The UN Secretary General’s Call for “Revolutionary Thinking and Action to ensure an economic model for survival” at the World Economic Forum 2011 — A Response based on the Linked-In ‘Systems Thinking World’ forum discussion moderated by Helene Finidori [Giraud]

(This is an abbreviated version of a report that includes more examples and IBIS entries)

July 2011


The call for ‘revolutionary thinking and action to secure an economic model for survival’ raised in an address by
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon at the World Economic Forum in Davos 2011 [1] , led moderator Helene Finidori [Giroud]
to start a discussion on the Linked-In forum “Systems Thinking World”: “How to make this happen?”. [2] The discussion generated well over 2200 posts and a vast number of links to documents, websites and initiatives of groups already being involved in projects aimed at a transformationtowards more sustainable practices. It led to a suggestion to prepare a summary report of the discussion and its findings. The efforts by several participants to prepare such a summary have not yet resulted in an overall report; the discussion is still continuing, and limitations of the discussion format made it difficult to arrive at a report based on genuine participation by all or most of the members of the group, as initially intended. This led to the author’s decision to write a partial, separate review of his impressions of the discussion, and of the resulting recommendations for a process framework for a global effort coordinating many local initiatives, rather than attempting to formulate an actual systems model in response to the UN call. This report describes that framework, and selected new (previously unpublished) proposals illustrating individual aspects and projects within its major components of ‘local’ action projects, the global coordination, discourse, research and education networks to support these. Key features of the proposed framework are the discourse component based on the IBIS concept spearheaded by H. Rittel 3] complemented with the author’s approach to argument evaluation to support decision-making; [4] and a proposal to encourage experiments towards formation of new economic, governance, and production/distribution systems in areas where existing infrastructure has been destroyed by natural or man-made disasters; and the development and use of games to educate children in cooperative rather than competitive activities that can evolve into actual problem-solving tools.


UN General Secretary Ban Ki-Moon’s Address to the World Economic Forum

At the 2011 World Economic Forum in Davos, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon issued an emphatic call for ‘revolutionary thinking and action to secure an economic model for survival’ in which he warned the audience of the dangeous consequences of the past and current economic model of fuelling economic growth by unconstrained exploitation of natural resources, and challenged the representatives of the institutions assembled at the WEF meeting to rethink “How we organize ourselves economically?” and “How we manage increasingly scarce resources?”; to “ensure sustainable, climate-resilient green growth.” He ended his call for a revolution of thinking and action to revise the current ‘global suicide pact’ by reminding the members of the urgency of the task: “let me highlight the one resource that is scarcest of all: Time. … There is no more time to waste”. Full text: Appendix 5-1: [1]

The Discussion on the LinkedIn System Thinkers World Forum

On the Linked-In Systems Thinking World forum, a discussion was started by Helene Finidori [Giraud] about “how to make this happen” [2]. Starting in February 2011, the discussion has generated more than 2200 comments by early July, resulting not only in a lively exchange of widely differing opinions about the issue, but also an impressive wealth of references to reports, books, action proposals and actual initiatives already underway, that are relevant to the problem in one way or another.

The Call for a Formal Response by Discussion Participants

A suggestion was made to summarize the results of the discussion into a concise report that could be presented to the UN and the public. This desire was based on the general interest and urgency of the subject, on the range of opinions, suggestions and researched material that was assembled in the course of the discussion, and on the conviction of many participants that a systems perspective might make valuable contributions to the problems addressed by the UN call. Several participants began to assemble material for such a response. The moderator Helene Finidori compiled the various suggestions and links, and organized this into an organized survey of themes, presented this on a special ‘systems wiki blog’ page established for the purpose by the moderator of the overall Systems Thinking World Forum moderator Gene Bellinger (to get around the 4000 character limitation for posts on the forum itself) and invited other members to prepare drafts and organized contributions for a formal summary or report. [5] This precipitated a discussion about the basic assumptions both regarding the problems and challenges as referenced by the Secretary General, the understanding of these problems by the discussion members, the role and potential of Systems Thinking and Systems modeling in tackling such problems, and the limitations of the discussion format towards preparing valid recommendations. This discussion revealed what appeared to be different attitudes towards the overall direction of this effort that have not been fully resolved (as of this writing, with the discussion still continuing), and precipitated this author’s decision to articulate one such set of attitudes as a contribution to the overall challenge.


Range and Themes

The discussion covered a wide range of subjects far beyond a narrow understanding of ‘economic’ model.
In fact, comments pertaining to narrow economic issues such as the global financial system, trade agreements, employment, taxation, distribution of income and wealth, were in the minority. Even the threats to survival such as those specified in a UN list of disasters were taken up only in a few posts. The term ‘survival’ in the Secretary General’s appeal was quickly supplanted by ‘sustainability’ as applicable to most human activities and their relationship to the natural environment. Many posts were devoted to the nature and understanding of systems, how they should be modeled, represented, studied, diagrammed. The framework for the study and discussion itself of these issues was a surprisingly substantial part of this theme. Much attention was devoted to the problems of food — agricultural production and gardening — water supply, and energy. Governance issues were discussed: local participation and decision-making, the problems of power both in government and private enterprise, with many contributions from corporations who are striving to improve their ecological impact as well as their productivity. The controversies surrounding growth as an undisputed goal of private enterprise as well as governments resulted in calls for replacing the dominant assumptions regarding growth as a main condition for economic success and the corresponding performance measurements guiding economic policies, with performance measures aiming at human well-being and quality of life. A number of posts dealt with what might be called philosophical or mindset issues: values, ethics, principles guiding individual and social behaviors and habit, with the common theme of having to changing these before any real transformation can be achieved, indeed seeing a massive consciousness change reaching some ‘tipping point’ as a necessary condition if not as the actual mechanism for the desired changes.

The wide range of topics of the discussion, enhanced by the research of participants who contributed a wealth of information about literature and initiatives by individuals, companies, and groups, revealed an already significant level of concern, awareness and activity related to the very problems mentioned by the Secretary General. The impression could arise that there already are adequate answers and solutions to most of the problems — that these merely have to be identified, the information made available, and the solutions implemented, rather than having to focus on the development of new, creative, innovative ideas. This impression may have been strengthened by the variety both of existing technological innovations that just have not yet been implemented at large scale, and small organizational initiatives by various local groups, companies, and individuals.

The overall findings suggest an urgent need for innovation at the organizational level. It is evident that all those small initiatives are largely uncoordinated (though easy access to information by new technology is helping at all levels). Funding and government support is inconsistent at best and at times even inhibiting implementation of innovation. In part, this is caused by the resistance of existing industries who perceive innovation as competition and use their size, economic power and influence in government to preserve their status, and in part by the inertia of large organizations especially in government.

Limitations of the Discussion

Any recommendations derived from the discussion, however, must be assessed within a perspective of its inherent limitations. Observations about these limitations (which are likely to also apply to any wider, global discussion) include the following:

a. The discussion was constrained by the online forum format and the common phenomena and distractions resulting from the fact that such online discussions serve various human needs in addition to seeking effective resolution of the problems discussed. Many contributors pursued different areas of interest within the overall topic, without any agreed-upon process or structure. Therefore it cannot be expected to produce concrete answers to the key question of the Secretary General’s address: a valid complete ‘economic model for survival’, much less coherent system descriptions in the form of mathematical models that would have been tested and evaluated for validity.

b. Nevertheless, a number of suggestions for the construction of such models were made, based on the knowledge, experience and judgment of participants with a wide range of backgrounds. The group did not, of course, have the resources or time to perform the work needed for actual in-depth data collection, analysis and model development. This coincided with the shared principle that any coherent global strategy to address the problems could not and should not be proposed for implementation by fiat, by any authority, but should result from a process of experimentation, experience from actual projects and initiatives that are already underway, theoretical work and research, but most importantly from a global discourse fed by the results from both, with wide participation, and a process of education distributing the resulting agreements and knowledge. The role of such models must be seen more as tools to enhance understanding of the system relationships involved than actual instruments for prediction of system performance and policy formation.

