Look UP! That’s what I am taking from “Don’t look up”.

On Monday I facilitated the very first “live” Deep Time Walk in Innsbruck and indeed, Tirol. I think it might have been the first in Austria, but I digress. I ran it through my newest “baby” (a.k.a “project), “Peak to Deep“, and I thought I’d share a few bits and pieces about how I did it, what happened on the walk, what I learned and so on, in case future Deep Time Walk facilitators (or other facilitators!) find my experience useful in their thinking.

What is the Deep Time Walk?

What is the Deep Time Walk?

In short, it’s a 4,600 metre/ 4.6km guided walk that takes participants (walkers?) through 4,600 million years / 4.6 billion years of Earth history. It’s essentially a walk with a geostory told at various stops along the way, to help us view the world differently, get some perspective about how humanity fits into the bigger picture, and encourage positive action and advocacy for a regenerative Earth. I won’t do it justice, I am sure, so you might want to pop along to their website if you want to know more – https://www.deeptimewalk.org/.

Planning, planning, planning

Planning, planning, planning

To start with, I spent a significant amount of time working my way through the Deep Time Walk audio script, cards, and later, the facilitators’ guide. The audio script is particularly helpful because it is short, but I quickly realised that not being a geologist, I had (have?) significant gaps in my knowledge. To be clear: I was not and am not trying to become an expert in geology, but I wanted to be able to understand everything that I shared with others. I also wanted to be clear about my limits. I also spent a great deal of time on the search engines, watching videos and reading articles to supplement my growing knowledge.

The next thing I did was plan my route. I decided that a circular route was best, because I can’t assume that everyone will be on foot. I also wanted to encourage bicycles, walking and public transport, so I actively chose a starting and ending point with a good bicycle rack, a nearby bus stop and within easy walking distance of the centre of town. I chose a coffee shop as the starting point, so that people could arrive a bit early and have a coffee/go to the loo as needed, thus avoiding the “we’ll start in a bit when everyone is here” issue. Finally, I chose a route that is flat, well-paved, with a wide path and lots of benches to cater for folks who get tired easily, people who might be unsteady on their feed, people who need additional transport support and so on. I walked the route, making notes about where to stop and roughly outlining what part of the geostory I would share. All in all, I had 20 stops before we got to the point where humans (as we recognise them) appeared.

Then I spent another 1-2 days creating my own script for the walk. This involved looking at the different stops on the route, deciding what to tell walkers and what to omit. How to keep things short and punchy at times, and whimsical and fantastical at others (because, honestly, when you go through the walk, the story is so extraordinary that it sounds like some ancient myth, and what’s even more extraordinary is that is isn’t!) What questions to ask to keep people on their toes, and what activities, if any to include. I was also incredibly lucky to have access to the current Deep Time Walk facilitators’ guide, which I received after contacting the Deep Time Walk creators. They kindly sent me the guide and I made a donation through their website to say thank you. This helped me sanity check my ideas, which was very useful because some of my ideas weren’t quite right!

I started my marketing early on, using the local press, event websites, the Meetup group that I run, and some word-of-mouth marketing. I used Eventbrite to get people to sign up so that I had a good idea of who to expect, and as it was free, this worked well.

From planning to a real-life Deep Time Walk

From planning to a real-life Deep Time Walk

In total, I had 13 participants. I was quite “strict” in my expectation setting: I made it clear what was involved, and that I wanted folks to arrive at 17:45 for an 18:00 start, so that last-minute toilet breaks, delays and so on could be catered for. I also made it clear that we would leave at 18:00 on the dot, and that we wouldn’t wait for anyone. This felt quite harsh, but I have developed quite strong feelings about wasting other people’s time, and interestingly enough, everyone arrived as requested.

The oral storyteller in me, the one with a fantastic short-term memory and a tendency to go into “performance” mode, wanted to be able to guide people through the geostory at each stop from memory. For my first walk, I couldn’t do this. There was just so much new information for me. In the end, I brought notes with me, and did a bit of “ad libbing”, and a bit of reading. It would have been better not to read at all, but I set expectations and in the pilot, this was fine.

I made a point of NOT drumming home messages of sustainability and regeneration and so on at each stop. I explained at the start that the walk was to help us understand where humans fit in the bigger picture, and at the end, I explained how big an impact we have had in such a short time, highlight times in the Earth’s history where similar change has take hundreds of millions of years and led to mass extinctions. I invited people to ponder this, share thoughts if they wished, and ended with an excerpt from “Hieroglyphic Stairway,” by Drew Dellinger. I am conscious that my ability to get people to make behavioural changes is limited, but my ability to provoke thought and offer new perspectives is vast, and I wanted to focus on the latter.

Feedback

Feedback

I created a Google Form and received feedback from 4 of the 13 participants, plus some informal feedback from three others. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive, in spite of my failings. Don’t laugh, but I mis-calculated the length of the walk (it turns out that we walked through 7 billion years of time – seriously “deep” time – instead of the 4.6 billion years intended). This meant that the last 100 000 years were a bit rushed, and of course, this is the piece that everyone is most interested in! A few people felt that some visuals would be helpful, so I’ll be creating a laminated A4 deck of cards to help me. Another couple had expected a walk into the mountains. I understand the desire to do this, but there are all sorts of things to consider here – insurance (what if someone falls!), actually getting there (how much more time do I need to spend? If at the top of a mountain, what about cable car costs?), and of course, accessibility – not everyone is a fit 20-something-year-old.

