AGENDA FOR A ‘SCAFFOLD’ OF TRANSFORMATION PROJECTS: A PERSONAL VIEW

The following is an attempt to articulate basic premises and assumptions about various proposed efforts to respond to crises and problems, corresponding proposals, the resulting agenda and the parts I might be able to work on, for discussion.
(Numbered for ease of commenting.)

1 There is widespread concern about serious crises and problems threatening humanity.

2 The existing systems of governance and economic relations do not seem to be able to remedy or prevent these crises effectively; in fact, it seems that some crises are actually caused and exacerbated by those systems.

3 Thus, the calls for ‘change’, ‘transformation’, for a new ‘model for survival’ are both urgent and plausible. However: there is no common agreement about what the remedies, what that new model should be, and how it should be brought about.

4 The models and visions (in many current discussions) appear to mean some overall ‘global’ political-economic governance model to replace existing structures. There are reasons to question whether this search for ‘one model’ is the appropriate approach.

5 The next question ‘how to achieve this?’ would draw on
a) possible precedents, models; and / or
b) plausible information, knowledge, ideas (visions) for new solutions
c) available tools, methods, ‘approaches’ for dealing to the tasks.

6 Both extensive efforts by many people and organizations, (for example, a several year-long discussion on LI by members of a group of people calling itself ‘systems thinkers and subscribing to the claim that ‘systems thinking offers the best foundation for meeting the challenges / solving the problems facing humanity’), did not yield a consensus about even which direction to choose in developing such a model, which of the available tools to use, let alone a convincing model proposal itself.

7 Neither the examination of historical precedents nor the discussion of new methods and techniques support the notion that ‘we’ (humanity, our leaders, systems thinkers or other analysts), currently know enough and have sufficient agreements to confidently develop a global model for survival — one that could replace or override the existing systems without causing violent opposition, wars, upheavals, while guaranteeing a better future. Thus, in my opinion, the discussion should – while not giving up the discussion for such a global model – focus more decisively on a more incremental strategy.

8 We need more information – not just ‘data’ about current conditions, but information about what would work, supported both by methodological research and systematically evaluated experiments with different models: experiments not on a global scale (we can’t afford global failure of another ‘grand scale’ global model) but at small, local scale where ‘failure’ can become important information about what works and what does not, while the effects of failure on the group where it was tried can be remedied by global support and aid. ‘Failures’ should not be despised, shunned and punished, but its information results rewarded just as much as those of ‘successes’.

9 The above-mentioned LI discussion, for example, revealed that there are already many experiments, initiatives for alternative ways of doing things in many areas of life underway in many countries. Most are not supported but struggling to survive opposition by traditional attitudes and structures that might feel threatened by these innovations; and there seems to be little communication and exchange of information between them. Nor is there a coherent system in place for harvesting the insights from these efforts for evaluation of what works and what doesn’t.

10 A few counteracting forces can be seen that must be acknowledged and considered in responding to the issue:
a) The right to plan (in the ‘pursuit of happiness’ in all forms) is acknowledged as a human right. All planning must necessarily rely on the assumption of some ‘context’ conditions remaining sufficiently stable to guarantee the reliability of predictions of plan success — even while pursuing change;
b) The pursuit of change is driven not only by the desire to ‘solve problems’ but by an inherent desire to ‘make a difference’ in life.
(Both these forces are currently active; both must be adequately accommodated in whatever eventual ‘model’ is going to be adopted.)
c) Both pursuits also inherently rely on some set of unchanging, stable conditions – conditions that guarantee the effectiveness of actions to achieve the desired change. They include not only natural laws such as gravity or the properties of materials, but also assumptions about laws, habits, agreements that rule human behavior. (The relentless calls for ‘change’, ‘transformation’, even ‘destructive creativity’ seem to ignore this fact, raising the possibility of resulting in a state of continuous chaotic change.)
d) These counteracting forces tend to generate conflicts even in relationships characterized by genuine desire for cooperation. Resolution of conflicts by force or coercion, historically dominant, is increasingly recognized as ineffective let alone immoral and even intensifying and making conflict a recurring and escalating problem, Thus, the development of better, effective nonviolent means of conflict resolution is becoming more urgent. In general, such means will result in social ‘agreements’ (laws, treaties). Such agreements must cover all ‘local’ domains affected by the potential conflict: they will have connect those domains, becoming nonlocal: ‘global’.