c. The attempts to develop more specific models for understanding (and to reach agreement about these even within the group) encountered surprising difficulties not only with regard to time and resources for the work, as mentioned, but also with regard to two aspects inherent in the Systems Thinking perspective itself. One is the fact that even within that perspective, there are already so many different variations of approaches and conceptual frames of reference with their own vocabulary, that remarkable problems of communication occurred. Many groups working on applications of systems thinking have felt it necessary to develop ‘brand names’ for their versions of the approach and their constituent concepts, resulting in a flurry of esoteric names and acronyms. Such communication problems must be expected to be even greater outside of the group. The other aspect resulted from the very success of e.g. commercial applications of the approach, that have turned into prescriptive routines for ‘systematic’ work on problems for clients. Insistence on agreement to follow the sequence of such steps as a condition for even beginning to discuss subsequent steps and solutions at times significantly delayed the group’s progress towards formulating a coherent response to the UN call. This was evident for example in discussions about ‘essential first steps’ and conditions for the evolution of a new model: while some participants urged starting and continuing various action initiatives and projects, expecting more widespread change and shifts in consciousness to result from such activities, others saw a change in mindset and values as a prerequisite ‘first step’ for any meaningful action. The frequent lack of concrete suggestions for how such consciousness shift would be achieved in practice contributed to the disagreements and misunderstanding.

d. While the composition of the group looked quite diverse in some respects — with participants from many different professions and disciplines, there were few if any participants from economics and political economics. It should also be noted that participation from many areas of the world, — the Middle East, much of Europe, Africa, Latin America and most of Asia — was less than representative of the variety of cultural beliefs and values in all these regions, — beliefs and values seen as playing a significant role in confronting the challenges. This could of course simply be a result of the fact that the discussion was started in English; but the question arises whether Systems Thinking as a whole is independent of such cultural beliefs, or whether it must itself be seen as a representation or manifestation of one culture among many.

e. The admirable decision by the group to respond to the call with more than some superficial or standard blog comments must be seen as an indication of the participants’ conviction that they can contribute something of value to the problem, that they feel able to produce — from their systems perspective — revolutionary thinking if not action that would help solve the problems. A simple textbook answer to the question of how the systems approach would go about this task suggests that the analyst would examine the system, meaning: to identify its components, the relationships between the components (some views are speaking of components as ‘stocks’ and the relationships as ‘flows’ between them), and to describe these entities and relationships so as to first ‘understand’ the system. The analysis and understanding might mean to develop mathematical models of the system structure, to carry out calculations and simulations of the system behavior, testing the models to see if its behavior matches observed behavior in the real system. The validated model then enables the analyst to identify critical system components (‘leverage points’) where appropriate intervention might produce desired results. It is usually not entirely clear whether the analyst is able and/or entitled to define what system behavior (outcomes) are desirable, or where these determinations would come from.

The discussion has, understandably, not produced such results. A curious dichotomy of responses could be observed: On the one hand a willingness, even eagerness to pronounce basic conditions that must be met, achieved, before meaningful system transformation (which is almost universally seen as desirable, while the precise nature of the transformation is hotly disputed) can be attempted. Most such posts had to do with thinking, attitudes, beliefs, values and ethics. On the other hand, one could observe a reluctance to engage in the development of more detailed system design recommendations — with the argument that ‘first, we must understand the system’. Many contributions provided links to reports, books, blogs, talks (videos), studies and links to reports of actual initiatives and projects already being undertaken, that represent ‘change’ from current normative practices and processes. Recommendations attached to such links rarely went beyond pointing out that it is an ‘interesting’ effort or view, perhaps that ‘more’ such actions should be encouraged. The basis of such recommendations rarely was a demonstration of superior system performance — according to some valid measure of performance — but the insistence that the effort is guided by valid, desirable principles.

f. A different assessment of what such a discussion could produce might focus on the ‘understanding the system’ precondition for action. Resulting recommendations would be based on participants’ judgment presumably honed by training and experience with such work. So far, no effort has been made to systematically examine the over 2200 posts to arrive at reliably consistent patterns or consensus of insight by the participants, much less for looking at how such insights might translate into firm recommendations for solutions. Much of the considerable effort by some members (and especially the moderator) to summarize the discussion was focused on developing a system for organizing the material from all the posts and links, and relating the items to topics such as the UN list of threats to survival. Data mining, data clustering, “synergising of data into ‘bubbles’ of information much like the synergisms that seem to appear at the boundary conditions of chaos” were seriously being proposed as vehicles for culling meaning and sense from the 2200+ posts.

General Considerations for a Response Based on the STW Discussion

As explained above, a discussion on a forum such as the Linked-In Systems Thinking World group cannot be expected to produce a comprehensive result, specifically: a comprehensive, validated economic model with full scientific or professional validity. It is therefore necessary to state the assumptions upon which a report and possible recommendations rest, and the goals it could reasonably be aiming for.

Assumptions regarding the UN Secretary General’s Call

a.  There was a general acceptance of most of the underlying assumptions of the Secretary General’s call:
– that there indeed is a crisis both as regards the development of human activity as well as the threat from natural catastrophes and disasters,
– that the current patterns of the human economy are unsustainable and will create crisis conditions, and
– that there is little time left for meaningful change.

b.  Even the remarkable call for ‘revolutionary thinking and action’ was accepted as a device for emphasizing the urgency of the situation.

c.  Disagreement arose about whether actual ‘revolutionary action’ would be the appropriate response: most of the recommendations favored an incremental, piecemeal, evolutionary strategy, or envisioned any radical, sudden change as a result of substantial but essentially evolutionary shifts in consciousness (‘tipping points’) of many individuals.

d.   Some questions were raised about whether the organizations represented at the WEF in Davos would be able or willing, or even be the appropriate agents to take the lead in the needed transformation.

e The underlying optimistic assumption (in spite of the Secretary General’s dramatic reference to the ‘global suicide pact’ of current practice) that meaningful change is urgent but possible was questioned only by a minority of posts.

Assumptions regarding the contribution by the STW group

f.   The participants in the Systems Thinking World discussion see the problems with a somewhat wider focus than just an ‘economic’ model: Meaningful response to the threats listed and to ensure survival will have to consider all systems, the wider issues of sustainability, the water, energy, food networks, the social, ecological, political and governance systems, the philosophical, ethical, human aspects, the financial services, technology and transportation infrastructure etc., and the relationships between these systems.

Specifically, if the UN Call is based on the assumption (as may be inferred from the fact that it was addressed to the WEF) that the entities represented there will be the main agents for developing the needed economic model for survival, the group believes that the needed transformation must be developed and carried by a much wider basis of participation and cooperation.

g. The group of participants in the STW discussion does not have the resources, time nor organizational structure to develop a comprehensive new ‘economic m o d e l’ that would ‘solve’ all these problems.

h.  Even if it did, such a solutions cannot be ‘imposed’ but must be the result of a wider global discourse with participation by all affected groups.

i.  While the group embraces the need for revolutionary t h i n k i n g, re-assessment of traditional assumptions, habits, institutions, and mantras underlying current practice, most participants differ from the (perhaps merely rhetoric) call for ‘revolutionary a c t i o n’ especially on a global scale. The needed transitions must be evolutionary, fed by many l o c a l, initially small scale initiatives, experiments and projects but coordinated and discussed in a global discourse. More profound, sudden (‘revolutionary’) change is seen as a possible, even desirable result of shifts in the consciousness of many people around the globe reaching a ‘tipping point’, but not as the result of measures imposed ‘top-down’ fashion without or against popular consent.

j.  The group has produced a number of ideas and proposals, even for the development of ‘economic models’, but its main contribution is seen as that of recommending a framework for the p r o c e s s that will bring about the needed transformations, and offering this for discussion.

k.   Existing institutions of governance, industry, trade, financing etc., including nations, international corporations, and regional and global institutions such as the EU and UN, are considered by many as part (even as the cause) of the problems we face, or as getting close to the limit of their ability to confront the challenges. They will have to change, but such change cannot happen fast enough, even if many of these institutions are beginning to adapt and institute more sustainable, effective and constructive practices. Such efforts must be encouraged and supported at all levels. However, there are reasons for the view that entirely n e w institutions, forms of governance and economic interaction will be needed. Therefore, the group recommends that opportunities and support will be provided for the development of such alternative forms of organization.

