Collating an evidence base

Having evidence of the efficacy of inner-approaches can enable learning, development and wider acceptance of such approaches. We have been collating an evidence base of the impacts of inner-led change, and gathering a range of measurement tools to document and evaluate how the inner is currently being ‘measured’ in different situations.

This evidence base brings together some of the academic and practitioner research and evidence around inner-led change. These approaches to inner-led change have evolved, changed, and been used in different contexts over at least the past four decades. At the end of this page are examples of a range of inner-led change methods and approaches to climate change practised in the UK, together with existing evidence. As it is a work in progress, we welcome suggestions for updating and expanding this resource.

The evidence collated so far suggests that these approaches and practices contribute to and support  transformative social and ecological change, and that they would benefit from further research. There is an acknowledged need for rigorous and longer-term research, alongside broader types of research which are critical of the limitations inherent in the act and processes of knowledge production itself (Tom Henfrey, 2018), and incorporate different ways of knowing.

These approaches draw on a range of ‘lineages’, including Western psychology, Eastern philosophies and spiritual practices, and indigenous social practices and wisdom traditions (Hilary Prentice, 2012).

They include:
- Grief work (Rosemary Randall, 2009; Francis Weller, 2015)
- Psychoanalytic theories and group work (Dorothy Whitaker, 2001; Wilfred Bion, 1961)
-Eco-psychology (Mary-Jayne Rust, 2008)
- Trauma (Bob Doppelt, 2016; Judith Herman, 1992)
- Faith based approaches such as Buddhism (Joanna Macy and Molly Brown, 2015),
- Nature connection and deep ecology (John Seed et al., 1988)
- Feminist theory and practice
- Systems theory
- Indigenous practices (e.g. grief tending).

Collections of evidence and literature

Links to research on Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT)(follow research tab). 

Database of existing institutions, stakeholders, networks, projects and resources on the issue of inner dimensions and transformation in sustainability.

Range of publications and research on dialogue and community

"an independent, non-profit media platform dedicated to providing original reporting and expert analysis of social movements around the world. The Resistance Studies strand “is a collaborative effort between academics and activists, or “professors of the street,” that promotes the analysis of and support for nonviolent direct action and civil disobedience around the world.”

The Permaculture Association online research digest

Summarises and links to a range of research and practice .

Process work research

Links to prior and current research on Process work and Deep Democracy.

The Climate Psychology Literature repository brings together a wide range of sources of literature and information about aspects of climate psychology. It includes links, abstracts and brief descriptions of academic and magazine articles, book chapters, links to talks and podcasts, and a growing number of Masters and Doctoral theses.

Research summaries

A summary of some research on selected approaches to cultivating and sustaining inner transformation in relation to climate change in the UK

The Work That Reconnects (TWTR) is a collection of groupwork processes developed in 1980s by Joanna Macy and colleagues. It draws on system theory, Buddhist philosophy and deep ecology, with focus on holistic connection to life. 

Active Hope: How to face the mess we’re in without going crazy’ (Macy and Johnstone 2012): drawing on the cycle of TWTR, a book which can be read and practiced individually or in groups. Resources for running the groups are available online via the book website.

Research summary

Johnstone (2002) and Hathaway (2017) conducted a follow up survey to TWTR workshop participants, and Prentice (2003) and Hollis-Walker (2012) reflected on workshops. 
- Majority of participants found experience ‘personally healing’ (Johnstone, 2002), a minority of participants experienced negative impacts alongside this (Johnstone, 2002). 
- Participants deepened connections to self, others and the more than human world.
- Hollis-Walker (2012), Johnstone (2002) and Hathaway (2017) noted the renewed commitment to action.

Inner Transition (I.T.) is a core component of the Transition Network, the international network of the Transition movement. It covers a variety of practices offered as stand-alone workshops, or incorporated as part of group culture.

