XR Sheffield Ways of Working

Capacity, skills and approach for activists working in XR

December 2019

Document History

  1. XR Ways of working: Capacity, skills and approach for volunteers working in XR May 2019
  2. Adopted by XR Sheffield: Regen Working Group Sep 2019, Delegate Circle Dec 2019, Main Monday Meeting Dec 2019
  3. Review Mar 2020

See also: XRSheffieldWaysOfWorkingSummary

Outline

What to know about

1 What Extinction Rebellion (XR) is about

2 That we want to make XR a place where people are welcome and can participate

3 That our thinking about power and decisions includes

Ways to be around each other

4 Listening and Speaking

5 Yours and others' motivation

6 More than just work

How to approach working together

7 Group work

8 Commitment and Reliability

9 How we run efficient meetings

What to know about

1 What Extinction Rebellion (XR) is about

  1. You don’t need to be an expert
  2.  Please read over our website and ensure you have had an induction - the Rebel Starter Pack provides a good intro but speak to your working/local group coordinator to receive a more thorough induction
  3. A summary of the most important learning points about XR:
  1. We promote civil disobedience and rebellion because we think it is necessary to achieve our aims (XR Demands) . We don’t want or need everyone to get arrested – for some this is not a good idea – but we do want everyone involved to support civil disobedience as a tool.
  2. Because we are promoting mass “above the ground” civil disobedience in full public view, we have made some decisions about security and our interactions with the police which you may not be used to if you are working in other activist spaces. We communicate with the police about what we are doing when we believe that is more likely to enable things to go well.
  3. We aim towards transparency in our organisation, including finances, the work of specific teams and names of individuals involved.
  4. We are about political change, not personal greening-up type change (though we welcome the latter).
  5. We are nonviolent and take responsibility for our actions.
  6. We value debrief and reflection so that we can learn and improve. Guidance suggests all organisations should spend about 20% of their  time reflecting.
  1. In order to be an XR volunteer, it’s a requirement to agree and act in alignment with our Principles & Values (p.7-12), our aims, our Constitution and our ways of working (which are outlined in this document)

2 That we want to make XR a place where people are welcome and can participate

  1. We want to welcome new people and avoid being “cliquey”. It helps if we proactively learn about how our use of language and our attitudes and approach can make it harder for some people to participate compared to others.
  2. Be respectful and curious about each others’ strengths, weaknesses and backgrounds.
  3. None of the “-isms” - we actively avoid sexism, racism, classism, anti-islamism, anti-semitism, homophobia, transphobia etc. Most of us have things to learn about these so we will inevitably get things wrong. We encourage people to be constructive and kind if they need to challenge an XR colleague because they feel that this guideline wasn’t adhered to. If your behaviour is being challenged, it generally helps to be open to listening / learning. Try and avoid the default need most humans feel to focus instead on defending themselves.
  4. XR is an international movement. Those of us based in the Global North / Western democracies, particularly those of us who are white, have been taught to think we are at the centre of everything and to speak in that way. We need to notice when we do this, and correct ourselves and each other. We want to remind each other that people in the Global South / majority world countries have been at the forefront of the impacts of ecological destruction, leaving problems for their local communities. Hundreds have been murdered as ecological and indigenous activists. It is also true that it tends to be working class communities that get dumped with environmental issues. Being mindful of tokenism, we look for opportunities to support those who traditionally have less power in our society, to have more of a say. This includes ensuring our spokespeople are often women / black people and people of colour etc.
  5. Use the gender related pronouns people ask you to use for them. Not everyone identifies as the gender they may appear to you and some people identify as not having a gender.
  6. Some people have issues hearing, others have a different mother tongue. For many the use of jargon and complex language can feel off putting and can bring about feelings of shame for not being in the know, or just irritation. Let’s think about speaking in a way that is easier for people to participate.
  7. It can help at the start of a meeting to ask what people need to be able to participate, e.g. people to use their correct pronoun, for people to talk more slowly, loudly.
  8. Hire accessible spaces for public meetings.
  9. We need to make time and space to mentor and support people, working to build people’s leadership and confidence. This can include practical help, e.g. with using technology.