Decision to Prepare an Independent Report

The general assumptions listed above were not shared by all members of the group. A common overall direction for the structure of the report and its recommendations did not emerge as decisively as desired. This led to the decision to draft a separate report articulating one of the evolving directions, as a contribution towards a common statement. The goals of this report will be slightly different from that of a comprehensive general summary of the overall discussion and place less emphasis on a comprehensive review of all topics touched upon (a brief sketch of which has been attempted in the above section on range and themes of the discussion) and a thorough account of the researched literature and other material. It will not attempt to present a faithful account of all the perspectives and viewpoints voiced, but for the sake of brevity concentrate on the considerations that support the recommendations

Modified Agenda and Goals

The analysis of the findings of this discussion may be used to sketch this somewhat revised or refined agenda for addressing the challenges. A comprehensive response to the UN call would have to address even the issues that were given comparatively less attention in the discussion and for which not as much material could be compiled, and no equally carefully substantiated justification can be provided. The main points or priorities of this agenda can be described as follows:

– The many individual initiatives and experiments should be given continued and increased support, for two main reasons: First, data and experience from many different experiments will be needed to develop effective overall policies, and secondly, the needed transformation must be perceived by the people involved and affected by changed policies and projects as ‘their own’ creation, not as imposed measures by some larger power or authority. Thus, a main priority would be to find an effective way to support and encourage these initiatives.

– There is a need for overall coordination — for sharing information, data, experiences, and for the development of agreements, treaties, interaction rules e.g. for trade, conflict resolution. The dilemma involved in this urgent task is the following: It will have to be pursued by a global constellation of entities supported at least initially by existing nations and other organizations — but must remain open to the formation of entirely new institutions and forms of organization. The coordination task will involve several different but interconnected components: the coordination and support of the various small scale ‘local’ (a label chosen for the sake of simplicity) initiatives; a framework for the discussion and negotiation of global agreements (discourse); research, and education.

– The design and implementation of such a coordination framework — the institution within which a ‘new model’ can evolve on the basis of sharing of insight and negotiation — will be of a higher overall initial priority than the analytical effort to determine a more efficient model (through mathematical and systems modeling and simulation). The framework and platform through which all groups of humanity can communicate and meaningfully process the insights of such analysis into negotiation and mutually acceptable decisions must still be considered an incomplete project not yet adequate to the task, and therefore a task of high priority.

– The development of such a global coordination framework, as indicated, will take some time to become fully operational. Yet as the Secretary General emphasized, ‘we are running out of time’ — some essential steps must be started very soon even though the shape of the new model is far from clearly visible. An immediate task must be the identification of measures that can be started and carried out immediately without pre-judging the eventual results and without ‘painting ourselves into a corner’ of unsustainable dead-ends. Such measures must necessarily be of the small-scale, local initiative kind, utilizing currently available knowledge and technology. The best candidates for such immediate measures would be projects of preparation for natural (and other) disasters.

– The preparation for disasters we know will occur (but don’t know where ore when) offer a significant opportunity for innovation. In many places where such disasters have struck, entire systems of infrastructure, governance, economy have been destroyed and must be rebuilt ‘from scratch’. Deplorable as this is for the affected population, it also offers a significant opportunity for innovation in that new experiments that might be tried out in the reconstruction effort do not have to ‘compete’ with and overcome resistance from existing entities. Potentially, this appears to be a better opportunity for speeded-up change than the prospect of reformation from within established structures. The effort for transformation should therefore focus on finding effective ways to take advantage of this opportunity.

These considerations are the basis for the recommendations described in the following section.


R a t i o n a l e

The discussion yielded a surprising variety of ideas, activities, initiatives and programs that are already being published and carried out in many places and institutions. The very variety, the apparent lack of coordination and consistent funding and the still too slow pace of adoption of more sustainable patterns overall, that spurred the Secretary General to the warning that ‘time is running out’ all led to an attempt, in the following recommendation to seek out projects and activities that might speed up transformation by

– combining global coordination with the enhanced encouragement of many small, local experiments;

– encouraging projects that serve two or more purposes simultaneously, rather than only focusing on a single issue (which should not be seen as a judgment on the merit of such projects);

– encouraging projects in which new patterns of operation, governance and economic policies evolve as a result of the active participation and discussion among the people involved in the projects over changes perceived by people as being imposed or enforced without their consent (again, regardless of the benevolent intentions of such measures); and

– exploiting opportunities of situations in which entirely new forms of governance and economic activity might evolve (from the participatory effort of the people involved) and grow without being encumbered by the resistance of existing structures that might see new developments as undesirable competition: interstitial zones or ‘cracks’ in the rigid structure of the existing order.

These priorities results in a selection among the many ideas that to some might appear arbitrary; it is designed to yield an overall concerted strategy that leaves room and opportunity for many different initiatives and experiments but aims at getting meaningful coordinated and speedy transformation underway with support from as many parties as possible.

In recognition of the fact that a convincing, coherent alternative model to the current economic system does not as yet exist, and will require research, analysis and discussion on a much broader base than that of the Linked-In forum, the following proposal will focus on sketching out a framework for the p r o c e s s that could bring about the necessary transformation.

The proposal is based on the following distinctions among the types of such projects and activities, according to their position on a ‘practice — theory’ scale, or rather on a scale of ‘readiness for implementation’ .

– ‘action’ or ‘practice’ initiatives: Actual projects targeting a variety of projects by small groups tackling problems ranging from ‘single-issue’ concerns to more complex and comprehensive efforts to establish viable communities. (Examples include many historical ‘commune’, intentional communities on religious, spiritual or social ideology basis, local initiatives for sustainable agricultural practices, renewable energy production, efforts of complementing or replacing the monetary system and banking with different currencies such as time and bartering exchanges or community credits.) These are usually small scale, at least initially, mostly local, with intensive citizen participation and involvement, and must be considered piecemeal efforts that provide examples for others to adopt and apply on larger scale. This includes similar efforts implemented by governmental agencies and private enterprise corporations in an effort to increase their competitive stance and profitability while improving their practices and reducing their environmental impact.

– ‘theory’ efforts: Attempts to analyze, understand and predict the behavior of systems and subsystems, using scientific and systems analysis tools, based on systematic data collection, mathematical modeling, simulation, in the hope of reaching insights to support recommendations for control and recovery of the overall system.

– ‘philosophical’ efforts: The view that to a considerable extent, the problems we face are caused by currently held views, beliefs, values and principles (or the lack of such), has generated many books and reports offering recommendations for ‘awakening’ (to the detrimental effect of these beliefs and resulting habits), and reversion to or adoption of more valid values, principles and habits. Many of the action initiatives are influenced or based on such systems of spiritual and philosophical thinking.

An overall structure of the process must accommodate the various functions involved in these efforts, that can be loosely grouped into the following process components: the coordination and support function for the action projects that are ready for implementation, the research function for the collection and analysis of data, the construction and testing of mathematical models etc; the discourse function in which goals, recommendations and strategies for the transformation will be discussed, and an education and information function that makes the results of the other components available to all sectors of the global population.

P r o c e s s    O v e r v i e w:   Overall structure

To complement the multiple l o c a l, mostly small scale action initiatives and projects using available tools and resources, that are ready for application or already being applied, the proposed g l o b a l process framework consists of several coordinated components:

– A coordination and support agency or network for the many local initiatives, to coordinate the funding, information sharing, monitoring of such efforts, and to make the lessons from such efforts widely available;

– A  d i s c o u r s e  framework to orchestrate the global discussion about a number of problems and issues that require both further theoretical analysis and public debate and decision-making;

– A network of  r e s e a r c h  entities supporting the other components; and finally

– A concerted program of   e d u c a t i o n   and public   i n f o r m a t i o n, to make the results of initiatives, the results of theoretical research, the issues, results and remaining open questions of the discourse available to as wide a public as possible so as to support both the transformation of understanding and values and the provision of skills, tools and empowerment to people to implement needed changes.

In each of these components, levels of generality can be distinguished: there are questions of practical application or implementation and action; there are issues of conceptualizing, constructing models of systems, testing, validating these and using them for guiding actions to best advantage; and there are issues of overview, principles, philosophy. In each component, we can also distinguish ideas, proposals, concepts that are ‘ready to go’, already available for immediate implementation or continuing support; there are ideas and proposals that require more detailed planning and refinement before they can be implemented; and there are issues, promising but possibly controversial ideas that require not only more research and careful planning but a thorough and broad discussion.

