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An ecology for systemic change. How to foster and empower disruptive innovation and the ongoing renewal of the system.


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Looking at how to embed into the system the code for its renewal. Fostering factors of opportunity and renewal as commons. A draft presentation, work in progress.

The full paper is available here:

Published in: Design, Business
  • Hello Helene and Jeanne!! I been volunteering for the creation of this set of tools becuase i´m very convinced that they are one of the most important missing links for the collaborative economy to become a reallity and gradually take over the competitive economy.. I´m work on Transition Engineer and Gaia Education graduate,(Studied with Jonathan Dawson)..We are looking for people that could understand this tools and be able to see their huge potential and i stumble upon this slide. The project description is here and my email adress is:
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  • (Btw, Dorje, Gregory Bateson's daughter lives just up the road from here in New Hampshire.)
    Helene, I am looking forward to playing with debategraph, though it doesn't seem to like my email. Anyway, I agree that both gift and monetary economy can be structured into the knowledge base. Unfortunately, the latter is more important, pragmatically, because the powers of governments, TNC's and the oligarchy lie there. I don't know how we can succeed in creating abundance without monetizing externalities. (For example, note the social cost vs. economic cost arguments of Obama's new carbon emission regs. Because these create real costs to pollute, the coal industry is battling: )
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  • Helene, I have spent the last few days since we exchanged messages looking over this and your other slideshows and links. The idea of embedding recycling, pollution abatement and other market externalities into the system of the economy is certainly a powerful and necessary one. I also believe that we need a structure for a global knowledge base that allows discussion and questions; GitHub seems like a good foundation, but the UI would need to be Apple-easy and they would need to continue to expand options for media incorporation.
    The one concept I question is whether 'we do not need to monetize everything.' It seems to me that money is the lingua franca of value. Because it is exchangeable for critical resources, is it not easier to monetize the missing portions of the change cycle than vice versa? After all, there will always be the tragedy of the commons, even under the most benevolent super-intelligent dictatorship imaginable or even via distributed bottom-up decisions. First of all, some will disagree on the fairness of any allocation. Secondly, some will always try to game the system. Thirdly, private ownership does stimulate greater production (whether production of recycling services or new consumables). Fourthly, as Jaron Lanier points our in Who Owns the Future?, in reality open source takes away the IP rights of the little guy while the TransNational Corporations are patenting everything left and right. It seems both more viable and more effective to monetize externalities than to communalize all resources. Would it not be better to focus on open transactions for micropayments?
    How to accomplish comprehensive monetization? Since national and IMF goals begin and end with GDP and since corporate goals begin and end with profit, those metrics seem a good place to start. Michael Porter and some others at Davos last year started a new metric called the Social Progress Index. The Social Progress Institute is working to get countries to adopt the SPI along with GDP as a national goal. Because research suggests that happiness only increases as countries reach survival level per capita GDP, but not beyond, I am suggesting that the weight of GDP vs SPI drop dramatically for countries that have surpassed that benchmark.
    To turn national goals into TNC concerns is a greater issue, except for the fact that companies like P&G are trying to turn developing populations into markets. This is the ideal point at which nations can flag R&D toward reusable packaging (fertilizer?). The clean stove movement is struggling to match technology with culture, too, so grants could help.
    I am starting to post discussions of these topics from my forthcoming book Saving Humankind: How to Keep Cockroaches and Computers from Inheriting the Earth at
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  • Helene, I'm quite struck by this part 'embed the 'commons renewal code' into the system! Waauww!!!
    Why didn't I think of that before???
    Can you share an example of this? somewhere you have written more? or talked about?

    I'm embarking on a process to start a generative process for the region that I live in, and I would like to understand what you mention here to the bone; to make sure we do that from the start!
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An ecology for systemic change. How to foster and empower disruptive innovation and the ongoing renewal of the system.

