Natural Change has been at least 20 years in the making. This is the story of its evolution from an experience on a mountain to an internationally recognised, proven and unique approach to leadership.
In 1996 Dave Key had an incredibly powerful experience of being part of nature while rock climbing in California. As a result, his life changed dramatically. He no longer saw the natural environment as a source of raw materials or as a hedonist’s playground – but as home. This led him to explore whether outdoor adventure experiences can be used to encourage people to live more sustainably – which has turned into a life-long journey.
His exploration resulted in his 2003 Master’s dissertation, The Ecology of Adventure. Drawing on his own research and experiences, and a large body of literature, mainly in psychology and education, he developed a unique model of learning. At around this time he also started working alongside psychotherapist Mary-Jayne Rust. Mary-Jayne and Dave combined their skills to bring psychological theories and psychotherapeutic techniques into sustainability education – a methodology which forms the bedrock of the Natural Change approach.
Another feature which still distinguishes Natural Change from all other approaches to education and training for sustainability, is the role of outdoor adventure experiences in creating conditions where participants realise, in ways that no amount of “book learning” can offer, our interdependency with the Earth. As a result they are naturally inspired to live out the social justice and lifestyle implications of this realisation – without feeling duty-bound, or morally obliged.
Dave subsequently established Footprint Consulting Ltd to apply his model to organisations to help them develop sustainability strategies and training programmes.
Meanwhile staff at WWF-UK – part of the world’s largest environmental NGO – were growing increasingly frustrated that their successful pilot projects were not leading to fundamental, long-term change in the way the system works.
WWF therefore approached Footprint Consulting in 2008 to design a programme to catalyse and support leadership for sustainability aimed at people with leadership roles in Scottish society. They hoped they would be inspired to use their influence to change the system. The Natural Change Project was born.
At this point, psychotherapist Margaret Kerr joined Dave as the project’s co-facilitator. Margaret introduced some important new elements to Dave’s approach, including using a peer-superivision model for supporting facilitators as they work with their groups. She helped design some new activities used on the programmes and co-wrote several peer-reviewed research publications with Dave. In 2015 Margaret left Natural Change to focus on her private practice as a psychotherapist.
Managed initially by Jules Weston and then by Morag Watson of WWF, the Natural Change Project worked with 18 people over 2008/09 and 2010/11. Inspired and supported by the project, participants were instrumental in embedding learning for sustainability in Scottish education policy and teaching standards.
Recognising some participant’s need for specialist support to take forward their ambitions, consultancy projects followed. The first, with participant Deborah Richardson-Webb, led to a major overhaul of the teaching programme in contemporary performance practice at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland along Natural Change principles. The second, with participant Louise Macdonald, was funded by the Big Lottery and focussed on embedding Natural Change approaches into Youth Work practice. This was supported by Young Scot, which itself then went on to increase its focus on low carbon and nature-based issues in its work with young people.
The success of the two Natural Change Projects confirmed the approach had real potential. This success rested on two elements, not just Dave’s original model of learning but also on the strategy of working with people in positions of formal and informal leadership. It was this strategy that enabled the projects to influence real change beyond the individual participants – to shift culture and structures within organisations and in wider society.
To make the most of this potential Natural Change was established as an independent social enterprise and charitable foundation in 2012, led by Dave Key and Louise Macdonald respectively. The strategy was to develop a community of professional facilitators with the capacity to deliver across multiple sectors and geographical locations. To deliver the strategy the Introduction to Facilitating Natural Change programme was launched in 2012, eventually training over 100 people. The two year Natural Change Facilitator Training programme was then developed over 2013.
The Natural Change Facilitator Training programme ran between 2014 and 2016, with participants selected from business, public service, education, consultancy and outdoor education. They included facilitators whose work has been recognised by UNESCO for their contribution to education for sustainable development, international outdoor leaders and senior sustainability managers.
The Facilitator Training programme went far beyond training participants in the Natural Change approach. It also drew on the skills of the highly experienced participants to continue its evolution. Today the Natural Change team offer a range of services from one-off events through consultancy to leadership programmes.