Systems Intelligence Part 6 : The emergent alternative - Integrating narratives and approaches

By Andy Thomson, enkel & Holonic

This is part 6 of a seven-part series about ‘systems intelligence’. The case for transcending typical systemic approaches to developing a regenerative economy. The other parts are here: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7

In this blog post, I present a case for an emergent approach by synthesising a meta-narrative and identity leading to a working “approach framework” that aims to integrate the strengths of the revolutionary and reformist approaches. This offers the potential to construct a unified foundation for a regenerative economy developed through “3D systems intelligence”.

Writer Paul Mason, once a confessed left-wing activist or revolutionary, is one of those who agree with the need for integration, stating that;

We need ‘revolutionary reformism’… for activists it means something they are rightly scared of; engagement with the mainstream.

The importance of emergence and integration

Considering the analysis in my blog posts so far, an emergent approach through an integration process is presented next because, as Meg Wheatley and Deborah Frieze write in Using Emergence to Take Social Innovation to Scale;

In nature, change never happens as a result of top-down, pre-conceived strategic plans, or from the mandate of any single individual or boss. Change begins as local actions spring up simultaneously in many different areas. If these changes remain disconnected, nothing happens beyond each locale. However, when they become [integrated], local actions can emerge as a powerful system with influence at a more global or comprehensive level.

Emergence occurs when smaller elementary parts, with simple properties, interact in such a way, giving rise to new larger living entities with more advanced properties (check out this video from Complexity Labs). For the system to be successful and resilient what Tomas Homer Dixon calls “mid-range coupling” is required between the smaller entities.

Fields of study, such as cultural science, explore similar ideas looking at how true innovation depends on demes — groups with shared beliefs and interest — interacting with others that are not necessarily in agreement, but where participants can hold and nurture the conflict, turning it into creative hotbeds, where new demes often result.

The Presencing Institute (PI) aims to connect people more profoundly with the world that wants to emerge and to their “emerging higher self”.

Many of these concepts have been central to indigenous cultures for centuries but have been somewhat suppressed as a result of colonisation, industrialisation, and globalisation.

Emergent narrative and approach overview

The intention of the emergent approach is not to create a centralised monolithic initiative, but rather a community of smaller, connected communities that work together.

Figure 1. The Community Canvas

To assist with this I’ll use the Community Canvas — a framework that helps people and organisations build stronger communities.

As shown in figure 2 below, we now have a pair of Integral 3D glasses with a series of themes from the Community Canvas drawn on top. The blue “internal” lens focusses on the intangible identity or narrative of the approach, providing an unambiguous sense of who this community is, why it exists and what it stands for, and is synonymous with the “ethical” economic reasoning discussed previously. The red “external” lens looks at the tangible approach, tasks, and outcomes, which is synonymous with the “engineering” economic reasoning.

Figure 2. The Emergence approach framework developed from the Community Canvas.

Both lenses are interrelated, so as one looks from side to side the relevant pairings line up creating a more balanced and contextualised sense of reality and purpose. Please note that these again work over the multiple scales and that a challenge such as creating a new economy requires us to be constantly looking from side to side and up a down. It is this interrelation that creates the dynamic feedback loops needed to ensure that the right things are done well.

So we have ten themes in total:

  1. Purpose
  2. Who are WE?
  3. Shared Values and Principles
  4. Identity — Culture
  5. Success Definition
  6. Roadmap / Strategy
  7. Roles Required
  8. Enablers and Inhibitors
  9. Identity — To Audience
  10. Outcomes

Let’s look at these in more detail and the reasoning behind each. I’ve combined Identity (culture) and Identity (to audience) into one.

1. Purpose

What is an economy? What is its purpose? How does it relate to life in general and ultimately wellbeing? These are simple yet awkward questions that arguably need to be addressed together and are fundamental to the purpose of this emergent approach.

Rather than looking to create something new, the following definition and purpose is proposed by looking at the etymology of the word economy back to its ancient Greek roots, as shown in figure 3.

Figure 3. The Emergent approach definition and purpose of the economy (developed from De Rosnay’s ‘The Macroscope: A New World Scientific System)

The reasoning for this, building on from section 3, is that wellbeing and the notion of home typically go hand in hand and is therefore intuitive. Integrating the external and internal aspects whilst placing the individual, communities, and nations in context and allowing them to clearly see how they are a part of an economy that depends on their relationship with others, the planet, and the future.

Figure 4 shows how the wealth and wellbeing across all levels, including that of the individual, are highly interdependent, especially in the medium to long-term.

Figure 4. Interconnected holarchy of wealth and wellbeing.

