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Welcome to Facilitation Stories, where we discover how facilitators ended up in the profession, and how facilitation methods, principles and techniques are used more widely. Brought to you by IAF England and Wales. For more information on our chapter, click here.

Jan 17, 2023

In this episode Nikki talks to Lucy Hawthorne who for the past year has been experimenting with bringing playfulness to conversations about climate.

Lucy is a facilitator by trade and an environmental campaigner by background and has been exploring the link between playfulness and climate action for around five years.

In the latter stages of her campaigning work, Lucy was at her most successful, including involvement in the ban on fracking in the UK, but was also at her most jaded. She was becoming adept at political maneuvering but not really shifting people’s hearts and minds, and began to think about how to engage people more deeply in this important subject.  As she moved into facilitation she began to look for the antidote to the lack of deep engagement and realised that people were being scared into action, but crushed into apathy. Maybe plan was the antidote. 

Lucy has spent a lot of time thinking about what play means and how it is both a set of tools and a mindset.  The project hasn’t developed in quite the way Lucy expected but the end point is roughly where she was expecting.

Initially Lucy thought this might be like a research mission looking at different elements of play and climate, systematically interviewing people and writing up findings, and at the end of the year, she’d have a pseudo evidence-base on the benefits of play in climate action.  But being playful and iterative about the process, Lucy has found other ways forward, asking the same questions but being less methodical about recording the evidence and dived quicker into action, prototyping and testing the concepts and principles out with people.

Lucy uses Lego a lot in this work as it has a low barrier for entry.  It’s familiar for people and Lucy describes it as the “trojan horse”, getting people in as they think it’s fun and whacky but then having conversations that are fun but also serious and at times quite profound.

She is also interested in play more generally, and talks about techniques such as improv, drama and art as different mechanisms of playfulness. Lucy is particularly interested in how to get people involved in a conversation that they generally avoid, or avoid having as deeply as they could do. Lucy tries to use tools that make it easy to get started.

Nikki asks Lucy what prompted her to put the ideas into action.  Lucy feels this isn’t really a choice: climate action is urgent and theory isn’t very useful, there’s a need to give things a go and iterate to see what works.  It’s also about Lucy embodying in her practice as a facilitator, the things she’s talking to other people about.  For Lucy, playfulness is about curiosity, experimentation and going with the flow which is counter to her experience as a campaigner.  She’s pushed herself to give things a go, to run events and have conversttions with people that previously would have terrified her- and counting that as playfulness.

They move on to talk about how Lucy has used a prototyping approach.  Her first event posed the question “How playful is the climate movement?”, and this helped set up different avenues of enquiry for Lucy, both on how people relate with climate change but also how they relate with play as adults.  She’s found a network of people who’ve helped to “chew the process through”.  She then started iterating workshops, online and in person, using Lego Serious Play for different audiences, and looking at different aspects such as emotions and blockers to action  She’s also done in-house company events and lectures, talking about principles around play and how it might relate to climate action.

Nikki asks about the challenges and opportunities of using a physical medium such as Lego both on- and off-line.  Lucy has found the kinds of conversations people have had have been different.  Face to face conversations have generally catalysed a sense of connection, but because online is slightly more independent, people have noted a high level of quiet reflection.  Lucy also notes that with the online work has allowed the reach of the work to be much wider, involving participants globally.

Lucy talks about some of the logistical challenges, using second hand lego as far as possible and finding ways to incentivise people to return it.  It’s also a challenge to work on in 2023 as she’s keen to make this accessible to people whether or not they have Lego at home, wherever they are in the world.  Lucy has enjoyed the online sessions but also feels there’s nothing like being in a room with a table full of toys.

It’s been a rich year of learning for Lucy, mainly that there is “just something about play” and the word “play” that is different to parallel words.  Lucy’s convinced that if she changed the wording it wouldn’t be as effective.  She’s found it seems to appeal more to women and this is something she wants to unpick further.  She’s also found these freeing, playful techniques are most effective when talking about the difficult emotions associated with climate change, and “moments of stuckness”. From this learning she now understands her mission to be how to make it safe, light and fun to talk about climate change, so that people can engage more deeply, honestly and creatively with the subject.

Lucy and Nikki do a live demonstration of some mini Lego Serious Play exercises building on the metaphors that are the basis for Lego Serious Play.

Lucy is curious to continue exploring her role in how to support people to make faster progress and move into more radical action. Lucy is ready to launch Climate Play as an organisation in its own right and will now be diving deeply into this work, particularly helping businesses to solve climate blockers and how to partner with other people working to the same ends and help them increase the impact of their work.  There will be a full series of events, more in-house workshops and exploring the broader principles of what it means to have a playful mindset. 


To find out more about the Climate Play project:

To attend future events:

LinkedIn for Lucy:

Nikki on Twitter: @NiksClicks