2020 Newsletter May

The Opportunity of Crisis: Action to Bounce Beyond

The Covid-19 crisis is laying bare the deep need for broad-based transformation.  It is spotlighting the connections between health, the environment, equity, and the economy, though economic systems change appears central in many peoples’ thinking.  How can the energy of ruptures from this crisis propel the world towards the vision of a flourishing planet that is inclusive, just, and ecologically flourishing? This question was central to a blog by Forum Co-Lead Steve Waddell, and discussions between Forum leader Ioan Fazey and his colleague Jasper Kenter, at York University in the UK.  The discussion broadened to engage others in the Forum in consultations with people leading development of “new economies”.  As a result, two important “radical actions”, to use the Forum’s language, are being advanced. 

Conversations with “new economy” thinkers have highlighted the differences in the context of the current crisis, compared to the context of the 2008 global financial crisis.  In the earlier crisis, little was known about what a different economy would look like. Policy makers and most people quickly referred to 19th century concepts of capitalism, socialism and communism with a clear agenda of restoring the system that existed before the financial crisis.  

Today, however, in the context of what many are labelling a “climate emergency” and growing global inequality, there already were numerous calls for system transformation even before the pandemic suddenly upended both economies and their broader societies. Now there are numerous truly new approaches to rethinking economies, including ecological-, circular-, regenerative-, restoration-, common good-, and doughnut-economics; decroissance / degrowth, wellbeing economy, flourishing, and buen vivir. Further, reference to indigenous wisdom is also common as many Indigenous cultures thrived for millennia without destroying their habitat as modern economic thinking has done with our world.  Collectively these ideas contribute to a substantial and growing body of experience and knowledge about how to create desirable “next” economies.  


In 2008 networks of people working for new economies globally were few and weak.  The burgeoning of new economy approaches, supported by the internet, has produced a rich range of networks today.  These networks include Catalyst2030 with social entrepreneurs, Imperative 21 with business, WellBeing Economy Alliance around new economies broadly, and Common Earth with a regeneration focus. The Planetary Emergency Group, Countdown2030, and the Global Commons Alliance are large efforts started before Covid-19 with a strong environmental orientation.  These initiatives all have distinct roles in the emerging transformations systems for new economies, and collectively represent much greater capacity than was present in the 2008 financial crisis.

The consultations also revealed that there are very weak connection between leading transformations knowledge and the work of different networks. They are still heavily dominated by physical science analysis, fragmentation of core strategies, and have little connection to design and implementation sciences. Importantly, their theories of change depend heavily on policy mechanisms despite that those mechanisms and connections to citizens today are largely dysfunctional.

In 2008 networks of people working for new economies globally were few and weak.  The burgeoning of new economy approaches, supported by the internet, has produced a rich range of networks today.  These networks include Catalyst2030 with social entrepreneurs, Imperative 21 with business, WellBeing Economy Alliance around new economies broadly, and Common Earth with a regeneration focus. The Planetary Emergency Group, Countdown2030, and the Global Commons Alliance are large efforts started before Covid-19 with a strong environmental orientation.  These initiatives all have distinct roles in the emerging transformations systems for new economies, and collectively represent much greater capacity than was present in the 2008 financial crisis.
The consultations also revealed that there are very weak connection between leading transformations knowledge and the work of different networks. They are still heavily dominated by physical science analysis, fragmentation of core strategies, and have little connection to design and implementation sciences. Importantly, their theories of change depend heavily on policy mechanisms despite that those mechanisms and connections to citizens today are largely dysfunctional.

Perhaps most striking is that engagement of people in new economies is still very thin and scattered, with modest resources.  Significant progress is being made in a few places, including developing a circular economy in Slovenia, Amsterdam’s recent adoption of Raworth’s donut economics, and New Zealand’s orientation towards regeneration.  The large and growing number of labels and approaches are important for supporting the variety of new economies approaches that respond to diverse contexts, in contrast to the hegemonic approach of the traditional economy.  For the general public, however, the profusion of labels presents a confusing range of terms often experienced as competitive, without a collective identity to rally around.  Yet for system transformation towards a flourishing future for all, citizens and change makers alike need to rally around common ideas at all levels, particularly at the community level because community action is core to the new economies approaches.

The conversations with leading experts also identified a divide on whether there is sufficient agreement and knowledge about “what to do”.  Some asserted that “we know what to do, and just have to do it!”  Others indicated the knowledge is still thin – for example, what exactly should be done about “money systems” and how should it be done?  Moreover, the “we” is still a very small group of people, despite a common and underlying philosophy that new economies need to engage many people at local levels.

Further, most current new economy efforts are consumed by agendas that were set before the Covid-19 crisis. Thus, there is almost no bandwidth among initiatives to address the broad opportunity that the Covid-19 crisis presents to accelerate real economic and system transformation.  How can this situation be changed?