The following is a diagram showing the overall framework of the process recommendation.

Diagram 1 — the proposed process framework

P r o c e s s   C o m p o n e n t s: Detailed Description

Action / Implementation projects

A first level of concern and initiative by any organization aiming to play a leading role in meeting the challenges are the many efforts towards innovation and sustainability that are already underway, carried out by concerned individuals and groups in many places and fields of application. They are typically local, small scale efforts, with a wide range of differences in focus, techniques, organization and philosophy. The very variety of these initiatives should be supported in principle, unless they violate basic standards of human rights, dignity, freedom and justice. They are too numerous to be listed here. Beyond their primary objectives of improving sustainable food or renewable energy production, for example, their value consists in the activation of the energy, enthusiasm and pride of ownership of local population. Therefore, such efforts should be encouraged and funded even if there are as yet no generally accepted standards, goals, performance benchmarks and immediate (conventional) cost savings.

A rough distinction can be made between such projects according to their primary focus. In no particular order of importance, and with considerable overlap between them, the group has discussed initiatives in the following areas:

– Agriculture: Permaculture, Biodiversity especially as it relates to industrialized, mechanized agribusiness and their impact on small farmers livelihood, the use of fertilizers, genetically modified organisms, possibilities for intensive production of fruits and vegetables in small farms and gardens, even within cities; and projects for utilization of unused areas through innovative irrigation — for example restoring desert areas for agriculture.
– The problems of securing adequate supply of clean water for drinking and cooking, but also for gardening, agriculture, livestock, and various production processes; as well as the disposal and treatment of waste-water.

– The problem of energy, both as regards energy resources, especially the transition from fossil and nuclear energy to renewable and nonpolluting energy sources, in view of the dilemma of increasing demand for energy by the growing human population, and the effects of the use of many energy sources on global climate change, air and water pollution.

– The many efforts and programs by industry and corporations to respond to sustainability concerns to improve the efficiency and reduce their CO2 footprint of their production and distribution processes. Some of these efforts exhibit the most intensive use of sophisticated systems modeling and technology.

– Increased efforts by local and national governments to improve waste management through more effective recycling and waste treatment.

– Improved transportation systems, especially for public transportation;

– Industry efforts to develop and use new technology for improved energy production, more efficient control of utilization patterns, more energy-efficient devices.

– Efforts to increase public, and especially children’s, awareness and understanding of the problems and solutions for sustainability aiming at improved behaviors and habits. Such efforts aiming at transformation of awareness and consciousness, inspiring, empowering and enabling people towards a ‘tipping point’ that can precipitate the massive and radical changes are seen by many as necessary to achieve a truly sustainable future.

– Changes in the structure and regulation of the financial services systems.
– Efforts to achieve changes in government and governance patterns, aiming at reducing the potential for corruption and abuse of power.

Of special interest and recommended for priority implementation are ‘multitasking’ projects that combine several different ideas and purposes. Examples are: the use of filtered waste-water transported by supertankers on their return trip to irrigate desert areas for restoration to fertile land [6]; growing crops than can be converted to biofuel on highway medians and right-of-way areas; shell roof building systems for reconstruction of shelter for disaster areas that can be used for rooftop gardening, storage of rainwater, water heating and solar distillation, or the provision of opportunities for creating ‘innovation zones’ or ‘innovation laboratories’ in areas that require emergency aid for recovery from natural disasters of armed conflict for experimentation with new forms of habitat design, food and energy production as well as economic, financing and governance systems etc. The latter idea is recommended as a main tool for speeding up transformation based on a wide variety of different approaches both within such zones (where innovation is not slowed down by resistance from existing structures) and in the existing larger neighboring states or structures that may feel compelled to intensify their own ongoing efforts. The more successful results in both can then be mutually adopted.

Action projects versus stopping detrimental activities

A successful strategy for meeting the challenges of the future in a sustainable manner will also involve the cessation of current activities, behavior patterns and practices that contribute to the problems. Two aspects of this deserve special attention.

Even more than the decision to engage in ‘new’ activities and projects, the admonition to ‘stop’ pernicious behaviors requires the re-examination of basic life principles, values and assumptions. The reason for this is that many current behavior patterns — in contrast to their polemical representation in many cases — are not all based on despicable motivations such as ‘greed’, ‘lust for power’, ruthless ‘exploitation’ of weaker segments of society, reckless destruction of natural resources etc. but on principles that are or have been widely accepted and taught to children as admirable and desirable virtues: Competition, success in business (as measured by profit, increase and accumulation of wealth; justified by ‘serving consumer demands with better products than the competition, etc. The expectation that such behaviors can be ‘stopped’ as a result of mere admonition to adopt ‘better’ values and principles will remain unmet as long as the relationship and tension between the value sets are not understood and resolved.

An example of this kind of tension is the second aspect. The cessation of any practice, especially economic practice, will in most cases imply the shrinking, weakening or complete dissolution and disappearance of the institutions engaged in that practice. This is seen as the desirable goal from a competition perspective: — ‘beating the competition’ — in a win-lose mode. But then people working in those institutions — who are not necessarily the ones responsible for their less successful performance — will lose their jobs. This consequence necessarily creates resistance to change; and it is only very inadequately addressed by the institution of unemployment compensation by the state, in turn resented by the ‘successful’ companies which see their taxes having to pay for unemployment benefits as punishing their success. A more constructive approach to this problem would require a reassessment of the governing principles of business, its guiding measures of performance, and of the way society as a whole deals with innovation, change, and its side-effects and consequences.

Priority action / implementation projects

Examples of small-scale, local projects within this group that can be implemented or begun immediately include:

– Enhanced planning and preparation for emergencies; possibly in view of establishing ‘innovation experiment projects’ for areas affected by disasters;

– Use of highway medians to grow crops that can be used for biofuel production.

– Development of shell roof construction systems that can accommodate rooftop gardening, rainwater collection, water heating;

The Coordination and Support Component

To encourage and support as well as deriving the full benefit of the various action projects, a global coordination service or network should be developed. Its functions will include:

– Provision of Funding of local action projects including the orchestration of the startup phase of ‘innovation zone’ projects beginning with disaster emergency response but also

– Planning and preparation for emergency response to disasters;

– Networking and coordinating the provision and sharing of information (as one of the key resources of implementation projects);

– Monitoring the development and performance of iplementation projects;

– Translation services, not only in terms of translation between different languages, but also between the different conceptual frames of reference, value systems, philosophies that guide those initiatives.

– An Inventory of action initatives and experiments may become a vital source of helpful information for the design of new projects. The inventory and record of performance monitoring will become the basis for the discussion and evaluation of project features (for suitability in general application elsewhere) in the following discourse component.

Many aspects of this component can be built upon existing global networks and institutions, with some focused overall coordination.

Priority tasks for the coordination component

Examples of tasks requiring urgent priority attention in this component are:

– Development of a coordinated disaster planning and response strategy. This should include coordinated preparation for emergencies in areas know to be susceptible to natural disasters — earthquakes, floods, hurricanes and tornadoes — as well as coordinated preparation for establishing innovation zones in stricken areas, and actual construction of disaster / emergency planning and preparation centers.

– Development of the translation service (which will also be needed for the discourse, research, and education/information components);

– Development of an inventory of technologies and procedures being applied and tested in action projects as a basis for evaluation of their effectiveness and performance and sharing of this information.

The Discourse Component

The second vital global framework component would be that of a platform and orchestrating support for the discourse from which a new model for survival would emerge. It would include the same component of translation between the different languages and vocabularies as the coordination component above. An important task will be that of facilitating a genuine discourse, a function not yet adequately served by current platforms of national or supranational institutions or information search and exchange e.g. in social networks. Discussions need to be supported by research and information, as well as by visual tools such as diagrams and ‘maps’ (to inform participants about the state of discourse about a topic as well as the network of related topics); and finally, of tools for evaluation of arguments to reach well-informed decisions. Better software for this function will have to be developed. The structure of this component would include the following:

– A public, global forum for the raising, discussion and resolution of issues. The forum should be open in all languages and accessible through a variety of media and platforms.

