Stepping into the Doughnut

Exploring methods to introduce the Doughnut with Devon, Guildford and Milton Keynes

Hi, I'm Rob, Communities and Art Lead at DEAL, and over the past 4 months I've been trialling a new in-person method for introducing the Doughnut, and in this story I share some of my thinking behind this evolving method, some insights from trialling it in Devon, Guildford and Milton Keynes, and some ongoing questions that I'd love your thoughts on.

I'm currently writing it up as a workshop guide here on the DEAL Community Platform for anyone to pick up and use, adapt and evolve, so look out for that in next month's newsletter. And I warmly invite your reflections, questions and ideas in the comments section below. You can also read our brief online introduction to the Doughnut (in slide form) here

So starting from the beginning...

A workshop idea is born

When Jonny and Abby Gordon-Farleigh from Stir to Action invited DEAL to give a workshop on Doughnut Economics at their summer festival Playground for the New Economy, the one condition they gave was “No tech. We all need a break!”
A great brief I thought, but then I wondered, why stop at no tech? What if we ditch pens and paper as well and the traditional workshop format of generating reams of paper that some poor soul has to write up then throw away? No scribbling on sticky notes, no drawing on flip charts. What if we created a workshop that introduced people to the ideas of Doughnut Economics without pens, paper or PowerPoint?
And so the workshop 'Step into the Doughnut' was born. The premise: to introduce the Doughnut by creating two giant concentric circles on the floor (in this case with two large ropes) and literally play in and around the safe and just space that it makes.
So we had a premise, but what should be the approach by which we could invite people to explore these spaces?
A workshop approach that both Kate and I had come across before was the ‘table of objects’ where you offer an assortment of all kinds of curious objects and invite participants to choose one that speaks to a change they want to see in the world. The object they choose could relate to the start of a change, for example a lock and key relating to the need to unlock more safe or brave spaces where marginalised voices have real political voice, or the end of a change, for example a bike pump relating to a time when everyone has access to low-carbon and affordable transport.
The wonderful thing about objects is that everyone sees them differently. They can prompt an association to something that differs dramatically from person to person. And they invite you to connect with something you care about. An object you choose to represent a change you want to see in the world becomes a powerful thing. You hold it in your hands, speak to it, and imbue it with meaning and value. Objects also have weight, they have texture, they are three-dimensional. And there’s something a little bit more special in a workshop when you’re working with those qualities.
Choosing an object to represent your story of change

With story in mind and object in hand, everyone was invited to locate their story of change in or around the space of the Doughnut, according to  whether it related to ecological harm (stand beyond the outer ring), to people not meeting their needs (stand in the hole of the inner ring), or to either ecological thriving or a time when a particular need is being universally met (stand within the Doughnut itself)?
Once they had located the 'home' of your story, everyone was invited to introduce their object and share their story with someone near them, in a pair, taking turns to listen actively.
After this first meeting, they were then invited to walk around the Doughnut - going on a journey away from the home of their story - and in so doing, meeting with two other people to share their object and story. And after these three exchanges, participants were invited to share back with the whole group with what struck them about the experience of sharing their story and hearing others.
Introducing the objects and sharing stories of change with others

To end this part of the workshop everyone came back to the home of their story, before finally, slowly, and in silence, moving into the space of the Doughnut together, whilst imagining their story of change actually coming about.
Standing in the space of the Doughnut together in silence for a minute, giving ourselves the permission to feel into what that would actually be like to all be in this space, was a beautiful moment.

A moment of reflection in the safe and just space of the Doughnut

This process of introducing the Doughnut - with rope, objects, stories and conversation - is an invitation to connect; to connect with what you care about, to connect with others and what they care about, and in-so-doing, to connect with the concept of a Doughnut in a way that is more than just theoretical. It is a connection that is felt and experienced, as you move around the space, meeting other people and hearing their perspectives and dreams. And it's amazing how sharing our stories reveals just how connected we all are.
So how can we evolve this method? Here are some questions that gesture towards some further experimentation and iterations:

  • Making the Doughnut with two large ropes is great fun. It has weight and everyone can hold on and make it together. But what other ways could the Doughnut be made on the floor? With ribbon, with chalk, with sand?
  • And what other ways might people powerfully connect with a story of change they’d like to see in the world? With an action? With a form of artistic expression?