(Example: we drive cars to destinations determined by our individual needs and desires: all different. But in doing so, we rely on a commonly accepted agreement: to drive on the ‘right’ (agreed-upon) side. It is arbitrary which side, as rules in different countries demonstrate; the important thing is that it is agreed upon, and that adequate provisions are in place to ensure that the agreements are adhered to.)

11 The implication of the above assumptions is that we ‘need’ both the right and opportunities to plan our different individual plans, individually or in groups) AND common agreements for behavior when plans might interact in conflicting ways. The acknowledgement of individuals’ and groups’ rights to pursue plans is the first needed global agreement.

12 Both the common need for diverse experiments (to gain information about what works) and the individual need for ‘making a difference’ can be met by a commonly agreed-upon policy to allow and support a variety of experiments and initiatives.

13 This agreement should include a common provision or entity – a forum — for coordinating the diverse initiatives, keeping track of their experiences and performance, and for negotiating necessary ‘global’ (or inter-initiative) agreements and ‘rules’.

14 The provisions for ensuring that agreements (laws) are adhered to have in the past relied on ‘enforcement’ – replying to violations by means of force. To be effective, the entities designated to do this have to be more ‘forceful’ – that is, more powerful – than any would-be violator. This makes the enforcement entities extremely vulnerable to the temptations of power: by definition, there is no ‘more powerful’ entity to prevent the powerful from violating the very rules and agreements they are supposed to enforce. The control of power – important at all levels of society – becomes critical at the level of global governance. Traditional tools for the control of power are arguably losing their effectiveness, the search for better means of power control should be given highest priority.

15 Since new initiatives tend to, or tend to be perceived as threatening or competing with existing institutions, infrastructure and processes and powers, an initial strategy of implementation of such policies should seek out ‘new’ projects aiming at creating new needed entities rather than replacing existing ones, in domains where there are no existing power structures that might feel threatened and therefore obstruct experiments. One good (if not the best) way to do this is to encourage such initiatives and experiments (‘Innovation zones’) in areas (geographical or societal, non-territorial) where existing social, technological and governance infrastructure has been destroyed — e.g. by natural or man–made disasters — or not yet developed in response to innovations in technology, science, or human vision. Initiatives would be run on a volunteer basis, in return for agreement to certain conditions (below).

16 The support of such initiatives in disaster areas would consist mainly of that share of humanitarian aid normally given to disaster relief that would be used to reconstruct (existing/old) infrastructure, in addition to other philanthropic support for the applicable causes. It would instead be devoted to start and support the innovation initiative.

17 Such designated support would be provided on condition of
a) Presentation of a plan outline for the experiment; including some indication of what would be considered a measure or indication of success. These conditions should be carefully kept ‘unbureaucratic’.
b) Agreement to reasonably carefully log, monitor and record the effort and its outcomes, whether success or failure to meet its intended goals. (This could be done by the coordinating entity.) It must be emphasized that even records of what does NOT work are what is needed overall, for the development of larger coherent models and plans.
c) The plan may include transition provisions for either expanding the key features of the experiment into other areas (or neighboring regions) if successful, or reversion to existing or other conditions in the case of failure.

18 The implementation of the proposed strategy would require a ‘platform’, forum or ‘scaffold’ – organization? – with the following aims and components:

A) A data base of
a) currently existing initiatives and experiments;
(including past items to the extent adequate information can be found)
b) the growing list of proposed new experiments;
c) a ‘tool kit’ of techniques, methods, procedures, etc. that are or can be used by the initiatives, and shared with others.
d) a set of ‘innovation experiment templates’ that can serve groups in setting up and quickly apply for support (esp. in case of emergencies); they can be adapted and modified in response to conditions and ideas;
e) a network of governmental and other providers of support for such initiatives;

B) A ‘planning discourse support platform’ for the following tasks:
a) development and discussion of proposed initiative templates;
b) discussion and evaluation of proposed initiatives to be supported;
c) the development and discussion of common, ‘global’ agreements;
d) drawing recommendations from the experiences that might lead to promising ideas for the eventual development of larger ‘global’ models.

