This is a project outline for the creation of a School for Applied Cultural Evolution that works with the growing network of territorial hubs for bioregional regeneration being launched right now in Costa Rica. It’s purpose is to cultivate and continually improve learning ecosystems spanning across communities that organize their efforts around geographically defined locations where people strive to increase the functional capacities for their landscapes while simultaneously increasing the wellbeing of people living in harmony with them.
School for Applied Cultural Evolution
Director of the Center for Applied Cultural Evolution
July 21, 2018
This is a project outline for the creation of a School for Applied Cultural Evolution that works with the
growing network of territorial hubs for bioregional regeneration being launched right now in Costa Rica.
It’s purpose is to cultivate and continually improve learning ecosystems spanning across communities
that organize their eﬀorts around geographically deﬁned locations where people strive to increase the
functional capacities for their landscapes while simultaneously increasing the wellbeing of people living
in harmony with them.
The ﬁrst Regenerative Hub has been launched in Costa Rica through a collaborative
partnership orchestrated by the Universidad para la Cooperación Internacional (UCI). As an
educational institution, we recognize the need to develop research programs and learning
curricula for the diverse array of practitioners associated with each hub. This will require a
multi-tiered educational approach ranging from oﬀering new PhD programs that engage in
integrative research to oﬀering practical skills and frameworks for community members as
learnings are passed from one bioregional hub to another.
Among the curricular themes will be regenerative economics, holistic management,
entrepreneurship and systemic change, sustainability education, and a variety of topical areas
that emerge as practices evolve in the communities themselves. This will of necessity be
transdisciplinary with a strong applied focus. Foundations in the study of complexity,
processes of social change, and the management of coupled human-environment systems will
require that we establish strong ties with research labs around the world where these kinds of
inquiry are actively pursued.
Why call it a school for applied cultural evolution? Our core strategy is to treat the territory as a
platform for integration of knowledge and the enhancement of management practice. This is
because territories deﬁned around bioregional functions (e.g. watersheds, mountain ranges,
semi-arid grasslands and so forth) are whole systems. They cannot be broken apart into
disciplinary silos the way most universities are structured today. The only way to grapple
adequately with their numerous interdependencies is to take a fully systemic approach to their
study and management. We have identiﬁed four foundational pillars for this whole-system
approach that is comprised of several hundred existing research domains that must be
integrated for regenerative outcomes to be achieved.
✦ The Social Sciences :: Currently there is no fully integrated social science—with the
many separate disciplines of anthropology, archaeology, sociology, psychology, history,
political science, economics, and so forth all fragmented and often at odds with each
other. A whole-systems approach to social change will require that the social sciences
ﬁnd a conciliatory framework on which to integrate across all of these ﬁelds.
✦ Evolutionary Studies :: The study of living systems has achieved the greatest
sophistication in the biological and ecological sciences, both of which are grounded in
the study of evolution. There are now several thousand social science researchers (in
addition to biologists and ecologists) from every ﬁeld mentioned above who take a
Darwinian approach to the study of culture. This suggests that the conciliatory
framework of evolutionary science is the most advanced domain through which to
integrate biology with the social sciences.
✦ Complexity Science :: There is now a great variety of tools and approaches to the
study of dynamical systemic change in the ﬁeld known as complexity science. These
include the use of agent-based models, network science, diﬀerential equations, and
computer modeling to explore how patterns form through the interactions of functional
components within any kind of interconnected system. This body of knowledge is vital
for the work of learning how bioregional systems—where human and more-than-human
dynamics can be described as complex adaptive systems—evolve and change in
various scenarios that must be explored to inform the holistic management of these
vastly complicated systems.
✦ Earth Systems Science :: The territorial hubs are meant to help bring the Earth back
within the safe operating boundaries for humanity to maintain its social infrastructure.
This requires us to incorporate the vast knowledge that now exists about biodiversity,
geochemical ﬂows, climate change, land-use changes, ocean acidiﬁcation and so forth.