So a few things to ponder.

I asked how much people would be willing to pay for a 2-3 hour guided walk, and the responses were divided, from “donation only”, to EUR10, and one person said up to EUR20. Obviously this depends on the audience, and it’s something to bear in mind.

It’s useful to bear in mind that my first group was a very particular group of people: mostly under 40, mostly university educated or currently at university, several scientists, mostly well-travelled (only 3 Austrians were in the group), all speaking English at a high level and often as a second language.

So how much time was spent planning and running the event?

Phew: let’s take a moment. So how much time was spent planning and running the event?

I think that it’s important to think about this because time is a finite resource and we all have to live and eat and so on. So here’s my initial time investment (a rough estimate):

  • Reading through script and all cards, then doing a bit of extra “research” to make sure that I understood things – 4 hours
  • Planning my initial route in Innsbruck – 5 hours
  • Going through facilitator guide and mapping to my ideas for stops – 4 hours
  • Creating my own “script” based on my stops, the facilitator guide, and additional research – 8 hours
  • Marketing – 4 hours
  • Running the walk – 4 hours (including arriving early etc.)
  • Follow-up with participants – 1 hour
  • Debrief – 1 hour

Total time investment (not counting thinking etc.) – 31 hours

That’s a lot of time.

Thinking ahead, I anticipate that as I get to know the material better, I will be able to cut out the scripting and and research, although I will also have to refresh my memory.

So here’s my guesstimate of time for an event in the future (assuming that my knowledge is better and my script is in place):

  • For a location that I have already mapped – 8-12 hours
  • For a new location (add pre-walking time, plus checking script) – 15-18 hours

This is useful to know if you are like me and you are doing this without funding. Can you afford to invest this much time once a month? If not, how can you fund it?

Lessons learned and things to ponder

Lessons learned and things to ponder

Before my next walk, here are a few things that I need to work on.

  1.  I mis-calculated my walk as I mentioned earlier, and ended up taking folks on a 7km walk instead of a 4.6km walk. They were all very cheerful about it, but by the end, it felt very long. Avoid the mistake by walking the walk (as I did – no idea how I messed up!) and then using an online GPS-type tool to measure distance. Also, note that if you want to run walks in different places, each one will need to be walked and measured in advance, to make sure that you know the route etc. Factor in that time.
  2. The activities element was tricky: in 2.5 hours (the time I allocated for the walk), having several breakout sessions and asking strangers from different cultural and language backgrounds to get involved in a group activity didn’t feel right, so this is something to work on and think about – different groups will probably need different approaches.
  3. Running a pilot (or several pilots) makes good sense, in exchange for feedback. One item of feedback that I received was that at some point, one person found it difficult to visualise the number of million years involved, and that an A4 sheet with the numbers written on them – i.e. 100 million years ago – would have been helpful in orienting them in the story again.
  4. Having notes for back-up or more information is useful, but ultimately, the “storytelling” at each stop needs to take place without notes in order to really keep people engaged. In the pilots, reading is fine as long as expectations are set.
  5. Bear in mind that there is a LOT of material, and if you are like me and not a scientist and you don’t have a background in geology or natural history or science, the learning curve is steep.
  6. It’s useful to know what you want to achieve with the walk. I wanted to provide new perspectives about our place in the world through the lens of Earth’s history. I wanted to offer questions that got people thinking and perhaps provoked thought in their own time. I wanted to offer participants a chance to meet other people, because that makes us feel less alone in the midst of a difficult period. And I wanted it to be an experience, something that people would talk about and share, because that keeps the conversation going. I think it’s useful to set clear objectives for yourself so that you can measure success.
  7. As is so often the case, I was “preaching to the choir”. I need to work out how to capture more interest, engage a more diverse audience. Having said that, I also acknowledge that keeping the conversation going amongst the “converted”, giving them a space to convene and get new ideas and get them excited and sharing information “forward”, is also important.
  8. Debriefing is invaluable. The sooner after the walk, the better. And then tweak and tune as you go – don’t put off doing something like this until it’s perfect.

Finally, a question: for someone like me who is self-employed and earns a living from running workshops, how can I justify investing what will probably be two days of work each month doing this? Can I justify it? If people are only willing to pay EUR10 for the event, after tax and deductions and the 10% that needs to be paid to the Deep Time Walk creators, that’s an income of +-EUR4 per person, and with an assumed 10-15 people, that’s a whopping EUR40-50 income for two days of work.

Of course, this sort of thing should be given from the heart and offered free of charge, it being along the lines of a vocation, but like teachers, nurses, artists and others who do “vocational work”, a girl needs to live. So it’s worth a ponder.

(My) Next steps

What are your experiences?

What are your experiences?

Have you run a Deep Time Walk? Do you want to run a Deep Time Walk? I’d love to know about your experiences, share ideas, and learn how to make the walk great for participants and facilitators alike.

Drop me a note in the comments or send me a message via my contact page and perhaps we can even have a Zoom chat! Oh, the wonders of technology.

That’s all for now. Go well!