19 The design of the platform or ‘scaffold’ may be guided by the models currently seen by its designers as the most promising tools. However, it should be presented and operated in the most generally understood terms, avoiding the ‘jargon’ associated with current approaches as much as possible – as well as avoiding the semblance of requirements to adopt any such ‘paradigm’ as a prerequisite for contributions and participation. The currently most general conceptual framework for all application domains is that of questions and answers, action or plan proposals (‘solutions’) to address perceived problems or aims (goals), and the ‘pro and con’ arguments about the plans, leading to common acceptance of decisions to adopt and implement.

20 My past work and interest would suggest my main contribution as aiming at item 18B as a first step.

21 Some example sketches of initiatives that meet the above criteria of ‘innovation zones’ in domains or areas where the initiatives would not have to ‘fight’ existing infrastructure and power networks (drawn from ideas in response to previous discussions):

a) Areas in which natural or man-made disasters have destroyed roads, buildings and other essential infrastructure as well as businesses. Such areas would be prime candidates for a number of technological, energy-generating, agricultural, housing and community design experiments.

b) The opportunities originally conceived as ‘highway right-of-way biomass projects’: gradually replacing the grass cover of highway median and right-of way areas with plants that would be more effective yielding biomass to produce fuel for the maintenance equipment. Extending these projects to include e.g. flowers and other non-food plants that could evolve into revenue-generating projects that in turn might experiment with different business plans while offering employment opportunities. Adding higher hedges and trees at the edges of these areas could help prevent wind erosion of adjacent agricultural areas and improve the microclimate of the area. These projects could utilize the ‘grey water’ of rest areas and other buildings nearby, reducing the detrimental effect of emptying wastewater into rivers or lakes.

c) Efforts to ‘revitalize’ downtown and other areas in cities where ‘monoculture’ land use has destroyed urban vitality and appeal as well as the diversity of services: Establishing ‘cartmart’ markets on vacant lots where aging, no longer economically viable buildings have been destroyed, and residential structures as well as the small businesses have disappeared that made urban streets appealing as well as providing essential services. Such areas, provided with common civic services (e.g. public bathrooms, bus and taxi stops, information booths) can accommodate kiosks or carts offering ‘daytime-specific’ wares and services for limited periods during the day, making room for other carts at other times. These small businesses could be ideal for part-time owners and employees, but if run out of vehicles (vans) might also form small ‘instant markets’ in suburban areas, reducing the need for residents there to drive to the nearest supermarket for small errands. ‘Big box’ stores might be enticed to support such businesses by supplying them with merchandise at cost (in return for a share of advertising space on the kiosks or vans, and for the permits to locate their big box facilities in areas outside downtown). They would also be the ideal outlets for locally grown or produced wares.
The basic idea offers a variety of different opportunities for business models, as well as information for the review and revision of municipal land use regulations – e.g. regulations requiring businesses at sidewalk level to the smaller scale and minimum average visitor frequency. They can easily be introduced as ‘temporary’ and ‘experimental’ until more information about better ways to revitalize such areas is accumulated.

d) There have been various efforts to introduce alternative currencies, in response to a range of conditions such as inflation of the national currency, or lending restrictions by the larger financial institutions. One different ‘currency’ concept is a ‘by-product’ of planning participation projects that involve rewarding participation with ‘civic credit points’ – (weighted by the assessment of their merit by the entire group) which then can be used to ‘qualify’ people for various positions and decision-making roles in the respective community. (Besides aiming at a better linkage of planning decisions to the concerns and arguments of affected parties, offering such incentives would help improving the much lamented ‘voter apathy’ by citizens urged to participate, at their own expense of time and effort but without assurance that their contributions will ‘count’ in a perceptible way). The idea likewise allows for a great range of variations and arrangements that need to be tested by trying them out in selected small scale experiments.

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