SPRINGBOARD 2023: a short reflection

Creative Carbon Scotland’s Director Ben Twist offers some thoughts about how SPRINGBOARD went and what the next steps are.

As noted in a previous what and why blog, SPRINGBOARD: Assembly for creative climate action, began on 27 February 2023. We held the four-day online assembly as part of the long-term, collaborative SPRINGBOARD project, which aims to bring about transformational change in Scotland’s creative sector to help build a net-zero, climate-ready world. 

SPRINGBOARD is a jumping-off point for Creative Carbon Scotland and, we hope, for others. The waters we are leaping into are perhaps choppy and uncertain, but the reason for jumping is clear and present: the increasing urgency of the climate emergency. Alongside this, Creative Scotland’s Climate Emergency & Sustainability Plan provides a spur for action, asking the cultural and other sectors to think about what the plan means for them and how they can contribute. To push the metaphor further, the springboard provides some height enabling us to see more clearly where we want to get to and will provide extra energy to jump there.

Our idea for the online assembly was to bring together people with similar interests, nationally rather than locally (as in our local assemblies), and to encourage collaboration between climate- and culturally-focused organisations and individuals. There are challenges to working online, but it also means that people from Orkney and Dumfries can collaborate without having to travel. We were trying something new and we didn’t know whether it would work, but this first annual assembly had 12 cross-sectoral cohortsof people working on their shared interests, 28 speakers and more than 200 attendees.  

What have we learnt so far? 

I think we’re still absorbing the lessons and they’ll become clearer in coming weeks, both in terms of what they are and how we need to respond, but I want to offer some initial reflections or takeaways from my own experience of SPRINGBOARD 2023. 

We need transformational, not incremental change 

Alongside the aims I’ve mentioned above the online assembly also aimed to shift our own and others’ thinking about how we respond to the climate emergency. We’ve been doing good work in the cultural sector: energy use amongst Creative Scotland’s Regular Funded Organisations is down by around 35% since we started measuring; organisations are coming up with imaginative ways to reduce their emissions; some are starting to think about adapting to the climate impacts we can expect. But the trajectory to very low carbon is steep: we need massive reductions quickly. The changes we need to make are not simple or linear, and the reductions won’t be achieved by simply doing what we currently do more efficiently. Adapting to climate change will ask us all to rethink all sorts of elements of our work and lives. We need transformational change.  

During the assembly I showed a slide with a useful definition of transformational change from the health field, which I’ve also mentioned in that previous blog: 

Black text on a yellow background reads: “Transformational change is the emergence of an entirely new state, prompted by a shift in what is considered possible or necessary, which results in a profoundly different structure, culture or level of performance.” King’s Fund.

The morning ’conference’ element of the assembly aimed to lead us all from a very quick introduction to what transformational change might look like within the cultural field (Carly McLachlan’s keynote on the super-low carbon road map for music touring), through why transformational change in wider society is necessary and how culture can help (Halliki Kreinin’s keynote on ‘Decolonising the social imaginary: degrowth, culture and new narratives of the good life’) to what transformational change might require in organisations and individuals (our keynote panel on enabling transformation). Interestingly this last was less about the practicalities of bringing about change on a large scale, as I had expected, and more about leadership, the need to be vulnerable, to accept you could be wrong and to be open to change yourself, as well as the need for collaboration with new and different partners. 

Our panel discussions also sought to widen the discussion from simple carbon management to more radical change, focusing on climate justice, adaptation and resilience, place-based working and the journey to net zero. All of these featured collaboration, and speakers from fields other than culture were keen to join the panels. 

Artistic interventions 

For the morning sessions, three poets were commissioned to write and/or perform their work, partly to demonstrate (as if we needed it) the power of art and partly to provide other perspectives. They certainly inspired us and I felt their words resonated and especially so when they touched on aspects of our own lives and experiences which is, of course, what all good art does. 


Assembly participants can access EventsAir and re/watch any of the sessions until the end of August 2023 by logging into the portal and proceeding to the auditorium. We are adding recordings of key sessions to a SPRINGBOARD showcase on our Vimeo site over the next few weeks so that they are available to everyone: some are already there. We also have a reading list of useful articles, websites and books relating to many of the sessions and the cohorts. 

The cohorts: collaborative working in real time 

The afternoon sessions focused on intra- and inter-sectoral collaborative working. Twelve cohorts of people with shared interests or concerns, proposed by individuals or groups that responded to our call for suggestions, met over four days. Most used a structure that we had developed based on our experience of two processes: 

  • a systems-thinking process used by EIT Climate-KIC, the EU’s climate change innovation hub 
  • a French workshop project we participated in last year 

We wanted to make sure that the collaborative work led to action that would continue after the assembly – too often (and this has been our experience) a workshop ends and there is no follow-up, no road map for continued work.  

Using the structure wasn’t compulsory and the aim was to provide a process that enabled different groups to focus on their field’s needs and aims. We at CCS didn’t want to dictate what should happen or what should be discussed. The cohort convenors deserve a round of applause for their commitment and work – it was a big ask. 

Many groups people found the cohort process useful, although undoubtedly it was rushed – a result of the tension between not wanting to ask people to meet online for long periods or commit to many hours of work time and trying to do some difficult collaborative thinking. Some people found the process restrictive, which possibly reflects the same issue: with more time it could have been more open. We will reflect, listen and learn from this. Encouragingly, 10 of the 12 cohorts have planned their next meetings, confirming that the work will continue outside the assembly. 

The outputs of all the cohorts are available for all to see on a Miro board here and a quick review of them reveals some common themes. Groups perceived some key blockages to systemic change to work on, including: 

  • Funding models and possibly commissioners of art being focused on unsustainable outcomes and ways of working, and perhaps particularly focused on growth 
  • A lack of knowledge and information within the sector – where to find suppliers or experts in more technical areas; understanding of concepts such as degrowth. This might be connected to a need for training and skills development in new areas which hadn’t previously been considered important for cultural practitioners and staff 
  • A lack of awareness and understanding of the potential of culture and cultural practitioners in the transformation of society. This also relates to the need for support for freelancers – artists and others – if they are to contribute to this work 
A turning point, a jumping off point 

In January I outlined to the CCS team four objectives for SPRINGBOARD:  

  1. Increase the climate ambitions of the cultural sector
  2. Strengthen CCS’s own and others’ understanding of transformational change
  3. Increase collaboration between cultural and non-cultural sectors
  4. Help the cultural sector respond to Creative Scotland’s Climate Emergency & Sustainability Plan 

I’m confident we made good progress on all of these. I am particularly pleased that there seems to be both a desire for and a willingness to work for transformational change, which is difficult and long-term, with no easy answers. But there’s more. I am enthused by the interest shown in our post-event surveys in the concept of degrowth, which is a difficult idea to get your head around. And I finished the week knowing that around 150 people in the cohorts had committed time, energy and brain power to collaborative working on challenging problems. We at CCS had facilitated that, but the willingness and the effort belonged to others. This felt like the result of many years of work: the knowledge, interest and commitment of others was combining with ours to chart a way forward. We’ll be learning from and working with the cohorts as they progress through the year towards our next assembly in 2024.

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