How An Offers & Needs Market Helps Build Sustainable Practice

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pink and yellow post it note with 'OFFER' and 'NEED' written on them

The irony of the modern market is that it can get a spare part from across the world, but a neighbour still might not know that the mechanic with the skills to fix the car is right next door – Donnie Maclurcan

So often, people working on sustainability in different organisations or communities are facing the same challenges. Sometimes, we’ve got people to turn to for support or advice – sometimes, or on some issues, we haven’t.

What if we could know how to connect with that support?

Running an ‘Offers and Needs’ Market is a way of discovering what kinds of support you might be able to provide to others, and what kinds you might need. And even though it doesn’t sound green (or perhaps because it doesn’t sound green!) it can also help build a culture of sustainability.

What is an Offers & Needs Market?

This is a simple participatory process which can quickly unearth hidden or latent resources, ideas, connections and match them with those who could benefit from them.

I took this idea, mentioned to me by my Post Growth Institute colleague, Donnie Maclurcan, and adapted it for a session I ran at work, which attracted participants from a variety of sectors, including business and industry, local and State government, nonprofits and tertiary education.

This process, like asset-mapping, is a way to ‘bootstrap’ communities by focusing on what passions, skills, resources, connections etc the group already has among itself. Reflecting back to people what they can already do is a positive way to short-circuit the ‘we-don’t-have-any-resources’ narrative and the all too common starting position of ‘what is the problem?’ and then (if you can even get out of talking about problems and who is to blame for them) going on to diagnose what needs ‘fixing’.

By the end of the session, we had already discovered a local business had a regular incoming supply of pallets that were not needed, and a number of people were after pallets to create furniture, or to help build the University of Adelaide HUB’s Edible Garden. Match!

How Can I Run an Offers & Needs Market?

'Offers' sign in green with participants' Offers written on green post it notes stuck underneath

'Needs' sign in yellow with participants' Needs written on yellow post it notes stuck underneath

This can be very, very simple and doesn’t require a lot of preparation. Here’s how I ran it:

1. Give participants two different coloured lots of Post-It notes – make it clear which colour is for Offers, and which is for Needs. You can easily make up simple signs that you can place on tables or put up for reference.

2. Starting with Offers (the positive, what people have to give), participants write down any kinds of support they think they can offer (what they’ve learned, what wisdom, insight, practical support or help they could offer to others), along with their preferred contact details. Give people as long as you sense they need, but somewhere between 5-10 minutes is a good rule of thumb.

For example: I can offer an ear of support; I can offer advice on how to talk to senior management; I have a surplus of eggs.

3. Switch to Needs – what are they working on, seeking, what kind of support do they require right now that someone else in this group might be able to help with? Give people 5-10 minutes to write down their Needs.

For example: I need help with how to engage with staff; I need ideas for sharing information; I need someone who knows about web development.

Participants can choose to make as many offers or needs as they like (or none, but encourage them to make at least one).

4. Ensure participants are aware that the making of an offer or expressing of a need means that it comes with implicit permission to contact, or be contacted about it. If there is something people don’t want to be contacted about, don’t write it down.

5. Before participants stick their Offers and Needs up on the wall, go around the room and invite people to introduce themselves and ‘pitch’ one of their offers or needs aloud to the group in 1-2 sentences. Reassure participants that if they would rather opt out of this right now, they can simply say ‘pass’. There should be no discussion or clarification during this process, as it will slow things down.

4. Ask participants to come forward and post their Offers and Needs on the wall, where they can be left there for the duration of the event for others to view.

5. Explain to participants that the notes will be collated into a spreadsheet, and shared with the group (could be emailed, or you might use Google Docs or Dropbox – you’ll need to sign up for a free Google or DropBox account if you don’t already have one).

Tips for Running an Offers & Needs Market

  • Instead of using Post-It notes, the market can be run differently by giving participants an ‘Offers’ and ‘Needs’ sheet and getting everyone to read out all of their offers and needs – then it is up to each participant to note who they might like to speak to or connect with after. A bit like ‘Offers and Needs’ Bingo!
  • If your situation and budget allows, creating a social atmosphere with some coffee or nibbles helps people to start talking and introduce themselves – it then it becomes more like a party than a ‘work’shop.
  • With a group of 40-50, allow about 15 minutes to both think of, and write down, ‘offers’ and ‘needs’. Then allow another 15-20 minutes for each person to tell the others their name, organisation (if applicable) and to pitch one of their offers or needs aloud so that the whole group hears. This needs to be a speedy process, so the pitch should be 20 seconds, or one sentence eg. ‘my name is Sharon, I blog at Cruxcatalyst, and I can offer articles that help support the communication efforts of change agents.’
  • If the group is bigger, or if you wish to get people to verbally announce all of their offers and needs, allow more time. People can and will breach the 15-20 second limit, so factor this in too!
  • I’ve been trying to work out a more efficient way to collate the information than typing up dozens of Post-It Notes and entering them into an Excel spreadsheet (believe me, if you have a big group of 100-200, you will want to think about this, or find someone to delegate this task to!), but without losing the physical, visual impact of writing down contributions and then placing them for others to view during the session. The latter is also low-tech and hands-on – actually writing things down gives words more power than if they stay in your head.
  • If anyone has any great ideas about the Post-It Notes (or any other suggestions or experiences with this process), please let me know! Otherwise watch this space – when I figure something out, I’ll write an addendum to this piece.

How an Offers and Needs Market Supports Sustainability

This kind of approach helps support sustainable practice in your organisation or community for several reasons:

  • it reduces consumption of resources by making the most of existing assets – if people can access what they need, they don’t need to buy it
  • it reduces waste – if someone else’s ‘waste’ can become another’s ‘resource’ (as per the pallets), it means less materials going to waste
  • it can deliver cost savings both a reduction in consumption and waste
  • it builds and enhances connections and relationships which are essential for any change process – knowing who is doing what, who has access to what, and who knows who are vital for getting things done

An Offers and Needs Market helps people save money, meet their needs, be helpful to others as well as contributing to sustainability goals of reuse and consuming less.

But perhaps most importantly, it could be an effective way to reach beyond ‘Pioneer’ frames to those who are not engaged with ‘green’ or ‘sustainability’ by tapping into what people need in their lives right now.

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  1. Post its to text is a perfect job for a virtual assistant. Still manual, but at least someone in the Philippines can do it for 7 dollars an hour (and be happy at being relatively well paid). Not sure if this fits government outsourcing guidelines though… : /


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