The name of this blog, Rainbow Juice, is intentional.
The rainbow signifies unity from diversity. It is holistic. The arch suggests the idea of looking at the over-arching concepts: the big picture. To create a rainbow requires air, fire (the sun) and water (raindrops) and us to see it from the earth.
Juice suggests an extract; hence rainbow juice is extracting the elements from the rainbow, translating them and making them accessible to us. Juice also refreshes us and here it symbolises our nutritional quest for understanding, compassion and enlightenment.

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Community Conversations: A Review

When I started working in Community Development four decades ago I wish that this book had been available.  First published in 2008 Community Conversations is highly recommended to anyone getting involved in community development for the first time.  Even for those for whom community development is like a favourite old coat, Community Conversations is worthy of a read or three.

The author, Paul Born, is a co-founder of Tamarack – a Canadian organisation dedicated to community development and engagement.  Tamarack is highly regarded internationally in these fields and Paul Born is often called upon to share his knowledge and wisdom world-wide.

Community Conversations has a lengthy sub-title: Mobilizing the Ideas, Skills and Passion of Community Organizations, Governments, Businesses, and People.  As the main title suggests, the book is firstly about conversations.  The sub-title suggests the secondary theme; multi-sectoral collaboration.

Right from page 1 Born makes it clear the reason that conversation and collaboration are key ingredients not only for community development, but also for society as a whole – society today is incredibly complex.  Many of the services and organisations working within our communities are set up to deal with single issues.  Born notes that these organisations
“…are sorely lacking in the face of personal and community problems that are multifaceted, adaptive, and interconnected.”
With such an understanding it becomes obvious why multi-sectoral collaboration is necessary.  No-one has all the answers and, quite possibly, no-one even has all the questions.

But, why conversation?  Why does conversation play such a critical part in solving these issues?  Born, in common with many others, proposes that communities need to tap into their assets.
Ask someone to list a community’s assets and they would probably come up with a list such as: schools, museums, parks, government departments, businesses, community centres and other resources.  Born writes a similar list.  He then notes that
“…most often it is not the organizations but the people who lead them that represent the true, untapped asset.”
The Stranger Asset

What happens when people get together?  They talk, they converse.  They share ideas, they mutually create new ideas.  This is why Born declares conversation to be crucial.

But, warns Born, don’t bring just the usual suspects to the community conversation.  Be open to the “unusual stranger.”  The stranger may be
“…a homeless person on the street, someone with a disability, or an unusually entrepreneurial government bureaucrat.”
In other words, bring those who may not normally be part of such community conversations – people and communities often overlooked or excluded.

Community Conversations is a simply written book, yet full of sage advice about how to create the space within which stimulating and effective conversations and collaborations can emerge.
For example, Born suggests that there are three skills necessary for advancing collaboration:
  • systems thinking,
  • patience,
  • opportunistic resilience (aka “seeking early wins”)

In the second half of the book Born tells ten stories of conversations that he has been involved with and describes in brief how each of these conversations were set up.  Many of these techniques may be known to community development facilitators: e.g. Future Search, Open Space, Conversation Cafes.  What is useful here is that Born tells his own story about how these have been used to start and stimulate community conversations.

Even though Born doesn’t describe these techniques in detail he does provide plenty of resource references for those wanting to find out more. 

One of these ten stories is less a technique and more a basis for what enables all good conversation – food.  Born acknowledges that
“…the best conversations that I have been involved in usually involve food… We sit.  We eat.  We talk.”
Indeed!  Why should it be any different just because the conversation is in a community setting rather than around our family dinner table?

Yes, I would have loved to read this book four decades ago.  I certainly enjoyed reading it now.
If you haven’t already got it, get it.  Sit down.  Have a snack nearby.  Read it.

Community Conversations is available from Bank of I.D.E.A.S

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

What Use Are Prisons?

Prisons are built to contain criminals – right?  They are also built as a deterrent to crime – right?  In other words, if we build more prisons then the crime rate should drop – right?  But it doesn’t.

I recently obtained the incarceration rate and the crime index1 for a number of western nations.  I then plotted the results, shown in Graph 1 below.


The horizontal axis indicates the number of people imprisoned per 100,000 of the population.  The vertical axis is the Crime Index.

