Optional Exercises
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 community.

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

  • 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.

2. Identifying Goals

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.
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Copyright © 1998 Maureen Hart. All rights reserved.