Oct. 7, 2015

Living Smart facilitator training

 A NEW BATCH of qualified Living Smart educators has graduated from a two and a half day course at Randwick Sustainability Hub, the educational component of Randwick Community Centre.

Living Smart is a community course in resilient living devised by Murdoch University's Faculty of Behavioural Psychology, Fremantle's Meeting Place community hub and the City of Fremantle. It has been taken up by a number of local governments around Australia, including Randwick Council in Sydney. Council's sustainability educator, Fiona Campbell, has offered the course there for some years.

Focus on behaviour change

"There is tension between current conditions and people' values", said course leader, Shani Graham, co-developer of Living Smart.

"This leads to cognitive dissonance where people feel psychologically uncomfortable as new information clashes with what they believe. People might simply switch off. It's an uncomfortable feeling and people want to do something about it".

That is why Living Smart charts a personal path through behaviour change. It focuses on actions that people can take in the home and includes a working-in-the-community component to take the ideas and initiatives out beyond the home. It has been described as being like an introduction to permaculture course with broader coverage including a personal health component, and more detailed and oriented to action with the personal planning that is built into it.

Shani Graham is well known in Western Australian sustainability circles and she, with Tim Darby, set up the Painted Fish sustainable accomodation, a development that utilises sustainable design principles. She and Tim later initiated their Ecoburbia sustainable street program in Fremantle, building a sense of local community and transforming the streetscape with footpaths planted to native and food plants.

"Living Smart is like the Transition Town concept of 'skilling-up' or 'reskilling' in lost skills so as to make individuals, households and communities more resilient", explained Shani.

Despite the academic component in its origin the course is neither academic in content and neither theoretical, arcane nor complicated. A course aiming for personal initiative in behaviour change must avoid those traps and instead focus on what is achievable in people's everyday environment.

"Living Smart has little to do with environmental stuff", said Shani. "It is about creating examples".

"Living Smart gets people to reflect of themselves and their lives. People show initiative in enrolling and they bring their knowledge. They also bring their own psychological factors like self-awareness, personal effectiveness and social responsibility. They develop empathy for others and for the world".

Trainer approval

To teach Living Smart you have to have done, or be about to do the course, and you must complete the Living Smart trainer's course such as that which took place recently at Randwick Sustainability Hub. The trainer's program can be imagined as a train-the-trainer course.

During the two and a half day course participants learned how Living Smart differs from other courses in resilient and sustainable lifeways. It:

  • is a catalyst for people who want to take personal action for change
  • focuses not on course content but on behaviour change
  • takes a broad view of sustainability
  • recognises that every course can be different to as to cater to different demographics
  • uses adult learning principles, not chalk and talk
  • encourages post-course connection through Living Smarties groups — something useful in selling the course to councils as it contributes to community development.

Turning behaviours into norms

Living Smart offers skills for turning new behaviours into social norms.

"Social norms happen when people become naturally involved through the course", said Shani.

"Ten to fifteen percent of a population is what it takes to create a social norm. People may be uncertain at first but hands-on activity through the course and seeing others doing things helps by demonstrating desirable behaviour.

"We map people's concerns and look at their circle of concern, those things they are concerned about but feel powerless to influence… and here they might feel overwhelmed… and their circle of influence where they can take action".

Linking the local and global

Living Smart is about building resilient and sustainable communities. It goes way beyond environmentalism in taking an approach inclusive of health, community involvement, food and more. At the same time it incorporates environmental initiatives. It is a course for local action, though local action that is globally connected.

Trainers can offer the course to local governments and other institutions and organisations. As a course focused on personal behavioural change in cooperation with others, councils adopting the course can link it to their community development goals, their environmental and sustainability programs, community education and city plans.

>>> More on Living Smart

Story by Russ Grayson, September 2015

Photo below by Shani Graham, September 2015

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