  1. 1. An Ecology for Transforma0ve Ac0on & Systemic Change Helene Finidori – May 2014
  2. 2. Our System is stuck in self‐reinforcing feedback loops By Our System I mean the interac2ons between the mul2ple human and natural systems that make up our world, and the flows and accumula2ons they generate. We are currently in a situa0on where self‐reinforcing feedback loops are pervasive, reinforcing the mechanisms in play and making them more powerful, and at the same 0me, making the system increasingly fragile. The widening inequality gap documented by PikeMy is a result of this phenomenon, power and opportunity is increasingly concentrated in fewer hands. Cumula0ve advantage and network effects resul0ng from preferen0al aMachment, herd mentality and winner takes all models, as well as the short term oriented financialisa0on of the economy, and the speed, intensity and scope of informa0on flows, all reinforce each other and the final outcomes in self‐mul0plying ways. Our reward systems and the over applica0on of ‘winning’ macro and micro economic models that end up ‘overdosing’ keep us stuck in vicious circles as the remedy is believed to be more of the same. See Appendix for details on Feedback
  3. 3. What happens to innova;on and opportunity? We end up with resources aMracted, captured and extracted by a few 'winners’, cumula0ng advantage (opportunity, success, power, credit, capital) in a reinforcing feedback loop, dedicated to reinforce the mechanisms that maintain the status quo or enclose opportunity and innova0on (to exploit or s0fle it), crea0ng monopolies and dependencies. Centralized groups set the rules under the pretense of free market rules, giving way to manipulation. Investment concentrates on efficiency innova0on and financial instruments that yield larger returns. Disrup0ve empowering innova0on as called for by Clayton Christensen can't really occur, or only empowers a few. The natural crea0ve destruc0on called for by Schumpeter to break accumulation and monopolies can't operate effec0vely, and the system is destroying itself as he pDriveedricsitteyd s. h rinks and the seeds of opportunity for the renewal of the system, that ensure the thrivability of its interconnected economic, social and natural components, have difficulty to sprout out.
  4. 4. Overshoot We are stuck here in accumula0ve self‐reinforcing self‐mul0plying feedback loops (r to K) with liMle renewal of the system There is no Invisible Hand (Adam Smith) There is no Crea0ve Destruc0on (Schumpeter) The system accumulates risk and fragility Release is increasingly violent and long to get over Adap;ve Cycles of Complex Adap;ve Systems Panarchy ‐ Gunderson & Holling 2002
  5. 5. What can we do as innovators, change agents or ac;vists? • We need to embed the reproduc0on of distributed factors of opportunity & renewal in the code of the system at all levels and scales for the system to become genera0ve rather than extrac0ve. • Secure ongoing “Destructive Creation” at all levels and scales. • Empower and enable the variety in the “Long Tail” and not only the few that operate in monoculture at the “Head” Variety Popularity Power Distribu0on Graph Head • Avoid centralized or decentralized monopoly and accumula0on of fragility • Leverage and ac0vate the forces of opportunity and innova0on already exis0ng in the system in the persons of change agents to this effect.
  6. 6. Agency is distributed The process of social change is a fluid ongoing mul0‐direc0onal and many‐sided human transforma0on process that operates at many levels (R.C. Smith). Symbio0c Agentic Politic-Ethic Technic-Strategic Rela0onal-Emotional Change agents have different views of what to change and how, and they engage through different logics of change Cybernetic Cosmologic More here: hMp://‐thecommongoodconf2013
  7. 7. The engagement and ac;on logics : how people see change Symbio0c Agentic Politic-Ethic Technic-Strategic Rela0onal-Emotional Cybernetic Cosmologic Return to the source and essen;als, and Mother Earth. Change as replenishment, harmony, aMunement of people with each other and nature, honoring all beings and life. Distributed livelihoods figh;ng the system as survivors or heroes. Change through empowerment, autonomy and resilience. The distributed nature of change and innova0on opera0ng outside of ins0tu0ons. Crea;ng legi;macy & stewardship through governance & ins;tu;ons. Change through law & policy, ethics & governance, limits and boundaries, applied within exis0ng ins0tu0ons. Seeking efficiencies via new strategies & mechanisms. Change through sciences, technologies and ‘tools’, new organiza0onal, management and conserva0on/ preserva0on models, new indicators and metrics. Fostering emo;onal rela;onships: Change through social prac0ce, community, social responsibility, learning, collabora0ve and sharing prac0ces, prac0ces of wellbeing. Understanding systems & complexity linking theory & prac;ce: Change through systemic, dynamic and polycentric approaches, interweaving contexts and development, and the cultural, natural and technological aspects. Transforming self & others integra;ng the material, spiritual, societal. Change through experience of wholeness of existence through mind and spirit, deep sense making and awareness of systems interac0ons and dynamic processes.