Each territorial hub can contribute to the healthy functioning of the entire planet by
upscaling and downscaling between local and global processes. Many of these global
changes will threaten individual territories regardless of what they can achieve locally.
There will be continual need to exchange knowledge about threats and vulnerabilities
that cascade across geographies at multiple spatial and temporal scales.
It may give you pause to realize how ambitious this educational initiative truly is. We see this
scale of ambition and integration as essential to address the scope and urgency of our
planetary crisis that was created by human activities. Our intention here is to treat bioregions
as universities for learning how to regenerate the health of people and planet. Nothing like this
has ever been fully attempted before. In the last several decades, many people have gathered
together to talk about how to achieve global sustainability with the primary outputs being the
publication of beautiful, well-written reports. All the while, the global crisis continues to
intensify in the absence of eﬀective action.
What we are creating here is the process for regenerating health of people and planet that
requires a tremendous amount of social learning every step of the way. The educational
paradigm for this work requires that theory and practice be brought together within the
participatory design of community and ecological change. Only by embracing the complexity
of the real world will it be possible (even if unlikely and diﬃcult to achieve) to manage this
complexity with wisdom and eﬃcacy.
The School for Applied Cultural Evolution will integrate the biological, ecological, and social
sciences within a theory-to-practice-and-back-again approach that is grounded in the
meshwork of activities in each territory. We already have three provincial territories in Costa
Rica that have expressed a desire to establish territorial hubs. Our partners at the Capital
Institute have seven other locations ready to begin. The WE Alliance brings people ready to
establish hubs in Scotland and Slovenia in addition to Costa Rica. And there are more than
seventy project-based eﬀorts of varying sophistication around the world that seek to increase
bioregional health and resilience.
This tells us that the launch of regenerative hubs with full research and educational supports
can quickly grow to planetary scales—rapidly spreading to include more than 100 locations if
done right initially. We are striving to create the educational paradigm for these places as they
set up governance structures, engage in regenerative entrepreneurial activities, and continually
learn how to be more empowered as change agents in their own territories.
The home base for this School will be UCI in San José, Costa Rica (with prospects for
establishing a learning center at Rancho Margot, an ecological retreat center in the northern
mountains of Costa Rica). Our educational oﬀerings will range from tutorials and databases of
practical tools to workshops, online courses, and in-depth research collaborations managed as
graduate programs at UCI.
There is much to be done and time is short. We will take concrete actions to establish this
School in the next six months to a year. Right now we are looking for seed money in the form
of donations and philanthropic investment to enable us to have continuous workﬂow for a 3-5
year period in order to prototype, test, and continually improve the educational oﬀerings of the
School as we go about the work of creating functioning territorial hubs for regenerative
practices in Costa Rica and beyond.
Ideally, we will need to receive one to two million dollars so that we can hire core staﬀ and
convene a series of transdisciplinary meetings about how to achieve such a grand synthesis of
knowledge and practice. This funding would give us the capacity to design educational
programs and begin ﬁeld-testing them in the hubs that are being set up now. It will also enable
us to build collaborative partnerships with researchers and educators around the world with
whom we will need to cooperate in order to achieve such an ambitious global capacity for
A seed fund of $100,000 would be suﬃcient to cover my salary as the founder of this School
for one year while having funds to convene an inaugural meeting of scholars—20-30 of the
best and brightest in relevant ﬁelds—in order to create initial curricular content for oﬀering
workshops and online courses. Thus the launch of this important endeavor can be thought of
as having Stage 1 (incubation and early prototyping) in the ﬁrst year, followed by Stage 2
(create core team and design-to-launch a graduate program at UCI that serves the territorial
By the end of this 3-5 year period, we anticipate having graduated our ﬁrst cohort of students
at the graduate level (masters degrees with prospects for continuation towards doctorate) while
serving the educational needs of practitioners on the ground in the territories themselves.
We see this as the best way to “learn the how” of large-scale social change as many territories
engage in holistic management of regenerative practices across a great diversity of cultural and
ecological settings over the next 30-50 years.
Onward, fellow humans.