Doughnut Economics, advocated by Kate Raworth, is a brilliant model that makes visible just how intertwined natural global systems (such as water or biodiversity) are with the social foundations of our societies. Designing an operating system for the Doughnut that points to how to take effective action in such a complex and unravelling web is a challenge that many groups around the world are now stepping up to. In Devon, where a Doughnut Collective formed back in October 2020, we have been putting in place a regenerative operating system that goes beyond doughnut ‘selfies’ and baselines, into building the co-evolving mutualism that lies at the heart of successful regeneration.
Our starting premise was that a regenerative doughnut designs in regenerative principles (see below for a list) from the outset. Regeneration has become a current buzz word so let’s unpack what it means in the context of Doughnut Economics, and how you do it. First of all, regeneration is a process that has long-term goals and is driven by motivation—what people care about. A regenerative approach to design and development gives us the means to use the Doughnut as a process of social change that can help us realign our economies with the dynamic and evolutionary processes that life itself operates by. Putting in place flows of information and resources, networks of people and organisations, bridging sectors that are normally siloed, and combining different elements and ideas in new ways that give rise to unexpected outcomes (emergence) are all part of this process.
Because a regenerative approach is animated by caring, our connection to an endeavour or to a place that has meaning for us, is critical. To care for a place, to hold an aspiration to see its potential express itself, you first need to ‘belong’. We might feel multiple and different pulls of belonging that depend on the scale of the place—village, town, city, watershed, bioregion or county. Each of these pulls will have its own distinctive quality. As regenerative practitioners we know that whatever the starting point, our belonging is deepened if we appreciate how the locality within which we sit has been formed over time and how that shows up in its geology, its local ecologies and economies, and how humans have interacted with and shaped the landscape, and been shaped by it in turn. As regenerative practitioners we layer up patterns through time that tell us something of the unique character of place that has attracted people to live their lives here. That unique character or ‘essence’ reveals the potential that our interventions will aim to align with. That is the story that we share.
Sometimes seeming sleepy and cut off, sitting on the ‘leg’ of Southwest England that sticks out into the Atlantic, Devon has since prehistory been exposed to the influence of ideas and people from across the sea. Its ports and harbours have always been cosmopolitan places where ideas, people, raw materials and products have mingled. Back in 1204 the men of Devon put local rivalries to one side and united against the tyranny of King John to demand that he ‘disafforest’ the county (he had declared the whole of Devon his hunting ground, with punishment by death of anyone caught killing a stag) and restrict his royal sway to Dartmoor. To secure this pact Devon handed over a large sum of money and was granted the first Charter of the Forest. This was the forerunner of the national Charter of the Forest of 1217 that was included in Magna Carta in 1224 and set rules for the shared use of common pool resources such as wood, fishing from river banks and grazing land, by both landowners and commoners.
To us it doesn’t seem like an accident that that in the world of Doughnuts Devon is leading the way in collectively deciding how we steward the global commons—freshwater, marine life, soil health, biodiversity, forests—locally. The fortnightly meetings on Zoom of the Devon Doughnut Collective (called Coffee and Doughnuts) have established that this is a peoples’ Doughnut. The ‘essence’ of Devon, its character, laid down over the centuries from the land bridge to Europe during the last Ice Age, to the Charter of the Forest, to lighting the first warning beacons for the Spanish Armada, to being the crucible for the Transition Town movement, is one of exchange, foresight, collective action and innovation.
A regenerative doughnut works along the groove of this ‘essence’ of place, and the potential that springs from this to meet the context of today, and what’s coming at us from the future. It is this essence, this story of now, that if we can define and experience it collectively, can keep place and people regenerating. And it is through connecting with this essence that we develop the will, the commitment, and the agency to bring change to our places. A more conventional approach does this by identifying current challenges in a locality and then either going straight for ‘a solution to the problem’ which can completely overlook the potential of the place, or by seeking the ‘positive deviances’, the inspiring initiatives and people who are ‘doing it differently’—in other words, examples that inspire us to action. Valuable as these are, they are not enough.
