2020 01 28 Network News

Creating social change, Owls, Earthbags, Effective collaboration, Things to do & More

2020 01 28 Network News

Creating social change

Introducing egalitarian decision-making to my business

-Rafaele Joudry

For a couple of years I had been wondering how an egalitarian decision-making system called sociocracy would work in my business. I heard that businesses performed better if they used Sociocracy, and was intrigued.

In the past, I believed that time spent in meetings in my small business team was unproductive, and thought decisions were better made by one or two people. 

Also, an attempt to tap in to the team’s ideas when the business was struggling financially wasn’t especially effective. I invited the team to suggest what we could do to improve things, but I thought the suggestions were mostly not practical or useful, and then the team were miffed that I didn’t listen to their advice.

Now my view has changed dramatically.

In 2019, I invited Sociocracy trainer Gina Price from http://sociocracyconsulting.com/ to help. 

Problem-solving in 2 steps: picture forming and proposal shaping

Gina started by running a three-hour workshop involving our whole team of nine. I have to say I’ve never before taken the whole team off work for a three-hour process, and I wondered if it would be worth it! 

First, we collaborated to clearly describe all the elements of the situation (picture forming): we listed all the issues and concerns that we could think of, going around the group taking turns to speak, so everyone was asked for input several times.

Then we switched gears to start the proposal shaping process, and listed possible solutions to all of these problems. Having their ideas written down and recorded where all could see was important because it meant all team members knew they were being heard. 

Two of us then met with the trainer to tidy up and consolidate the list of potential actions. These ideas are now all available for future implementation.

Creating structure of double-linked circles within the business 

As I asked myself “what next?” some possibilities started to form in my mind.

I was in the process of studying a year-long academy course with Sociocracy For All https://www.sociocracyforall.org/ and we had been looking at how to structure organisations.

The idea for structuring my team started with a problem in our Print Advertising project, where no one felt ownership for certain tasks, so they kept kind of falling between three stools. One day it occurred to me that if three of us sat down together, once a month, and got on the same page, it might run better.

Then I thought we could do the same thing for our online ads. And how about a work group to manage our automated customer follow up from enquiries? And then another work group to manage the telephone appointment setting process? And for our wholesale distributor channel, and our research program! In the end I came up with ten work groups that each needed a bit of specific focus. I appointed three or more people to each group.

Then we needed a central circle to coordinate the others.

The problem was that having a double link (see explainer) between the central circle and each of the work groups would require more people than we had in the organisation—and would also make the central circle too large!

But then I saw that the groups fit into three main clusters—1. lead gathering, 2. sales and service, and 3. professional marketing channels.

So I named these three clusters and decided that each cluster would have a leader and delegate sitting on the Central Circle. The clusters wouldn’t actually meet as such, but with much overlap of personnel, they would act quite cohesively and could share their central representation.

This whole plan has manifested in the last four months like clockwork. Some work groups meet monthly and some quarterly. They each use the Sociocracy style agenda, kept on a Google Doc so it’s transparent and accessible, and all decisions and policies of the group are kept in one place for easy reference.

Some resistance

Yes, there was some resistance in the team, with statements like “these meetings are disrupting our work” and “why should I be in this group?”

But at the same time, I could tell people were chuffed to be given roles like ‘leader’ or ‘secretary’ of the various groups. 

Secretaries were elected by each group, using the Sociocratic selection process, where each member of the circle nominates the person they feel is best suited to the role, and gives reasons. This allows the group to select the best person for the role, not just the one who is willing to do it. You have to be present at one of these elections to appreciate the impact when several people choose you and state why they think you would perform well in the role. Often this results in people stepping up to a role they wouldn’t otherwise have seen themselves in.

But is it good for business?

Because each group sets its own aims (within its area of authority), and then agrees its own agenda, every discussion topic is pointedly focussed on useful aims for the business.

As owner, I was of course concerned about decisions being made that would not be profitable. However, as a full co-participant of every group, my consent is needed to any decision. So I’ve found that I can still safeguard our progress, within a structure that allows for much greater active participation and responsibility.

As each group met and started implementing strategies to achieve more of its aims, I’ve seen the spotlight go on in each little corner of the business. Ideas have been popping, initiatives starting, and a new buzz of energy engendered in the whole place.