There is a clear trend line indicating that a higher incarceration rate is commensurate with a higher Crime Index.  Way out to the right is the US, with one of the highest incarceration rates in the World.  The US may imprison people at a far greater rate than other western nations, but in doing so, it has not managed to reduce the incidence of crime at all.  If anything, US crime rates are higher than that of almost all other western nations.

Perhaps the inclusion of the US may skew things.  So, I plotted the same variables for 49 of the 50 US states.  I left Louisiana out of the mix because it was an obvious outlier (it has an incarceration rate more than double the second highest state – Alabama).2  Graph 2 shows the results.


There is a trend line (albeit a weak one) that indicates a positive correlation between incarceration rates and the incidence of crime.

Some would say that these graphs show that because crime is high in some states or countries then that means that the incarceration rate is also high.  Others would argue a causality in the other direction; the more you imprison people, the greater will be the incidence of crime in that area.  There are numerous papers and theories on this, and I don’t intend trying to justify one or the other of these possibilities.

What does appear to be clear though, is that higher rates of imprisonment do not seem to deter crime.  Is there any other evidence for this assertion?  Figures for recidivism suggest that there is.

Comparing recidivism rates between nations is notoriously difficult, because of differing ways of measuring it.  However, some patterns do emerge.  Recidivism in the US runs at around 60-70%.  This is around twice the recidivism rates for other western nations, with Canada, Australia and Sweden all showing recidivism rates of around 35%.  Meanwhile, Norway claims a rate of less than 20%.

Meanwhile this all costs.  The cost of keeping a prisoner in jail for one year is around $40,000 in the US, $70,000 in the UK and over $100,000 in Australia.  Add to this the construction costs3 of prisons and we have an enormous amount of money going into a system that may not be working.

Who are the Prisoners?

One thing is clear throughout the western world is that those who end up in prison show very similar demographic backgrounds.  A prisoner is more likely to come from a poor socio-economic background, more likely to be unemployed at the time of imprisonment, and likely to have a low education level.

Furthermore, the prisoners are highly likely to have a dark coloured skin.  Indigenous people in Australia are 14 time more likely to end up in jail than a white person in that country.  Hispanics are twice as likely and Blacks five times as likely to end up in jail in the US than are Whites.  Blacks in the UK are three times more likely to be imprisoned than are Whites.

It is time to stop building prisons.  Its time to start building a society based on social justice.  Only then will we have the chance of seeing crime levels decline.

1. The Crime Index is an estimation of the level of crime in a country or state.  The index is computed using a range of crime figures.  See
2. Perhaps a reader in the US could enlighten me as to what is going on in Louisiana.  Not only is it’s incarceration rate massively higher than the other 49 states, it also has a murder rate double or more that of most other states.
3. Some recent examples of prison construction costs are:  Australia ($495 million), US ($400 million) and Canada ($569 million).

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Homo Civitas vs Homo Consumerus

Cartoon by Grea (
Homo Sapiens emerged on this planet around 200,000 years ago.  Over time we learnt the art of speech and later the art and science of agriculture.  We formed communities, clans, tribes and societies, so beginning the process towards becoming citizens.

The idea of citizenship has been with us since Athenian and Roman times, but is was the Renaissance (14th to 17th Centuries) that gave rise to our modern day conceptions of what being a citizen means. 

We also began to produce, with production taking off dramatically in the 18th and early 19th Centuries with the Industrial Revolution.  Around that time our consumption patterns began to shift from consuming for our basic needs of food, shelter and warmth to consuming with extrinsic desires in mind.

Thus, by the beginning of the 20th Century we (at least, those in Western nations) were first and foremost citizens, although we were becoming consumers.

Citizenship (from the Latin civitas – plural civitates) provides us with rights of belonging to a collective as well as responsibilities to that collective.  One of those rights of being a citizen is the right to participate in the decision-making of the collective (be it community, society or nation) that we belong to.  It could be argued that Homo Sapiens had become Homo Civitas.

That was all about to change though.  Following World War II western nations, in particular the US, decided that our economies had to be maintained via growth in order not to repeat the disaster of the Great Depression.  How was that to be achieved?