  8. 8. How can distributed agency be leveraged? How can the dots connect? What is the underlying logic, the archetype, that can act as scaffold to aggregate the diversity of disparate efforts for change, and work effec0vely toward the renewal of distributed opportuni0es in the system? ar•che•type [ahr‐ki‐tahyp] n. 1. the original paMern or model from which all things of the same kind are copied or on which they are based; a model or first form; prototype. 2. (in Jungian psychology) a collec0vely inherited unconscious idea, paMern of thought, image, etc., universally present in individual psyches.
  9. 9. The Commons How about the Commons as archetype? Defined as the distributed factors of opportunity & renewal, health & thrivability of the system that need to be protected, nurtured, and (re) produced? Encompassing:  Objects of care and aQen;on: the resources and other material and immaterial factors of opportunity and enablement that people care for and take care of for the renewal and thrivability of the system.  Processes: how people take care of the objects in distributed par0cipatory ways, the prac0ces, cultures, rela0onships, which are objects of care and aMen0on themselves.  Outcomes: what results from the prac0ces, which become in turn objects of care
  10. 10. The commons The distributed factors of opportunity & renewal, health & thrivability of the system which ensure the on‐going thrivability and renewal of the system as a whole and its individual agents at various levels and scales. Factors of Opportunity The seeds in the long tail Factors of Renewal The capacity to challenge & (re)invent Thrivability The capacity for frui0on & matura0on Health Distributed diversity & variety
  11. 11. A commons based Mul;‐dimensional Mul;‐faceted Systemic Change Working Model We need a mul0dimensional mul0faceted prac0cal approach to leverage agency in its different contexts and converge the effects of disparate efforts. We need a model genera0ve of commons, that operates on a wide array of leverage points at all levels of the system. This is not exclusively about crea0ng commons ‘forms’, but rather to embed the “commons renewal code” in the system, i.e. the elements that can ensure the protec0on and reproduc0on of the commons as an emergent outcome of human ac0vity. This presenta0on is conceptual, but the elements that cons0tute the model will be found in experience of genera0ve models and ac0vi0es and grounded in praxis.
  12. 12. Infrastructure & Parameters Behavior & Feedback Mechanisms Form Culture & Psychology 2. 1. 4. 3. The Model from the Perspec;ve of Donella Meadow’s Leverage points for systemic change
  13. 13. We proceed as a whole at the highest leverage point: the power to transcend paradigm by espousing all of them. Paradigms or engagement/ac0on logics are seen complementary, in mutual recogni0on, and not as part of a developmental con0nuum. We place ourselves in the logic of each paradigm/culture from which the form of the system arises: its goals, structures and rules. Leveraging agency and the capabili0es of the change agents within each paradigm enables a mul0dimensional mul0‐faceted approach. The change agent or innovator, as a ‘radical’ within or at the edge of his own cluster of engagement, is ‘efficacious’ as he works in tune with the logic and language of his cluster. A paMern language is developed to embed the underlying logic or “code” of commons reproduc0on, the means to perpetually regenerate the factors of opportunity & renewal and associated mechanisms, into the system’s form. Culture & 1. Psychology
  14. 14. The PaMern language expresses commons renewal as goal of the system, and provides the grammar and vocabulary to express what it means and involves in terms of structures and rules and all other characteris0cs of the system, in the narra0ve of the various contexts in which it is meant to apply. This does not seek to exclusively create commons forms, but to create condi0ons for any ac0vity to par0cipate in whole or part in the crea0on and regenera0on of commons as an emergent process. This PaMern Language is a set of design principles and building blocks, which enable to build solu0ons in line with each ac0on logic. They include the mechanisms, par0cipatory and genera0ve processes and feedback loops that will enable the commons to be protected, nurtured, grown 'by design' and preserved against over‐exploita0on, abuse, or enclosure, as well as the an0‐ paMerns and mechanisms to iden0fy as corrupt, and to stay away from. It is also designed to help 'conversa0on' within and between 'languages', for mutual understanding in mul0‐stakeholder groups, discovery of each other's logics and opera0ng modes, and dealing with conflic0ng interests, trade‐offs, etc… in par0cipatory processes. 2. Form
  15. 15. Behavior & Feedback Mechanisms The “code” or mechanisms to embed in the system includes the reinforcing loops needed to grow the commons, and the balancing loops needed to self‐regulate the system. See appendix for further informa0on on feedback. An inquiry process helps determine the type of objects, genera0ve processes/ prac0ces and outcomes that need to be enhanced and amplified as genera0ve of commons, and those which need to be corrected because they are destruc0ve of commons. Because any remedy ini0ally beneficial when self‐mul0plying, can become toxic if overdosed, the approach seeks to detect the limit points when balancing loops must kick in (S0egler’s pharmacology). Visualiza0on systems are introduced to provide feedback and show the flows and accumula0ons and the impact of the micro on the macro, and to give change agents the signals to act upon the reinforcing and balancing feedback loops. The seman0c web can help build the visualiza0on and feedback mechanisms that can help operate the system in a s0gmerge0c way. Naviga0on systems create bridges between the various ac0on logics for coordinated monitoring and ac0on. 3.