2. Who are WE?

The idea is that this alternative approach integrates all the committed reformist, revolutionaries, and more emergents, who are genuinely and passionately working to address the outlined challenges. This includes the pioneers, those who are presently at the forefront of development or action, those in positions of relative influence through to younger generations who are studying in this area.

3. Shared Values and principles

Many of the initiatives in the approaches discussed above are guided by similar or complimentary values and principles. However, several of these lack integration and/or do not dig deep enough into the human psyche, whilst many that do often miss some of the external aspects of the others. Therefore, in accordance with the themes discussed, the following are presented as a more structured and integrated alternative into which many arguably fit, and are in contrast to the summary of findings for the extractive linear economy outlined in an earlier post:

Start wearing, understanding, and using the 3D integral metaphorical glasses to make sense of yourself and your collective homes within homes:

To help develop

1) Worldcentric perceptions: developing individual and collective consciousness and awareness, using trust building symbols, language and integrated understandings of the world.

That help develop

2) Worldcentric conscious myths, metaphors and narratives: inspired by natural systems that are imbued with purpose and develop trust and cooperation.

That help mature

3) Worldcentric mental models: instilled with wisdom, equity, and honesty, finding the balance between efficiency and effectiveness.

That help create

4) Worldcentric systems structures, processes and tools: that show diversity (large and small, centralised and decentralised), create abundance, are flexible and adaptable (resilient). Working for all not the few (WE).

That encourage

5) Worldcentric behaviours, patterns and trends: which are circular and regenerative, operating as part of an ecosystem to help keep VUCA at acceptable levels.

That leads to

6) Wellbeing for all today and tomorrow.

This list is not sequential, simply that those factors at the top are regarded as influencing those below, even though they are all mutually interrelated.

4. Internal and external identity

The internal identity (culture) and external (to audience) are two sides of the same coin and are steeped heavily in the approach, purpose, supporting values, and narrative which the name must capture. What makes the content of the name’s message impactful, facilitating growth, is its stickiness factor, so rather than looking for something completely new, something which is currently sticky is more beneficial.

The Presencing Institute concept mentioned above of shifting from Egosystems to Ecosystems is a very powerful broad narrative to build upon. However, it is missing the immediate, stickiness factor needed for mainstream engagement.

The New Economy is another catch-all concept, that is used in various contexts, but is felt to lack a clear purpose and can be misinterpreted.

The Circular Economy, on the other hand, seems to have the stickiness factor, as an intuitive way to think about how regenerative energy and material flows in an economy should work; as it has become an umbrella term, adopted by reformists and revolutionaries alike due to its visual immediateness, language, integration with natural systems and direct contrast with the linear economy.

However, even though the circle itself is a strong cultural symbol and universal metaphor associated with perfection, unity, movement, and infinity across many cultures and civilisations, the term does not fully address the ethical aspect of an economy. This is maybe because of the more reformist, externally focused approach that its main proponent, the Ellen Macarthur Foundation, has taken. Therefore, I believe an addition is needed, which also helps to avoid siloing, or what might appear as preference being given to an already established initiative.

Unfortunately, no other identity really stands out. The Sharing Economy through commercial exploitation has essentially lost its authenticity, whilst initiatives such as the Wellbeing Economy and the Commons have merit and provide a wealth of insight, but also suffer from limited stickiness factors.

So using the same stickiness approach the Ellen Macarthur Foundation has employed to great success, it has been proposed that WE be included to create the Circular WEconomy — the WE being juxtaposed against ME to full effect. So at one end of the spectrum we have the still dominant extractive “Linear MEconomy”, the scaling yet ethically incomplete “Circular MEconomy”, but what we really need to strive for is a “3D systems intelligent” regenerative “Circular WEconomy”, a name and narrative that integrates purpose and process to build a sticky identity.

5. Success definition

Any model/metric/tool that is developed to measure the success of the “Circular WEconomy” and its development needs to encounter a way for groups and individuals to measure their local impact and understand how this correlates into aggregate figures at different scales. The doughnut model presented in my earlier post is a potential macro model, which however needs to be integrated with lower level metrics including Urban and Regional Planetary Boundaries.

From the development perspective of the emergent approach, quantitative and qualitative feedback mechanisms are needed to measure or gauge the success of those working in this space against the shared values and principles outlined.

6. Roadmap/strategy

Although it is almost impossible to create a detailed map/strategy for something of this nature, figure 5 has been developed using the Two Loops and Three Horizons models to give a macro level view of what a transition of this type might look like over time.

Figure 5. The Emergent approach roadmap/strategy

The diagram shows wellbeing against time, with the blue line representing our present paradigm, the “Linear MEconomy”, which has reached maturity and is in decline, but nevertheless is what provides for most people’s short-term needs. Shown with blue dotted lines are some of the reformist initiatives that are looking to address this, but which are arguably extensions, delaying decline of an ultimately unstable paradigm at its core.

