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Cansiglio Forest Retreat: Exploring socio-ecological impacts with Theory U

Contributed by
Angela Moriggi

A forest retreat to crystalize a transformative vision for socio-ecological change along the 'New Silk Road'

In September 2019, a group of six international scholars from different fields of research came together for a study retreat in the Cansiglio woods, where they analyzed the socio-ecological implications of the new Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) - a massive infrastructural programme promoted by China, also named the 'New Silk Road'.

The innovative scientific retreat was designed following the structure of Theory U, and facilitated using many of the methods from the Re.imaginary toolkit. The goal was to examine the environmental repercussions of the BRI from different perspectives, while creating a transdisciplinary community committed to transformative change.

The Cansiglio Forest Retreat participants (from left to right): Mark Foggin, Yun Gao, Daniele Brombal, Stefan Gruber, Shekhar Kolipaka, Nicholas Temple.

“The idea and impetus for this retreat emerged from growing anxieties about the risks posed by the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) for socio-ecological communities along its routes" explained prof. Daniele Brombal (Ca' Foscari University of Venice), who organized and facilitated the retreat, with the design consultancy of Angela Moriggi, from the team of Re.imaginary.

During the retreat, the researchers employed co-creative techniques, such as Inviting non-human stakeholders and Predict future headlines, in order to imagine the future of different places along the BRI taking the perspective of both human and more-than-human entities (vulnerable human beings, animals, plants, artefacts). This process was coupled with individual reflection and guided meditation in the woods. The group also sought to identify core values that could help lead toward an ideal future, around which each researcher could commit his/her efforts and contribute to through their academic work about the BRI. The collective vision for the future was then condensed in the  'Cansiglio Declaration: Advancing a common 'Charter of Values' for the mutual benefit and well-being of living communities along the New Silk Roads'.

An example of 'Predict future headlines'
The participants reading each other's future headlines.

The Cansiglio Forest Retreat was initiated by the Marco Polo Centre at the Department of Asian and North African Studies of University Venice. More information can be found at this link.

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