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Collaborative Netweaving

FROM Helene Finidori TO The Great Transition Initiative, October 2, 2014

Dear Paul and GTI friends,

Thank you for the opportunity to share our thoughts on this very important issue of how to bring about the Great Transition, Paul. I will add another female voice to the mix of thoughtful comments and ideas.

I position myself in the camp of hope, the Great Transition scenario, and the disruptive power of change agents because, well, let’s say we have nothing to lose and everything to gain, especially in light of the principle of emergence mentioned by Al Hammond: change in complex systems brews below the surface until it rather suddenly appears to our view.

The initiatives that are bubbling in praxis at multiple levels and scales including at the institutional and corporate ones, and the conversations about networks of networks, movements of movements, great transitions, big shifts that are multiplying right now may signal that we are close to a tipping point. So the question becomes, how can agency be catalysed and leveraged wherever it may be found to accelerate the process and make sure it keeps "on target"?

I will list a few points I find important to keep in mind when discussing and writing up the new version of the GT essay and drawing up a strategy for the Great Transition. Some have been already suggested others maybe not.

1.The various surveys and research published lately show that change agents in general agree on the systemic nature of our predicaments, recognise the existence of a "cultural" dimension to deal with, as well as the need for coordination and for some form of transition strategy. Tobias Troll’s master thesis, the recently published Weaving the Community Resilience and New Economy Movement Report for example, and other reports I had the opportunity to consult concur on this point.

2. The situation we are facing is an intricacy of interconnected wicked problems that cannot be grasped as a whole because they cannot be formulated in a definitive way and there are multiple angles and points of intervention that cannot be encompassed into a single framework or frame of reference and dealt with linearly with set priorities. Rittel and Ackoff also pointed out that there are no right or wrong, true or false solutions to wicked problems; solutions may be contradictory and involve trade-offs; there is no history or proven practice and expert knowledge to refer to, data is uncertain and often missing; and the best information necessary to understand the problems is distributed in the contexts affected by the problem.

3. Agency is also distributed throughout the system. People engage into activism driven by a variety of engagement logics and approaches to change that proceed from different paradigms even within counter hegemonic circles. Donella Meadows illustrated very well in her Points to Intervene in a System how a system’s goal, and its structures and rules, i.e., the framework for action, arise from paradigm. This means that people’s cultures and values affect which type of solutions they will put their efforts and resources towards, and what type of actions they will prioritise. And these are not interchangeable.

4. Change agents converge around these frameworks of action by affinity, forming clusters of cooperating, specialised agents that share common values and visions on what to change and how. Each focusing on the piece of the system where they chose to put their focus on and believe that they will be the most effective. Eventually they flock in swarms, as informal networks, around ad hoc calls to action, such as mobilisations for climate change or trade agreements, practicing networked advocacy, as demonstrated in the disruption video.

5. The sense of commonality felt in many alternative or transition/transformation oriented gatherings shows that there is a universal aspect to what drives social and sustainability movements across the globe, that can, however, not be given a clear, a precise definition for everyone to agree upon. This came up clearly in the discussions during the Communications, Culture, Commons workshop held during the last Economics and the Commons Conference in Berlin, and in an attempt to define the commons during the Degrowth 2014 GAP event.

6. In this context, it would be illusory to think that a global transition strategy could be based on a “unified project of political, economic, and cultural change”. Expressed "In one narrative" that would "connect the full spectrum of issues within an integrated strategic and intellectual framework" under an "umbrella of common principles and goals." A fully articulated vision of what the future would look like, and a strategic plan with goals and achievables that directly tackle issues that people would adhere to would not work across the board. It would only draw the attention of those who share these specific goals and call for these specific types of actions. To be really encompassing, and not just one of the many initiatives out there, a "global" strategy would need to provide the soil from which a diversity of seeds can grow, and the scaffold onto which a diversity of projects and stories can attach and mesh to form an emergent and self-coordinated global project and story.

7. The first question then would be what type of archetypal vision, common ground, underlying (rather than overarching) logic, that would not prejudge of any figurative image of the future, specific pathway or preferred organizational form, could mobilize widely across engagement logics and paradigms of change. It seems that those that have chameleon features, i.e., that can be found at the core of all engagement logics or change paradigms and that can be expressed in the language specific to each of them, would be good candidates. One can think of "shared objects of care or engagement" that manifest in different forms ubiquitously, i.e. the "what" change agents concentrate on, which encompass resources as well as the conditions and dynamics regenerative of the system, all the factors that ensure the thrivability and renewal of the ecosystem in all its dimensions, and coalesce as a whole into the commons?

8. The polymorphic movement of movements currently emerging is the result of this distributed caring and cultivation of or struggles for the variety of objects of care and factors of thrivability, more than something "created" a priori. The GTI should resist the temptation to set itself as "the" movement of movements that will take the lead to create "the" global citizenship movement, and maybe concentrate on "equipping" existing movements to better come together while doing their focused work in an interconnected way, more effective to the whole.

9. The key questions for the GTI and any global movement building network then become (1) how to provide participatory spaces, methodologies, and tools for movements to coalesce around (or at least to set the direction of their vectors towards) such archetypal vision; (2) how to encourage movements to mutually recognise each other’s actions and complementarity; and (3) how to foster cooperation in praxis between and across logics of engagement, in areas where movements can find overlap.

10. And this would not be complete without also providing the space, methodologies, and tools to interpret, understand, discuss, and debate the systemic phenomena and effects in which we are entangled, and the means to evaluate the solutions that can liberate us from them, in such a way that the various movements and logics on the ground can create and adjust their own action, both in focused and in coordinated ways.

Thank you for your attention.

Helene Finidori

Helene Finidori focuses on systemic perspectives and tools for transformative action.
Co-founder and coordinator of the Commons Abundance Network, she teaches Management and Leadership of Change
in the International Program of Staffordshire University.


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