Sunday, January 29, 2012

Hedonistic Sustainability

Bjarke Ingels' architecture is luxurious, sustainable and community driven. At TEDxEast he shows his playful designs, from a factory chimney that blows smoke rings to a ski slope built atop a waste processing plant.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Change Challenge

Most people find change difficult. It tends to make people feel anxious, criticised and insecure. There are many ways to protect oneself individually from uncomfortable feelings, but the strongest protections - and the hardest to challenge - are often culturally sanctioned or embedded in social systems and structures of organisations.

The first entry, on each paragraph of the list below, is from a 1980's Local Government Training Board about the management of change. The list captures the way people at the time would use the rigid bureaucracy and formal roles of local government to convince themselves and others that change was impossible. 

The same process – with different villains – can be observed amongst modern corporations. This time it’s the workings of the market, the IT department or the mercurial customer that are invoked. Such statements are usually the tip of an iceberg, the overt form of a much more deep-seated resistance to what is being asked. The second listing of each paragraph represents the updating of the 1980's list, to now represent the standard objections to action on climate change by business: 

1. Our work is different 
1. It’s not competitive

2. Our work is no different to anyone else’s 
2. It won’t be profitable

3. It won’t work for a large Department 
3. It will inhibit innovation

4. It won’t work for a small Department 
4. There isn’t a market

5. We’ve been doing it that way for 25/15/10/5 years 
5. The public aren’t interested

6. We’ve never done it before 
6. The board/workforce/customers won’t like it

7. We tried it once before 
7. My line manager will say no

8. Another Department tried it once before 
8. The IT department won’t like it

9. No one’s ever tried it before 
9. Health and Safety will object

10. Nothing new about. We’ve been doing it all the time 
10. We can’t afford it

11. It’s only a passing fashion 
11. We can’t add unnecessary costs

12. It’s too difficult/complex 
12. We haven’t got time for it

13. It all sounds too easy/simple 
13. It will reduce efficiency

14. Why change it when it’s ticking over nicely, thank you very much 
14. Staff already have too much to do

15. We know more about this than anyone 
15. We do all that anyway 

16. It’s so completely new to us 
16. We already say we’re doing it

17. I’ve heard it all before 
17. We tried that in the 80's/90's/last year

18. This is the only way to do it 
18. It’s so last century

19. It can’t be done 
19. It isn’t sexy

20. You could spend all your time thinking up newfangled ideas 
20. It’s not our image

21. The boss/committee won’t like/accept it 
21. It’s a passing fashion

22. The staff won’t like/accept it 
22. That’s the job of the ‘Green Champions’

23. The clients won’t like it 
23. CSR takes care of that

24. Treasurers/Clerks/Personnel won’t like it 
24. That’s the job of Government.

25. The committee won’t like it 
25. It’s not compulsory

26. It’s not in my interests to change it 
26. We’ll wait till we’re forced to

27. The rules won’t allow it, it’s against standing orders 
27. It will lead to unnecessary regulation

28. I don’t believe in it (because I should feel wretched if I did) 
28. It will drive jobs overseas

29. I believe in it in principle, but... 
29. It’s too hard for our sector

30. We got into a mess last time we tried to change it 
30. It’s not relevant to our sector

31. It’s policy 
31. It’s not viable for a small company

32. It’s a statutory requirement 
32. It’s not viable for a big company

33. This is not the time/the place 
33. We’re too small to make a difference

34. We haven’t got the staff for this at present 
34. We’ll do it when everyone else is

35. We haven’t got the money for this at present 
35. We’ll have to exempt the board/sales department/travel budget/ procurement /conferences

Today, business culture is quite different, of course, but the process is the same. Where 1980's local government employees fell back on the idea of an inevitable and unchanging bureaucracy; modern private sector employees invoke the structures of the market, the attitudes of the customer or the arcane practices of the IT department to explain why - although they might like to - they will not be taking action.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Public Wisdom

Our existing form of republican democracy is clearly unable to deal with 21st century challenges. We need more wisdom in our public policies, our public budgets and our public conversations - and we need it soon. It is both vital and possible to generate authentic collective wisdom through the conversations of ordinary citizens.

'Public wisdom' results when the public - as a whole or in randomly selected 'mini-publics' - engages in learning about, reflecting on and discussing public affairs in ways that take into account what needs to be taken into account to decide what will produce long term, inclusive benefits.

We are more able than ever to subscribe to such a randomly selected mini-public - and its various forms of temporary, well-informed 'citizen deliberative councils'. We are aware of the hundreds of these councils that have been held around the world and how they have been used. They tell us about new forms of councils that could be developed and new ways they could be used - including organizing them at grassroots levels and through using the Internet.

These councils provide a way to readily and affordably generate a legitimate, authentic, coherent and wise voice of 'we, the people' - a voice for the general welfare that is not currently present in our political discourse. It moves us beyond partisanship to a place of collective responsibility for our shared destiny. It reclaims the idea of 'we, the people' as a coherent political force that integrates the diversity of the whole citizenry, rather than a catchphrase used by one more special-interest group that attempts to speak for the people; but doesn't really embrace our full range of perspectives and needs.

It comes down to: (a) the role of power - especially how to balance power in a democracy and move from 'power-over' to 'power-with'; (b) the need to rein in corporate and financial domination of elections and government; (c) the strengths and limitations of both representative and direct democracy; (d) the polarization of our current political life and strategies to creatively move beyond it without dishonorable compromises and deals; (e) dozens of high quality conversational processes for mass public participation; and (f) how the power of public wisdom might actually be institutionalized in our governments.

This is a radically new way to think about democracy. It embraces diversity, engages participation and addresses conflicts and ignorance in profoundly different ways than we are used to hearing socially, on talk shows, in public hearings and within the halls of government. This is not a kind of direct democracy, where everyone votes on everything. Its bottom line is not just participation or winning, but collective wisdom.

Without deliberation we don't get public wisdom. The popular 'wisdom of crowds' idea - that the aggregated responses of many independent people generates better answers than any one of them, or even experts - is sometimes useful for crowd-sourced estimates and predictions. But, it does not generate true wisdom. That takes deliberative conversation among diverse people.

During deliberation when anyone complains about something the obvious questions are: "What do you think should be done about that?" or "If you were in charge, what would you do about it?" - always channeling participants' thinking towards solving the problem without privileging any particular solution. If someone starts to argue or invalidating another statement, the next question becomes: "What's your concern?" - translating conflict into concerns composts antagonism into creativity.

This approach engenders a quality of conversation Jim Rough calls choice-creating. Although Rough doesn't consider choice-creating to be deliberation, it provides a far more dynamic way than institutionalized forms of deliberation. This process is deeply creative and non-linear, following the group's energy rather than any pre-determined course or agenda - and it is extremely powerful.

Underlying all these details about citizen deliberative councils is a larger purpose: to bring about the urgently needed next step in the evolution of democracy itself. It is desirable and likely that regular use of citizens deliberative councils can help transform 'We the People' from a patriotic myth to a highly conscious and intelligently coherent political force. It can help bring real vitality to this ultimate democratic authority - the people - that remains fragmented, entranced and unable to act clearly and consistently on its own behalf.