke pollution through our beloved city. The increasing effects of climate disasters making their way viscerally from the regions into urban environments followed by social fragmentation, isolation and sustained inequity of experience during the lockdowns set the scene for Regen Melbourne to emerge.

In the midst of one (of the many) prolonged COVID-19 lockdowns in 2020, a small group of individuals and organisations, hosted by Small Giants, came together in a series of conversations to ask what this period could mean for Melbourne.

How could these experiences act as an accelerator towards a more regenerative, safe and just future for our city?

Luckily for us, Kate Raworth joined one of these conversations to talk about Doughnut Economics and the growing international movement. The seed was planted and five organisations joined together to lead what became a 9-month community-led research process to localise the Melbourne Doughnut. These five organisations were Small Giants, LMCF, City of Melbourne, Coalition of Everyone and Circular Economy Victoria.

The decision was made to embark on a community research process consistent with the community portrait to explore what a regenerative Melbourne could look like. Centering lived experience, and hosting conversations about what our collective vision for Melbourne could be was important for two reasons; firstly it allowed us to reflect on the model itself and how it would need to be adapted to Melbourne’s context should we proceed with a full data portrait (which we are doing now in 2023) and secondly, in sustained lockdowns we were craving connection and hope. 

Through multiple forms of convening, including a five-week series of virtual workshops, we ended up creating an outlet for over 500 Melbournians to connect and express hope for the city beyond the long lockdowns.

The detailed version of the methodology, process and insights from this community-led approach can all be found in Towards a Regenerative Melbourne report. 

Regen Melbourne was founded in October 2020 with five organisations. When the report was released on April 28th 2021, the alliance had grown organically to 50 organisations with hundreds more individuals signing up to support the movement. 

From here - recognising we had created permission to imagine something different for the future of our city, the next phase of our work began.

Phase 2 (2022): Experiments and Learning

"Reimagining and Remaking Melbourne, Together"

Following the positive (and slightly overwhelming) energy that came after releasing the Towards a Regenerative Melbourne report we paused public-facing activations and community engagement to focus on building a sustainable scaffolding to hold the energy and potential that was being directed our way.

Over the months following the report release, a group of twelve philanthropic funders came on board to fund a two-year pilot. These funding organisations were eager to back a new possible future and respond to the crises facing Melbourne in a different, more innovative way.

This pilot funding brought together a small team of part-time paid staff who got straight to work on the question of how we could tangibly add value to an alliance of partners already engaged in impactful work across Greater Melbourne. The big question was, while the goal is to move Melbourne into the safe and just space of the Melbourne Doughnut - HOW do we practically do this? or at the very least, meaningfully contribute to it? 

We began 2022 with a re-launch and set out to re-engage the alliance and learn more about how to organise a growing network of organisations in service to the city. We wrote a collective “story so far”, which talks about the context up until that point, and reflects our framing of Regen Melbourne as a community platform. We also presented our approach to the community portrait and experiences on a DEAL webinar with Leeds.  The call to action was “what happens next, is up to us” as we embarked on a period of community engagement and alliance building.

At this stage we were primarily organising our engagements around our strategic pillars of: research, projects, storytelling, underpinned by community. The types of activities included: 

  • Storytelling events
  • A 6 month series of grassroots project incubators for anyone was working on a tangible idea and who needed support 
  • Experimented with pilots of distributed chapter models within the Regen community across geographic and thematic areas 
  • An immersive imagination festival set in the future of Melbourne 
  • A workshop series covering regeneration in the built environment, business and capital, the care economy, intergenerational ways of knowing and democratic innovations 
  • Convened and created a RM Research Lab as a partnerships between five universities 
  • Convened a group of actors around a pilot project - making the Birrarung | Yarra swimmable again, as a demonstration of a pathway to a regenerative Melbourne

This was a lot of activity! And by the middle of the year (winter in Melbourne, always a good time for reflection) we began to realise a few things.

Firstly, on the positive side we were building strong relationships across the disparate activities and galvanising lots of energy around the goal of the Melbourne Doughnut. The intuitive vision represented in the Melbourne Doughnut was easy to activate around, and everyone could see their role in progressing to the safe and just space. This felt like vital work to be setting the conditions for trusted collaborations and activity.

On the flip side, we were realising it’s difficult to build community without meaningful activity. While we had a growing alliance of organisations committed to the cause, channelling their energy and expertise in impactful and additive ways was difficult to do in the containers we had set up for the activities.

We also realised at this stage, there is already so much established, rich grassroots community organising in Melbourne. We didn’t have a role to play at this level, instead our greatest value as an entity was increasingly becoming as a systems convenor. Bringing together organisations (who have networks and communities of their own) across silos and sectors and reorganising their resources, relationships and purpose in service to wildly ambitious goals for Melbourne.

And so with a growing understanding of who our primary community was we focused in on our role as a systems convenor, recognising that Melbourne can be a very collaborative city, but usually within the usual actors within the same sector. What we need instead is system change through collaboration across sectors with more ambitious collective action. Single solutions from solo actors are not going to solve the challenges we are facing.

We then began to integrate the strategy away from isolated outcomes in research, projects, storytelling and community into a portfolio approach, where the alliance's expertise, skills, resources are channelled into demonstrator projects for the city. We started relying more on mission-led-economics and collective impact as a way to organise and engage with our alliance. Retaining the Melbourne Doughnut as the ultimate goal, and complementing this with pathways to get there using different frameworks and models.

There’s a lot sitting behind this gradual transition of RM from a community-led research project into a systems convenor. You can read about how this evolved, and what theories and frameworks we draw on to complement the doughnut in our Tools and Frameworks essay. 

By the end of 2022 Regen Melbourne was an alliance of 140 organisations. We were clearly seeing the role for Regen Melbourne to be a backbone function for a number of wildly ambitious projects. Specifically through our initial pilot project - making the main river through Melbourne swimmable again - which matured from pilot phase into an action phase with the expansion of the anchor working group of 5 organisations into a design forum with all the major stakeholders across the river represented.

Phase 3 (2023): shifting systems 

"Bold Projects for a Regenerative Melbourne”

This brings us to 2023, where Regen Melbourne is now a platform for collaboration in service to a thriving Melbourne. This means wildly ambitious goals, powered by a continually growing alliance of organisations and by research powered by the RM Lab. Regen Melbourne is the engine behind the collaborations which make the projects possible and impactful. All these projects act as pathways towards the safe and just space, as set out in the Melbourne Doughnut.

Currently we have five wildly ambitious projects:

Swimmable Birrarung - regenerating our waterways as the life force of our city

Participatory Melbourne - building trust and agency for collective decision making in times of uncertainty

Regen Streets - transforming neighbourhoods into thriving communities

Ending Food Waste - creating a circular and regenerative food system for Melbourne

Measuring What Matters - what we need to know for the future we want (this is where the next round of the City Portrait sits)  

Each of these projects are at different stages of exploration to action, each have a different set of collaboration partners from across the alliance and each are embarking on different dimensions of the social foundations and planetary boundaries of the Melbourne Doughnut as pathways towards the safe and just space.

Regen Melbourne began as a small group of organisations and individuals who were all seeking alternative ways to think about, and act upon, Melbourne’s future and were united by Doughnut Economics. We’re now a registered not-for-profit organisation with a team of eight staff, an alliance of 180 organisations all with wild ambitions for a thriving future. 

Visit our DEAL platform page here.





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