This blog about our explorations around theories of change at the Spring Gathering 2022 in Selgars Mill was co-written by Christabel, our Lead Movement Building Coordinator and Ama Crowe, who worked with us to facilitate the gathering.

Land Justice feels a long way off sometimes. The status quo can feel locked in. When we start dreaming, it is clear that the transformation needed is huge. Ownership of land, access to land, how we use land, how we treat land and relate to it all call for land and our societies to be repatterned, reimagined and reorganised. Getting serious about Land Justice means getting serious about building a movement that really has the power and resilience to shift these longstanding, locked in abuses of land and people. 

In order to this, Shared Assets has been convening spaces to explore Theories of Change among sometimes disparate folks committed to Land Justice in one form or another. The first open session at the Oxford Real Farming conference gave people a taste of how we might define shared Theories of Change for the land justice movement. The process aims to design a method to take stock of what we want to do in our respective struggles, with our own organisational and individual theories of change, so that we can move forward in a way that consciously maps interlocking pathways - and supports us to build power together.

Gathering at Selgars Mill

Mapping theories of change as a collective process can help to co-build strategies for how we work together in a way that’s powerful enough to shift systems. Part of this work is to build self awareness of our work, and how work fits in the honeycomb of land justice organising. Another reason to build theories of change together is to make it clear that we need each other to make the change that we are separately working towards, as well as collectively: pooling resources and energy in a strategic way, recognising too that we need the different perspectives, tactics and identities that the range of people, organisations and networks involved in land justice bring. 

At the Gathering at Selgars Mill, Devon, a group of 20 people from different organisations working on land justice issues met to set a foundation for collaboration, and to develop understandings around Theories of Change. The people there came as themselves but were also part of a range of organisations: Ubele Initiative, 3 acres and a cow, Organiclea Coop, Land Workers Alliance, London Renters Union, Black Girls Hike, Radical Routes, Black and Green Ambassadors, Institute of Development Studies.

Inside the mill house at Selgars Mill, a group of people sit in a circle of chairs, with two people standing and one of them writing on a flipchart.
One of our sessions in the mill.

Visioning for collaboration 

To think about how we might use, own, and relate to land differently, we started out by envisaging a different world, one we are trying to create. Often people who care about the same thing and probably want a similar future sit in silos depending on their particular fight or campaign issue.  This can be to do with limited resources and time capacity to collaborate, but is also to do with not always seeing issues as interdependent and connected to the same root causes. Land Justice coalesces issues into the same structural melting pot. 

When people approach transformation which focuses heavily on an endpoint disconnected from other social change work or its impact, the movement can feel incohesive and lacking energy. This means that meaningful change can’t happen and when it doesn’t it demotivates and isolates people from the social justice work they are doing. 

two people sit at the table in the mill with food in front of them and colourful flowers in a champagne flute.

Doing things differently with Theories of Change

The aim of devising shared theories of change for the movement is also to do things differently by:

  1. Connecting with how we think the change we want is actually going to come about - and what we need to get there
  2. Understanding the importance of building collective power
  3. Slowing down and focussing on the process of building strong, trusting relationships
  4. Making a concerted effort to hold spaces which make it possible for care to be centered and working across difference to be a part of our movement from the very beginning. 

For this gathering Shared Assets started working with Navigate to co-host a held space which nourished relationships, and a process for understanding collective power. This took us on a journey of understanding the different systems that we need to maintain as healthy in our organisational work, such as ways of distributing resources, making decisions, and responding to conflict that reflect our values and the world we want to create. We also explored some dynamics of aiming for radical transformation and the ways that movements can become dispersed and the people disillusioned because of ‘cycles of disempowerment’ - this can be exhibited in burnout or interpersonal conflict and division. Escaping from these cycles into reinforcing feedback loops of gathering power, effective strategies, winning struggles, and moving forwards together, is a significant challenge - and one we believe is possible. 

Moving from cycles of disempowerment to empowerment in our movements.

Between Spring and the coming Autumn 

The Spring Gathering was a chance for us to connect, and lay some foundations that can hold something strong to emerge. There's still work to do on defining land justice according to what we as people working to change things see as the desired change. At this moment, we’re dreaming of a movement that is powerful, creative, caring, and able to take on the mission of shifting our land system. 

Opportunities to do this are on the horizon, with further workshops exploring theories of change for land, food and farming movements at the Land Skills Fair in July, engaging more deeply and pragmatically with people’s strategies, needs and capacities; and focusing collective power in specific movement spaces. There is also a gathering in the pipeline for late Autumn, with the aim to broaden the movement at the pace it can go. 

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