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.

Wednesday 29 October 2014

Attending a Workshop (An Exercise in Presence)

How many times have you turned up at a workshop or seminar anxiously glancing at your watch and thinking of all the things you could or should be doing instead of being at the workshop?  Then you sit down, wondering if you locked the front door or thinking about the dozens of emails piling up in your inbox.

By now the workshop is 10 or 15 minutes old, the facilitator has introduced the agenda and given an overview of the day – and you haven’t heard a word!

It happens often doesn’t it?

Here’s a simple exercise that the facilitator can use to help workshop participants attend right from the start.  It allows participants to be fully present, with their attention focused on the workshop and not on other matters.
  1. Before participants arrive, the facilitator places a bag an some notepaper on each participants chair.
  2. Once everyone has arrived ask participants to write their name on the bag and then on the notepaper to answer this question:  “What have I left behind or given up in order to attend this workshop today?”  The facilitator may wish to give some examples and explain that the answers could include: activities (e.g. finishing the monthly report, or going to the gym), thoughts and plans (e.g. thinking about tonight's dinner and what to buy for it, or deciding where to go for the summer holidays), routine commitments (e.g. not meeting your partner for lunch).  Note that it may also be helpful to suggest that participants turn off their mobile phones and place them in the bag as well.  (There may be some exemptions to this: e.g. doctors or parents with young children)
  3. Give people about 5 minutes to write as much as they can think of.  Encourage them to write anything and everything that comes to mind.
  4. Ask participants to pair up with one other person and then for each to tell the other what has been written on their list.  Allow about 5 minutes.
  5. Once each person has had the chance to tell the other what is on their list, then ask them to tell the other person that “I am going to place this bag (and everything in it) outside the door and leave it there for the duration of the workshop.  I will then focus my attention on the workshop.”
  6. Ask participants to physically place their bag outside the door (or just inside it if security is an issue)
  7. Once everyone has placed their bag outside the door, reassemble the group and ask if anyone still has anything left that would hinder them attending to the workshop.
  8. Finally, ask participants to turn to their neighbour and tell them: “I am now present.”
This may all sound rather silly and perhaps even tedious.  However, it is surprising how the simple act of physically acknowledging, and putting aside, any potential hindrances can help participants to (fully) attend a workshop.

Tuesday 21 October 2014

Community Engagement Hurdles

Photo: Robert Voors (Flickr)
Community Engagement is one of the latest in a long line of buzz-phrases used by those in authority to describe or orient what they do for or to communities.  If it is done well then it can also describe how those in authority work with communities. 

To work with communities, though, requires more than just techniques, skills or resources.  What is most needed by those representing authority who wish to work with communities is a mindset that:
  • is willing to give up the notion of being the “authority,”
  • is willing to recognise that wisdom resides within the community,
  • is willing to let go of being an “expert,”
  • is able to see both the bigger picture as well as the local detail.
Devising Community Plans and Outcomes has been one of the projects of community engagement when it is used by local authorities.  Community Outcomes can be useful, but they can also be disengaging when used inappropriately.

Here is an example of some of the hurdles that can occur when a community engagement process is used to produce a community plan and outcomes.

A local authority begins a community engagement process to create a community plan (including outcomes).  In doing so, they consult a number of individuals and organisations.

Hurdle Number 1.  The consultation at this stage can often only engage with those already engaged.  The engagement can exclude many because it is a) at too high a level, b) requires technical or specialised knowledge, c) is couched in unfamiliar language or simply d) the local authority officials are aloof or otherwise do not “fit in.”

Once the consultations have concluded, a set of community outcomes are produced based on all the feedback, discussions and analyses.

Hurdle Number 2.  The community plan merges together all the data and information into a single set of outcomes that express an overall community plan for the area.  But in doing so, some of the detail particular to unique sectors of that community can get lost in the bigger picture.

The community plan is then used and interpreted by local authority officials.

Hurdle Number 3.  Officials can become entrenched in the view that their interpretation of the plan and the outcomes is the right one.

The community outcomes are used by the local authority to decide what projects it wishes to support and which organisations it will enter into alliances or collaboration with in order to proceed.

Hurdle Number 4.  If a community group does not undertake projects that fit the community outcomes then it and its projects may not be supported by the local authority.  This leaves the organisation two options: a) it can change its projects, programmes or methods to ensure support, or b) it can remain faithful to the neighbourhood within it works but with limited ability to act because of withdrawal of support.

Community engagement certainly has its place, but those undertaking the process need to be very careful that the management of the process does not derail or disengage parts of the community in the process. 

For this to happen requires more than simply the techniques, skills and resources of community engagement.  To be able to work with a community requires a shift in mindset.

Tuesday 14 October 2014

Building Freedom Prisons

Freedom was one of the major catch-cries of the 1960s.  Liberation was the name of the game: women's liberation, sexual freedom, civil rights.  The New World would appear before us once we were free.  A world of peace and equality was promised.