One extremely useful benefit has been the opportunity to engage with some of our external consultants, who are an ongoing part of the team but weren’t well integrated. By putting them into a work group and having them join our meetings online via Zoom, suddenly they had a live and equal presence in the team. This has added higher-level skills, blended with practical knowledge of those on the coal face with the day to day running, and brought a higher-octane energy which is fuelling all sorts of new and valuable processes.

I have been re-energised by the whole thing as well, and feel that the business is hitting a new stride.

Wanting to match the increased focus and energy with a new financial model, I’ve offered a profit share to all employees, so that the extra care and creativity they invest will bring them tangible rewards as well.

I have quite frankly been surprised at how well it seems to be working, despite some initial resistance. It has confirmed for me what a useful and well tested model Sociocracy is to enhance organisational effectiveness, not just for the community sector but for business as well.

Rafaele Joudry is Founder and Director of Sound Therapy International

Explainer: some key elements of sociocracy

Sociocracy is a simple method any group can use to make and follow through on best-quality decisions. 

  • Circle – a group of equals working together, with a specific area of authority and clearly stated aims
  • Rounds – circle members take turns speaking, and do not interrupt each other. This allows every voice to be heard. 
  • Consent – a decision is made when all circle members agree it is “safe enough to try, and good enough for now”. In other words, the group’s purpose is to find workable solutions consistent with its stated aims. Withholding consent happens when a proposal does not sufficiently serve the group’s aim. The circle then seeks a solution to the problem raised.
  • Double linking – an organisation is likely to have a central ‘big picture’ circle and a number of outer circles responsible for specific areas. Inner and outer circles share at least 2 members, who are full equals within each circle. This ensures cohesive, well-informed decision-making, and a high organisational IQ. Multiple levels are possible in this model
  • For more information about sociocracy (including videos) start here

Image: sociocracyforall 

Hierarchy vs sociocratic communication. The sociocracy Consulting Group

What you can do to reduce climate change – How to divest from fossil fuels

By Jackie Radisich, Ethical Investment Analyst

Every single one of us has the power to drive change

Witnessing the current destruction of our environment and hearing predictions of disasters can leave one feeling helpless. But every single one of us has the power to drive change. There are many different actions we can (and need to) take; one is to divest from the fossil fuel industry.

What is divestment and is it effective?

Divestment is withdrawing your money from business activities that are ‘unethical or morally ambiguous’, to enact social change. There have been successful divestment movements in the past, notably against South African Apartheid. While this was not the only factor leading to the end of apartheid, it made a major contribution.

The same logic can be applied to addressing the climate emergency – divestment from fossil fuels is not and will not be the sole remedy to this complex, global issue, but it will be a major contributing component.

Now there is a global movement to divest from the fossil fuel industry.The premise is simple: removing money that props up and supports the fossil fuel industry, freezing new investment in fossil fuels and removing fossil fuel companies’ social license to operate

How you can divest

So, how is your money being used to support the fossil fuel industry? 

Let’s begin with banking

Banks provide critical funding and support for the fossil fuel industry. The revenue they gain from their customers is invested and loaned to fossil fuel companies for their business operations.

How can you find out if your bank is funding fossil fuels? The Fossil Fuel Finance Report Card 2019 scores banks worldwide on their support of the fossil fuel industry. And you can check Australian banks with Market Forces’ bank comparison chart. It shows that the Big 4 alone have loaned over $70 billion to the fossil fuel industry since 2008.

Then there is your super fund. 

How can you find out if your fund invests in fossil fuels? Well, this can be difficult as most super funds do not disclose their full investment holdings. Many have no disclosure at all. Have a look at your super fund’s website. Do they disclose all their investments? Do they at least disclose the top 10-20 companies they invest in? If so, you’ll likely find names such as BHP, Rio Tinto, Santos and other major fossil fuel companies as well as CBA, NAB and Westpac who are major funders of this industry.

There are many sustainable super fund options available, though, you must be wary of greenwashing. Check out the Ethical Advisor Coop ratings of sustainable fund options. As you’ll see, many funds have a sustainability focus but do not completely exclude fossil fuels from their portfolios.

Ethical Advisor’s top 5 rated funds in each category.

