Category Archives: Bridges to the Future

Bridges to the Future Workshop Series

How Science & Business Can Cooperate on Keeping our World Sustainable

World Café

Finding common ground & richness in diversity. Business and science working together — an important theme running throughout this conference. This is a conversation that could take us places.

What does science need to do & what does business need to do, to help keep our world a sustainable place to live & thrive in, for all? The results from this conversation go forward to New York in October.

What’s the common ground that lies between us — where can we work together to get a better outcome for all? What is the contribution of science and what is the contribution of business? What do you have to share that might help us go further together? Sixty people began to consider the Café question:
What are the respective roles of science and business in the sustainability agenda? What would facilitate a useful exchange?

Engage in your own conversations starting from where you are, enjoying this fine World Café’s harvest on how can we enhance & encourage each other’s contribution to the common goal of a better world for all? [PDF doc].

Gallery photos by Kim Davis – Courtesy of Planet Under Pressure 2012

Harnessing Energy to Satisfy Fundamental Human Needs

Pro Action Café

Generating new ideas for energy security.  Ten projects get the expert coaching treatment, as we contribute our knowledge and experience to help enhance the work of colleagues during a Pro Action Café.

Forty-five people came to take part  in the Pro Action Café, a space for creative & action oriented conversation where participants are invited to bring their project, ideas, questions or whatever they feel called by and need help with to manifest in the world.

Ten people had the opportunity to host a table conversation aimed at assisting them to deepen and refine their project ideas around harnessing energy to globally satisfy fundamental human needs & generating new ideas for energy security.

Engage in your own conversations starting from where you are, enjoying this fine Pro Action Café’s harvest on an opportunity to pool our knowledge in support of projects around energy [PDF doc].

Unconference – Making a Space for Open Exploration

Unconference – Open Space

A time to raise your own issues.  A moment within the busy schedule of the Planet Under Pressure conference for delegates to come together in inquiry around their own questions, concerns, issues & explorations.

One in a series of events designed to give space for reflection, this session used Open Space as its operating system, offering each an opportunity to engage others in what they are most passionate about.

Participants were welcomed into Open Space as a place where they could bring the topics, issues, explorations and questions that haven’t been covered in other parts of the conference. This was a time when they could put forward what they most wanted to discuss & invite others to join them.

Engage in your own conversations starting from where you are, enjoying this fine Open Space’s harvest on burning & unanswered questions the delegates had [PDF doc].

Global Sustainability Goals

World Café

Transition to a sustainable future Earth.   An opportunity to have a look at the process of creating global sustainability goals — talking together in World Café, creating a graphic look at our priorities, coming together around how it might happen.

This session was attended by a liberal mix of scientists, policymakers, representatives from NGOs, government, media, academics and others.

The intention was to gather suggestions on the process of developing the Sustainable Development Goals framework.  So what it is that we can see together that none of us can see alone?

Engage in your own conversations starting from where you are, enjoying this fine World Café’s harvest on the means to a desired end: How might we get the best out of creating goals in order to co-create the future we collectively want? [PDF doc].

Gallery photos by Kim Davis – Courtesy of Planet Under Pressure 2012

Conversion by café

by Ninad Bondre, Science Editor for the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP) Secretariat.


They say that sometimes you find what you are looking for in the places you least expect it to be. For more than a decade I have been yearning for the ambience of the outdoor canteen of the University of Pune, my alma mater in India. Imagine my most pleasant surprise, then, at stumbling upon it at a scientific mega-conference in London.

Back in Pune, while studying geology well over a decade ago, the most interesting discussions often took place outside the classroom and laboratory. It was over innumerable cups of tea at the canteen that my colleagues, professors and I engaged in free-flowing debates. Nothing, be it James Hutton’s uniformitarianism, Adam Smith’s economics or Judith Butler’s take on gender escaped our scrutiny. Somewhere down the line, though, the dynamism and openness of that setting was replaced by more formal and rigid structures. Lacking a gaggle to bounce ideas and thoughts off, my wife became the rather weary recipient of my rants.

It was perhaps the incipient gnawing of a growing vacuum at the core of my being that coaxed me into my first ever World Café on Whole System Solutions for Sustainable Development. That and some gentle persuasion from my colleague Reed Evans who strove hard to include such unconventional sessions in the Planet Under Pressure conference programme. I entered the room somewhat tentative and sceptical, I may add, a reminder that continued openness requires open spaces to nurture it. But soon my scepticism gave way to anticipation and then to inspiration. I needed no convincing to attend my next event of this ilk.

So why am I waxing eloquent about these sessions? How do they differ from the plenary or parallel sessions that are common components of big conferences? What struck me most was how easily hierarchies dissolved and barriers broke down simply by an unconventional use of space. For example, when small and diverse groups gathered around tables, spontaneously, there was no privileging of particular individuals simply because of who they were or where they came from. There is little scope to hog the limelight in such a setting. Leaders were not assigned in advance but emerged organically; these were fluid identifies, always provisional and open to negotiation. Listening became just as important as, if not more important than, speaking. Asking a question or expressing a doubt did not entail attracting the attention of tens to hundreds of people, nor did it involve texting, twittering or emailing. Being shy or unfamiliar with technology was thus no barrier.

The experience of participating in these events was not only empowering and inspiring, it was also humbling. At the Unconference, for example, I found myself to be the only individual interested in the agenda item that I proposed. For some time, I sat alone at the table designated to discuss my agenda, a mute observer to the thriving discussions at other tables with other agendas. It dawned on me that my agenda had no buyers in this marketplace, provoking some much-needed reflection. Was no one interested in my agenda? Was the framing not suitable for the audience? Had I failed to communicate it properly? Thankfully this was also a space where those on the margins did not go unnoticed: soon one person walked over to my table, then another and then yet another. By the end of the session, we had engaged in some serious intellectual churning.

The moderators of plenary panels and the overall conference moderator did a fabulous job and received much-deserved plaudits. But let us not underestimate the role played by the facilitators of the participatory sessions and their teams. It was a role that required remaining in the background despite being in the foreground, a task that requires more skill than we might imagine. The success of these sessions also owes itself to the rather sophisticated tools at the disposal of the facilitators and participants: pens, paper and post-it notes. Something shifts when we jot down ideas and draw sketches on paper in the presence of others around us, and when those others add to or contest these there and then.

One of the goals of World Cafes is to “help a community to surface and deepen its conversation to action.” That was precisely the goal of the conference too, at least in my understanding. Whether the conference has managed to reach that goal will become evident soon enough. Now, I know well the dangers of expectations that are too high and of putting all eggs in one basket. Participatory sessions are not going to save the world. But if it emerges that the conference took the first baby step towards reaching its stated goal, rest assured that such sessions had something to do with it.

Ninad Bondre
Ninad Bondre is Science Editor for the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP) Secretariat. Among his jobs is putting together the Global Change magazine.