By Esther Barfoot

We haven’t cancelled anything. My colleagues and I. We did have some of our contractors wonder whether to cancel events that we were planning. But we told them: ‘No. We will do them virtually.’ Even if the events are about connecting, building trust, having meaningful conversations, building up a movement, we can still do them online.

In fact, all the more eager we were to do them! Because if I discovered anything in the past few weeks, it is that I love being creative within the constraints. It really gets me going. And, I was so lucky to have a number of wonderful colleagues/friends that reacted exactly the same. So, we are having a ball pioneering.

I love being creative within the constraints.'


With Paula Zwitser I have been discovering what to do with our communication. More about that later, in another post. With Marianne Klerk I have been resetting our storytelling project. And with Marjolijn van Eijsden I have been playing around and experimenting with (and working seriously hard on) the events we are hosting.


Marjolijn and I have been working together for 4 years now for Rotterdams WeerWoord (and Water Sensitive Rotterdam before that), movements to prepare the city of Rotterdam for climate change, but we only buddied up as facilitators/hosts in the summer of 2019. We have hosted around ten events since then. Also, we have been asked for another movement, for circular living in Rotterdam.

Together we are all the time pushing for new forms. New ways of bringing in interaction.'

Marjolijn’s style: power and love. Super charming, very witty and sharp, and strict on the process. I bring in some extra experience with change movements, creativity and journalism (we often invite in ordinary people to share their extraordinary stories). Together we are all the time pushing for new forms. New ways of bringing in interaction. We give our meetings lots of TLC and prepare all the details, so the events are very well kempt. That way we create a solid, safe and inspiring container for important (and sometimes difficult) conversations. Because of these enthralling events people want to take part in our movement.


Now, we are taking this to the screen. But we won’t settle for 2D. We want our virtual events to feel just as 3D as our live ones. We want to burst through the screen and give people the sensation we are all together in one space.


We bring movement into our sessions, get people to stand up in front of their screens and move, jump, dance, run, play, fetch things. And believe me, our participants (often civil servants) are not always the easiest people to persuade to do so. It’s not their usual meeting style. We have campfire talks. We bring in interactive sessions, with break out sessions in all shape and forms. We give assignments and let people work offline and then come back in the online plenary. We do creative work and use all possibilities in the online meeting tools we work with.

Because many of our efforts are related or interconnected with this current health crisis.'

Center for Artistic Activism


And then, last week, I saw in the newsletter of the Center of Artistic Activism that they were saying ‘Don’t Cancel! Adapt!!’ ‘Because many of our efforts working on complex transitions are related or interconnected with this current health crisis. Specific events may need to be cancelled or postponed, but your advocacy and your campaigns may need to continue. Now’s the time for us to make the seemingly impossible possible.


This is so true! We need to adapt to the current circumstances. And I don’t mean a blind jump in the deep, but carefully rethink what the implications of the current crisis are for the movement, for the participants, for possible future participants and for your goals. And yet, at the sometime not overthink this. Keep on going, try things, keep on moving.


I wrote this last weekend and – as is so typical for this crisis, as for any other, I suppose – things again changed so much this week. Marjolijn and I were planning and preparing all our sessions to be in Zoom. And then suddenly Zoom became suspect because of security risks and contractors started telling us we weren’t able to use Zoom. (Even after repeated arguments from our side why we need Zoom.) And one of our events, a pub quiz for participants of our climate movement, was already on Thursday; four days later!


We had planned it in Zoom because we wanted the break out rooms to function as the team tables in the pub. In four day’s time we had to find another meeting tool that could do the same, and we didn’t. So, we decided to use two tools instead: Webex for the plenary pub quiz sessions and Microsoft Teams for the team tables.


And… it was a success! People had fun. They had a laugh, enjoyed the questions, learned a bit (our climate questions were quite hard), but above all, they connected. And in these times in which everybody is working alone from home and many online meetings are matter of fact, to the point, quite tiring and frankly, often quite tedious, fun and connection was what we were aiming for. As an essential ingredient to move our movement forward.


And now, let’s make sure we get the same level of connection in our upcoming, more serious events.