  16. 16. Infrastructure & Parameters The stocks and flows structures and systems parameters are used to ‘regulate’ the flows and the accumula0ons generated by the system: rates of taxes, minimum wage, interest rates, limits to pollu0on emission or use of water during droughts etc. They also consist in the prac0ces and norms that enable ‘self‐regula0on’. Combined, they have an effect on the feedback loops that drive the system. The heuris0cs, inquiry processes associated with the paMerns will help change agents combine complementary paMerns to build new solu0ons and pathways in line with reali0es they can relate to, and that will appropriately help operate change 'locally', in a way that is favorable to the commons with all the diversity and meshing generated across clusters. It will help connect to and interconnect exis0ng prac0cal applica0ons, making databases of solu0ons 'ac0onable' and provide an 'orienta0on system', which would also enable naviga0on between domains. 4.
  17. 17. Visualiza;ons for systemic change As part of the s0gmerge0c feedback, the model includes visualisa0ons systems where parts of a whole can see the whole evolve and the rela0onships between parts in ac0on, enabling gaps to be iden0fied, needs fulfilled, possibili0es explored and impacts visualized. • J.F. Noubel speaks of holop0cism, a form of reverse panop0con: "Each player, thanks to his/ her experience and exper0se, relates to the whole in order to adjust his/her ac0ons and coordinate them with others' moves. Therefore there is an unceasing round trip, a feedback loop that works like a mirror between the individual level and the collec0ve one.” • Bracha Epnger describes borderspaces at the junc0on of things, borderlinks created via fluctua0on of distance in proximity to create rela0ons without rela0onships, where traces produced are shearable between subjects in trans‐subjec0ve rela0onships. Revealing overlaps and rela0ons between object and iden0fying synergies across mul0ple dimensions (it can be across disciplines, domains, projects, cultures, communi0es, interests...) • Stephen Johnson describes Stuart Kaufman’s idea of the adjacent possibles: "The strange and beau0ful truth about the adjacent possible is that its boundaries grow as you explore them. Each new combina0on opens up the possibility of other new combina0ons. Think of it as a house that magically expands with each door you open. You begin in a room with four doors, each leading to a new room that you haven't visited yet. Once you open one of those doors and stroll into that room, three new doors appear, each leading to a brand‐new room that you couldn't have reached from your original star0ng point. Keep opening new doors and eventually you'll have built a palace."
  18. 18. Appendix: Feedback
  19. 19. All systems operate on feedback • A system uses ‘feedback’ as informa0on on the effect of passed or present phenomenon to influence the same phenomenon in the present or future. • Feedback is a process, part of a chain of cause‐and‐effect that forms a circuit or loop. It is characterized by the crea0on or not of a gap with the ini0al state of the system and by the ‘direc0on’ in which it sends the system (virtuous or vicious). • A posi0ve/reinforcing feedback enhances or amplifies an effect (virtuous or vicious) and widens the gap with an ini0al state: A produces more of B which in turn produces more of A. • A nega0ve/balancing feedback reduces or corrects an effect and narrows the gap with an ini0al or desired state: A produces less of B which in turn produces less of A. • Depending on the system, feedback triggers conscious or automa0c reac0ons (ex. ‘human ordered’ trading vs automa0c trading)
  20. 20. Posi;ve or reinforcing feedback & change in a system • When a change occurs in a system, posi0ve/reinforcing feedback causes further change in the same direc0on, gaining momentum through self‐reinforcing self mul0plying loops. • Reinforcing feed‐back increases the gain (or loss) from repe00on. With accumula0on of reinforcing feedback gaps get bigger. When the loop gain is posi0ve and above 1, there will typically be exponen0al growth, increasing oscilla0ons or divergences from equilibrium. • Reinforcing feedback tends to cause system instability. System parameters will typically accelerate towards extreme values, which may damage or destroy the system by sending it into chaos, which may end with the system latched into a new stable state (ex: a totalitarian or more authoritarian regime such as described in Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine or Dave Snowden’s Cynefin model).
