Introducing the ‘How to do it’ conference on how to change the system from grassroots, London, April 9-10

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Posted Jan 23 2016 by Roger Hallam of How To Do It

There are many ideas out there on how to change the world – but very few include a strategy for implementing those ideas. Implementation is key. I had a conversation the other day with Roger Hallam, who used to be involved with Radical Routes, has lived in various communities and now grows and sells organic food. He’s also very switched on politically, and I really like what he’s saying.  He sent me the information below, about a conference he’s organising in April at King’s College in central London. I’m going to run a workshop on a new idea called ‘Community-supported Everything’. See you there? (Dave).

Over to Roger.


This weekend event brings together people from many different backgrounds to learn from each other and to work together on how to bring about concrete radical social change. It is concerned with how to improve and increase participation so that many more people can contribute to and help achieve our aims. It will involve people who research and study this area in our universities and also political activists and community organisers who are working to build participatory groups and organisations in their local areas. The question we all want to answer is “how to do it” and by coming together we can learn so much from each other and be inspired by each other’s experience and knowledge.

As we all know, we are living in a time when conventional political processes have lost relevance and credibility for most people. The real decisions are made by unaccountable elites. Massive state and corporate funding is spent on researching how to control people and make sure they remain passive workers and consumers, while very little support is given to increasing the knowledge of citizens on how to create cultural and political participation – on how to create radical new ways of organising our society. There is plenty of debate on what is wrong and many worthy ideas about how to create change, but very little practical information on how radical collective action can be made effective – how it can be shared and created on a large scale. We urgently need to focus on the practicalities of how these ideas can be turned into action.

The event will walk its talk. It will not involve long, boring talks to passive audiences but instead be centred around many varied workshops where a small number of short presentations will be followed by a discussion of the issues in small groups where everyone will be able to participate. Through the inclusion of many varied voices we get a better idea of how to effectively create change. Summaries of our collaborative conversations will be written up in the sessions. These texts then will provide practical advice on “how to do it”. This collectively produced information can then be used and adapted by groups and individuals after the event to help increase the knowledge and skills required to create bottom-up participation in projects and campaigns. We will be bringing together theory and practice to show not only that “another world is possible” but also how to create it. It’s going to be good!

More detailed information

Topics we will be looking at during the event:

  • Practice: the stories of actual existing community groups and political campaigns
  • Participatory education
  • The role of language in encouraging participation
  • Participation through radical art and culture
  • Opportunities and challenges of participatory organisation in large global cities such as London
  • How to create larger scale collective political action
  • How to create our own media organisations
  • How to organise participatory meetings and consensus decision-making

This is just a list we have at the moment. This is your event – you can create and organise your own workshop and will be given a room and a time slot. The idea is that groups that come to the event can use sessions to look at the issues around how they can work better through involving greater participation (not just to advertise themselves).

The organisation of the event

The two days of activities will be centred around workshops on these themes. There will be no speeches, but instead the focus with be on bringing people together in small sessions. While there will be room for variations the main format with be to have three or four short presentations made by people from differing backgrounds. They could be people from universities sharing research, activists and community organisers working on the ground or people with personal stories to tell of their experiences. After the presentations we will break into small groups for discussion and the presenters will join in the discussions.

To make sure everyone gets the chance to voice their views, the small groups will start with a round where each person speaks in turn. Then there will be more general discussion with a view to building up a picture of “how to do it” in the subject area being discussed. At the end, the whole group may get back together and one person from each of the smaller groups will summarise their discussions. These summaries of the collective thoughts of the participants will be written up and  will be available online after the event and can changed through online and offline discussions and collaborations (in a similar way to Wikipedia). In this way we will all gain better collective knowledge of what works best in the many aspects of creating bottom-up political participation.

There will be event facilitators present in all of the discussions – people who will encourage everyone to participate and help the group come to a common view on the issues discussed. We will have a standard training sheet to brief people, so that everyone taking on this important role has some training

Here are some more ideas about how the weekend will be organised. These ideas will take more shape as more people get involved in making the event happen:

  • “Speed networking” as individuals or groups. This is a way to meet and connect with other participants quickly and establish common areas of interest.
  • Breaks and informal sessions. The ‘bits in between’ are just as important as the main sessions. You can organise your own spontaneous workshop on a theme of your choice at the weekend. We will also have “open space” sessions where people can just come and meet each other and talk about whatever they want. There will be time and space allocated on each day for all of these ‘fringe’ events.
  • Food is an important way of bringing people together and we are looking into creating a meal where we can all bring food to share. There could be a grand picnic (indoor or outdoor, weather permitting) or even possibly communal cooking. There are long traditions of using such occasions to encourage people to share their stories and ideas.
  • We will aim to create a lasting record of the event by recording and filming people’s experiences of the event and their views on the issues discussed.
  • The event will encourage people to keep in contact each other and share contact details. There will also be reunion gatherings following on from the event to build on the enthusiasms created by the weekend.

This is your event

This is an “open source” event – it is your weekend and it is a space where you can initiate your own ideas for sessions and workshops. Instead of having a small group holding all the power and responsibility for all the decisions, small working groups will take on organising the various parts of the event and they will be able to initiate their own ideas of what they want to see happen. We very much encourage you to join in one of these groups if you are interested. A website is being created and anyone organising a panel or workshop can promote it on the site and post comments and ideas. As mentioned, we already have various spaces booked for you to use. There is an open timetable with time slots allocated on a first come, first served basis. The locations may not all be at King’s College but spread around different London university sites or free spaces in London.

The event is going to bring together many different groups and organisations that rarely talk to each to each other. It is through combining different ways of looking at issues that more creative and effective ways of working are discovered. University departments are being invited – such as Culture, Media and Creative Industries at King’s College, Anthropology at London School of Economics, and Politics and Sociology at Goldsmith’s. Many radical and progressive organisations are also being asked to come along: Free University of London, Open Book, London Citizens, Radical Assemblies etc., as well as many more small campaign groups and community organisations.

You are welcome to organise cultural events and evening entertainment for the event – such as group games, dances, cabaret, comedy, music – or yoga, walks etc. We want to have some fun and this always helps towards the sharing of ideas and building of connections.

A book and blog/website will be created afterwards with all the contributions – both articles and personal reflections on the conference. We need people to join a working group to organise this important follow-on process so that conversations and contributions can continue after the weekend. This may lead to the creation of short but detailed manuals on how to do things better in the various areas addressed at the event.

This event then, is going to be different – part academic conference, part political gathering, part festival! It seeks to overcome the sterile separation between the cultural, political and educational. By bringing them all together we can create something genuinely new and innovative. We may find ourselves outside our usual comfort zones but we believe that mixing different people and purposes in a context of real equality and mutual respect is an empowering and exciting idea whose time has come.

How to get involved

At present (and this could change) we have a coordinating group which is meeting monthly. We are promoting the conference and setting down its main structures. We are working towards separate working groups dealing with different parts of the organisation and administration of the conference itself. We welcome any ideas on all of this. Let us know if you’d like to do a presentation, or to help out in any way. Please add any other ideas or comments below, and please forward this to all the people you think might be interested in getting involved – we want this event to be spread as much as possible via personal recommendation on social media.

Book your free ticket here.