The economist and retail analyst Viktor Lebow answered this in the clearest most hard-nosed manner.  Writing in 1955 he laid out the foundations of consumer society.  He is worth quoting at length:
“Our enormously productive economy demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfactions, our ego satisfactions, in consumption. The measure of social status, of social acceptance, of prestige, is now to be found in our consumptive patterns. The very meaning and significance of our lives today expressed in consumptive terms. The greater the pressures upon the individual to conform to safe and accepted social standards, the more does he tend to express his aspirations and his individuality in terms of what he wears, drives, eats- his home, his car, his pattern of food serving, his hobbies.
These commodities and services must be offered to the consumer with a special urgency. We require not only “forced draft” consumption, but “expensive” consumption as well. We need things consumed, burned up, worn out, replaced, and discarded at an ever increasing pace. We need to have people eat, drink, dress, ride, live, with ever more complicated and, therefore, constantly more expensive consumption. The home power tools and the whole “do-it-yourself” movement are excellent examples of “expensive” consumption.”

He couldn’t have been any clearer, or more blatant.  Governments, industrialists and advertisers advanced the creed with glee.

Then came deregulation and privatisation in the 1980s – known as neo-liberal capitalism.  This further advanced Homo Sapiens and/or Homo Civitas on the road to becoming Homo Consumerus – a condition in which we become nothing but consumers in the global economy.

We also began to lose our citizenship.  Privatisation meant that governments began selling off telecommunications, transport systems, postal systems, electricity generation, even health care and education.  No longer were these services that we all collectively owned and used, they were now part of the user pays approach. Yes – Homo Consumerus had arrived.

Since Viktor Lebow’s exhortation in 1955 we have excitedly embraced consumerism.  The number of cars per person has tripled, we consume twice as much energy per capita.  In the US the Personal Consumption Expenditure (PCE) has tripled.

Not only does our rampant consumerism destroy the earth, it also destroys us by promoting external gratification rather than internal wellbeing.1

The Consumption of Democracy

Let’s return briefly to citizenship.  Much of what determines the outcome of our citizens right to select our representatives has become less about who we vote for and more about which candidate or political party spends the most money.2  Much of these campaign funds come from wealthy businessmen/women and corporations.

Not only are we we individually becoming consumers; increasingly, our parliaments, councils and senates are being bought.  Business is consuming our democracy.

We are in danger of losing any sense of being citizens.  We are in danger of becoming nothing more than consumers – exactly as Lebow and the transnational corporations that followed him would want us to.

Furthermore, this consumerism isn’t about satisfying our needs; it is now focussed on acquiring status, prestige or coolness via the purchase of brands, styles and fashionable trends.

What is to be the outcome of this clash between Homo Civitas and Homo Consumerus?

There are signs that Homo Consumerus is being rejected by more and more individuals and communities.  The threat of Climate Change is forcing many to reconsider a growth-oriented consumerist society.

Out of that change of mindset a number of movements are taking hold, amongst them:
  • Transition Towns
  • the Slow Movement
  • Occupy movement
  • the recognition of Indigenous wisdom
  • Via Campesina International Peasants Movement
  • Localism movement
  • Climate Change action groups
  • Center for a New American Dream
Numerous think-tanks and learning/research centres are also emerging, including:3
  • David Suzuki Foundation
  • International Society for Ecology and Culture
  • Simplicity Institute
  • Equality Trust
  • new economics foundation
  • Schumacher Centre
  • Adbusters
Maybe out of the clash between Citizen and Consumer we will see the emergence of a new species.  A human who has respect for oneself, for other people, for other species and for the Earth.  Homo Communitatis?

1. Interestingly, the word consume comes from the Latin consumere and initially meant: to annul, destroy/kill, to reduce or wear away.
2. In 2012, the average winner of a seat in the US Senate spent over $10 million.
3. These two lists are by no means exhaustive.  World-wide there are numerous groups and movements devoted to seeking and pursuing a life that is less focussed on consumerism.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Let’s Get Creative

Source: BK, Creative Commons
There is a common myth that in order to attract innovation and creativity we have to pay for it.  It is the same myth that underpins a lot of the excessive salaries and bonuses paid to CEOs and other top income earners.

But, is there a link between creativity, innovation and income?  David Byrne (of Talking Heads1 fame) recently lamented that New York had had it’s creative elements drained by inequality.  Byrne had witnessed the rise of the financial sector and the dramatic increase in inequality that went with it.  He summed it up by saying that “any businesses that might have employed creative individuals were having difficulties surviving and, naturally, the arty types had a hard time finding employment.”