Research summary

I.T. practices contributed to development of successful projects; encouraged emotional awareness in all activities (Banks, 2012), and developed literacy around ‘parallel processes’ within Transition groups (Prentice, 2012, p. 186). 
- The degree of integration or polarisation between I.T.  and more practical aspects of Transition Initiatives were noted by Ruchetto and Poland in Canada (2015), Power in Australia (2016), and Banks (2012). 
- By applying an approach based on ‘salutogenisis’ (the creation and generation of health and well being), Maschowski et al. (2017) provide insights into the ways in which taking action can be generative of wellbeing.

Conducted through groups of 6-12 people, who meet for facilitated meetings, and work from the Carbon Conversations handbook ‘In Time For Tomorrow?’ (Randall and Brown, 2015). The approach ‘addresses the practicalities of carbon reduction while taking account of the complex emotions and social pressures that make this difficult.’

Research summary

- Carbon Conversation groups provided structure to support the emotional responses to climate change (Randall, 2009).
Key conclusions following surveys and interviews with participants (Büchs, Hinton and Smith, 2015) were: 

- Sharing experiences helped participants become aware of and reflect on their feelings and inner conflicts. 
- Group dynamics affected participants’ capacity to do this
- Supported participants to take carbon reduction action. 
- Works best for those on cusp of change.

Mindfulness based Interventions (MBIs).

Mindfulness combined with social change is being offered by a range of mindfulness practitioners. For example, the Mindfulness and Behaviour Change programmes delivered in UK to behaviour change practitioners (Lilley et al, 2106, Whitehead et al., 2017), and courses offered by members of the Mindfulness and Social Change Network.

Research summary

A growing field focused on Mindfulness based interventions (MBIs) in social and environmental action and wider society (e.g. Whitehead et al., 2017, Lilley et al., 2016; Barrett et al., 2016; Wamsler, 2018; Bristow, 2019; Mindfulness All-Party Parliamentary Group, 2015). The research suggests that MBIs have the potential to support shifts in behaviour and adaptation in different contexts and scales, encourage a shift in creative and holistic policy making (Bristow, 2019).
Evaluations from Mindfulness and Behaviour Change programmes noted how participants increasingly understood the role of emotions, values and norms in their decision making, and concluded that these approaches “open up interesting opportunities for conceiving more empowering and ethically sensitive approaches to behavioural government” (Whitehead et al., 2017, p. 133; Lilley et al., 2016). 

Organisational change
(climate focused) , including Carbon Literacy Project (CLP) 

To reach people at scale, inner and outer change needs to happen in all sectors, such as workplaces.  Research evidences how organisational cultures can undermine change-makers and sustainability professionals) (Andrews, 2017), thus need for examples and models of institutional and organisational change which is transformational of both individuals and organisations.

The Carbon Literacy Project (CLP) was initiated in Manchester and now (2020) used in over 40 organisations across Europe. The CLP 'offers everyone a day’s worth of Carbon Literacy learning, covering – climate change, carbon footprints, how you can do your bit, and why it’s relevant to you and your audience.’ As of March 2020, CLP had certified over 13,000 ‘Carbon Literate’ individuals in nine nations as a result of participating in their training.

Internal and external research has been conducted on the CLP. 
Reports attested to increased motivation and agency to take action (Richards, 2017) and the range of political engagement (Moore, 2017).  
PhD research (Hamilton, forthcoming) reveals the need for ongoing opportunities to integrate the learnings into their personal and professional lives.

Nature Connection and Earth Activist Trainings (EAT)

This covers a range of approaches to give experience of connection to nature, as standalone events or courses, or are incorporated into workshops and events.

Many nature connection approaches draw from indigenous wisdom traditions and academic evidence of beneficial aspects of nature connection for wellbeing (Van den Berg, 2017), ecopsychology and deep ecology approaches (Naess, 1973, Andrews, 2017). For example, the ‘Natural Change Project’ drawing on nature connection experiences which contributed to an expansion of worldviews from anthropocentric to an ecological self (Key and Kerr, 2012; Kerr and Key, 2012; WWF, 2011), which in turn provided a deeper motivation for pro-socio-ecological work.

Earth Activist trainings are offered online and in person in Herefordshire.

Puig de la Bellacasa (2010) reflected on positive practical and affective outcomes: ‘the affect cultivated in Earth Activist Trainings is not despondency in front of the impossible, but joy in the hope of possibility’ (2010, p. 162). 

