An extract from the recently published book - The Networker

Ned Iceton and the Social Developers' Network

Life and memories of Ned Iceton, by himself and many of the people who knew him.

The book provides insight into the development of Ned Iceton’s theories, embedded in a history of a network of social developers. The inspiration for the Social Developers Network and the NED-Net Foundation is based on the following perceptions:

  • That the earth and human species face a crisis of survival.
  • That we all need to use our potential for inner growth for the benefit of all.
  • That citizen involvement must be the primary purpose of our next evolutionary step.
  • That we need to participate regularly in retreats and workshops to review our goals and objectives.

According to Ned Iceton, the social developer’s style is to offer support to anyone as we confront each other about reality. This involves honesty and trust. Personal development accompanies social development in order that both individuals and communities function effectively. Both cognitive and emotional aspects must be considered. Social development is about “re-ordering our individual and social culture as a prescription for our species’ ills”.

“Complexity theory, chaos theory and human systems dynamics give us new metaphors by which to explore how best we can develop new tools and remain flexible, adaptable and congruent with reality”.

Centralised systems will fail and we will have to rebuild. Social Developers workshops have evolved to meet this challenge using group processes. The Network provides personal mentoring to self-motivated people for their role as citizens. Diversity of participants is an important feature of the workshops. Ned saw himself as a ‘cultural therapist’. He was inspired by his mother’s efforts as a community developer during the Great Depression when she galvanised the town of Gunnedah NSW to cope. His early experiences as a doctor working in the Northern Territory, the UK and the Sub-Continent gave him confidence to engage with many different people and situations. When he returned to Armidale he made contact with Aboriginal people and farmers and developed workshops of mutual support and action. He shared his learning journey with his wife Joan until she died, and then continued to practice meditation as part of managing himself and recognising the unconscious elements in life. “My object has always been to plug every new understanding into every pre-existing one”. In later years the restorative justice/practice approach became for him an example of achieving emotional learning by being cognitively explicit and turning society away from negativism.

Ned Iceton died on 30 June 2015 and was farewelled at a large funeral gathering in Armidale on 7 July. A later memorial meeting was held in Canberra on 24 October. On both occasions strong tributes were given to the significant impact of Ned’s life on many people around Australia. Ned left a Foundation to continue promoting creative social development.

Terry Widders took part in the early Aboriginal human relationship workshops arranged by Ned, and since then he and Ned have often shared ideas about life and community. He was excited by the possibility of making change to create adaptive communities, and Ned introduced to him concepts like social development, community and negotiation of relationships.

John Ducker was part of the Inverell farmers group that came together with Ned’s help. Called the Bannockburn Conservation Group, they focused on soil erosion problems.

“Ned always maintained a very unobtrusive presence. He’d sit at the back of a meeting and not enter into it at all, he’d simply observe. Then later he’d strategize the next steps with the group”.

The self-help approach made the group very successful in working for change.

John Russell, a social worker, helped Ned in forming the Social Developers Network (SDN). They found common concern for community development, and John pushed Ned to start workshops that ran for a week, really engaging participants in sharing their work as well as their personal problems.

“Ned did the head work, talked about the theory and looked at the process. I was the one who interrupted when I thought there was a sensitive area”.

Early workshops had a tendency towards confrontation (possibly owing to dominant male influence), but later ones have become more caring. They have become shorter (4 days) and leadership moves around as different issues emerge. There is a strong emphasis on positive social change. Usually about half the participants have been before, and others are new to the process.

Sylvia Baker moved to Deniliquin NSW in her early married life, and became active in advocating for women’s interests particularly in her role on the local council. This led to a passion for community development. Her contact with Ned came through a visit to China that he led for the Social Workers Union, and through her friendship with a local Aboriginal woman who knew of Ned’s work on Aboriginal studies.

“It was really Ned that gave me the impetus for my local government and community work, because he understood what I was on about at a time when I couldn’t articulate it”.

The SDN workshops gave her new energy to carry on. Ned remained “a staunch ally, confidant, support person, and mentor”.

Ben Leeman came from a Dutch background, and was keen to learn about all aspects of religion, sociology and social work. John Russell invited him to a SDN workshop and he became a regular participant.

“The sharing of personal experiences, often challenging, and the discussion which generated from their presentation, enriches the workshops and provides food for thought and stimulation for ongoing activism”.

Feedback was given in a positive and developmental way, encouraging individuals to cope better with uncertainties and frustrations of community work. Through all this, Ned has been a shining example of a person who augments his intellectual ability with emotional intelligence. Ben became involved in publishing the New Community journal which NED-Net helped to fund.

