Case Study: Taking the first bite out of the donut

Partner: Regen Sydney

What makes this project special 

Regenerative ‘Doughnut’ Economics provides us with a creative new lens through which we can see a better future and move towards it together. The ‘Doughnut’ itself consists of two concentric rings: a social foundation, to ensure that no one falls short on life’s essentials; and an ecological ceiling, to ensure that we do not collectively overshoot the planetary boundaries that protect our life-supporting systems.

Cities and countries all around the world are taking up this exciting model and finding new ways to ‘live inside the Doughnut’, and we were there as Sydney took its first bite.

A bird’s eye view

  • WHAT: Storytelling with Regen Sydney
  • WHY: Help us see a better future and ‘roll the doughnut’ to achieve it together
  • WHEN: August – December 2021
  • WHO: Talented and passionate team of regenerative ‘doughnut’ enthusiasts, supported by a small grant from UNSW Law & Finance Faculty
  • THE RESULTS: “What Does Good Look Like for Sydney?” – some truly beautiful and inspiring storytelling with Regen Sydney!

The background – for those who want to dive a little deeper

Right now, we are grappling with a series of cascading global economic, social and environmental crises, which are dramatically exposing how fragile and inequitable many of our current systems truly are. However, as painful as the crumbling of long-held narratives can be, the prospect of positive, regenerative change can also be wildly exciting.

In many ways, our best hope of rising to the challenges before us is by taking a more holistic ‘systems approach’. To do this, we must be able to find ways of seeing and piecing together seemingly disparate parts of the puzzle to create a wide view of the ‘system’, combined with a deep understanding of how it functions and expansive vision for what needs to change. This is where storytelling fits in perfectly.

With the help of an economist and a doughnut, Sydney became the next city to tell a new story that reimagines our local social foundations within a planetary boundaries context and explores how this city can be a home to thriving people, in a thriving place.

Regen Sydney is exploring a regenerative future, connecting across silos and sectors to envision a regenerative narrative for our city. In 2021, many values-aligned organisations and individuals came together with Regen Sydney, to marinate on how Sydney can be a home to a thriving community, in a flourishing place, while respecting the wellbeing of all people and the health of the whole planet. 

The challenge

Following the tasty crumbs left by Regen Melbourne, the growing Regen Sydney community embarked upon a community engagement process of events and ‘cafés’, designed to answer the elegantly framed provocation: ‘What Does Good Look Like For Sydney?’, with the filmmaking and storytelling process being an essential aspect of the inspiration and reflection of these conversations. 

However, with Sydney and most of New South Wales in lockdown throughout the production period, we were presented with challenges aplenty filming original content. With challenge comes opportunity, and restrictions opened up new possibilities for inclusion, particularly through remote recording.  

The solution and ‘story artefacts’

‘Story artefacts’ is what you have in your hands as a result of a storytelling process (e.g. videos, blog posts, animations, illustrations). We were able to:

  • Host and provide technical support for a virtual gathering to take a ‘first bite of the Sydney doughnut’ and begin mapping the Regen Sydney ‘ecosystem’ – the people, projects and initiatives working towards the regeneration of our city
  • Film and deliver a 20 minute TEDx Discovery Session featuring voices from across the Regen community and a snapshot of the good work already underway
  • Shape and share a short, collective narrative for the emergent movement for regeneration in Sydney → ‘What Does Good Look Like For Sydney?’ 

“In the process of telling the story, discovering so many inspiring people and projects, I remembered why I love this city so much. What we loved the most about our ‘first bite of the doughnut’ together was growing our relationship with some very like-minded people and kindred souls, to co-create a better narrative for our city – here on beautiful Gadigal land.”

~ Pete Dowson, Digital Storytellers + Regen Sydney

What emerged – the key outcomes

Through hosting conversations, growing relationships and sharing stories, 2021 has seen the Regen Sydney community expand from from half a dozen to more than 200 members. Organisers have hosted five ‘Regen Cafes’, three community events, appeared at TEDx Sydney, the NENA conference, partnered with UTS Creative Intelligence & Innovation Unit to design Regenerative Futures, and shared the tasty doughnut love far and wide 🍩 – not too bad from just a sprinkle of volunteers!

“There is still a long way to go, but I’m incredibly proud to be working with so many brilliant minds, determined to shift the dial on a regenerative economy, envisioning and embedding more holistic measures of ‘progress’ and thriving.”

– Alice Howard-Vyse, Lead Convenor, Regen Sydney

“The gift of using visual storytelling in communicating complex systems change is the ability to convey your unique perspective into the greater system. To better understand the system, we need to explore its parts, its interconnections and flows of energy. 

Creating a visual helps reflect the system back to itself, and from that place, the conversation can continue to refine, reflect and expand. There’s often something that happens to ideas when people see them drawn out. It’s a ‘story artefact’ of a conversation that can live and develop into the future.”

– Devon Bunce, Story Scribe & Illustrator

Three things we learned

  • Stories create space for increasing plurality → in a way few other mediums can, stories allow us to ‘reverse polarity’ by including and embracing diverse voices and multiple perspectives, and the building of connection, trust, and empathy
  • Storytelling makes complex concepts more accessible → from grasping concepts like ‘doughnut economics’ to imagining what a regenerative ‘good’ economy could look like, stories make these conversations more memorable and accessible by creating and holding space for participants to share their own, personal vision of thriving
  • The ‘doughnut’ has only begun to roll → the buzz and excitement around the regen movement is growing rapidly. Now it’s time to invite more people to be part of the conversation and turn this seemingly radical idea into beautiful, transformative action.

Want to get involved?

Join Regen Sydney to help keep the doughnut rolling in Sydney or learn more about how story can power systems-change over on our blog. 

NEXT: A Story-Driven Process: Strategic Communication & Visioning 




community engagement, community storytelling, donut economics, regen sydney, regenerative economics, storytelling, tedx sydney