Grief tending and Ecological Grief Processes

Grief tending processes draw on a range of indigenous wisdom traditions and offer workshops and processes which incorporates many types of grief (e.g. Weller, 2015) including ecological grief. Some grief processes also incorporated into spiritual approaches.

Research summary

The potentially transformative work of grief and mourning with regard to climate change engagement has been discussed with reference to the UK Mass Extinction Memorial Observatory (Cunsolo Willox, 2012), and public grief about lost species, environments and people through memorials who discusses (Windle, 1992). Akin to these practices Skrimshire (2018) reflects on the potentially transformative spiritual acts of confessing and witness through rituals which foster a public awareness, and Miles and Corr (2015) share learnings regarding the value of providing facilitated and held informal spaces to reflect on and develop different relationships to death and dying through the Death café movement.

Creative Climate Engagement approaches  

The rich range of arts and creative practices can enable the exploration of emotions associated with social and ecological issues.

Research summary

Cape Farewell curates a collection of testimonies and research reports offering a range of reflections about art and engagement with climate change, and the reflection it can stimulate (Roosen et al., 2018). Creating and listening to stories in communities can enable greater engagement in complex issues such as energy and climate change (Smith et al., 2017), and Burke, Ockwell, and Whitmarsh (2018) suggest further research into the value of combining participatory creative practices into climate change engagement. This does not negate the potential power of creative interventions such as films, theatre and plays, but acknowledges that these can sometimes be limiting and short lived (Howell, 2011).

Faith and spiritual approaches

Many faith-based and spiritual approaches are embedded within spiritual traditions and movements (e.g. Rothberg and Coder, 2013) which stretch back for millennia. They combine their faith with contemplative practices, rituals, and engaged social action, and an acknowledgement of inter-dependence.


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Barrett, B., Grabow, M., Middlecamp, C., Mooney, M.,  Checovich, M., Converse, A., Gillespie, B., Yates. J. (2016). Mindful Climate Action: Health and Environmental Co-Benefits from Mindfulness-Based Behavioral Training. Sustainability 8, 1040, doi:10.3390/su8101040 

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Bragg, R., and Atkins, G., 2016. A review of nature-based interventions for mental health care. Natural England Commissioned Reports, Number204. 

Bristow, J., 2019. Mindfulness in politics and public policy. Current Opinion in Psychology, 8, pp. 87–91.

Büchs M., Hinton E., Smith G. (2015). ‘It helped me sort of face the end of the world’: The role of emotions for third sector climate change engagement initiatives. Environmental Values 24 (5), 621-640.

Burke, M., Ockwell, D., and Whitmarsh, L., 2018. Participatory arts and affective engagement with climate change: The missing link in achieving climate compatible behaviour change? Global Environmental Change, 49, pp. 95–105.

Cunsolo, A., and Ellis, N. R., (2018). Ecological grief as a mental health response to climate change-related loss. Nature Climate Change Vol 8: 259 p. 275–281. 

Cunsolo Willox, A., 2012. Climate change as the work of mourning. Ethics and the Environment, 17 (2), pp.137-164.

Doppelt, B. (2016). Transformational Resilience: How building human resilience to climate disruption can safeguard society and increase wellbeing. London: Routledge.

Hathaway, M. D., 2017. Activating Hope in the Midst of Crisis: Emotions, Transformative Learning, and “The Work That Reconnects”. Journal of Transformative Education, 15(4), pp. 296–314.

Head, L. (2016). Hope and grief in the anthropocene. Reconceptualising human nature relations.  London: Routledge.

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Howell, R.A., 2011. Lights, camera… action? Altered attitudes and behaviour in response to the climate change film The Age of Stupid. Global Environmental Change, 21(1), pp.177-187.

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Macy, J., and Brown, M. (2015). Coming Back to Life. The Updated guide to The Work That Reconnects. Gabriola Island, B.C., Canada: New Society Publishers. 

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Image credits

Photo by Saad Chaudhry on Unsplash

Evidence base suggestions

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