Stories are written in hindsight; linear narratives that have a beginning, middle and end. And so it is with the story of Regen Melbourne. Of course, the reality has been much much messier than the story written below; don’t expect such neatness when you bump into RM out in the world!
Regen Melbourne (RM) has developed in distinct phases since our establishment at the end of 2020. Initially founded in response to the black summer fires of 2019/2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic, RM began as a community conversation about the future of our city. Since this time we have engaged with a range of tools and frameworks to guide our work, which we have applied in different ways - from our initial community research through to the activation of wildly ambitious projects as demonstrators of a regenerative city.
This essay outlines the tools and frameworks that we’ve engaged with as we have evolved and matured. These include Doughnut Economics, Mission-Led Economics, Collective Impact and the Three Horizons framework.
Each framework has contributed in unique ways to the development of RM. In particular, Doughnut Economics has deeply informed our vision and purpose (our WHY), Mission-Led Economics has allowed us to identify tangible projects and pathways (our WHAT), Collective Impact has inspired our way of working (our HOW) and the Three Horizons framework gives us our rudder; supporting us to maintain our course and stay true to our vision and purpose.
In this piece we outline how we’ve engaged with each framework as separate sets of ideas, before placing each of these pieces together to demonstrate a nested and integrated (draft) model for how RM operates.
Of course, all of what we do with RM is a living experiment. We would love feedback and reflections on our work here and look forward to further developing these ideas with our alliance of partners and friends.
In the midst of the prolonged COVID-19 lockdowns in 2020, a small group of individuals and organisations came together to ask what this period could mean for Melbourne. Acknowledging the significant hardship endured during lockdowns and the profoundly unequal way this was distributed and felt in the community, participants asked: how could this experience act as an accelerator towards a more regenerative, safe and just future for our city?
In order to guide this conversation, and to activate a broader community, we decided to embrace Doughnut Economics and the City Portrait methodologies for localising this framework, which were emerging from other cities around the world. Doughnut Economics is an economic paradigm for the 21st century that reorients us away from a growth-at-all-costs mindset and towards a focus on a strong social foundation (the middle of the doughnut) that respects our global ecological boundaries (the outside of the doughnut). Inside the doughnut itself is the safe and just space for humanity.
At that stage, a small handful of cities, led by Amsterdam, had begun a process of “downscaling” the doughnut model and adapting it to the uniqueness of each place. This downscaling process can involve what has become known as a “community portrait” where participatory workshops and lived experience reflections create a picture of the hopes and aspirations of people in a place. It can also involve a “data portrait” in which targets and indicators are determined for each social and ecological element in the doughnut, creating a snapshot of how a place is progressing towards the safe and just space.
RM decided to initially embark on a community research process consistent with the community portrait to support our exploration of what a regenerative Melbourne could look like. Centering lived experience at the outset also 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.
As we reflected on in our foundational report, Towards a Regenerative Melbourne:
“The purpose of the work presented here is threefold. Firstly, it is to explore the appropriateness and adaptability of the Doughnut Economics model to Melbourne’s unique context. Secondly, it is to develop preliminary community insights around a regenerative future for Melbourne. And thirdly, it is to explore the value of a unique network-based collaborative methodology to surface key findings and recommendations for our road ahead. To achieve the above we have combined the Doughnut Economics City Portrait methodology and a unique community engagement model. Over the past six months we have convened five interactive community forums, undertaken 15 leadership interviews, held six roundtables and conducted countless hours of data analysis. This has involved more than 500 citizens of Melbourne.”
A visual outline of the community research process can be seen below, and a full documentation of the methodology can be found on page 48 of our Towards a Regenerative Melbourne report. This experience generated countless insights on the everyday lived experience of more than 500 Melbournians. Through multiple forms of convening, including a five-week series of virtual workshops that provided many participants with an outlet for connection and expressing hope for the city beyond the long lockdowns, we established an initial Regen Melbourne alliance of individuals and organisations, many of whom continue to be involved in our work.
The Doughnut Economics framework was an incredibly powerful way to generate our vision and our purpose (see below). This collective process set our foundation as an alliance; building a strong sense of purpose and direction amongst a diverse set of actors.
As we concluded in Towards a Regenerative Melbourne:
“The Doughnut Economics methodology, when downscaled to Melbourne’s context, serves as a powerful new compass for our city. The Doughnut model is highly adaptable and creates the space for impactful community-led conversations about our future. The Doughnut model provided the right framework for the right time as Melbourne emerged from our COVID-19 lockdowns.”
