Courses Overview >> Short courses >> Bioregionalism By Design: How To Generate Transformative Stories of Place

Bioregionalism By Design: How To Generate Transformative Stories of Place


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Course dates: 
Monday, 25 April, 2016 to Friday, 6 May, 2016

With: John Thackara, Pamela Mang, Joel Glanzberg, Isabel Carlisle and Simon Bradbury

Fee: £1395 for two weeks fully residential

(nb. The first week of this course can be taken alone for £795 although places will be given preferentially to those joining for the full two weeks)

This course is now full, however we encourage you to sign up for our waiting list. Click Here

“I don’t think you can love a whole planet. I think what’s driving the most powerful resistance movements is love of particular places.”  Naomi Klein

Join us for a unique two-week journey into the transformational potential of the story of place. We are all deeply dependent on the places we inhabit, yet in the modern world we have come to treat places as if they are all alike.  Countless sustainability projects fail because we create islands, and fail to see the rich interconnections that weave the places we live in into space and time. A growing body of practice, bioregionalism, works on the basis that the root of lasting social and ecological transformation lies in reconnecting with place by asking ‘who is this place’ and ‘what is its vocation?’

On this course we will investigate how we can work together to uncover the stories that reveal who a place is and what it could become. You will meet hydrologists, ecologists, farmers, entrepreneurs, craftspeople, growers, historians and activists who will help us reveal the many-sided life of a place and its potential. Only by coming to care for a place, can we transform it for good. Together we will learn to track the patterns in the landscape that show us the path to regeneration. You will take home a toolkit that will enable you to begin the process of place-sourced transformation where you are.

This course is for you if:

  • You are involved professionally in place-based development, rural development, food systems, energy generation and distribution, whole-catchment management of rivers, or regenerating local economies
  • You are involved in philanthropy, a foundation, or social impact work and are looking for ways to trigger public participation in practical, everyday activities
  • You are an activist who has been working on resilience and sustainability and want to start joining the dots in the region where you live, to take your work up to a systems level
  • You are developing new graduate courses and research agendas for a university or research centre
  • You are in an architectural, design or planning practice and want to work in synch with the local people and the local ecology  
  • As a policy maker, you are looking for new ways to transform the concept of resilience into actions on the ground 

About bioregionalism

All over the world a movement of millions of communities working towards economic and ecological well-being is gaining momentum. Grounded in place, citizens and experts working together are motivated by the realisation that the instruments needed for a shift to low-carbon, resilient living are in their hands. They can be the co-designers of their future. At the same time an old story that is now re-emerging, that of the bioregion, reminds us that all life exists and evolves within bounded natural systems and our challenge is now to work at that systems level.

This two-week course will explore the bioregion in theory and practice. We will offer design instruments and principles that enable you to work at this regional level, connecting up many disparate projects and actors into a new story and strategy for action. The tutors are long-term leading players in the field of systemic and regenerative place-sourced design, working internationally. They will share their “how to” knowledge as well as examples of where people are already working with new stories of place. All participants are invited to bring with them a project they are working on in which “local” is shifting to “regional”. You will learn how to use new design processes as we apply them in the South Devon bioregion and reflect on their impact and the learning for your own work.

A bioregion re-connects us with living systems, and each other, through the places where we live. It acknowledges that we live among watersheds, foodsheds, energysheds, fibersheds, culturesheds, ecosystems and economic systems - not just in cities, towns, or ‘the countryside’.” John Thackara

Course content:

We live in webs of life support systems that meet our basic human needs for food, water, energy, waste disposal, dwellings, clothing and much more. These systems (material flows) have typically come to be managed by public utility companies and large-scale businesses, described as infrastructure and regulated by local authorities and the state. These life support systems face severe shocks in the years to come, demanding innovative new approaches to their management. Ahead of us are disruptors such as climate change (bringing more unpredictable and extreme weather events), food security (in the event of harvests failing both locally and globally), natural limits to traditional economic growth (caused by resource depletion) and energy shocks (as rising demand butts up against the imperative to keep fossil fuels in the ground). 