– As mentioned in the coordination component above, the component should include or share a translation service for the language-to-language translation of posts from all parts of the world. It should also address the problem of ‘translation’ of the many specialized vocabularies of disciplines and commercial ‘brand’ concepts and services that have developed especially in connection with new information technology and management.

– A networking service connecting the component with information and results from the other components — especially research, but also emerging problems and experiences from the many ‘local action’ projects;

– A documentation service that supports ongoing discussions with the results, arguments, data etc. from previous discussions and historical studies. (A ‘library’ component geared to quick provision of pertinent information to ongoing discussions rather than to mere collection and preservation of documents like traditional libraries).

The STW discussion research indicates that a technology and software platform that would adequately serve the required functions of this component does not yet exist. One model that may provide a workable conceptual basis — but has not been provided with satisfactory software solutions — is the IBIS (issue based information system) concept initially proposed by H. Rittel [3] and elaborated upon by various academic and commercial enterprises. It sees ‘issues’ (controversial questions) as the core elements of such information systems for design, planning, policy-making, and focuses on the explicit articulation of the ‘pros and cons’ (arguments for and against) of proposals and controversial issues. Development of mapping programs would provide for convenient overview of the state of the discourse. The mapping programs still are in need of better integration with the basic discussion framework; especially desirable would be the automatic generation of maps in step with the discussion process, and their real-time display. A proposed addition to this kind of system [4] would allow for the systematic and transparent evaluation of arguments in support of decisions, an important step towards improved decision-making even in ‘democratic’ regimes where the dominant practice of majority voting by elected representatives still is a long way from decision-making based on the merit of arguments and concerns of all affected parties.

Discourse topics

A key element of the IBIS system is the list of topics addressed by the discussion; the content of this type of information system is organized by topic, each of which generates a ‘family’ of issues. The system will also serve the coordination, research and education components; the topic list will be coordinated with these components. The following are examples of such topics; a more detailed (but not yet complete) list of topics raised during the STW discussion is presented in the appendix [Appendix 5-3.1] Some examples of topics where the discussion has produced observations and insights relative to the UN call are added [Appendix 5-3.2]

Priority tasks for the Discourse component

For an effective orchestration of the global discourse, the following tasks are seen as urgent:

– Refinement of the proposed IBIS framework for the given purpose, its components and procedural provisions;

– Development of a sturdy, comprehensive (software) platform that efficiently integrates the different parts and tasks of the discourse framework — especially, the linking of the discussion component with the mapping and evaluation services;

– Priority topics for discussion include the following:
• Values, principles, ethics; the philosophical and spiritual basis guiding the desired transformation;
• Governance and power, with related topics of
– The relationship between freedom and power;
– The problem of controlling power
(the need for controls and sanctions triggered automatically by attempts to violate rules and agreements rather than sanctions enforced by a ‘stronger / bigger force)
– Taxation
– Alternative measures of performance: Quality of life, Environment value replacing growth and GDP
– The role of religion in governance
– The public policy discourse
– The development of public decision-making procedures based on merit of arguments
• The economic system: finance, money, banking;
– Growth
– Profit controls
– Complementary or alternative currencies
– Property (land; means of production)
• Subsistence essentials
– Food, Agriculture, Permaculture;
– Water
– Housing / shelter
• The natural ecosystem
– Climate
– Biodiversity
• Energy
– Renewable energy technology
– Large systems versus independent (individual household) technology
• Research
– The role of research in supporting discourse and education
– The implications of research moving from the university to government and private enterprise.

The Research Component

The systematic investigation of unresolved questions both as related to understanding nature including human behavior, and to policy issues regarding human activity within the natural environment has been and is properly understood as the role of ‘research’. This is a function that overlaps and serves both the discourse component of the proposed policy, and education, as well as the action projects as the underlying knowledge basis for the technology and techniques they use.

While research has traditionally been one of the primary responsibilities of universities, a more recent shift has seen research activity being taken over by both governments and private industry. The implications of this development have not yet been adequately investigated and understood, though problems have become quite apparent. They include issues regarding secrecy of research done in government research institutions, controversies about research results produced by private enterprise investigators (legal issues about the right to profit from research billed as ‘intellectual property’); or problems that have spawned an entirely new category of crime in the form of ‘industrial espionage’. The common problems here include questions about how commercial and state interests influence research objectivity (let alone the question of research priorities and funding), and about ethical implications of withholding publication of research results to protect commercial (profit) interests. For some kinds of research tasks, the internet itself constitutes a new form of data-gathering and analysis tool whose potential has yet to be fully realized.

It is widely accepted that answers to humanity’s problems are to a significant degree going to be provided by research. For the short term, it is obvious that most research for the global effort called for by the Secretary General will have to rely on the existing research institutions, and this will require extensive coordination. The question whether entirely new institutions and networks will have to be developed to meet this global challenge and resolve the issues surrounding current research practices should therefore occupy a place of highest priority on the agenda of any forum or institution attempting to coordinate the effort to ensure the development of a better model for survival.

The proposed IBIS-based framework for the discourse component could help alleviate a problem regarding the relationship between social policy and research that has caused significant controversy. It is the blurred boundary between scientific-technological expertise and the legitimation to make policy decisions, that has led scientists and technology experts to claim the right to influence policy decisions on social goals on the basis of their scientific and technological expertise — and political decision-makers to defer to such experts, leading to decisions that were unacceptable to wide segments of affected populations. The explicit distinction between the different types of issues and argument premises in planning and policy arguments make it clear that the scientific-technical expertise is inescapably necessary for the validation of facual and factual-instrumental claims but does not extend to the assessment of plausibility and valuation of deontic (ought-) claims. The role of research in the discourse of policy development would thereby be clarified, to the benefit both of research and the policy discourse.

Priority Topics for Research

One of the most critical tasks regarding the research component of the proposed framework is the development of a new set of agreements and ethical rules for the use or exploitation of research results by both governments inasmuch they see themselves in competition with other governments, and private enterprise for the purpose of securing competitive advantage in pursuing commercial advantage and profit. A new balance must be found between the principle that knowledge derived from scientific research should benefit society in general, and the right of entities sponsoring research to be the primary beneficiaries from research.

The Education / Information Component

General considerations

The results of the work done in the Discourse and Research components — the discussion and the analysis / theory realms, as well as the lessons learned from the Action initiatives, must be distributed and made available to the public everywhere. Two main concerns should be distinguished here, because they will need different approaches. The first: To increase awareness, induce awakening, a transformation of beliefs, values, principles, habits; to work towards a transformation of consciousness about the problems we face. The second task is to provide practical information, the necessary tools and skills: enabling and empowering people for action. Both might be seen as simply providing and distributing information, but arguably go beyond merely making information available: it really is an education function, critical in achieving a fundamental change of direction of the global human project.

With regard to the first aspect, many voices are urging a mental or spiritual awakening and reorientation as the key to a new model, even a precondition for meaningful change. Not much is said in the discussions about how this may be achieved. It will have to be done on several different levels. The first will involve the development of brief, concise, memorable information items — ads, cartoons, images, short videos — to catch people’s attention and interest, a second level would be aiming at generating better understanding of the processes and problems, with easily available but more in-depth information. This should be as widespread — global — as possible, spread by the new technology and social networks, and it would have to involve universal, cross-cultural common denominators; mainly ethical in nature: An overall set or framework of common principles and agreements.

For the second aspect, the label ‘education’ might suggest that the material in question should be injected into the existing education systems everywhere. The traditional approach would be for some entity / authority to develop a standard syllabus for this, which the various educational systems (schools) will be expected to adopt and teach. This is perhaps plausible for the long run, but unrealistic as a tool for achieving the necessary results in the short term; action and movement must be achieved much faster and with fewer resources than it would take to revamp all the world’s educational systems. Instead, a different approach should be considered. To be effective, new behavioral guidelines and rules cannot be imposed by authority. They must also be accepted by everybody, as mutual commitments freely engaged. In turn, this means that it must be the result of dialogue and negotiation (which of course can address traditional canons as well.) Only then will people take effective advantage of the actual content made available for learning. Therefore it is suggested to initiate a concerted effort feeding directly off the results achieved in the discussions of topics in the discourse, using the same list of topics or subjects, for a start. The results — understood not as the ‘facts’ about the world that schools have been charged with conveying to children (with resulting destructive, unproductive fights about wat should be counting as truth about facts) but as information about the issues and controversies people argue about, and what we (humans) ought to do — presenting the different opinions with their supporting evidence, and seeking to empower learners to effectively and meaningfully evaluate that material and arrive at their own judgments to creatively construct their own future.