Ultimately, this framework created a clear orientation for Regen Melbourne: a beautifully articulated vision alongside a clear purpose to move Melbourne into the safe and just space of the Melbourne Doughnut. Work is now underway in 2023 to weave together this community portrait with our emerging data portrait in the Measuring what Matters portfolio. Only then will we be able to fully and appropriately utilise the Melbourne Doughnut as our collective compass for progress.
The release of Towards a Regenerative Melbourne in April 2021 led to a rapid increase in interest around Regen Melbourne. After securing a small amount of funding from philanthropic organisations eager to back a new possible future, a small team got 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. After using Doughnut Economics to establish our purpose of moving Melbourne into the safe and just space of the Melbourne Doughnut, the question remained: how could we practically do this ? or at the least, meaningfully contribute to it?
Through rapid experimentation at the start of 2022, it became clear that our greatest value as an entity would be in convening unique alliances around wildly ambitious projects; tangible pathways towards the safe and just space of the Melbourne Doughnut.
This realisation brought Mariana Mazzucato’s Mission Economy into view. This framework draws on the example of the moonshot programs in the US in the 1960s to argue that the role of government should be to similarly refocus on the bold, ambitious and inspiring goals of our time. Through incentives, strategic convening and the mobilisation of various forms of capital, this approach can unleash new energy and release the innovative potential of a diverse set of actors to collectively achieve these tangible goals.
As Alex Hannant and Ingrid Burkett at the Yunus Centre write, “mission-led approaches provide us with an architecture to conceptualise and orchestrate movements for intentional, systemic and structural change.” In the Australian context, this framework is often referred to as Challenge-Led Innovation; and the many strands are captured well here by Sam Rye.
For Regen Melbourne, this model was appealing as it provided a way of conceptualising tangible approaches to the safe and just space of the Melbourne Doughnut. If Doughnut Economics provided our vision and purpose, perhaps Challenge-led Innovation could provide our practical pathways?
We set about testing this model on our first wildly ambitious collective project: making the Birrarung River swimmable again by 2030. Through our pilot, we created a new alliance of partners, co-developed a clear vision, convened workshops, initiated integrated research, delivered a project incubator, catalysed renewed government interest, convened a Design Forum, and unlocked new philanthropic capital. What was once deemed a crazy idea is gathering momentum.
We have now co-created a portfolio of wildly ambitious projects (or “earthshots”) for Melbourne. Each represent a distinct but interconnected pathway to the safe and just space of the Melbourne Doughnut.
Swimmable Birrarung is activating the regeneration of our waterways as the life-force of our city; Participatory Melbourne focuses on building trust and agency for collective decision making in urgent times; Regen Streets aims to transform neighbourhoods into thriving and connected communities; Measuring What Matters is developing a ‘City Portrait’ for what we need to know now to shape the future we want; and End Food Waste explores the creation of a circular and regenerative food system. The development of other pathways is evolving as we are, currently it has been an organic process within the alliance.
Each pathway is using Challenge-led Innovation as a framework to conceptualise an ambitious and tangible goal, make the ecosystem of diverse actors visible to each other, create connection and incentivise systemic transformation.
In this framing, Regen Melbourne can be understood as a platform for ambitious collaboration in service of our city.
Doughnut Economics provided a framework to co-develop our vision and find our purpose. Challenge-led Innovation offered a way to co-develop and conceptualise tangible pathways of action. And yet, the question still remained, what was the unique contribution of Regen Melbourne itself? What role can and should we play to move our alliance towards and along tangible pathways? How can we begin to grapple with the complexity inherent in each of the pathways? How can we determine whether or not we are making collective progress?
To answer some of these questions and to test and affirm our role as systemic convenors, bringing the alliance together around ambitious pathways of work, we turned to Collective Impact. This deceptively simple collaboration framework, initially articulated by John Kania and Mark Kramer, outlines 5 critical elements in any collective impact endeavour:
In the US, the Collective Impact Forum has a significant range of resources that delve into the complexity and nuances of this model. In Australia, Collaboration for Impact has pioneered this way of working in a variety of contexts and places, and has developed an abundance of resources on systemic change and deep collaboration.
For RM, Collective Impact begins to articulate a way of working for our systems convenors in each of our ambitious projects. There is no blueprint for convening diverse actors around ambitious collective goals, but Collective Impact provides a model and a rich set of global case studies to draw from. Put simply, Collective Impact can directly inform the “how” of RM’s work.
Our development of a complete City Portrait demonstrates how we are testing our role as a backbone organisation, or a systems convenor. We have been gathering experts in sectors aligned with each segment of the social foundation of the Melbourne Doughnut to identify how to measure progress towards the safe and just space. None of these individuals - or their organisations - can shift our systems on their own. Together, though, these groups can generate meaningful change. Our convening role presents both the opportunity to articulate an agreed direction for systems change and to identify new and existing pathways towards it.
