Step into the Doughnut

A simple and accessible way to introduce the Doughnut to any community

Overview and setup

This activity is for anyone - both those new to the ideas of Doughnut Economics and those who know it well.

We've found that it works really well because it gets people out of their heads (if that's their tendency, and where concepts often reside), and gets people to really experience the concepts through what they care about, connecting it with their lives, their communities and the natural world in an interactive and experiential way.

Tim Frenneaux, after experiencing this activity at the launch of Leeds Doughnut

"Despite having worked with, applied and presented the concept for several years, this was the first time I had ever connected with the concept on an emotional level. It was a game-changer."

The activity can work from groups as small as 15 up to groups as large as 70 (but do feel free to experiment with fewer or more than this) and it takes between 45 minutes and an hour to run.

You'll need a space large enough for your group. A space of 8 metres by 8 metres works for the larger group sizes. And you'll need two large ropes. One 20 metres long and one 10 metres long for the largest group size, and shorter if your group is smaller.

There are 7 steps. Steps 2 and 3 are the hardest bits as they involve introducing the two boundaries of the Doughnut (for which we've offered guidance below), but from step 4 onwards it's far simpler.

Here's a video of Rob (DEAL's Communities & Art Lead) doing this workshop for the launch of the Leeds Doughnut. If you have any questions about the workshop, you can contact Rob directly on

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Introductions (10 min)

A nice way to introduce this activity is to start by asking...

"What do Doughnuts have to do with Economics?"

This is a fun opener that can immediately set the playful and inviting tone.

You might also like say this line (that goes down quite well)...

"We know that the word 'economics' can be intimidating, but very few people are scared of Doughnuts"

So what does that mean? It means we offer Doughnut Economics as a more inviting way to explore economics and a new goal for what the economy could be for - a goal that we're going to explore right now.

We hope the ideas of Doughnut Economics are accessible to everyone so that everyone can play a role in reimagining the economy so that it works for all people and the whole planet. So this activity is intended to reflect that by being a playful and accessible method to introduce the idea at the heart of Doughnut Economics - the Doughnut!

After your initial introduction, invite people to turn to the person next to them and, having two minutes each;

  1. introduce themselves (just a name will do)
  2. share how much you already know about Doughnut Economics
  3. share what made them want to attend the workshop

The outer boundary (5 min)

60 people passing around the rope and creating the outer boundary in Leeds

25 people making the outer boundary in Munich

Start by saying that we’re going to make the Doughnut together and you’re going to need everyone’s help.

  1. Get everyone into a large circle and hand one end of big rope to someone.
  2. Invite them to pass the rope round to make a giant circle.
  3. It might need to overlap a bit depending on the size of the room and the length of the rope.
  4. Then challenge them to get it as perfect a circle as possible (this should be a fun bit!).
  5. Then, once they're happy it’s a perfect(ish) circle, invite them to place it on the floor.

Time to introduce the planetary boundaries...

You can stand in the middle of the circle if you like (with everyone standing outside the rope) and you can use the following text:

"In 2009, the leading Earth System Scientists from around the world, came up with a way of measuring just how much pressure humans can safely put on the planet. They called these the 9 planetary boundaries.

Then start stepping out towards the rope...

"So imagine resource use, and humanity’s impact on the planet, radiating out from the centre of the circle - the further out from the centre we go, the more pressure we’re putting on the planet"

When you reach the rope, you can say

“This rope represents the maximum pressure we can safely put on the planet. Beyond the rope (take a step) and we’re overshooting. We're beyond the boundary. Inside the rope (step inside, and we’re within the safe space for humanity.”

Now introduce how the planetary boundaries from Earth Systems Science forms an ‘Ecological Ceiling’.

You can read about the planetary boundaries here.

To make it easier to remember and introduce you can focus on three things

  1. The harmful things we put into the local and global atmosphere (leading to climate change, ocean acidification, ozone layer depletion and air pollution)
  2. The harmful things we put into the rivers, lakes, oceans and soils (chemical pollution, nitrogen and phosphorus loading)
  3. The land and rivers we extract from and convert for farming, industry, roads and cities (land conversion and freshwater withdrawals)

All of which leads to biodiversity loss.

The inner boundary (5 min)

Creating the inner boundary

Start by saying

"So if this is the safe space for humanity, and going closer to the middle means less impact on the planet, surely we want to aim to go all the way back to the middle?”

Then go and stand in the middle...

“But if we go all the way into the middle, what does that mean for all the things we need to live a good life? The land needed for food the places to live, materials needed to produce our clothes, our houses, and all the other things that enable us to live good lives?"