The instruments for this crucial task must take advantage of the rapidly evolving information technology — especially the internet and the increasing ubiquity of cellphones — which could facilitate a global dialogue (discourse) with wide participation. Thus, the recommendation would be: to initiate the development of a framework for not only disseminating the education material using these technologies, but providing the opportunity for communicating about it: it cannot be a one-way traditional instructional model but must be two-way.

Similar considerations apply to the information function of this component.

Reliance on technology should not be the only pillar of such a campaign. For one, people are more likely to accept mutual rules of cooperation if their understanding of the need for such rules arises out of actual experiences. There are two main possibilities for this: one is for ‘apprenticeship’ participation in experimental projects or emergency relief situations, where the normal societal structures have been disrupted and must be re-established. The Peace Corps offered a kind of such experiences, as an example. Another possibility is that of games. Even the traditional educational system relied on games (in sports) or game-like activities — music, plays, — through which qualities such as cooperation (besides competition), sportsmanship are conveyed. The recommendation therefore is for an effort to start an educational campaign via the internet, possibly complemented by TV: a survivor-type series of episodes highlighting both the kinds of situations where current / traditional attitudes and rules must be replaced by a new ethic, and the interactions conveyed in an interesting, entertaining manner. An intensive effort should be directed at the development of more cooperative games, both real and videogames where the ‘winning’ scores depend on adherence to cooperative and sustainability principles. The overwhelming majority of games children and adults currently engage in is competitive — resulting in ‘win-lose’ outcomes. It does not seem to occur to most people that in the process of helping, watching and celebrating the 1% champions — the winners, we are inadvertently creating 99% losers. A widely advertised competition for the development of ‘win-win’ shows and games according to the motto ‘If I do better, you will do better, and vice versa’ might be a starting point.
An outline for such a game that could be run online with a wide number of participants, or as a ‘live’ game in a modified parliamentary setting assisted by an IT support system is presented in Appendix 5-2.3. It can be considered and run as a game or, once people become familiar with the approach, as a real problem-solving or planning project.

The design of a complementary education system along the lines suggested must take into account society’s dual expectation of education: On the one hand, education — the acquisition of knowledge, skills and information must be freely accessible to all members of society (not only during childhood but throughout life, as the kind of information and skills change over time). Knowledge, skills and information are among the most important resources for people to be able to take advantage of available opportunities in a society. On the other hand, the outcomes of this process in the form of acquisition of skills etc. must be able to be certified, that is, demonstrated, according to some articulated and agreed-upon standards: a document certifying the mastery of some specific skills must mean the same everywhere. The balance between these two functions must be re-examined; the opportunities for acquisition of knowledge and skills through new information technology should be acknowledged and accommodated. The linkage of the demonstration / certification function to the traditional educational institutions that once were the exclusive means for acquisition of knowledge can be replaced by other, more effective means.

This discussion is currently, it seems, made more difficult by the legitimate concerns for the second important level of the education system of a society: that of ‘socialization’, or acquisition of a common foundation of ideas and values — a cultural dimension. In addition, the role of the ‘research’ mission of the educational system — the generation of new knowledge, traditionally also linked to the same institutions that were then transmitting research insights to students — adds to the complexity of this challenge. The discussion might be more constructive if these different functions — knowledge acquisition, certification, socialization, research — were clearly acknowledged as separate tasks, but a common forum provided for the orchestrated exchange of information, opinions, discussion and resolution of concerns (such as allocation of funds for each function). This could allow experiments to be conducted for each function to arrive at innovative, improved means to pursue its purpose, without having to encumber the innovation process with negotiations about how the entire structure of a combined system would be affected by an experiment in one part.

This is an example of a global initiative, and one in which private enterprise (corporations in the technology and entertainment industries) should be enticed into joining the public effort. It can of course also be combined with any small-scale, local experiment or initiative.

Coordination / framework for the education component

The education component will have to include a global forum on educational content. The difficulties of establishing what should be taught in schools are a well-known source of controversy in most countries, from the local level to the international mutual certification levels; it is aggravated by the common assumptions that what schools should teach should be ‘the truth’; the fact that there are always widely varying opinions as to what that truth is, about almost any subject, and that even — or especially — in those areas where the ‘standards’ for what can be accepted as truth — in the natural sciences, for example, new research is constantly revising and often completely challenging what was previously accepted as true information. Thus, there is little if any basis for optimism about the chances for agreement on teaching content if the ‘truth’ criterion is maintained. The global effort on education should therefore abandon the effort to specify true content for education content for any but the most practical questions of skills and tools that are required for carrying out activities of responsibility in society. Instead, as mentioned above, the focus should be to establish a syllabus on controversies — teaching children about the major issues of humanity, about which there are profound and significant differences of opinion, at present and throughout history, including different opinions about how truth (and plausibility, a term suggested to replace ‘truth’ that also applies to questions of what we ought to do, which ostensibly are not ‘true’ in the same sense as past and current ‘facts’ of nature) should be sought, opinions about what people consider adequate guarantees fro accepting information or opinions as true or plausible — and leave the resolution of the controversies to the learners as their life challenges. (This is the kind of approach the game suggestion mentioned above — Appendix 5.4–  is aimed at.)

Of course, such a solution would itself require a considerable amount of discussion before even minor consensus decisions can be expected.

Priority Topics

Recommended tasks for the education component that should be initiated as soon as possible include the following:

– Establishment of a coordinating service to initiate and support the following tasks:

– Preparation of appropriate material for informing the public about the challenges, increase awareness and above all understanding to the nature of the problems, the relationships between the forces involved, possible solutions and the need for cooperation and willingness to change habits.

– Development of appealing and interesting games primarily for children (but also adults) that emphasize cooperation (‘win-win’ outcomes) rather than competition (‘win-lose’ outcomes).

– Development of ‘technical’ or How-to- information of innovative tools, procedures, approaches for sustainable practice, for wide public use at all levels from basic self-help to the development of sophisticated advanced technology.



The attempt to present a coherent response to the Secretary General’s call for revolutionary thinking and action, which was intended to be part of a more comprehensive presentation encompassing the entire STW discussion, necessarily falls short of providing a balanced account of all the ideas and considerations accumulated in that forum, much less of the many ideas and initiatives reported by the participants. It had to focus upon the more preparatory problem of how the effort to transform the economic system into a more sustainable one could be initiated and organized: ‘how to make this happen’ without presuming to specify the nature of the new economic model. In doing so, it attempted to suggest and describe an overall process framework in which all the proposals, ideas, activities addressed in the STW discussion could find their proper place. In the description of a few selected projects within the overall framework, — project ideas that have not been published and implemented before but were generated within this discussion — the focus was on the kinds of projects that serve several simultaneous purposes, rather than other ‘single-issue’ projects, without implying less merit or significance of the latter. With respect to a central and often controversial issue — that of ‘global‘ programs versus ‘local‘ initiatives — the proposal took a compromise position in recommending unreserved support for local and small scale initiatives of all kinds, but establishment of global networks of coordination, information-sharing, discourse, research and education. A key feature of the proposal is that of deliberately taking advantage of situations in which existing economic, governance and infrastructure systems have been destroyed by natural or man-made disasters to provide opportunities for and encourage experiments with entirely new economic and governance patterns that can accelerate transformation either by gradually inducing neighboring structures to take over the new practices, or by encouraging those existing systems to competitively speed up their own transition to more sustainable patterns before re-integrating the experimental entities.

Unresolved questions

A number of issues remain unresolved by this report — for various reasons, such as the limited resources and format of the online discussion, or because the issues have not yet been fully understood, or because the group’s opinion that resolution of major principles, issues and policies must be based on the results of a much broader discourse than that carried out by the relatively small group of participants in the STW forum. Some issues, especially those regarding specific economic and finance system subjects, have not been discussed in depth because of the small number of economists in the group. Examples of major unresolved issues are the following:

– A feasible and convincing solution for the transition of the current economic from a growth-, competition-, and debt-based model to a more cooperative, growth-to-maturity followed by equilibrium model driven by measures of performance that consider not only narrow economic/financial indices but the whole spectrum of human well-being, health, and happiness.