The regenerative approach causes us first to pause. It is seeking the source of life that needs to keep on coming, like a spring from the ground, and from all sides, if it is to maintain itself. While the intention of both approaches is the same: to generate urgency and a sense of agency plus the confidence that collective action can shape a different future, regeneration drops us down a level. In Devon we wanted to tune into the essence, the unique ‘collectivist’ character of Devon, and find out how could this be expressed fully in the here and now. How are we doing this? In Devon the formation of the collective for the people’s Doughnut was a critical first step. The collective emerged from a lively online event that took place in July 2020 called Regenerate Devon. While 600 or more people from across our county watched the video specially made by Kate Raworth, the chat was on fire with people saying ‘let’s do it in Devon’.
The team at the Bioregional Learning Centre then stepped forward, bringing with it a whole range of ‘bioregioning’ skills and competencies to the table that are about whole systems, resilience, and connecting things up. We had no examples to draw on in making a peoples’ doughnut that foregrounds civil society, and combines urban and rural. But rather than getting stuck in research and planning we launched the Devon Doughnut in a spirit of shared enquiry and are finding solutions emerge as we do the work. These solutions are to do with foregrounding generative relationships between civil society and governance, contextualising the Doughnut to be relevant for Devon and mapping out pathways to action for both civil society and policy-makers. The beauty of a collective is that whenever we get stuck someone has the expertise to unstick us.
We have documented all our work to date in the slide deck, animation and video that you can find at https://devondoughnut.org/. After a year of the collective convening conversations with experts on the ground in Devon, domain by domain, to decide on the key Devon scenarios that would help us pinpoint the indicators for each domain (or segment) of the Doughnut; and after settling on the twin tracks for both measuring the indicators and for action—one track for civil society and one for policy-makers—we are now ready to collect the data that we want to measure and to initiate projects that are lined up behind the pathways to action.
We started this blog with naming co-evolving mutualism as a key element in any regenerative work. In the case of the Doughnut that means putting in place a web of relationships that span sectors, bridge the divide between ecologies and economies, and knit together players in civil society, governance, the public sector, the environment, academia and business. Then infusing that web with a shared and life-affirming goal: in this case making a Devon Doughnut with the space for revitalisation in its centre and a can-do attitude.
Keeping the action learning going so that we support each other and evolve together while expanding the circle of connection will help us collectively decide where we want the thresholds for each indicator to be set. For example, in the work-in-progress table of Devon Doughnut indicators, in the domain of Income and Work, the indicator is the ‘Proportion of people gainfully employed on a living wage’. What proportion is acceptable? At what level are we able to thrive? This next phase of the Doughnut for Devon will require an even bigger and more exciting conversation. And as we keep reminding ourselves the Doughnut is not the destination, it is the road map for the Project of Now: a climate resilient, socially just and biodiverse future.
Nine Principles for a Regenerative Doughnut
- The power of the doughnut is to make systems visible and to galvanise agency in a process of co-evolving mutualism
- Agency is enhanced by a sense of belonging: understanding the essence of ‘here’ strengthens belonging
- Context-specific keystone indicators, acupuncture points for agency, are best identified through community engagement and a big conversation.
- Moving from a problem or challenge-solving mindset to understanding potential moves us out of the mechanistic paradigm that has created our dilemmas.
- By placing the ‘Space for Revitalisation’ in the ring of the Doughnut we are working towards potential: the future that we want to see, that supports the conditions for life,
- Policy that acts from this potential future, going beyond what is ‘permissable’ to what is the right action, enables all our systems, natural and human, to flourish.
METRICS AND DATA
- We will only achieve this future through citizens and policy-makers taking synchronous action along defined pathways that shift the needle on each indicator.
- Indicators for the Doughnut Domains can be a combination of quantitative and narrative data but both need to reflect the 3 attributes of living systems:
- vitality (what brings life and joy to a place);
- viability (what enables local people individually and collectively to meet their basic needs);
- capacity to evolve (skills and resources to realise the potential of a place within the boundaries of its eco-system and to enable it to continue to grow and change as needed)
- Doughnut metrics themselves need to be regenerative: metrics that are enlivening, empowering and will building and that are sourced from the place itself.
By Isabel Carlisle and Paul Pivcevic
Devon Doughnut Collective