Web of Connections - Proposal for a 'Sustainability Plus' learning game and MayDay Calendar

I did the following paper to propose a workshop at the Red Pepper Readers' Weekend in August 2002. Both there and at a Network of Engaged Buddhist conference the next year my 'spin machine' attracted some interest, but as of Dec 2005 I have yet to really work follow up on the many lines of possible work it suggests. Invitations to facilitate workshops welcome! - as also collaboration in developing the MayDay Calendar idea.


This paper outlines ways of thinking and learning together which can be adapted for all sorts of educational or political contexts, from a neighbourhood sustainability project to a national thinktank, etc. Its basic idea is collective learning to appreciate issues in greater depth, but not issues in isolation, issues and dimensions as they relate to other issues and dimensions.

(1) FLIP-CHARTS or MATRIX SPREADSHEETS. Suppose we get a large sheet of paper and draw a list of sectors, issues and dimensions down the side, viz (for example)

Land Ownership/Use
Social Work
Justice System

Culture of Peace and Friendship
Common Security/World Affairs


Personal growth/spirituality

(Maybe this is too many) But anyway we then write the same list along the top of the sheet to give a huge matrix of  20 times 20 boxes, identifiable as A1 to T20. Then we draw these letter-numbers (excluding A1, B2, C3 etc) each on a slip of paper and draw them randomly out of a hat one at a time with everyone brainstorming thoughts on whatever comes up.

Or we could ask every participant to take one, think about it for ten minutes and make the lead contribution when their turn comes in the circle. Or we could ask people to pair up and to make connections between the connections!

to learn together in a participatory format,
 to sensitize ourselves to areas of our rich social inter-being which we may be neglecting to our loss, peril;
 to free up our thinking so as to become more alert for the possibility of synergy between social movements and issues.

(2)  SPIN MACHINES: another more elaborate version of the above could be to create three or four cardboard discs or pi-charts which can be spun on neighbouring poles. The discs could stand for

Everyday social categories (segmented into e.g. mums, grans, kids, youth, carers, workers, career professionals, temporary workers, old folk, people with disabilities, ‘outgroups’, real men, posh people, bosses)

Socio-political constituencies (segmented into e.g. unions, parties, faith groups, cultural workers, community activists, voluntary sector, ecologists and environmentalists, international peace and justice people, feminists/pro-feminists, gay/lesbian community, young people, the elderly, service users, professions, consumers, small businesses)

Concrete sectors (e.g. food, land, housing, transport, energy/waste, technology, education, health, social work and care, justice system, democracy, economic reform, common security).

Beliefs/Perspectives (segmented into e.g. Socialism/Liberalism/Communism/
Anarchism; Feminism; Ecology; Non-violence/non-dualistic spirituality)

We could have a lot of fun with those! One way to play with them would be to dial up a combination and invite four (or three) participants to represent or stick up for one of the chosen segments each and then to co-operate to make a shared or agreed presentation at the end. (Several dial-ups could group all the other participants in random co-operation/coalitions)

(3) As well as MATRIX SPREADSHEETS and ‘SPIN MACHINES’ we could also explore the possibilities in using a CALENDAR FORMAT (perhaps using old unused diaries, etc). The disadvantage with this is that everything would have to be squashed into sevens and fours (or fourteens and twos) and twelves (or thirteens) to fit in with days, weeks/fortnights, months. There are certainly pitfalls in this kind of system-creation, witness the ill-fated calendar of the French Revolution.

But if we can avoid the pitfalls of over-serious over-rationalism, the scope for this sort of thinking together could be enormous. At its simplest we could imagine magazines, movements, regional groups [or whoever] planning ahead to invite groups (or emerging ‘guilds’) of activists in twelve (or 13) different sectors to each produce a supplement or make a presentation or take centre stage every Jan/Feb/March (whatever).

The big prize would be to find a formula-cum-framework which everyone can understand for systematic co-operation once a week/month/year (whatever) – so that we learn to ‘pulse’ together not just on Mayday but through the round of the year; and so that the spotlight of societal attention falls on us all equally (at present the only time refuse workers get noticed is when they threaten to strike.)

Sevens: could represent a day each for categories of the oppressed and excluded [working class/subclass; women and gays; children and young; old and people with disabilities; ethnic minorities and outgroups; global majority/‘Third World’; Gaia/other life-forms];

Fours: various alternatives here e.g.
levels [psyche/hearth; neighbourhood; city/regional; national/planetary];
modes [participate; oppose; alternatives; dialogue/meeting/alliance]; or
phases [e.g. analysis of problems and strengths; visions and strategy; proposals, demands and tactics; building up to action at the end of each month];

Twelves (or thirteens): concretely focussed sectors or spheres of social, cultural technological action [already mentioned earlier]

This paper by Keith Mothersson, but experiments are welcome by anyone! Feedback and coments, adaptations, criticism also welcome to  2b Darnhall Cres, Perth, PH2 0BA, 0845 456 4779 keith[dot]mothersson[at]phonecoop[dot]coop
August 2002/ revised Aug 2003