"This is where Kate Raworth proposed, in 2012, that whilst there is definitely an outer boundary, defined by scientists, denoting the limits of the planet, so there needs to be an inner boundary that denotes the social foundation of what it means to meet the essentials of a good life. So we're going to need a second rope!"

Bring out the second rope and repeat the process as you did before, feeding the rope round to make a smaller circle in the middle.

“This inner boundary is called the Social Foundation and it represents the things that we need to live a good life. For the Doughnut, they come from the UN Sustainable Development Goals, that all the world’s governments have agreed to, meaning everyone in the world has a claim to these.”

Now you can either choose to list all the 12 social dimensions and walk round the rope, or you might like to choose a few that are particularly pertinent for the people in the workshop, and maybe a few that you're aware are of particular issue in other places around the world that people might take for granted.

  • Food - access to sufficient, affordable, safe and nutritious food.
  • Water - access to clean water for drinking, bathing, cooking, washing clothes and sanitation.
  • Health - access to affordable, quality healthcare services from your first to your last day.
  • Education - access to lifelong learning.
  • Housing - affordable and safe housing to enable thriving communities.
  • Energy - access to clean, affordable electricity.
  • Income - from work that is safe, meaningful and fairly paid.
  • Social equity - creating equality of opportunity, and reducing income inequality.
  • Gender equality - ensuring that women and girls have equal access to education, health care, work and decision-making.
  • Networks - access to networks of transport, communications, and community support.
  • Political voice - ensuring people have voice in, and influence over, the decisions that affect their lives.
  • Peace & justice - having personal security, government accountability, and access to justice.

Now that you've introduced both the outer and inner boundary you can introduce the Doughnut! And you use these words if you would like:

“We now have an outer boundary, that represents the maximum amount of pressure we can safely put on the planet - the ‘Ecological Ceiling’. And we now have an inter boundary, that represents the essentials of life - the ‘Social Foundation‘.

So what shape have we created? A Doughnut - the type with a hole in the middle!

It's nice to say here that it was originally going to be a lifebelt, but one of the first people to see it said 'that's a Doughnut!' so the name stuck - but you can call it whatever you like, maybe by being inspired what's most culturally relevant where you live.

You can now share three key things about the Doughnut:

  1. "The two boundaries of the Doughnut together create the safe and just space for humanity"
  2. "The goal of the Doughnut is to meet the needs of all within the means of the living planet"
  3. "That means, leaving no one falling short on the essentials of life in the hole in the middle, below the Social Foundation, and at the same time, not overshooting the ecological ceiling, which would undermine the life supporting systems of this delicately balanced living planet"

You can now ask...

"If this is to be the goal of the economy - to meet the needs of all within the means of the living planet - how do people think we're doing?"

People may give some thoughts, then you can follow up with...

"Unfortunately, we're not doing that well. Around the world, billions of people are falling short on the essentials of life in the hole in the middle. There is not social dimension where everyone is meeting their needs. And at the same time we're collectively overshooting on 6 of the 9 planetary boundaries."

It's great to then share this thought:

"We are far out of balance and we're the first generation to see this holistic picture, so it's our responsibility to ask, 'do we continue with the economic thinking, the business models and the public policies that have got us here, or do we need to reimagine our economic thinking, our business models and our public policies to bring us back into balance from both sides?'"

Stepping into the Doughnut (5 min)

Beginning to step into the Doughnut in Bristol

Now that you've introduced the Doughnut, it's time for people to move around the spaces of the Doughnut, in silence (highly recommended), and notice how it feels to stand in the different spaces.

You could use the words:

"To get to know the Doughnut better, I invite you to walk into and around the three spaces of the Doughnut we've just created - the space of overshoot, the space of shortfall and the space of the Doughnut"

"So first of all I invite you to start walking, slowly, and in silence, around the space"

At this stage it's good to start walking yourself that will in turn encourage others to start moving around the space.

Then you can invite people to notice things, for example:

"As you slowly move around the space, and gently pass by others, first just notice and acknowledge who else is here"

"Notice the space we're in, the light, the floor, the walls, the qualities of the space and how you feel in this space"

"Now turn your attention to the spaces of the Doughnut, and as you walk into the different spaces"

"If you like, you can pause in a space, and see how it feels to be in that space, either in the space of overshoot, outside the outer boundary, where we're putting too much pressure on the planet. Or the space of shortfall, inside the hole of the Doughnut, where people aren't meeting their needs, falling short on the essentials of life. Or in the space of the Doughnut itself, and what it feels like to be in a place where we're meeting the needs of all within the means of the living planet"

Note that this is quite a short step, only lasting 3 or 4 minutes, but trust your intuition on how long people need to experience the different spaces of the Doughnut.