Taking a step further and mapping our place to the Doughnut

Having introduced the Doughnut by creating the space on the floor, there are then many possibilities for how to then use this space.
One such possibility is to map the challenges and changes already underway in a specific place - something that can be explored if the participants are connected with a common place. And the community organisation Zero Carbon Guildford wanted to do exactly that:

"We wanted to run a workshop with councillors, community leaders, and residents of Guildford because we feel that it's impossible to tackle the climate crisis without wide understanding of the links between environmental degradation, climate breakdown, poverty, and racial, gender, and class inequality. That our current economic model doesn't even acknowledge that economics takes place within the biosphere can only lead to devastation of our planet, and the DEAL workshop looked like a fantastic way to introduce some of the concepts around regenerative practice and decentralisation to people. " Ben McCallan - Zero Carbon Guildford.
In planning for this next iteration of the workshop I chose to keep the creative constraint of doing it without pens, paper or PowerPoint, so instead of offering pens and paper to people to write down the challenges and changes already underway in Guildford, I thought, how else could this be done? So I created lots of mini wooden chalkboards from pallets, that I painted in red, green and blue. (You can use acrylic paint + some powder grout or simply chalk paint to make them work as chalkboards).

Similar to the power of the objects, there’s something special about putting your words onto something that has weight, texture and three-dimensionality. It's tactile. It makes a sound when you write. It's engaging more of your senses. And by being a curiously different approach to writing things down I believe it invites you to think differently.

From pallets to little wooden chalkboards ready to be painted

Red chalkboards in hand, I invited participants of the Guildford workshop to write down challenges they were aware of, either social challenges, ecological issues or combinations of both - then to place them in the corresponding place either in the space of shortfall (in the hole in the middle) or the space of overshoot (outside the Doughnut). Then I invited them to self-organise some clustering of the chalkboards into themes and stand back and look a the big picture of what they’d created.
The resulting map and clusters of challenges created a great platform for group discussion, revealing the where most concern in the room lies and the interconnections that there are across so many of them.

Writing, placing and clustering challenges

There's no doubt, seeing all these challenges can become overwhelming. So what do we do in the face of this sea of red? How do we get people out of the hole in the middle, and at the same time, reduce the harm and pressure we are exerting on the planet?
This felt like a good moment to introduce the two design transformations that Doughnut Economics offers in order to get into the Doughnut:
  1. Transforming systems that are degenerative by default to those that are regenerative by design, and
  2. Transforming systems that are divisive by default to those that are distributive by design.

Here's what introducing these can look like with props...

Using a hosepipe to introduce regenerative design

Using a Hoberman sphere to introduce distributive design

Equipped with these ideas, and bringing their own knowledge of the place, everyone was invited to write down, on green chalkboards, the change that was already underway - inspiring initiatives and other things that point towards a distributive and regenerative future - then to place these in the space of the Doughnut.

Looking at the changes already underway in our place
This gave a great platform for recognising just how much is already underway and where there are still gaps, or things that need more energy and attention.
So how can we evolve this method? Here are some questions that gesture towards some further experimentation and iterations:

  • What are the ways in which anyone can present the transformations of degenerative to regenerative design, and divisive to distributive design? With props, as a group activity, with videos from DEAL? What other options might there be?
  • What other ways might you map the challenges and changes already underway onto the Doughnut without using pens and paper? With props, with art? Maybe making reusable chalkboards out of cardboard?

Pivoting our thinking into the space of possibility

Having mapped the challenges and changes already underway in our place, a natural next question is ‘what next?’
In the book, From What is to What if? Rob Hopkins, cofounder of Transition Town Totnes and the Transition Network, explores the power of asking the question ‘what if?’ to unleash our collective imagination towards a world that is more socially just and ecologically safe. And in Rob’s ongoing podcast From What If to What Next he invites guests from many different contexts to share their vision of what could be given the inspiring initiatives already underway.
So what better group to trial this new step with than Transition Town MK who invited me to introduce the ideas of Doughnut Economics to their group in Milton Keynes?
Following the same approach as above, once the group had mapped its challenges and changes already underway, I invited them to get into groups of three and have a conversation of possibility around the words ‘what if?’ and to write the most compelling ‘what if?’ questions on blue chalk boards (nothing like a bit of ‘blue sky’ thinking). Then place these in the space of the Doughnut and then to go round and read each out, one after the other.
The result is a powerful wave of possibility, giving rise to a sense of hope and an energy that can help move the group into a space for identifying some next steps - ways in which they might choose to put their energy next -  some tangible actions to take from the workshop. This won’t be right for every group, but it offers the possibility for those that are ready for that.
'What if we had regular agile forums to make neighbourhood decisions?'

Wendy, who had organised the workshop, also brought props to illustrate eight of the social and ecological challenges in Milton Keynes. This was really engaging way to bring these topics to the group and we then collectively chose where to locate them in and around the Doughnut. You can see some of these in the picture above.