– The problem of the control of power and its abuse — not only in government (where traditional controls seem to have reached the limits of their effectiveness) but also in private enterprise and other human activities, where such controls have not been developed as intensely as for governments (leaving the control up to success or failure in the marketplace, with little regard for the collateral consequences for other aspects of human well-being.)

– The issue of distribution of goods and services that are increasingly produced by mechanized processes requiring less human labor — and therefore less work, leading to under- or unemployment resulting in the inability of the unemployed to purchase the goods and services with money earned from work. This is one of the factors leading to the lopsided accumulation of income and wealth by fewer and fewer people while an ever greater majority slides into poverty and an existence depending on ‘welfare’ payments by government financed by taxes that are perceived as unfair disincentives by those working.


The multitude of initiatives researched by participants in the STW discussion is a reason for optimism: there are many people and organizations already at work trying to change their lives, organizations, life habits and patterns towards more sustainable and responsible practices. However, as mentioned, these activities are not coordinated and supported well enough, nor were overall data available to support reliable predictions as to their probable success in acieving the needed global transformation. There were, in contrast, significant indications of entrenched resistance or inability of existing institutions and practices to facilitate the transformation, which together with the available evidence of dwindling resources, growing populations, increasing inequality of living standards and wealth give many observes equally plausible grounds for pessimism. The suggestions for steps — priority actions listed separately for each of the components of the proposed framework — to take to more forcefully work towards a model for survival and avert disaster — are based on the hope that they will be proven wrong by the creativity and capacity for cooperation of mankind.


Appendix 5-1 UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon’s Call for Revolutionary Thinking and Action

The address by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to the World Economic Forum 2011: Davos, Switzerland, 28 January 2011 – World Economic Forum Session on Redefining Sustainable Development.

“For most of the last century, economic growth was fuelled by what seemed to be a certain truth: the abundance of natural resources.
We mined our way to growth. We burned our way to prosperity. We believed in consumption without consequences.
Those days are gone.
In the 21st century, supplies are running short and the global thermostat is running high.
Climate change is also showing us that the old model is more than obsolete. It has rendered it extremely dangerous.
Over time, that model is a recipe for national disaster. It is a global suicide pact.
So what do we do in this current challenging situation?
How do we create growth in a resource constrained environment?
How do we lift people out of poverty while protecting the planet and ecosystems that support economic growth?
How do we regain the balance?
All of this requires rethinking.
Here at Davos – this meeting of the mighty and the powerful, represented by some key countries – it may sound strange to speak of revolution.
But that is what we need at this time. We need a revolution. Revolutionary thinking. Revolutionary action.
A free market revolution for global sustainability.
It is easy to mouth the words “sustainable development”, but to make it happen we have to be prepared to make major changes — in our lifestyles, our economic models, our social organization, and our political life.
We have to connect the dots between climate change and what I might call here, WEF – water, energy and food.
I have asked President Halonen of Finland and President Zuma of South Africa to connect those dots as they lead our High Level Panel on Global Sustainability. […]
I have asked them to take on the tough questions:
How we organize ourselves economically?
How we manage increasingly scarce resources?
Those same questions guide our discussion here. I have asked them to bring us visionary recommendations by the end of December so they can be feed into intergovernmental processes until Rio 2012.
But as we begin, let me highlight the one resource that is scarcest of all: Time.
We are running out of time.
Time to tackle climate change.
Time to ensure sustainable, climate-resilient green growth.
Time to generate a clean energy revolution.
The sustainable development agenda is the growth agenda for the 21st century.
To get there, we need your participation, your initiative.
We need you to step up. Spark innovation. Lead by action.
Invest in energy efficiency and renewable energy for those who need them most – your future customers. Expand clean energy access in developing countries – your markets of tomorrow.
Join our UN Global Compact, the largest corporate sustainability initiative in the world. Embed those sustainability principles into your strategies, your operations, your supply chain.
To government leaders sitting here and elsewhere around the world, send the right signals to build the green economy.
Together, let us tear down the walls.
The walls between the development agenda and the climate agenda. Between business, government, and civil society. Between global security and global sustainability.
It is good business – good politics – and good for society.
In an odd way, what we are really talking about is going back to the future.
The ancients saw no division between themselves and the natural world. They understood how to live in harmony with the world around them.
It is time to recover that sense of living harmoniously for our economies and our societies.
Not to go back to some imagined past, but to leap confidently into the future with cutting-edge technologies, the best science and entrepreneurship has to offer, to build a safer, cleaner, greener and more prosperous world for all.
There is no time to waste.
Thank you very much for your commitment.” [1]

Appendix 5-2 Selected Proposals

The STW discussion participants researched and posted a large number of references and links to ideas and projects by others. However, some proposals and ideas were developed as part of the discussion, that have not been published elsewhere. The following is a small selection of such proposals.

Appendix 5.2.1 Adapted IBIS Framework for discourse and coordination

The discourse framework would consist of the following provisions and services:

a. An overview listing of issues and proposals, which are entered as ‘topics’ for discussion.

b. For each topic, the public is invited to contribute comments, suggestions, amandments, and arguments pro and con. These will be entered into a ‘verbatim’ collection in chronological order.

c. The contributions and arguments are reviewed. For each topic or issue x, a ‘family’ of related questions will be listed:
– conceptual and definition questions: “what is x?” (definitions, descriptions)
– factual questions: e.g. “is x the case?”
– factual-instrumental questions:“what are the consequences of implementing x?”; “does x cause y?”
– instrumental questions: “how can x be implemented?” (means for implementing / achieving x?)
– deontic (ought-) questions: “should x be implemented?” “Should y be aimed for?”
– ‘problem’ questions: “What are the problems with x?”
– ‘criteria questions’: “According to what criteria should plans for achieving x be judged?”

The contributions will be examined and condensed versions of comments, arguments, proposals will be entered into a concise, condensed list of answers for each question type.

d. Graphical representations of the topics, questions, and arguments and their relationships (topic maps, issue maps, argument maps) will be prepared to provide convenient overview of the state of the discourse.

e. The formalized collections of questions and answers (item c) and maps (item d) will be published as information to the public, either periodically in appropriate intervals, or for critical issues continually as new contributions are received.

f. For critical issues and decisions, argument evaluation worksheets are prepared, in which all arguments pro and con are listed, each with their individual premises iidentified for assessment: all premises according to their plausibility, and deontic premises als according to their relative weight of importance. Discourse participants and public decision-makers are asked to perform the assessment, from which argument weights and an overall plausibility score is calculated, for each participant.

The results can be analyzed to identify precise areas of agreement and disagreement, or lack of information to make judgments. This can guide the process by indicating the need for further research support, further discussion (e.g. clarification of argument premisses, or negotiating modifications to the proposed plans, or readiness for decision.

(Details of the approach for argument assessment: T. Mann: The Structure and Evaluation of Planning Arguments, Informal Logic, Dec. 2010)

The proposed framework will consist of the following components:

– A list of TOPICS proposed and entered for discussion, by any participant.

– A TRANSLATION service to facilitate participation by residents of all countries and languages — but also serving the task of ‘translating’ the many vocabulary and acronyms of many conceptual frames of reference from different disciplines, private enterprise proprietary ‘brand’ labels, philosophical and ideological systems.

– A ‘VERBATIM’ documentation of all contributions, organized in chronological order (as entered in the discussion) and by topic and issue;

– An ANALYSIS service identifying the following — issue types, answers and arguments — from the verbatim entries;

– For each topic, a list of ISSUES raised about the topic distinguished according to the type of issue or question: factual, factual-instrumental, explanatory, deontic (ought-questions), conceptual; perhaps questions about the problems related to the topic (actually a form of explanatory question);

– For each topic, a collection of ISSUE FILES, with answers and ARGUMENTS distilled into a concise format (that lends itself to condensed overview presentation in argument displays and issue maps);

– A MAPPING service producing TOPIC MAPS, ISSUE MAPS, and ARGUMENT MAPS. These will be distributed as appropriate and displayed to keep participants informed about the state of the discussion.