Three reflections in pairs (15 min)

Reflecting on the prompts in pairs

After 3 or 4 minutes of people moving around the spaces of the Doughnut (step 4), invite participants to slowly come to a standstill opposite another other person, so everyone is standing in pairs.

Invite people who haven't found a pair immediately to raise their hand so they can see others who they can pair up with.

In pairs, invite them to first introduce their name, then reflect on this first prompt, which we recommend you read a couple of times, and then offer them two minutes each to share, and invite to listen carefully to the other person without interrupting:

Prompt 1

During this, keep time, and remind participants after two minutes to change person sharing if they haven't already done so.

After time is up, invite people to draw their last sentence to a close (If the group is particularly loud, you can hold your hand up and invite others to do the same when they stop talking - this raises awareness that time is up.). Then invite participants to thank the other person and then gently begin walking around the space again.

As they walk, invite them to reflect on what they shared and how it was received, and to reflect on what they heard from the other person.

After one minute, invite participants to once again slowly come to a standstill opposite another other person, so everyone is standing in pairs.

This time invite them to reflect on this second prompt. Following the same steps as before:

Prompt 2

Just as before:

  1. keep time and remind participants after two minutes to change person sharing if they haven't already done so.
  2. After time is up, invite people to draw their last sentence to a close, to thank the other person, then gently begin walking around the space again.
  3. As they walk, invite them to reflect on what they shared and how it was received, and to reflect on what they heard from the other person.
  4. After one minute, invite participants to once again slowly come to a standstill opposite another other person, so everyone is standing in pairs.
  5. This time invite them to reflect on this final prompt (and you can say this is the final time):

Prompt 3

Keep time and remind participants after two minutes to change person sharing if they haven't already done so. And after time is up, invite people to draw their last sentence to a close, to thank the other person.

Group reflections (10 min)

Now it's time for hearing back from the whole group.

Invite people to share how they found it.

Some prompt questions you can use:

"How did you find that?"
"What struck you about what you heard from others?"
"Did you find any connections between what you shared and what others shared?"
"Did anything happen that you didn't expect?"
"Do you have any reflections about the spaces in and around the Doughnut?" 

This is where people might feel quite vulnerable in sharing what might have come up for them. Try and facilitate this section with a high awareness and gratitude for everything that comes up and thank everyone who shares.

Wrapping up (5 min)

This is a moment to reflect back some of the key qualities of the Doughnut.

Here are a few that we share, but feel free to add any that you'd like:

  1. The Doughnut invites us to think about both social and ecological needs and in-so-doing, it invites us to find the connections between that which we care about and need to care for, both socially and ecologically, and also how interconnected the challenges and crises we face in the 21st century are.
  2. The Doughnut doesn't give an answer for what we need to design to bring us back into balance. It's about inviting everyone to be part of a conversation of how we meet the needs of all within the means of the living planet. It's a framing idea, into which many, many ideas can come together and coexist in recreating a new economy.
  3. The Doughnut invites us to find our role in reimagining and recreating a new economy and recognise all the roles we play, in the home, in our various civic roles and in our places of work, learning, and play.

Optional step - Introducing regenerative and distributive design (15 min)

If you wish, at this point you might want to introduce the two design dynamics that we offer with Doughnut Economics to help design economies that will bring us back into balance, and move us towards the safe and just space of the Doughnut - these are regenerative design and distributive design.

Here are some videos you can show, and you can play these, or maybe you could take notes and introduce them yourself - with props if possible!

Introducing regenerative and distributive design

Introducing Regenerative and Distributive Design
Three short videos introducing the design dynamics at the heart of Doughnut Economics




    Shay Barmand

    Noosa, QLD

    Sustainability specialist aiming to improve the way we measure societal progress

    Eva Willmann de Donlea

    SYDNEY, Australia

    Finally common sense. I am immensely grateful for the thought leadership.

    Marie-Anne Bernasconi

    Nice, France

    I'd like to learn, experiment, debate, contribute with this community.

    AG Brader

    Eelde, The Netherlands

    I am keen to embed the core concepts of Doughnut Economic with our youth

    Roisin Markham 9 months ago

    This is such a brilliant workshop to get to the heart of the matter, it opens conversations with people in a way that brings depth, authenticity and sets a tone for collaboration.

    Facilitating this workshop over the last year I've discovered that when you form the outer boundary & people are still holding the rope circle - play with the tension, pull on the rope to show how if one part of the system pulls the circle it can be felt all across the circle. The connection to the system via the rope circle resonates with people. 

    2 0
    Rieta Aliredjo almost 2 years ago

    Love this! A great way to get introduced to the Doughnut. I think it is key to also get an emotional connection to the Doughnut. 

    4 0

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