Bringing together the room and zoom

In lockdown, when in-person meetings were not possible, and online meetings became the norm, people began to recognise that meaningful connection could actually be made online and that some barriers to participation were reduced, such as travel and capacity limits.

In places where people are able to meet in person again, some events are now combining the two elements, offering both an in-person experience and an online experience. But this brings new design challenges. How do you meaningfully combine two very different experiences of 'In real life' (IRL) and online (URL)? Of being together in the room and on zoom?

This is something Transition Town MK wanted to explore as they recognised some participants couldn't make the workshop, so they set up a camera, a screen and a laptop.

Setting up the workshop for both those in the room and on zoom

The camera captured what was going on in the room, then when participants in the room started a particular part of the process, I then briefed the zoom participants directly with another explanation of what was happening and what their zoom version would be.

For example, before the workshop in the room started, I briefed the zoom participants about finding an object in their home, in preparation for later. Then when participants in the room were sharing their objects and stories in pairs, I briefed the zoom participants that they would go into groups of 5 and share their objects and stories one-by-one - 2 minutes each - then collectively share at the end.

Throughout the workshop, whenever we had a moment of whole group sharing - with everyone in the room and on zoom - we had the zoom participants on screen also sharing. So having the big screen was important so they were seen clearly.

So how can we evolve this method? Here are some questions that gesture towards some further experimentation and iterations:

  • What are the methods that promote connection between the in-person experience with the online experience?
  • Are there methods that can bring in movement and play for the online participants, as well as for in-person participants?
  • What roles are needed to facilitate this process well?

Ideas and methods that spread

In the book New Power, the authors Jeremy Heimans and Henry Timms explore the qualities of the most successful ideas and communication strategies that spread through peer-to-peer inspiration and they identify three key ingredients that spell the acronym ‘ACE’, in that they are are Actionable, Connecting and Extensible (extensible meaning you can put your own twist on it).
One of DEAL's strategic principles is to unleash peer-to-peer inspiration. To help do this we want to create methods that spread - methods that are Actionable, Connecting and Extensible:

  • Actionable: so that anyone around the world can pick them up and apply them in many different contexts.
  • Connecting: so that the methods connect us with each other and what we care about.
  • Extensible: so that people can pick them up and make them their own. Adapting, evolving, pivoting them. Adding bits, changing bits, whilst staying true to the integrity of the core ideas.
So I've designed this workshop with these things in mind, drawing on my experience of creating methods that engage our senses, and methods that engage our heart and body as well as our mind - through movement, objects, stories, art and play.

We've created the DEAL Community platform and these methods within the spirit of a healthy living system; that is, to experiment, learn, adapt and evolve. We'd love for you to try them out, to iterate and evolve them and to bring your creativity to adapting them further. Powerful ideas + playful methods = an exciting combination, so what ways can you think of to make the methods of exploring Doughnut Economics as tasty, irresistible and 'ACE' as possible?

Tasty treats from Transition Town MK

I'm currently writing this up as a workshop guide here on the DEAL Community Platform for anyone to pick up and use, adapt and evolve, so look out for that in next month's newsletter. And I warmly invite your reflections, questions and ideas in the comments section below.

And thank you for reading!





    Erica Hinckson

    New Zealand

    The Doughnut economics framework resonates with me and direction of my research. Interested to know more.

    Iva Stanisheva

    Ivan Vazov, Sofia

    Care for the environment and the urgent need of our society to redefine our relationship with economics.

    Emilio Bourlon

    Mexico City

    Solve better problems by connecting ideas, people and projects; contributing ultimately to reconnecting with Nature as community

    Kimberly Byrd

    Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States of America

    The Doughnut of Justice forms the foundation of my sustainability teaching. I'm excited about collaborating/co-creating!

    Ann Davidson

    Moray, Scotland, United Kingdom

    Working to develop community engagement on climate change, plant trees and take part in/ start other light living actions

    Leanne Hughes over 2 years ago

    Thanks Rob will trialling this with my year 9 students this week!

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    Roisin Markham over 2 years ago

    What a great approach Rob, this will be an important approach to communities with mixed digital, learning and special needs challenges.

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    Colette Louize Slade, Board Member and Treasurer for Cara's Animal Rescue Alliance over 2 years ago

    Thank you for posting your workshop experiences. I want to introduce DE to my family, so that we can start incorporating the principles of regenerative and distributive into our daily lives. Your workshop idea is the perfect starting point for us! I will document our journey and post it on the DEAL website. Thank you again!

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    Rob Shorter over 2 years ago

    Hi Colette, what a great idea! And that would be such a great story to share :)

    You might also like this exploration of what a personal Doughnut could look like from Zoe Gilbertson. Here's the context and here's Zoe's tool

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