Jean Leeman, Ben’s wife, had a social work background. Initially she felt challenged by the emotional temperature of the workshops, but later felt that “people are really supportive”. Gender has been an issue at times, with the male perspective queried by the female participants. Jean affirmed the value of taking part as a way to “recharge and get on with what you are doing”. She valued especially the Guthega workshops as they were held further away from other places and more immune from the interruptions of daily life.

“To me one of the most important things about coming, and that has encouraged me to come, has been the mix of people, their wide experience, their commitment to change and to improving things in the world for people”.

Ned’s networking has been vital in keeping the momentum going. “Ned has a huge integrity as a person. Sometimes Little Ned is the one who needs others to support him, while at other times he’s the teacher and leader – it’s complex and it’s good”.

Tiyana Maksimovic-Binno had a traumatic time adjusting to life in Australia as a migrant. She reached out for alternatives to the mainstream, and met Ned at Schumacher’s memorial conference. She came to the next SDN workshop to share her project for “an alternative, environmentally and emotionally sustainable and healing urban household-community”. She found a lively and supportive group of people. “I was so very happy that there was experiential education at SDN, rather than any authoritarian preaching or teaching that I always had an issue with”.

She experienced mutual respect and a non-judgmental framework. However she stopped attending workshops, partly because she felt some underlying conflicts were not adequately addressed, partly because the format seemed to lack emotional transparency, and partly because the projects discussed were too remote from her daily life to be relevant.

“I appreciated Ned tremendously for having had the honesty and courage to step out of his comfortable social status, position and income as MD to co-found SDN and to keep working through it according to his conviction”.

David Purnell was attracted by Ned’s “broad approach to the issues of social change and personal change”. With a background in public service and university administration, and community involvement in Life Line and Australian Frontier, David saw John and Ned as complementary in running the workshops by contributing different elements. Other participants brought methods like dance, drawing, meditation, drama.

“SDN was an independent network with whom to check base, get feedback, and some stimulating thoughts about where you could take things”.

Christine Larkin, a social worker and David’s partner, saw an article by Ned about working with people in rural communities and was excited by it, and came to a workshop.

"What appealed to me in those early days was that it was leading-edge knowledge; things that we might not have heard much about otherwise”.

Her professional group work was influenced by SDN approaches. The workshops became more flexible in that not all sessions were seen as ‘compulsory’. In other ways there has been less creativity and this has disappointed Chris. She attends workshops less often now as she has other priorities, but still likes being part of the Network.

Mary Porter was involved in the volunteering sector and then became a politician in the ACT with a strong community focus. SDN was attractive as a place of fellow travellers with a passion to change the world. It was scary attending the first workshop, but Mary found she could get to know others easily and share the experience of living, cooking and talking together. There was at times tension between the macro and the micro as different people gave them different priorities, but more recently the balance has been better. Ned remains central to SDN.

“It has been a journey of growth, development, enlightenment, and pain, and letting go of old hurts while taking on new challenges, and nurturing people. He’s a great nurturer”.

Ray Rauscher, a town planner, saw Ned as an “oasis in uncharted territory”. “To think there was a place for the big picture of society to be explored, and to gain tools to act, was exciting”. He explains Ned’s role in the following way:

“Ned maintains an up-to-date understanding of world social and environmental needs. He gravitates to those organisations that work on the larger picture of needs and actions, as well as the micro needs of communities”.

Ray was impressed that SDN developed a manifesto well ahead of its time in terms of vision and inclusiveness.

Barbara Hicks, a social worker, attended her first workshop in the 1970s, at the time of the Whitlam Government’s Australian Assistance Plan, which encouraged community development. Through the SDN, Ned provided a format to present case studies of community work, and this opened up ideas and possibilities. An important development was NED-Net which has enabled Ned to set up an ongoing means for funding projects. Barbara herself became a less frequent participant after her greater engagement with other priorities including a deep interest in anthroposophy. She values her continuing friendship with Ned and others in the network but is no longer an active contributor.

“The issue for me is that there is no common spiritual or even philosophical base from which to launch shared initiatives or endeavours”.

David Crew came to community development and SDN from an archaeological background, and is fully engaged in the Deniliquin scene, where he and his wife live. Sylvia Baker was an inspiration to him, and he accompanied her to his first workshops. Initially he was challenged to consider “what am I doing personally” and to reflect on his own individual skills and opportunities. He has been led to take further action locally as a result of using some of the group processes of SDN. He would value linking the content of workshops to community by better examples, scenarios and techniques.