– As an issue discussion is exhausted and getting ready for a decision: an ARGUMENT EVALUATION service, preparing argument evaluation forms, collecting responses for participants, preparing statistical analysis of the responses, and presenting these to the participants in preparation for a decision.

– DOCUMENTATION or archives of discussions for future reference and use.

The framework does not make assumptions about decision-making procedures and rules; this is an issue that must itself be discussed and agreed upon in the discourse. The following diagrams show the components of the system and their relationships.

Diagram 2 — The IBIS – Argument Evaluation Process

5.2.2   Catalyst projects for new institutions: (Emergency Aid Areas)

An idea for ‘local’ initiatives that has not yet been widely published except in other comments on the STW forum is the following: To establish zones for experimental development of innovative and sustainable organization of new communities in areas requiring substantial international aid following armed conflict or natural disasters:

Buffer zones between Enemy States

– To establish ‘buffer area’ projects between enemy states that have been engaged in armed conflict resulting in destruction of housing, industry and infrastructure, neglected innovation, displacement of refugees, and similar problems. Such projects — for which international help would be needed anyway to provide humanitarian aid for the affected civilian populations — would establish a ‘demilitarized’ zone between such countries, where new technology, agriculture and infrastructure (power generation, water, health care and education) will be introduced. The areas would be populated by refugees and volunteers from both states who will be granted ‘citizenship’ to the new entity (it should not be called ‘nation’) upon declaring allegiance to a set of principles of cooperation and willingness to engage in cooperative activities resulting in experimental projects for new economic and governance patterns.

Such projects would initially be funded by focusing the aid for international refugee, development, renewable resource or emergency relief aid that would be devoted to such crisis areas anyway, on these experiment projects — more than on the neighboring states (in which such funds have in the past often been misallocated by corruption, mismanagement, or discriminatory allocation etc.)

First steps: Infrastructure, energy, shelter, water, food, health care, education, using available tools.

The first tasks besides the provision of immediate humanitarian aid would be the development of infrastructure based on sustainability principles: renewable energy resources, water and food production based on sustainability / permaculture techniques, urban settlement patterns aimed at walkability rather than automobile traffic, construction of housing according to energy-conservation principles, education and health care services. These are task that can be attacked with existing, proven technology, which currently may still be regarded as not yet cost-efficient compared to existing technology and infrastructure — but since no or only outdated infrastructure of the ‘old’ kind exists in such regions, the absence of ‘sunk costs’ in existing infrastructure which may not be considered in the cost comparison for developed areas will likely make new projects with new technology competitive.

Each project would aim at developing an agricultural food production system according to Permaculture, ecologically sound principles, sufficient primarily to serve its population. Private and community gardens in close proximity to residences should be encouraged. A further aim would be that of restoring soils and environments that may have been degraded, and developing areas for agriculture, forests and natural ecosystems that never had been fertile before. Transportation of food over long distances should be avoided for most of basic sustenance of the local population; though later production of suitable crops for export may be considered. The development of soils and water distribution should be guided by the needs of this kind of agriculture and gardening system.

Depending on local conditions, the projects should aim at preserving, restoring or establishing areas of natural environments with diversity of species, protected from damaging effects of human development such as air and water pollution, loss of habitat, imbalances due to invasive species, nutrient soil erosion. Reforestation, wetlands, wilderness areas are examples.

New forms of governance and economic / financing system need not be established initially for such projects as given ‘constitutions’, but should be considered one of the development tasks to be discussed and negotiated by the projects’ participants, on a participatory basis, supported by new information technology tools. As these provisions and agreements emerge from the discussion, they will replace the initial, strictly temporary project management structure. General guidelines should include the considerations described below under the topic of governance, power controls, economic system in the discourse section.

Similar projects starting in areas requiring substantial international aid after natural disasters — earthquakes, floods, hurricanes etc.

Such projects would simultaneously serve several important purposes:
– to provide the needed aid for areas devastated or damaged by disasters;
– to use such aid to introduce more sustainable practices for common processes of production, provision of food, water, energy, health care, recycling and waste disposal and education etc.
– to provide ‘interstitial’ space for the experimental evolution of new forms of societal organization, economy, and governance;
– to develop a global network of similar projects for the sharing of information and cooperation
– to provide the opportunity for the introduction of safeguards against armed conflict through sanctions ‘automatically triggered’ by the attempt of violation of agreements and treaties;

– to speed up and enhance the development toward more sustainable practices in adjacent existing countries and areas, (through the element of competition) allowing practices that prove successful to gradually be taken over in either area.

5.2.3 Proposal for A Cooperative Argument Evaluation Game

( to be developed)

The ‘Argument Merit Game’

Participants (‘Players’) in the game select a ‘challenge’ or problem for which solutions need to be developed. The problem would not be one for which there exist ‘true’ or ‘correct’ answers (‘tame’ problems) but rather one of the ‘wicked’ kind for which no or many different solution responses may be found, which would not be ‘correct’ or ‘false’ but ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Players will contribute ‘responses’ (solution proposals) for the problem, raise questions, offer arguments pro and con, suggest modifications of proposed solutions. They will receive ‘base’ credit for all such contributions. However, the base points will subsequently be modified (increased or decreased) according to the results of evaluation of solutions and arguments. (Argument merit), as well as to overall criteria for the group’s work as a whole: thoroughness of deliberation, cooperativeness (e.g. raising questions that enable other players to contribute valid, creative, significant ideas). Also, aspects such as validity of initial intuitive, spontaneous judgments (as compared with final evaluation results) or willingness to learn (changing judgments in response to new information and consideration of others’ opinions and concerns) can be rewarded.
The game does not aim at individual players ‘winning’ by accumulating the most individual posts, but on collective quality of the discourse and eventual results: To develop solutions to problems / challenges through cooperative, creative discussion, and reach agreement on solutions, based on the quality / merit of arguments; encouraging participation, contributions, creativity, cooperation, critical thinking / assessment, and learning

It can be played with minimal technical support by small groups, even of children; more elaborate versions with full IT support (for which programs must be developed) can be used for actual collective planning decision-making projects.

Appendix 5.4 References

[1] Ban Ki-Moon statement to the World Economic Forum

[2] STW discussion:

[3] Kunz & Rittel: “Issues as Elements of Information Systems”. Working Paper No. 131. Berkeley: Institute of Urban and Regional Development, University of California, 1970.
APIS: A Concept for an Argumentative Planning Information System. Working Paper No. 324. Berkeley: Institute of Urban and Regional Development, University of California, 1980.

[4] Thorbjoern Mann: “The Structure and Evaluation of Planning Arguments” in ‘Informal Logic’, Vol. 30, No 4 (2010) Dec. 2010
Abstract: The structure of ‘planning arguments’ — arguments commonly used in discussion about plans and policy proposals — is discussed. Based on the conceptual framework of the ‘argumentative model of planning’ proposed by H. Rittel, an approach for their systematic and transparent evaluation by discourse participants is presented. Procedural implications for its application in the planning process are discussed, and the potential for information technology support for such processes explored.
– The Fog Island Argument (XLibris 2009).

[5] Blog posts on the Systemswiki blog established for the STW discussion:

[6] Operation OASIS :
Operation OASIS is a plan to utilize the return ballast capacity of Bulk Crude Oil Carriers to treat and transport screened wastewater from Europe to the desert coastlines of countries affected by desert and desertification including, North and South Africa, Australia, USA, Middle East, Pakistan, China, Thailand, to create self sustaining coastal rainforests in deserts, working from the coast so that fog and rain can assist the operation by reducing the need for further irrigation, affording the project to move inland and along the coast.

1 Response to “The UN Secretary General’s Call for “Revolutionary Thinking and Action to ensure an economic model for survival” at the World Economic Forum 2011 — A Response based on the Linked-In ‘Systems Thinking World’ forum discussion moderated by Helene Finidori [Giraud]”

  1. 1 abbeboulah July 11, 2011 at 2:21 pm

    I am sorry that the diagrams did not get through here don’t understand why. The first diagram is the same as that in the May 15 draft of this entry.
    I can send pdf. versions of the full draft — to a real email address — to anybody interested. (email me at

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