To the right is the new “Circular WEconomy” paradigm, which is grounded in many of the more revolutionary approaches discussed in earlier posts, having difficulty moving from birth into a growth phase.

The key to seeing the growth of this new paradigm is the emergence approach, that tries to integrate the two, as shown by the section with the light turquoise background. Rather than being a curve in itself, it is actually an approach to a transition phase, as moving from one paradigm to another takes time, highlighting the need to live today and work towards a better future.

In this period there are a number of important changes highlighted by a:

1) Number of critical roles written in orange.

2) Flow of resources from the old paradigm to the new allowing for its development (shown by the large blue arrow)

3) Series of enablers and inhibitors that are needed.

4) Tipping point line followed by an orange section showing the mainstream shift from the old (including extensions) to the new.

7. Roles required

Critical to affecting a shift are people working in this area but, more specifically their roles. Figure 5 has been developed so that the location of specific roles can easily be seen in relation to where they work at any one time. This acts as a visual aid to allow people to see where they fit into the full picture, based on their profession, skill sets, and personal traits. Some will remain predominately in the old paradigm; others will be walkers who want to actively build something new, but the really essential ones are those who are capable of working in-between, transcending paradigms as I mentioned in my last post.

Here are some roles that I feel are critical to the success of this emergent approach. The list has been inspired by Malcolm Gladwell’s book The Tipping Point and Deborah Frieze’s ‘Two Loops’ model.

  • Systems Leaders and visionaries
    are people who in a 2015 article in Stanford Social Innovation Review are described as:
    a) Being able to see the bigger picture, helping other stakeholders do the same
    b) Nurturing reflection and productive discussion, allowing people to understand one another better, building trust and relationships which promote collaboration and creativity.
    c) Shifting collective focus from addressing symptoms to rethinking and co-creating the future.
  • Illuminators
    are charismatic, skilled communicators with solid nuanced marketing experience who:
    a) Initially can bring the vision to life, engaging and inspiring others to move and participate in the development of this space.
    b) Then overtime, help with the mainstream shift once a tipping point has been reached.
  • Trailblazers
    are pioneers who need freedom to push and test the boundaries of what is possible to bring new innovations to the forefront.
  • Early adopters
    are first followers who help or support Trailblazers to get their ideas off the ground.
  • Protectors and facilitators
    understand the present paradigm and have the power to create space and redirect resources for innovation and experimentation, thus giving birth to the new paradigm.
  • Connectors
    are very well connected with a whole host of people and able to spot and facilitate connections between people and projects at local, national, and global levels.
  • Mentors and mavens
    empower others to reach their full potential by sharing their knowledge and providing support and direction.
  • Bridgers
    are pragmatic visionaries who extend the present paradigm by keeping a close eye or working closely with trailblazers so as to future proof developments, thus reducing redundancy and stranded assets.
  • Hospice workers
    are people with strong interpersonal skills and patience that:
    a) At first, work to ensure the health of those in the community.
    b) Then help the late majority and laggards within the mainstream to transition from the old to the new.

8. Enablers and inhibitors

Technology now presents unprecedented possibilities, but needs to be used wisely if it is to help lower the level of VUCA and/or help us deal with it. The following provides a limited overview of some of the enablers and inhibitors potentially required:

  • Funding & Resources
    Obviously, funding and resources are critical to the development. If people cannot satisfy their short-term needs or do not have the support structures in place, they cannot create a better future. New resilient ideas around funding, investment, revenue generation, and resource usage and provision that redirect them from the linear extractive economy to create value need to be explored. Things like Universal Basic Income and the Blockchain provide food for thought.
  • Emergent Praxis Spaces (physical and digital platforms)
    For integration and emergence to happen, distributed cross-sector physical spaces supported by digital platforms that become beacons for the “Circular WEconomy” are needed. Interconnected multipurpose hubs/living-labs/innovation centres/augmented experiential futures spaces, where transdisciplinary communities can explore and develop 3D system intelligence, “future preparedness’, and innovate through participatory collaboration and fail safe experiments.
  • Decentralised tools and repositories
    To build abundance, decentralised digital technologies now allow tools and repositories to be developed and managed that can also inhibit the forces of predatory capitalism. Allowing best practices and open-sourced designs and solutions to be developed as part of a globally distributed knowledge commons, allowing for local manufacturing and global problem solving.

9. Outcomes

This simply refers to outcomes achieved against the success definition, as part of an emergent feedback loop process.

In my next blog post, which is the last in this series, I will reflect on the emergent approach and the complexities of developing “systems intelligence”.



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enkel collective

Collective in Perth, Western Australia with the mission to create a new generation of changemakers.