For awhile it did look promising.  Men began to discover their emotions, women began to discover the world outside the home and everywhere minorities were becoming full participants in economic and political realms.

Out of the call for freedom and liberation arose the Human Potential Movement.  Individuals were overcoming their low self-esteem, realising their potential and creating their own world.

So why is it that rates of depression are on the rise in the western world?  Why is suicide one of the big killers amongst youth?  We have greater choice yet less satisfaction.  We can spend ages in supermarket aisles choosing between essentially the same items.  We complain that there are dozens of channels on TV yet there is “nothing to watch.”  Why?

Did the promise of individual freedom only end in us having the freedom to build our own prison?
Oh, what a beautiful prison it is.  Instead of cell benches we have the latest designer lounge suites.  Instead of prison gruel we can taste exotic dishes from all over the world.  Instead of a bleak view from inside barred windows we can view the latest movie or watch a wildlife documentary at the click of a button.

Yet we are still trapped.  We are less connected with our fellow human beings than ever.  Oh sure, we have social media, we have instant connection via email, texting, iPhones and other such smart technology.  But, in general, individuals today have a smaller social network than they did a generation or two ago.

Escaping the Prison

To escape this prison we need to break down the walls.  We may also need outside help, which is where those with a commitment to community development come in.  If we are isolated in our prison then community is the means by which we break out.

If community is the answer, what was the question?  Perhaps that is the single most important tool that a community developer or community educator has in their toolkit – questions.  Helping people to understand the power of questions is a crucial step towards breaking down those prison walls.

One powerful question to ask is this:  Does our freedom equate with having more choice?  Many commentators on inner freedom and happiness suggest that the pursuit of our desires may be the very thing that inhibits us obtaining freedom.  It seems that the more choice we have the less free we become.

Wednesday 8 October 2014

Technology will save us

Amidst the fears of climate change, resource depletion and biodiversity loss there are those that proclaim that “technology will save us.”  Humanity has found technological solutions in the past, they claim, and so it will do so in the future.

Their faith is laudable.  Their recognition of past techno-solutions is evidence of humanity’s creativity and innovation.  So perhaps they are correct in declaring that technology will save us.  The blinker however is in the word will.  Will implies a future tense.  The technologists announce that humanity will create the necessary technology in the future.

The Future is Now

But we have the technology NOW.  We have the technology to transform our energy sector.  We have the technology to transform our transportation infrastructure.  We have the technology to transform our food production and distribution.

In short, we have the technology right now to save us.

Here are just a few examples from the energy, transportation and food sectors showing the already available technology that can transform our present wasteful and destructive patterns.


A Canadian report indicates that for an investment of $1.3 billion more than 20,000 jobs can be generated in wind, solar, hydro and biomass energy production, more than 18,000 jobs in energy efficiency methods, or almost 19,000 jobs in wind and solar power to meet Canada’s emissions targets.  Yet, the same $1.3 billion invested in oil and gas extraction generates only 2,300 – 2,800 jobs.

Two young inventors in the Philippines have developed prototypes of solar panels that can be printed from 3D printers.

Solar roadways are being trialled in Idaho, USA and if implemented could generate more than three times the electricity that Americans currently use per year.


From 2015 Dutch trains will begin running on electricity supplied by wind power and could be fully powered by this source as early as 2018.

Over 500 cities in 49 countries have introduced bicycle sharing schemes.  Paris has gone the extra step and recently introduced a kids version (P’tit VĂ©lib) of the popular scheme.

Beyond that, the French have gone even further with twenty companies (employing 10,000 people)  joining a trial that pays people to walk to work.  The scheme is designed to boost peoples health, reduce air pollution and cut fossil fuel consumption.

A number of European cities have experimented with providing free public transport, with results varying from minimal difference to substantial increases in patronage, reduced pollution and less carbon emissions.


It has been suggested that buying local from small farmers could reduce ones food footprint by about 15%.  Such small farmers use up to 40% less energy by cutting out intensive pesticides and fertilisers.  Small scale diversified farms are more likely to have a higher total output per unit of land than do large scale monocultures.

Permaculture (the principle of working with, rather than against, nature) has been available for at least 50 years.  The word permaculture (permanent + agriculture) was coined by an Australian game ranger, Bill Mollison, who put forward three guiding ethics:
  • care of the earth
  • care of people
  • sharing of surplus.
In India the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) used less water, chemicals and seeds, yet increased yields up to 68%.  Agro-ecological practices introduced in Africa are showing increased yields with less pesticide use. 

Following a devastating hurricane in Nicaragua in 1998 a study showed that those farms using agro-ecological principles were considerably more resilient than those based on intensive chemical and pesticide use.

Where there’s a Will

So, we have the technology.  It is not a question of: when will technology save us?  It is a question of: do we have the will to use what we already have?