Whether Byrne’s subjective conclusion is correct or not, his point cannot be easily dismissed.  In a world in which 45% of the world’s population live below the poverty line of $2 per day two questions arise.  Are we a) denying some of our fellow human beings the chance to explore their creative intelligence and b) missing the opportunity of utilising potentially creative minds?

Our world has become increasingly complex and we now face some issues that require our collective intelligence and creativity to solve or adapt to.  We cannot rely on those on extremely high incomes or those with enormous wealth having the creativity (let alone the motivation) to work with this complexity.

The very complexity of these issues requires much wider inputs than those presently available in our leaders and decision-makers.  The issues facing us are multi-faceted.  They combine technology, science, resources and economics, much as has often been the case .  However, the issues are also contributed to by social, cultural and spiritual features.

The problem is that most of our world leaders and decision-makers come from very similar backgrounds and experience.  New, innovative and creative ideas are not highly likely to emerge from such homogeneity.  One commentator has likened it to throwing a hook into a school of fish.  You will get an idea, but it is likely to be just like any other that would have ended up on the hook.

To get the ideas that we require in order to tackle the complex issues of today we need two things:
  1. Diversity.  We need a much greater range of backgrounds, experiences and skills in our collective decision-making forums.
  2. Collective Mindset.  Creative solutions are most likely to emerge from how we communicate and relate to one another.
With respect to the second point, the physicist David Bohm2 explored dialogue and suggested that “ may turn out that such a form of free exchange of ideas and information is of fundamental relevance for transforming culture and freeing it of destructive misinformation, so that creativity can be liberated.”

Indeed.  In such a space we can all participate, we can all help create the ideas for transforming our world.  We don’t need to pay enormous amounts to an expert to do it either.
Let’s get creative.

1. Talking Heads was one of the most critically acclaimed bands of the 1980s, helping to introduce new wave to the world.  David Byrne was the lead vocalist and guitarist for the band.
2. David Bohm is credited with proposing a form of dialogue that is “a freely-flowing group conversation in which participants attempt to reach a common understanding, experiencing everyone's point of view fully, equally and nonjudgmentally.”  Now it is often referred to as Bohmian Dialogue.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

It Gets Even Easier

Last October 2014 I posted a blog entitled “Its as Easy as ABCD” about Asset-Based Community Development.  I recently had the pleasure to hear another presentation by Peter Kenyon

As you listen to Peter you can’t help but realise that community development – and, indeed, other forms of development – is very easy.  Simple even.  Beware though.  ABCD is not a one size fits all approach.  It's not like a piece of software you can buy off the shelf. 

Peter described a number of examples of ABCD from New Zealand, Australia and the US.  Each example was different in content.  One was about watching whales, another about a soup kitchen and yet another about how a towns very name (Bulls) can be an advantage.  All different in content, but very much the same in basic approach.

Each of the examples began by not asking what do we need, or what haven’t we got?  Rather they began their community development by asking what have we got?  What are our assets?  Starting with that question communities arrive at much different answers.  Crucially too, they start tapping into the creativity of individuals and the wisdom of communities.

Peter noted that it can be very easy for people to become “experts in talking themselves down” when community development is approached from a top-down, needs-driven approach.  What is needed is a simpler approach.

Peter is wont to use a lot of quotations in his presentation and these can be inspiring.  To show this simpler approach he shares one from Ernesto Sirolli (author of Ripples on the Zambezi1):
“The future of every community lies in capturing the passion, imagination and resources of its people.”
Simple and easy – isn’t it?  Yes, it is.  Peter warns, though, that we have to make a conscious choice about how we think of individuals and communities.  That may be the hardest part of ABCD; overcoming our present notions of what development is and who drives it.

Peter ends his presentation with five principles of ABCD:
  1. Appreciative Mindset Focus (What assets do we have?)
  2. Community driven
  3. Community asset riches
  4. Giftness of all
  5. Relationship focused.
He then displays his final quote, in this case a saying from the indigenous people of my own country – the Maori.  This brief saying nicely encapsulates those five principles.
Ma tou rourou, ma toku rourou, ka ora te iwi.”
“With your basket (gifts) and my basket (gifts), the community will thrive.”
1. Sirolli was disenchanted with foreign aid projects in Africa which ignored local knowledge.  The book explores an alternative model whereby people recognise their talents and business passions and then acquiring the skills to transform their dreams into reality.