3 That our thinking about power and decisions includes

  1. Not everyone can work in a collaborative way or is interested in doing so. It’s not possible to include everyone so have a discussion in your working/local group about how you all want to treat each other and work together (i.e. write a group agreement) and stick to that. If someone regularly breaks the group agreement, ask them to leave (find the process for that here). You may think you’re doing the right thing by letting them stay. If you do this, there is a danger that they will sap the energy of the group and other people won’t join it or stay in it. If the Main Monday Meeting or the Delegate circle feel a conflict has escalated beyond what your group can cope with on their own, please get in touch with Conflict Resilience Group (or conflict@rebellion.earth).
  2.  We don’t think all hierarchy is bad.
  3. We work in holacratic-informed ways called Self-Organising Systems, i.e. decisions are made by those with the mandate for a specific task. We understand this works best in small groups of 3 - 4 people and no more than 7 for specific tasks. People taking decisions should get advice from those implementing decisions, from those most affected by decisions and from those able to stop decisions from being effective. This means that decisions are made by small groups not by large group consensus. For more information, please read the XR Constitution.
  4. We try to be clear about expectations, roles and responsibilities and transparent about decision-making. Those making decisions are expected to be accountable for the outcomes of their decisions, and to learn from them.

Ways to be around each other

4 Listening and Speaking

  1. To be able to listen. 
  1. Be light on assumptions.
  2. Try to actively listen to what the other person is trying to communicate to you, and ask your questions thoughtfully.
  1. To understand the difference between being in dialogue with others and talking at them.
  1. If you’re inclined to not share speaking space with others, then XR probably isn’t the right place for you.
  2. Be aware that some people find it easier to speak than others and make room for everyone to participate.
  3. Try to own your opinions and contributions. You can do that by speaking for yourself (“I think we should”, “It seems to me that”) rather than for everyone (“We need to”).

5 Yours and others' motivation

  1. To have some clarity about what it is you hope to get personally from taking part.
  1. Whilst the answers to this might seem obvious, in practice we can have other motivations that we may not be aware of, e.g. friendship, community. The less conscious we are of our motivations, the more likely we are to run into difficulty.  
  2. This is one of the key causes of disappointment and burn-out. Having an attachment to the outcomes of your efforts is human but the extent of the unspoken contracts we create with others can be the make or break of people involved in XR. What you expect others to do in return for your hard work may or may not come about.
  3. Avoid being aggressive or demanding and understand that we are all volunteers and people have their limits.
  4. Try to choose something you really enjoy doing regardless of the outcome.  
  5. Also, try to be relatively agenda free, i.e. you’re not involved just to plug your own belief/campaign/livelihood/project etc
  1. To be accepting of the limits on what other people can contribute and flexible enough to understand that this varies over time. We are all volunteers doing our best.

6 More than just work

  1. To be open to the idea of doing “inner work” and taking self-care seriously
  1. Inner work means processing some of the emotional baggage we carry around, e.g. through peer-to-peer support, therapy. Self-care could include taking regular breaks, sports, eating well, addressing addictions, exercising, doing yoga or meditation.
  2. For some this is also about a “spiritual path”.
  3. These things are important - what we are doing together is difficult and we are less likely to burn out or get into conflicts with each other if we are willing to take care of ourselves. Our burning out has knock-on effects on those around us, both in terms of suddenly needing to pick up our workload, and sometimes needing to look after us.
  4. Constant negativity can be a downer in a group so maybe take a break if you’re not enjoying things.
  1. To value honesty, authenticity and the feeling of love between many of us.
  1.  Some members of XR sometimes sing and get a bit into hugs and hand-holding - remember that this will not match everyone’s cultural background and is not everyone’s way so keep your group welcoming for as many people as possible and try not to create spaces that accidentally keep some people on the margins - ask people if they want a hug / hand, and say if you don’t want that.
  2. One person’s idea of being friendly might be a bit overbearing for someone else - so think about how you “land” with other people, and ask them if in doubt
  3. Sometimes members can get quite emotional in XR meetings - people have burst into tears. Whilst meetings aren’t therapy session and we are mindful that this can be uncomfortable for some, we welcome people bringing their whole selves to this.
  1. To celebrate and appreciate one another and ourselves
  1. Make room for gratitude.
  2. Notice what you’re getting done, not just the to-do-list.
  1. to have a sense of humour! 
  1. We can have a laugh and a joke and not be too serious about everything.