Image: Ethical Advisor Coop top rated Super and investment funds 

Knowing where your money is going, you can make a choice to put it somewhere that you know won’t be investing into or propping up the fossil fuel industry. 

Tell them about it: “It’s not me; it’s you”.

If you decide to switch, make sure to tell your current bank or super fund why. 

Can’t make the change?

If you are not in a position to divest from your bank or super but still care about this issue, you can get in touch with your service provider and ask about where your money is going and say that you want them to move away from fossil fuels. You can contact both banks and Superfunds through the Market Forces website, either to alert them that you are divesting or to put the pressure on them to stop investing in fossil fuels.Put the pressure on and let them know that these investments are unacceptable.

Opportunities & Events at Narara Ecovillage

Superadobe earthbag workshop: the first DA approved in NSW! Sat Feb 8 – Fri Feb 21

Come for a day, a week, or the full workshop

-Linda Scott

About earthbag technology

Earthbag technology has assisted countries during times of disaster, such as the Nepalese earthquakes in 2016, where some of the only buildings left standing (earthquake-proof) were made of rice bags (similar to earthbags) filled with local soil and built by locals.  Similarly in our bushfire-prone environments, many natural houses have been left standing while their neighbours’ houses were lost in the fires.

About the workshop

The workshop introduces the theory and the practical aspects of natural building and is an introduction to Superadobe, a simple method of building using earthbags developed by Iranian-born architect Nader Khalili (1938-2008) – https://bidoun.org/articles/the-adventures-of-super-adobe

At the workshop, led by Hayden Annable from Melbourne, who studied at Khalili’s California Institute of Earth Art and Architecture, you’ll meet like-minded participants who’ll be raising the walls of Linda’s hobbit style art studio, the first of three parts of her natural house on top of the hill in Syncarpia Crescent at Narara Ecovillage.

Hayden Annable who is leading the workshop, studied with Cal-Art in California, USA and has been involved in many workshops since then, notably Willowend Roundhouse in Victoria

So if you wish to build an affordable house, garden shed, retaining wall, or one day help build emergency accommodation, this event is for you.

  • Come for a day, a week, or the whole 3 weeks
  • Free basic camping at the ecovillage, catered vegetarian meals and a chance to meet ecovillage members and helping to build NSW’s first DA approved earthbag structure.  Limited places available.
  • Contact Linda: naturalbuilding4u@gmail.com

Narara Ecovillage Open Day, Sat Feb 22 

  • Save the date!  

Narara Ecovillage’s next Open Day is Saturday February 22 from 10am. More information here 

Sociocracy in Action 1: Decision Making, Sat Feb 22, after the Open Day

Are you part of groups in your community or business where decision making is unsatisfactory? The Sociocracy Resource Circle at Narara Ecovillage is offering a chance to learn and practice some tried and tested skills for collaborative decision making.

At Narara Ecovillage we use Sociocracy as our process for self governance. We believe that Sociocracy is fundamental to the success of our Ecovillage.We aim to share our learning with the wider community to assist other groups and organisations to develop skills to assist in sustainable community building.

This two hour workshop gives participants the opportunity to actually practice skills for effective collaborative decision-making.


  • What is Consent decision making – how is it distinct from voting or consensus?
  • Aims and Domains – what role do they play in sociocracy?
  • What are the essential steps in reaching a consent decision?


  • Observe and participate in a consent decision making simulation, become familiar with the steps that help to make effective decisions while building stronger groups.
  • Where: Narara Ecovillage Visitors Centre, 25 Research Rd Narara
  • When: Sat Feb 22, 2-4pm
  • Cost: Full $30; NELN members: $25
  • Contact: riverteller@gmail.com 

Sociocracy at Narara Ecovillage program to May 2020

  • A Taste of Sociocracy, with Lyndall Parris; Fri March 27, 6.30 pm, by donation

Sociocracy In Action workshop series

  • Sociocracy in Action 1: Decision Making; Sat Feb 22, 2pm
  • Sociocracy in Action 2: Nailing Picture Forming; Sat March 28, 10am
  • Sociocracy In Action 3: Proposal Shaping; Sun April 26, 3.30pm
  • Sociocracy In Action 4 : Micro Facilitation; Sat May 30, 3.30pm
  • Cost: Full $30; NELN members: $25
  • Contact: riverteller@gmail.com 

There’s always something going on at the village. Check out the calendar here

Tuesday afternoon Food Growing working bees are back up and running! Contact info at the top of calendar

Wildlife Stories, 22 January 2020

Narara Ecovillage sits in a small valley that heads up into the biodiverse Strickland State Forest. As a result it is blessed with an interesting and vigorous wildlife. Ecovillage member Richard Cassels has been recording and reporting on the wildlife for nearly 7 years. Currently his bird total is 147 species, and he hopes to make that 150 this year!

