… from little acorns grow

September 11, 2019

Alfred kenneally FE0 9ttSAOc unsplashLast week I was in Nairobi as the keynote at a panel discussion on Behavioural Insights for Environment Impact for  UNEP sandwiched between two pretty hellish flights.  Jules was also on the panel and had done the work to set the event up.  She and I  also ran a session in the afternoon using Future Backwards for a packed room of UNEP staff and their network.  My role at the main event was to provide an overview of complexity theory and its application to climate change.  Given the title I started by making the general point that there were dangers in nudging if the system isn’t ready to be nudged; something I have addressed before and similar concerns can be found in the book Neuroliberalism which, while positive about the use of behavioural change, suggests that there is a danger of subordinating the cognitive sciences to the needs of neoliberal ideology. The whole thing was filmed and when I have the link I will post it here if permitted.

Probably the big theme of my presentation is the danger of paralysing people with the growing horror stories around climate change and its likely consequences.  This is not to underestimate the seriousness of the multiple and intractable problems we have made for ourselves as a species.  As I said at the end of my speech: I used to worry for my grandchildren, then I worried for my children, now I also worry for myself.   As I have argued in various contexts over the years for people to care about something, and critically to feel they have agency, that they can do something about the problem; then they need to be able to do something within their own compass of control, within their own perception of timeliness which makes a difference.  With agency comes power and through small actions the overall attitudes and willingness to permit the sacrifices that are being rightly called for by scientists and agencies.

Of course, this also fits in with one of the key aspects of a complex system, namely the fact that very small changes, if in the right context at the right time, can magnify to have a major effect on the system as a whole.  Now as readers will know we have already done some experiments with SenseMaker® to understand attitudes to plastic waste at festivals.  A part of that programme was also to see if people taking control of something proximate to their day to day lives would change attitudes as a whole and it looks like it did.

More on this over the coming days and weeks and we will be looking for funding to expand this whole area of work – contacts are appreciated!

So given that experience, we are now launching a major Cynefin Centre programme to capture people’s experiences and stories of what we can all do at a local level to have some impact on climate change.  It’s probably easier to summarise this in bullet points:

  1. Critically this is an open-source database – anyone can contribute and we will be creating online dashboards to allow anyone to access the data and use it.
  2. We will be asking members of the Cynefin Centre network to volunteer to help train campaigning groups and organisations to go deeper into the data and making those names available in a month or so’s time
  3. It is in English, but if anyone wants to volunteer to translate into other languages we are happy to engage – just get in touch
  4. It is all about capturing actions that make a difference – part of the design is then to find out what other people are doing, this is designed to be an asset for everyone who wants to make a difference and we will be developing more reports and access methods – if any of my Agile friends out there want to volunteer their services again get in touch, we will probably organise some hackathons later in the year when the volumes are high enough
  5. This is the first of a series of initiatives on climate change and we want to work with other organisations and bodies
  6. There are no charges to enter data or to access it through the dashboards
  7. Those licensed to use SenseMaker® analyst will be authorised to download the data to that tool
  8. iPad Explorer (in the app store but not android I’m afraid) will also be available to view the data
  9. As this builds we will start to create conclusions and questions summaries for use with MassSense to use the power of many in the generation of scenarios and possible solutions and actions that can be taken.

A separate system will capture your email if you want to be on the mailing list for updates and I will also announce things here and on social media.

A special invitation to any organisation working in the field

We can set up your own unique URL which will point your members to the site.  Their material will be in the open source data, but you will also be able to access the entries from your members as a separate database.  If you are interested in this get in touch.  Any commercial company willing to poll its workforce to gain entries is also welcome although there we will probably apply a small fee.

banner picture is of the Pastoruri Glacier in Peru by Willian Justen de Vasconcellos, in text picture of plant burning by Alfred Kenneally; both on Unsplash

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About the Cynefin Company

The Cynefin Company (formerly known as Cognitive Edge) was founded in 2005 by Dave Snowden. We believe in praxis and focus on building methods, tools and capability that apply the wisdom from Complex Adaptive Systems theory and other scientific disciplines in social systems. We are the world leader in developing management approaches (in society, government and industry) that empower organisations to absorb uncertainty, detect weak signals to enable sense-making in complex systems, act on the rich data, create resilience and, ultimately, thrive in a complex world.

Cognitive Edge Ltd. & Cognitive Edge Pte. trading as The Cynefin Company and The Cynefin Centre.


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