How to approach working together

7 Group work

  1. To take active responsibility for how we work together as a group
  1. Everyone is crew - don’t leave this to others
  1. To work well in a team, consult with others as needed and treat other people well 
  1. Join with an intention to work together to get things done - your ideas and advice will be most helpful if you join and engage with existing group structures and contribute to them
  2. We’d like our spaces to be places where people feel as trusted and supported as possible, even if they don’t always agree with each other.
  3. Don’t blame and shame each other; instead, we try to understand each other's motivations and communicate nonviolently when we feel someone else made a significant mistake.
  4. We strongly discourage the culture of “calling people out”, whether in public or in meetings, at events or online (e.g. moaning about people, telling them off, challenging their intelligence, integrity, behaviour and so on). At the same time we recognise that people have the absolute right to address an issue in the moment, particularly when it this relates to discrimination or silencing of someone. This can include correcting a mistake which we all do in meetings in a way that doesn't feel like calling out. Not pointing out harm also harms and can mean less learning opportunities for the people involved. What is the most compassionate and just thing to do?
  5. Try to communicate using non-violent communication tools (see videos) by sharing what we are observing, feeling, needing and requesting.
  6. Try to be as open and honest as possible, including addressing any difficulties directly, e.g. constructive criticism
  7. Be solution focused and encourage and inspire that in others; if you identify a problem, form the habit of suggesting a solution (or three) and asking others what they see

8 Commitment and Reliability

  1. To commit the time needed for you to be a volunteer for your working group
  1. If you’re not already active in an activist or voluntary group, you might be surprised how much time it takes just to do the basics, like keeping up on information and making simple decisions together via email
  2. Basically, we want you to know what you’re letting yourself in for
  3. It will depend on your working group and role how much time you need to commit per week, or for how long you need to stay in your role; make sure you talk this through with your group before you commit to take on the role
  4. This includes making most meetings, 75% attendance should be normal to make the group work well.
  5. Try to be realistic with your expectations about what can be achieved both in your time and by XR as a whole
  1. To be willing to try to  use XR’s technological tools 
  1. This includes Basecamp, Google Calendar, Signal, and Zoom
  2. All our ways of working also apply to online spaces - we try to communicate mindfully, compassionately and nonviolently with each other rather than against each other.
  3. Additionally, we respect rebels’ need for screen-free time. Online discussions can be a great way to connect over long distances but they can drag on forever and clog up people’s inboxes. Try to use basecamp for discussions instead of email threads. Discuss issues face-to-face when possible, or at meetings when they affect the whole group, and don’t include more people on an email thread than needed.
  1. To follow through with your projects and actions points (i.e. tasks you take on at a meeting)
  1. Only commit to what you are willing and able to do - can people you know rely on you to do what you say you’re going to do?  Other’s tasks may depend on yours.
  2. Slow down your “yes”, i.e. think twice before you take on a new task, and hand your tasks over to someone when you realise you can’t complete them, or are no longer willing to, rather than just dropping out.
  3. For significant work, it’s a good idea to have a backup person.
  4. Sometimes lack of follow-through is less to do with planning ability or unforeseen situations and instead reflects other issues within a group, particularly hurt feelings or unprocessed conflict. Whilst by their very nature these aren’t necessarily obvious, it might be worth reflecting on these if you find yourself getting stuck on stuff regularly. If others are getting stuck, they are likely to need support.

9 How we run efficient meetings

Each group might do things a bit differently, and it is a good idea to make your ways of working explicit and write a group agreement. However, we believe that the following things help make the best use of our time together):

  1. Agree agendas upfront
  2. Be on time
  3. Agree who is facilitating the meeting (i.e.. following the agenda, taking note of who wants to talk next and reminding people to stick to the group’s agreement). Ensure facilitators have been trained
  4. Agree who is taking minutes (i.e. notes)
  5. Start meetings with a check-in, i.e. checking in with people about how they are doing and what would make it easier for them to attend the meeting
  6. If items take up a lot of the meeting time, a smaller group can agree to go away, think about it and get a proposal together to bring back to the group’s next meeting
  7.  Be concise - try to make your point as briefly as possible
  8. “Wait! Why am I talking?” Ask yourself whether something really needs to be discussed in the meeting that you’re in before you bring it up
  9. Do time and energy checks and take breaks, especially in long meetings
  10. At the start of the meeting, review action points from previous meeting(s)
  11. Use tools like silence, mindfulness, positive check- outs at the end of meetings (saying in a few words what you enjoyed or found valuable)
  12. Talk one at a time and let the facilitator know that you have a point to make, e.g. by raising your hand or saying “stack” if you’re on a call without video. Don’t interrupt others.
  13. Group communication signals/hand signals can be really helpful – consider how you might use them and check if there is anyone for whom they are difficult.

Regen Working Group (adopted by XR Sheffield) Dec 2019

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