  21. 21. Nega;ve or balancing feedback & change in a system • Nega0ve or balancing feedback tends to make a system self‐regula0ng or self‐correc0ng; it can produce stability ‘at the edge of chaos’ and reduce the effect of damaging fluctua0ons. • Balancing feedback loops help to be responsive to new events and behaviors, and help maintain the health and thrivability of a system, and trajectories towards desired outcomes. • An airplane auto‐pilot is an example of a constructed automa0c self‐correc 0ng system. Nature (climate) and biology (homeostasis maintaining life) are self‐organized ones. In management balanced scorecards provides feedback informa0on for conscious decision making (choice between reinforcing or correc0on). • Both Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand and Schumpeter’s Crea0ve Destruc0on are manifesta0ons of the emergent self regula0on of the system.
  22. 22. Reinforcing feedback loops in prac;ce • The MaQhew effect: success helps gain access to resources which in turn results in further success and resources. Credit is given to those who are already famous (or rich), also called preferen0al aMachment (aMrac0on of largest hubs). Example in peer review, ranking by ‘likes’ or popularity, star system, meritocracy, winner take all markets. Same phenomenon happens in reverse with scapegoa0ng, bullying, swirboa0ng campaigns. This is norma0ve and may s0fle difference or disrup0ve innova0on. > Feedback driven by reputa;on, ‘winner’ aQrac;on • The Network effect: When network effect is present, the value of a product or service is dependent on the number of others using it. Each new entrant adds value to the whole network. Over 0me, posi0ve network effects can create a bandwagon effect as the network becomes more valuable and more people join, in a posi0ve feedback loop. That’s why most of us are s0ll on facebook… Newer networks have more difficulty to aMract. > Feedback driven by cri;cal mass aQrac;on
  23. 23. Reinforcing feedback loops in prac;ce • The bandwagon effect or herd behavior: "the probability of any individual adop0ng a behavior increases with the propor0on who have already done so". People chose the most visible, obvious, ‘aMrac0ve’ op0ons. Examples in rankings, recommended purchases, likes, SEO, best prac0ces. In management, and investment op0miza0on, ‘winning models’ are over‐applied, reducing the diversity of behaviors, and in the end of compe00ve advantage. > Feedback driven by Imita;on • Self‐fulfilling prophecy: a predic0on that directly or indirectly causes itself to become true, by the very terms of the prophecy itself, due to posi0ve feedback between belief and behavior that brings the behavior to reality. Examples: Bear or bull markets. Assuming people cannot be trusted makes them more dishonest, assuming people are driven by self‐interest makes them worry more of their self interest. Behavioral engineering plays on this. > Assump;on feedback These effects all overlap and feed into each other, amplified by form, scope (distribu0on), intensity (pressure) and frequency of communica0on that influence propaga0on.
  24. 24. Consequences of reinforcing feedback loops • PareQo principle: (also known as the 80–20 rule, the law of the vital few, and the principle of factor sparsity) for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes/occurrences. Efforts tend to concentrate on the 20%. • Power law: a func0onal rela0onship between two quan00es, where one quan0ty varies as a power or exponen0a0on of another. "In systems where many people are free to choose between many op0ons, a small subset of the whole will get a dispropor0onate amount of traffic (or aMen0on, or income), even if no members of the system ac0vely work towards such an outcome. The very act of choosing, spread widely enough and freely enough, creates a power law distribu0on.” (Clay Shirky) • Cumula;ve advantage: once a social agent gains a small advantage over other agents, that advantage will compound over 0me into an increasingly larger advantage, aMrac0ng an increasing amount of resources.