January 2020. Valley of the Lorikeets!

-Richard Cassels

This month the valley has vibrated with the shrieks, whistles and chattering of lorikeets, attracted by the abundant and profusely flowering eucalypts. While it is hard to quantify, I am sure there have never been so many of them, especially of the small lorikeets.  This could be because it’s a good flowering year, and /or due to these nomadic birds having to leave the bushfire areas 25 kilometres west of us (which currently have been halted by rain, thank heavens!!).

Lorikeets are a kind of small parrot, found only in the Australasian region..  All are very fast fliers. They dash from nectar source to nectar source, chattering non-stop. All Australian lorikeets are predominantly green. Even the largest and brightest of them, the Rainbow Lorikeets, can become surprisingly hard to see in the foliage.

The main ways to distinguish the three most common Narara lorikeets from each other are:

Rainbow Lorikeets, the biggest (30cms long), noisiest, most brightly coloured and least shy of the Narara lorikeets.  Photo above: Rainbow Lorikeets outside the NEV Visitor Centre. (RC). 

Musk Lorikeets, medium size (22 cms), medium noisy.  Photo above: Musk Lorikeet in nearby Wyoming garden, courtesy of Barbara Melville, Wyoming. Most distinctive markings are the red eye band –but you will virtually always need binoculars to see that.

Barbara is known to many members for her role with the Australian Plants Society (Central Coast Group). Her husband Andrew has led bird watching groups though Strickland Forest to the Horticultural Research Station, now the Ecovillage, over many years.  

Above: Little Lorikeets, the smallest of our lorikeets (15 cms long), the least raucous, the least variation of colouring. Best identified by tiny size, continuous chirping/ squeaking, small rocketing flying formations and small red faces  (visible if you have binoculars). Often easier to hear than see. Photo courtesy of Christina Port.

December 2019. Death of an Apex Predator

Photo above: Dead Powerful Owl with iPhone 6 for scale 

While walking near the Narara Valley High School one early morning just before Christmas, my wife Joan and I were very distressed to come across the body of a recently dead Powerful Owl (with the remains of a Rainbow Lorikeet in its talons). 

Powerful Owls are a threatened species and Australia’s largest owl. They are “apex predators”, capable of taking prey as large as Brush-tail Possums.  We can’t afford to lose any more of these magnificent birds. Beth Mott, Powerful Owl Project Officer for Birdlife Australia, reports that Sydney and its surrounding suburbs have become even more important habitat for these birds, now that this summer’s bushfires have burnt out one quarter of their natural habitat. 

Beth said that nocturnal birds like owls and Tawny Frogmouths were especially at risk of being hit by early morning commuters heading to Sydney, just as it is getting light.

“They hunt rodents, possums, insects and birds along the roads, and often cross roads in or near creekways. Powerful Owls particularly, often fly quite low when carrying heavy prey, and so are at risk from cars”.

The good news is that a Powerful Owl has been heard calling at night in Narara on several nights in January. 

P.S. The body of the bird killed in Narara was sent to the Powerful Owl Project for examination and recording. On 22 January Beth reported that this particular bird had died by being electrocuted while trying to land on power lines. Electrocutions of rare birds like this are reported to Ausgrid with a request to widen the gap between the individual power lines.  

Photo below: EPA Officer with taxidermy specimen of Powerful Owl, to show size (2015).

Successful Frogmouth Parenting

A Tawny Frogmouth has successfully reared one young at a nest in a tree in Syncarpia Road at the ecovillage. After sticking faithfully to the nest tree for over a month, both have now disappeared. It is usual for Tawny Frogmouths to rotate their roosting sites. It is also not unknown for them to fall prey to Powerful Owls!  Photo below RC.