The bioregion is a concept that is fast growing traction as a dynamic framework for gaining resilience in the face of these increasingly complex and unpredictable perturbations. But what if, beyond maintaining the health of these life support systems, the bioregion could also be a framework for regenerating them and the human communities and cultures that are embedded throughout them? What if the bioregion was also a frame for reweaving humans and nature in a co-evolutionary partnership of place, supporting conditions in which all life can increasingly thrive?

An effective response depends on sustained local actions. To be effective, and meaningful, these local actions need to be based on an understanding of the character and conditions of unique localities through a new story of place. The course will therefore explore the theory and practice of bioregionalism using the South Devon Bioregion as our learning environment. Regenesis group will be prototyping Story of Place: Process of Discovery for the first time in a workshop context:

Story of Place from Hutman Media on Vimeo.

Week One:

An introduction to bioregional thinking and the new story of place- why the moment for this idea has come, and the ways in which design enables the idea to become reality

  • Learn how to tell a new story of place that emerges from the place itself
  • Explore bioregional approaches being developed now around the world;
  • Discover how facilitation and charrette skills bring multi-stakeholder processes to life.
  • Put your new knowledge into practice in the South Devon bioregion;
  • Learn how regenerative practice is practical, developmental and spiritual, combining inner discipline with outer questing, evolving ourselves while also evolving a more sustainable world

Week Two:

  • Working in small groups with local partners, and under the supervision of the teaching team, you will apply the tools and approaches you have learnt in week one to a live project;
  • In the middle of the week we will present the results of our work to a panel of stakeholders from the South Devon bioregion - with an emphasis on how our work will be continued in the bioregion after we have left.
  • You will take home a range of experiences and tools for place-sourced transformation that can be put into practice where you are.

Features of the course

  • Analogous inspiration: myriad initiatives around the world in which complex real-world challenges are addressed through a bioregional lens;
  • New skills and new tools for regenerative practice, including pattern mapping, living systems thinking, place-sourced design, and nodal interventions, among others.
  • Asking “being” questions that are important in all contexts - such as “how do we sustain motivation, and move forward?”
  • Asking “doing” questions about the sometimes small actions that can help a bioregion realize its potential to achieve resilience and beyond
  • Learning to connect the Small and the Big - the leveraged nodal interventions that enable systemic transformation.
  • Field trips out into the South Devon bioregion; meeting key actors in the area


John Thackara

For thirty years John Thackara has traveled the world in his search of stories about the practical steps taken by communities to realize a sustainable future. He writes about these stories online and in books; he uses them in talks for cities, and business; he also organizes festivals and events that bring the subjects of  these stories together. John’s latest book is How to Thrive in the Next Economy

A Brit who now lives in southern France, John studied philosophy, and trained as a journalist, before working for ten years as a book and magazine editor. He was the first director (1993—1999) of the Netherlands Design Institute in Amsterdam; he was program director of Designs of The Time (Dott07), the social innovation biennial in England; he was commissioner in 2008 of France’s main design biennial, Cité du Design. John is a Senior Fellow of the Royal College of Art, in London, and a Fellow of Musashino Art University in Japan. In 2015, he received an honorary doctorate from Plymouth University. He is also a member of the UK Parliament’s Standing Commission on Design.

“Innovation happens when motivated people engage with a meaningful question in a rich context”, John explains. In recent years he has led Doors of Perception Xskool workshops in Europe, Brazil, India, and Australia. In each Xskool, a group of invited experts works with local project leaders to identify new opportunities and take the first step – such as a prototype, or pilot – towards making a new enterprise happen. Here are some recent examples:

Pamela Mang

Pamela is a principal and founding member of Regenesis Collaborative Development Group, an ecological consultancy that pioneered regenerative development, and a faculty member of Regenesis Education; educating developers, design practitioners, businesses and community groups in becoming life-generating, co-evolving partners with nature. She works with project development teams, planners, designers and community groups to build critical systems thinking skills and holistic planning processes and designs that can address complex systems and opportunities. Her work draws on 30 years of consulting experience specializing in Living Systems Thinking™ and educational and human development processes. Examples of projects in which Regenesis have developed understanding of a living place as the basis for collaborative design can be seen here