By developing a portfolio of pathways, each with a Lead Convenor, we can create a learning network where Collective Impact practice can be tested in real time, improved through reflection and live-testing and documented across different sectors and impact themes. Over time, our hope is that RM can contribute to the field of system convening and collective impact through our place-based learning.
The final framework that has been actively guiding our work is the Three Horizons Framework, developed by Bill Sharpe and adapted by many people around the world. Perhaps the clearest and most succinct articulation is by Kate Raworth in this short 7 minute video. Kate Raworth describes the model as a tool to understand systemic transformation:
“It doesn’t give you answers, but like the staves on which music is written, it allows you to have a far more nuanced conversation, bringing out new insights and allowing people to disagree for more interesting reasons.”
Put simply, the model outlines three horizons, or “three qualities of the future that are visible in the present”:
Alex Hannant and Ingrid Burkett from the Yunus Centre provide a great outline of this model here, including how it can integrate Challenge-led Innovation. This articulation and integration has been incredibly valuable for our work (thanks both if you’re reading!).
As noted in the introduction above, RM’s emergence was catalysed by the Black Summer fires and the COVID pandemic. These two “disruptions” shook the foundations of our city, and created the conditions for the emergence of RM as an innovation on Horizon 2. Although RM as a movement can be conceptualised as an innovation on Horizon 2 now, our initial phase was about collective exploration and expression of our vision for Horizon 3. With that clarity around our collective vision for a regenerative Melbourne, we can stay attuned to when we are stewarding in Horizon 3 or when we are at risk of being absorbed into the status-quo forces of Horizon 1.
So, our initial research prioritised this clear articulation of our vision and purpose. The Doughnut Economics framework supported this work and produced both a collective vision (see above) and a clear purpose (the Melbourne Doughnut above). Together, these create the localised version of the “regenerative & distributed economy” shown above. Of course, our vision for a regenerative Melbourne is living and will continue to be adapted and developed over time.
As our foundational research came to an end, we actively stepped back onto H2 through a suite of experiments in late 2021 and early 2022. As we wrote in a reflective piece at the end of 2022:
“Over the past 12 months, we have experimented broadly, learned a lot and continuously revised and renewed our strategy and approach. Just like there is an intricate ecosystem of inter-connected roots, nutrient layers and mycelium networks below ground, we have spent much of our time on this systems work, network building and storytelling. We have been building the foundations of a new layer of social infrastructure to bridge us above the ground. Excitingly, this has begun to yield early seedlings; evidence that this new way of organising will bring deeply impactful research and projects to life.”
In dancing along H2, we are very cognisant of both the positive potential of accelerating the emergence of H3 and the potential dangers of being captured by H1. Often we're thinking about how to build 'stepping stones' along the H2 journey, ones that capture elements of H3 which do already exist today, simply in smaller less prominent pockets. This could be adding nature onto our governance board or ensuring any interactions we're having begin by deeply connecting to place. Knowing that some of these stepping stones towards a more prominent H3 will themselves become obsolete as time passes and we learn more about what that third horizon means in practice. We often ask ourselves, how can we build an ecosystem that ensures our work nurtures and accelerates the emergence of H3, rather than reinforcing H1?
The frameworks and models listed above have provided us with tools to help us navigate these tensions, but of course this is an ongoing challenge/opportunity and one that our little team grapples with openly, often.
The Three Horizons model acts like a rudder for RM, a way for us to ensure that we are maintaining course towards our vision for a regenerative Melbourne (H3).
Our combination of models and frameworks can be thought of as a nested approach. This can be simplified down to the emergence of our “why”, “what” and “how”, alongside the importance of a strong rudder to guide the work. This framing has been a useful exercise for us as a team in making sense of both our context and our role. Our hope is that this framing may be useful to others as well.
Finally, a disclaimer. We’ve outlined here how a suite of frameworks and models have been useful as RM has developed over the last two years. And, of course, linear stories are often written in hindsight. The reality has been much messier than the linear phasing shown here, and our work continues to grapple with the tensions and paradoxes present in this work.
We are very grateful for the countless friends, partners, collaborators and advisors who have developed this thinking and continue to experiment with us, in pursuit of a regenerative Melbourne.
Seattle, WA USA
How can we accelerate innovation and change for the future?
We want to contribute and share our ongoing reserches around the Doughnut.
Sustainability specialist aiming to improve the way we measure societal progress
Looking for collaborators and offering my skills and experience to help people realise DE in the real world
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.
Worker coop start up with a DEAL toolbox feels amazing.
A belief in Doughnut Economics
Get inspired, connect with others and become part of the movement. No matter how big or small your contribution is, you’re welcome to join!