The story

What is Return of Inspiration? How does inspiration unfold? What leads to people becoming inspired? How can inspiration be measured? A diverse team leading an Inspiration Pilot in India seeks to answer these questions and therefore better develop transformative and long-term holistic landscape restoration. 

Inspiration: a key component of restored landscapes 

Inspiration restores hope, improves well-being, creates trust in projects, and stimulates creativity. When individuals or communities are inspired, they find ways to overcome the challenges they face and become part of the solution of landscape restoration. For these reasons, the Return of Inspiration, an important part of the 4 Returns Framework, is a key ingredient for long-term landscape restoration. 

“There is a difference between Inspiration and being inspired. Inspiration also means that people do not just feel that the world can be different but that they have the tools and means to make that difference. A sense of ‘Oh wow, I can be part of that change’. It’s an inviting feeling to feel like you can actually start doing it.” – Dieter van den Broeck, Commonland 

The inspiration pilot in India  

To better understand how restoration projects inspire people and how this inspiration is expressed and verbalized, Commonland and partner organizations will conduct a year-long research project on inspiration in the CHIRP (Central Highlands Restoration Project) in Chhattisgarh, India. This research project, predominantly developed by Shekhar Kolipaka, will be the first of its kind to measure inspiration in real-life restoration projects.  

Model and Concepts of Inspiration 

An external source, like a visit to a model kitchen garden, can trigger inspiration. However, people visiting the site must have a need for such inputs and must be open-minded to allow inspiration to occur. Once inspired, people who visited the kitchen garden will get new ideas from the garden and start replicating or innovating things based on what they have seen and learned, Shekhar Kollipaka January 2022

The research will be based on a model of inspiration developed by Dr. Todd Thrash and his colleagues (Thrash & Elliot, 2003). According to this model, which has been researched for more than 20 years, inspiration is always triggered by an external source but manifests itself within the individual in three steps. 

A schematic of an episode of inspiration based on the model developed by Dr.Todd Thrash and his colleagues, by Shekhar Kollipaka

Following the above-mentioned illustration of a visit to a kitchen garden, the individual, if inspired, first experiences a unique subjective feeling of illumination, a sudden insight, a thought, or a spark of an idea. Something like ‘’Ah, I could do this too” or ”I could further improve my skills and sell tea made from local herbs.”

In the second phase of evocation, the individual becomes consciously aware of the trigger that caused the insight and expresses gratitude and a new sense of purpose towards the eliciting object. For example, if the eliciting object is a person, gratitude might be expressed as a ‘’thank you’’ towards the person and a new sense of purpose as a feeling of “I know what I can do” or “Now, I want to do this next step”. If the eliciting object is the kitchen garden, gratitude, and a new sense of respect towards the kitchen garden develops.  

Illumination and evocation phases trigger an internal motivation that leads to inspired action. A shift from thinking about the herbs in the kitchen garden to selling tea (action) takes place. Inspired actions cause a transmission effect of inspiration, meaning they trigger other inspired actions which lead to more inspiration. As this process continues, the person who experiences inspiration will benefit from increased physiological and physical well-being.  

According to inspiration research literature, there are important preconditions that increase the likelihood of inspiration to occur. For one, people must be open to new experiences and have a specific need to do or realize something – like a need to try something new, make more money, or grow multi-crops. That is when a trip to a kitchen garden can be stimulating. If people do not have the need or do not believe in the concept of a kitchen garden, they will not get inspired.  

Research Questions 

One of the main aims of the Inspiration research Pilot is to understand the meaning of inspiration as perceived and verbalized by local community members, stakeholders, and CHIRP teams, and to measure inspiration during the project. 

The way people describe inspiration varies greatly. For example, some people say that their sources of inspiration are a video they watched or a TED talk they saw. According to Shekhar Kolipaka, “in rural India, people express that inspiration is God-given or stimulated by some powerful forces. It comes from a supernatural source…their imagination of inspiration and where it is coming from is very different from, for example, a science-led western way of thinking about it. So, we have to be very careful with the translations of inspiration and see what kind of common language will actually allow us to talk about this [inspiration] from a cultural perspective. The minute you start using your definitions to make meaning of how a rural Indian citizen is thinking about inspiration, we will end up in complex cultural complexities. This is what I want to avoid.’’ 

Shekhar Kallipoka interviewing a community leader about his inspiration (man with a headdress). The community mobilizer (yellow mouthguard) is trained in inspiration and listening to the conversation. Photo by Harma Rademaker, January 2022

Because inspiration is such a deeply subjective phenomenon, the research methodology will be developed on the go, but based on the following research questions:  

  1. Where do people in a non-western, rural Indian context get their inspiration from?  
  2. How do people verbalize inspirational triggers? Do people point towards a god or towards a material thing that caused inspiration?
  3. What does it mean to people in Chhattisgarh, India to be inspired?  
  4. How does inspiration impact the local community? 
  5. How does inspiration impact the restoration project?  
  6. How does individual Inspiration trigger community actions in Chhattisgarh, India? 
  7. How can you measure inspiration? 
  8. What do people think will happen if they are not inspired? How would that impact their mental well-being?

The community mobilizers in an orientation class on Inspiration by Harma Rademaker, January 2022

To measure inspiration, a researcher and seven community mobilizers working in five different villages of the CHIRP Kabirdham area are trained to engage villagers and systematically provide inspiration-related information. The researcher will collect a baseline of various sources of inspiration that tend to inspire the local people in Chhattisgarh. This will allow the researchers to measure if CHIRP activities are inspiring people or not.  

“We need Inspiration to create societies which can find solutions to their problems, and not be victimims because of lack of ideas.” – Shekhar Kolipaka

The onset of Illumination will be evaluated via interviews after the activities are conducted. The more powerful the feeling of illumination, the more chances are that the people if they can, will do something with their recently discovered ideas. Evocation will be measured using content analysis by, for example, analyzing the words used by people to express and verbalize ‘’gratitude’’ and their newfound sense of purpose.   The research group will also take account of the inspired actions (which are tangible and visible things) undertaken by the individuals. Since inspired actions can transpire much later than ideas, the team will follow up with the participants for an extended period. 

Understanding Inspiration is key to landscape restoration 

The role that Inspiration plays in landscape restoration is clear. ” What we are trying to do with inspiration is to spark the ability of people to think outside of the box and find solutions for their problems, ” says Shekhar. ‘’ We need Inspiration to create societies which can find solutions to their problems, and not be victims because of lack of ideas.”

“The more powerful the spark, the more powerful the sense of purpose and the higher the chances of people doing inspired action.” – Shekhar Kolipaka  

By understanding how inspiration manifests itself – the triggers that inspire people – restoration can be made a true community-owned and community-driven process. According to Shekhar Kolipaka this is the only way to scale holistic, long-term landscape restoration. Inspiring people and communities can create transformational change in their lives and in their surroundings. The Inspiration Pilot can be instrumentalized to create a long-term and effective landscape restoration initiative in India and will hopefully be a model for projects to come. As Shekhar explains, “the more powerful the spark, the more powerful the sense of purpose and the higher the chances of people doing inspired action.’’

What has inspired you in the past?  What do you think is the best way to measure inspiration?

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One reply on "Measuring the Return of Inspiration"

  1. Wim Lauwers Wim Lauwers says:

    To inspire people, you have to listen to them. Why do they come to this meeting? What are their dreams? Thats where it all starts. Good luck.

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