Pamela is co-author of the book, Regenerative Development: A Framework for Evolving Sustainability, to be published in September 2016.  She has authored and co-authored several articles and book chapters on living systems approaches to design, development and organization including: “Working Regeneratively Across Scales: Insights from Nature Applied to the Built Environment“, Clean Production Journal; The Nature of Positive” and “Designing from Place: A Regenerative Methodology and Framework”, Building Research and Information; “Regenerative Built Environment and Biomimicry”, Springer Encyclopedia of Sustainability Science and Technology; and “What is Education For?”, Independent School among many others. Published research papers include reports for the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory on barriers and opportunities for growing public support for green building and solar energy solutions.

Pamlela is a member of the Institute for Developmental Processes, which has provided the architecture for developmental business organizations around the world, some of which have served as models of meaningful work and competitive effectiveness for over 45 years. She is board president of Jessica’s Love Foundation, which is committed to encouraging place-sourced holistic approaches to the co-evolution of human and natural living systems. Current efforts include a pilot for place-sourced impact investing as an instrument for community transformation.

Joel Glanzberg

Joel is a partner in Regenesis, a mentor with the Tracking Project, and founder of Pattern Mind, where he teaches classes that integrate the disciplines of Tracking, Living Systems Thinking, and Permaculture Design.  As a faculty member of Regenesis Education, he delivers The Regenerative Practitioner series to development-industry practitioners worldwide. Joel has over 25 years’ experience as an applied naturalist working on land and community development projects throughout the United States. Through assessing, understanding, and communicating the inherent patterns present in natural systems, Joel helps clients identify principles and guidelines for appropriate and healthy development.

An active author and educator in permaculture and ecological design, Joel is skilled in cross-cultural communication and teaching. He has taught throughout the United States as well as in Africa and South America, and has worked with a variety of Native American tribes and communities. His research has focused on the application of traditional land-use practices to the design of modern infrastructure. Joel has worked for a diverse client base, including communities, colleges and universities, government agencies, and private developers. Recent projects include a new student campus for the Winston Preparatory School in Norwalk, Connecticut and a regional sustainability planning project in the Finger Lakes region of New York. His book, Pattern Mind (available from Shining Mountain Press in 2016) is about learning to develop the mind that sees and thinks like the living world

Isabel Carlisle

Isabel Carlisle is Education Coordinator for Transition Network, leads the team that is bringing the South Devon Bioregional Learning Centre into being, and is co-founder of the Community Chartering Network.

After a long career in the art world (art critic for The Times, deputy head of exhibitions at the Royal Academy of Arts, initiator and director of The Festival of Muslim Cultures 2006) Isabel moved into education and designed and delivered creative responses to sustainability with schools in the east end of London. In 2010 she moved to Totnes and is a trustee of Transition Town Totnes.

In 2013 she taught a short course at Schumacher College (Voices for the Earth) with Polly Higgins. The course brought the Falkirk Community Charter into existence and Isabel is now working with St Ives in Cornwall on a similar Community Charter, a process that empowers local communities to become stewards of their eco-systems and have a voice in their long-term economic future.

Isabel is establishing a Bioregional Learning Centre in South Devon to address the systemic problems in making our food, water, energy, waste and transport systems resilient for the future. She is also replicating One Year in Transition (the livelihood creation programme that she created for change-agents aged between 20 and 35) with Transition hubs across Europe.

£ 1 395.00
(nb. The first week of this course can be taken alone for £795 although places will be given preferentially to those joining for the full two weeks) Course fees include basic accommodation, all meals, field trips, materials and all teaching sessions. The programme will run from Monday to the following Friday afternoon, and includes accommodation and all vegetarian meals from the first lunchtime you arrive through until the lunchtime before your departure. We ask you to arrive between 11:30 - 1 on the first day of your course so that the group can begin the experience by dining together.
This course is full.