Smart CSOs Workshop, October 2014

At the end of October, we — 36 Smart CSOs members and friends from 12 countries – met in a civic centre located in the beautiful gothic quarter of Barcelona for our annual workshop. This time we dug deeper into two aspects: Getting closer to a common vision of the Great Transition and exploring concrete practical steps how to get there.

We started the first day of the workshop with getting a deeper understanding of differences and commonalities of our Great Transition narratives: Do we really all mean the same when we talk about systemic change? Where do we have different assumptions? To start off this process participants physically positioned themselves between the one and the other extreme when deciding whether concepts such as de-growth or green new deal are part of a Great Transition Vision or not. This ‘sociometry’ nicely showed that while there are general trends of agreement, there are still discrepancies when it comes to the details. Tensions could be observed with regards to agreeing on definitions, but also in discussing whether the frame of a certain concept is helpful, irrespective of an otherwise useful content (e.g., de-growth). Finalising the first day, Adrián Beling gave a presentation on where to position the Great Transition discourse from a research perspective.

After having reached some common ground with regards to our vision on the first workshop day, the second day was dedicated to the practical approaches and challenges of making our organisations, projects and campaigns fit for system change. With the help of a questionnaire comprising the Smart CSOs model and guidelines, we assessed in three groups in how far practical case studies brought in by participants are supporting the Great Transition and, after that, peer-councelled possible improvements. The trusting environment that allowed people to openly and critically reflect their organisations’ internal strategies was very much appreciated by the workshop group. The practical tools of the questionnaire as well as feedback and inspiration brought in from participants in these sessions will be integrated in a Smart CSOs handbook for practitioners to be published next year.


group photo of the workshop participants


What was special about this workshop and amplified its practical focus were the many opportunities to get in touch with local initiatives in Barcelona that are doing impressive work in pioneering alternative ways of organising the economy and living our lives. Álvaro Porro, a Smart CSOs member based in Barcelona, was so nice to introduce us to an initiative of the solidarity economy in Catalonia, where he’s active. He also took us to his home, a cooperative living space, community garden and social centre in Barcelona called Can Masdeu. Laura Sullivan, who works at Action Aid’s Brussels office, wrote a beautiful blog article about our visit there.

Those that joined these visits will agree that looking at and hearing about what is possible and how it can be done was very empowering and inspiring, not least due to the personal, honest and humble way in which Álvaro told us about how these projects have slowly developed over time, and how the people involved have dealt with difficulties and successes they’ve come across.

As the Barcelona workshop was geared at change agents that have been active in the Smart CSOs community for a while, many of them have met each other for the second, third or fourth time at this gathering. Being quite a small group and the agenda allowing for many informal moments of talking (and enjoying great local sustainable food), participants had much time to bond and network with each other. The Smart CSOs community dynamic has grown stronger through this workshop and we look forward to holding this up through online exchanges and discussions and, of course, further physical meetings. Until we meet again!

By Lara Kirch
13 November 2014