Rhizome: another year in the life

Rhizome is two years old! This year has been the year of cuts, Occupy, the Dale Farm eviction, riots in the streets of several UK cities and so much more,an interesting year to be doing the work we do.

The biggest development in our second year as Rhizome was our expansion from just 2 to a whopping 7 people involved in the co-op. Having said in last years report-back that we didn’t feel we had much to offer new folk, we took the time to listen to those who were interested in getting involved. Most of them told us that the collective work environment, skill sharing, peer support and so on were as important as, or more important than, access to regular paying work. We heard that we got a lot of offers of work, and interesting work at that.

So in November 2011, 7 of us gathered for 2 days (with another 4 people unable to make the gathering, but still interested). By the end of the gathering existing Rhizome folk were happy to welcome everyone aboard, and everyone was still keen to get aboard. We’ve still got a lot to hammer out in terms of policies and processes, but we checked in on values and aspirations, and are keeping the dialogue alive through shared practice in the form of co-facilitation at all possible opportunities.

To me, it feels as if there are already significant and positive differences in our approach and practice – the inevitable result of co-facilitation with energetic, interesting and interested facilitators. At our gathering we talked about making radical, ‘catalytic interventions’ in the groups we work with. That seems to be happening, and is being well received.

In the coming year we’ll meet again, and almost certainly bring in at least some of the 4 folk who weren’t able to join us the first time around. We’ll get down to details and discuss our internal processes to ensure equitable distribution of work, to maximise sharing of ideas, energy and skills, to strengthen relationships and give newer folk the chance to see whether Rhizome is for them in practice as well as in principle

We try to be transparent wherever possible. To that end as we evolve processes we’ll let you know about them through the About Us pages of our website. As always we welcome your input and feedback from your own experience and ideas

There are distinct benefits for the movement(s) within which we’re active. Clearly there’s more capacity available in a co-op of 7 than a co-op of 2 (which is how we started). But more importantly, an expanded Rhizome brings a wider range of experience, resources and skills to the communities, organisations and groups we work with. And of course it brings new focus and energy to Rhizome as a learning community – and the more we learn from each other, the better a resource we are for the movement.

Walking our walk

Sticking with the same format we used last year, we’ve broken this down into:

  • Who we’ve worked with
  • What work we’ve done
  • Our footprint – choices we’ve made
  • A few issues that we’re dealing with at the moment

Who we’ve worked with

In the last year we’ve trained, facilitated, and offered phone and email support to a wide variety of groups, networks and organisations. Some we worked with for the first time, with others we maintained and developed our existing relationships:

38 Degrees | Amnesty International UK | Climate Camp/Climate Justice Collective |Climate Rush | Christian Ecology Link | Co-operatives UK | Fairtrade Foundation | Greenpeace UK | Leeds University People & Planet | Building Activist Networks Forum | Peace News Summer Gathering | Quaker Peace and Social Witness | Radical Media Conference | Suma Wholefoods | Steiner School Leicester | Stop New Nuclear | Talk Action | The Land Is Ours | Transition Leicester | UK Feminista | Wildlife and Countryside Link | World Development Movement

The following word clouds give you some idea of the nature of the work we’ve done, its proportion (bigger the word the higher the proportion) :

and how much work we did for paying clients and how much we did for free (or just for expenses):

This is in similar proportion to last year, and probably too weighted towards free work for our long-term sustainability, especially now there are more mouths to feed.

Of that work here’s how it broke down in terms of facilitation of meetings and training, and the other support we offer (consultancy work, mediation, phone and email support etc):


Rhizome online

We continue to blog and maintain a role within a community of online activists and facilitators. It’s a role that we could usefully devote more time to, and as new Rhizome folk settle in we hope you’ll hear more of their voices on the blog. The blog has attracted an increasing number of readers – in terms of hits on the website, every month in the last year has been better than our best month in our first year. We’ve more than doubled our readership and have jumped from 56th most influential UK environment blog to the 23rd and then slipped a little to 30th. Our most widely read post is our brief history of consensus decision-making.

We’ve also uploaded many new resources to the website, especially around consensus decision-making, mediation and open space, and overhauled many more. This is an ongoing process – there are more to overhaul, and some obvious omissions. Your suggestions for subjects you’d like to see our take on very welcome. We’ll also continue to signpost readers to some of the best resources that exist elsewhere online.

Our ecological and social footprint

Nothing major has changed in the last 12 months:

We still bank with Triodos Bank. We still insure with Towergate Professional Risks. We’ve continued to use the services of green designer Stig to design new resources. We also entered into a relationship with Coopportunity, a fellow co-op, who have dealt with some of our accountancy needs. We’re still travelling by foot, bike, bus and train or not at all when we can deal with something by phone skype or email.

Issues arising for Rhizome

We thought we’d share some issues that are ‘live’ for us this far into the journey that is Rhizome.

Finance: Last year we said “Times are hard, unless you happen to work for a transnational bank, energy company, or be a Tory cabinet minister. Times are especially hard for a lot of the folk we traditionally work for. That translates as hard times for us. We haven’t brought in as much paying work as we’d hoped to despite reasonably good contacts, and, we think, decent reputations. We’re exploring a few avenues, writing a few funding bids, but not expecting miracles. One of the consequences of hard times is that we’ve been slower than expected to expand the pool of people who make up Rhizome.” and not that much has changed except for taking on new folk regardless. We haven’t put as much time and energy into fundraising as we ought to have but hopefully we’ll address that in the coming year. It’ll certainly be on the agenda of our June co-op gathering. Meantime you know where we are if you want to support our free work!

The running of a diverse network of facilitators: Now we are 7, with another 3 possibles coming along to our June gathering, we have to address issues of policy and procedures head on. When there were just 2 such things worked better organically, and at times they may still work best that way but not everything and not every time. So we have some work to do making decisions such as:

  • how to allocate work out equitably amongst the co-op taking into account a host of factors such as people’s existing skills, their desire to develop skills or learn new ones, geography, how significant a part of their income Rhizome work is and much more
  • refining a decision-making process that works for a co-op of busy people based in London, Leicester and Manchester – regular face-to-face meetings aren’t possible, so how do we decide? How do we use social networking, the phone and so on? What decisions need full co-op input? Basic stuff, but still in development!

Engaging with the movement: As we said at the beginning – it’s been a momentous year for activism. The Arab Spring has fired the imaginations of activists across the globe, and the Occupy movement and its cousin the 99% Spring are clear evidence of that. Have Rhizome done enough to get involved with these emerging movements? Personally I’d say no. We’ve joined the community of bloggers talking about the issues that arise. Some of us have wandered through Occupy encampments and spent short periods of time there, for example, but we’ve not had much of a sense of collective involvement. That means we’re missing out on the growth and development of techniques like consensus. Sometimes that’s a good thing (it can be painful and frustrating to see movements making the same mistakes that were made just a few years before…), but new ideas and new ways of expressing old ideas do emerge and we need to stay relevant. That’ll change when we settle into better communication channel and share the individual experiences we have.

Anything else you want to know?

We said we wanted to be transparent and we mean it, so feel free to use the comment function below to pose a question (or of course, make a comment!)