Spectacular Lace Monitor at the ecovillage

I photographed this magnificent specimen across the creek at the ecovillage on January 16th., as it slowly climbed a pine tree. I estimate that it was 1.8m long- most of which was its tail.  A Lace Monitor has regularly raided the hen house at the ecovillage for eggs. 

All photos by Richard Cassels, unless otherwise stated

Do a thing a day

The possibilities and the problems facing our world can be overwhelming. But each of us can make a difference in a thousand different ways. 

Join a group, sign a petition, write an email or letter, or have a conversation; plant a tree, help a wild animal – every positive action makes a tiny, but real, difference. 

Consider joining a group. How about:

Become a citizen scientist

By becoming a member of the ACSA (Australian Citizen Science Association) you will join a vibrant and growing community of citizen science enthusiasts. Share ideas, pose questions, collaborate on projects, attend conferences and other networking events and stay up to date with all the latest information on this burgeoning field of science within Australia. ACSA membership is open to citizen science project managers, volunteers or anyone with an interest in citizen science.

Sign a petition. How about this one from the Bower in Marrickville?

Right to repair 

 A petition to Establish a consumer right to repair enshrined in legislation

A central element of the circular economy is your right to repair your essential household and personal items

Url: https://bower.org.au/ scroll down

From our network

Communicating with animals

-Jacqueline Buckingham

We have all been touched by the images of our beloved native animals affected by the fires, and many domesticated animals have also been lost, abandoned or injured in those same fires.  We will never know the full impact, but our wilderness areas and the wildlife that inhabit it have been changed, in some cases forever.

At times like these our desire to help these innocent creatures is overwhelming but we can feel completely powerless.  However there is something we can ALL do – we can communicate with them, explaining to them what has happened and why, and what will happen next.

Animal communication is a natural skill that we are all born with.  Many of us intuitively know if an animal is asking for food or connection, and we can expand this skill to encompass a more detailed understanding of one another’s worlds, leading to greater harmony between us. …more

As an animal communicator I have seen first hand the difference this makes. Whether soothing animals traumatised by injury, that have lost their home and family, or explaining to them why they need to be relocated or rehomed – the outcome is the same.  The animals will visibly relax and quickly accept their new situation.

I lead trainings, including at Narara Ecovillage, teaching these lost skills and helping us to reconnect with our natural intuitive relationship to nature and all life.  If you’d like to know more please visit www.understandinganimals.org or Facebook Narara training

For more on how to help animals affected by the fires please visit www.understandinganimals.org/blog

A requiem for nature

*during the Blue Mountains fires in Australia, December 2019

Rosalie Chapple, 25 December 2019

We read in the local Australian media that the air is toxic, and the pollution levels are dangerous to our health. We read about the microscopic dust and PM2.5 particles. But what are these particles?

They are the koalas caught in the burning tree canopies, too slow to escape. The few remaining native animal species that have been able to survive in our colonial-transformed environment.

The smell of the smoke is the one hundred species of eucalyptus trees awarded World Heritage for their outstanding diversity. Along with the living laboratory of Blue Mountains ecosystems formed across millennia. Maybe too the Wollemi pines that avoided extinction for 100 million years. …more

Our smoke-induced headaches are the 20,000-year-old rock art destroyed in the flames. The Aboriginal sacred sites and songlines of the Dharug, Darkinjung, Gundungurra, Tharawal, Wanaruah and Wiradjuri people.

The pink-red glow of the sunset is the burning peat of the upland swamps that formed over thousands of years, serving as sponges that hold precious water on top of the escarpments. It is the endangered wildlife that live in the swamps, the Blue Mountains water skink and the giant dragonfly.

The sick feeling in our stomachs is the burning of the few remaining pure-bred dingoes. It is the bower that the satin bowerbird built so he could dance for his females, surrounded by painstakingly curated blue objects.

The sting in our eyes is the eastern spinebill, tiny birds too vulnerable to survive the heat. The echidnas engulfed in flames with nowhere to hide.

Our tears are the moisture from the wings of the newly hatched cicadas that just emerged from their seven-year hibernation.

All of them burning, rising, floating, and settling in our lungs. Their lives have become part of ours more than ever before – we denied our connection and we can deny it no longer. 

* Inspired by Becca Rose Hall’s Fine particles of brilliant forests, burning, written during fires in British Columbia