These exercises can also be useful when working with groups on
issues of sustainability. The first exercise shows the diversity in
the way people view a community because some issues will be classified
differently by different people. This reinforces the idea that a
community is a complex web, not a combination of the isolated elements
of economy, environment, and society. The second exercise gives
participants a chance to think creatively about goals in a sustainable
1. Categorizing Issues
Using the flip chart of issues and
concerns created in the introductory exercise, categorize the
items according to whether they are related to economic,
educational, environmental, health, housing, political/governmental,
public safety, recreational, resource use, social/cultural, or
transportation issues. If people have different opinions (one
person thinks something is economic and another thinks that it is
education) mark it as both.
The point is to get people to see that these categories are
not mutually exclusive. Depending on the participants, this can also
show that a diverse group is needed to represent the community. For
example, if the participants are all environmentalists, most of the
issues might be environmental, with very few social issues mentioned.
It is useful to refer back to this exercise when discussing the
theme-based indicator framework.
Things to Think About
2. Identifying Goals
- The harder it is to categorize an issue,
the more areas that issue is linked to, and the more potential there
is for developing a good indicator of sustainability.
- The categories of issues addressed by a group, as well as the
indicators that are developed as a result, will reflect the
interests of the people in the group. This is why it is so
important to make sure that a very broad cross section of the
community is involved in a sustainability project and made to
feel that their opinion is important.
Select one or two of the issues mentioned during the introductory
exercise. Ask the group to define the goal for that issue for
a sustainable community. Ask the group to imagine what the
community would be like if this issue did not exist or had been
corrected. Sometimes it is helpful to have participants imagine
the community fifty years in the future: The problem has been
solved, what does the community look like?
Try to keep the discussion focused on the goal, not how to get to the
goal. People will have a tendency to propose ways to get to a
solution: "require all cars to be electric," rather than what the
solution looks like: "people are able to get around without creating
pollution." If the discussion gets into ways to solve the problem,
bring the group back to the topic by asking "What is the goal, what
does it look like?"
Things to Think About
- The hardest part of this exercise is keeping people from
talking about how to solve the problem. It helps to re-emphasize
that the time frame to consider is 25 to 50 years.