Two Actions

Two “radical actions” are advancing, with the Forum deeply engaged in both. They are transformation strategies designed to cross the chasm between early adopters of new economy approaches, and the early majority of actors who push new agendas forward.  Jasper Kenter of York University is taking leadership of one of these “radical actions”, the Global Assessment for the New Economy (GANE).  GANE will engage up to 1000 new economy leading thinkers and practitioners over four months to collectively:

  1. Develop a set of core principles and desirable outcomes for new economies.

  2. Rapidly assess and synthesize knowledge with regard to:

    1. how current economic systems and institutions at multiple levels limit the degree to which  the multiple emergencies facing the world can be addressed

    2. what new economy solutions are needed to address these emergencies, including their desirability, feasibility, core principles, and hoped-for outcomes.

  3. Establish enduring partnerships and collaborations among initiatives seeking to advance a new economics.

Under Jasper’s leadership, GANE is taking advantage of a UK Covid-19 funding opportunity with a 10-day turnaround in the hope of launching the effort by mid-May.

The second radical action, currently called Bounce Beyond (to contrast with the idea of “bouncing back”), proposes an 18-month project to coalesce and amplify the transformative efforts of an umbrella group of initiatives like GANE and other networks already working for transformed and flourishing economies (and societies).  The goal is to collectively build the knowledge, experiences, and network connections as the basis for multiple local deliberation-action processes about how socio-economic systems can and should be transformed towards a world of flourishing for all (including other living beings), and at global scale.

Bounce Beyond will create a global infrastructure to connect diverse new economies efforts with shared identity and purposes, while fostering localized actions and initiatives.  Highly decentralized leadership at the local level can bring together citizens and initiatives already working on new economies to advance current efforts and start new ones.  These collective efforts can form into powerful transformations systems for new economies by putting into practice the three steps advocated by the Forum of:

  • “Seeing” (understanding the collective new economies efforts),

  • “Connecting” initiatives supporting flourishing economies to identify high leverage action grounded in the understanding, and

  • Localized, context appropriate “radical action and learning initiatives” where the actions are taken.

This global local (glocal) action strategy of organizing will integrate the huge advances over the decade in action design and take advantage of new virtual capacities developed with Covid-19.  Historic deliberative processes in national settings such as national commissions to solicit broad-based advice, consultations developing the SDGs and the Global Commission on Dams neglected the need to support communities’ action and were slow.  Today’s deliberative capacities provide for much more powerful processes through wide-spread virtual connections, decades of experience with large-scale dialogue and deliberation processes, and the emergence of networks able to support these efforts. The premise of Bounce Beyond is that global processes with broad-based engagement at local levels can gain credibility and effectiveness in bringing about positive system change .

Bounce Beyond is conceived as an emergent “design and build” approach with the goal of spurring wide-spread action. Two core activities – designing actions and building infrastructure (resources, collaboration, skills) – can  occur simultaneously rather than in a conventional step by step process.  This approach is particularly appropriate, as with the opportunity presented by the pandemic, when speed is important, and when an innovation challenge, such as the one we are facing, requires learning from action.

These goals can only be achieved with broad ownership of the effort and outcomes for the new economy networks being approached, which requires further collective engagement to refine the approach, recognizing that quick action is necessary if the Covid-19 energy is to be successfully tapped.

Transformations Systems Analysis Working Group Launch

Being able to “see” complex, multi-scale transformations systems is critical for developing powerful of the systems.  Describing systems that need transformation and their evolving dynamics in easily conveyed ways is required to identify high leverage actions that will produce powerful transformations systems.  Doing so requires bringing together leading mapping, large data analysis, and visualization (MDV) expertise.  With the leadership of Glenn Page, in association with Per Olsson and Steve Waddell, a Transforming System Analysis Working Group (TSA-WG) “launched” on Earth Day, April 22.  

The WG aims to develop the field of TSA.  Currently, expertise is applied to transformation in episodic and fragmented ways.  The scale and complexity of transformation requires accessing, broadening capacity and further developing MDV approaches for the distinctive needs of transformation.  For mapping alone, there are many relevant methodologies including social network analysis, system dynamics, value network analysis, topic maps, sense-maker mapping, and strategic clarity mapping. 

Core Transformations Concepts: Pathways, crossing the chasm and niches

Two very useful approaches—now included as Core Ideas for the Forum—describe how major transformations occur: one describes the journey of an innovation or transformation from innovators to laggards, and another from niche to new regimes.    

Crossing the Chasm

The roots of the innovator-laggard approach are associated with the innovation adoption and diffusion curve.  Everett Rogers presented the idea in a book in 1962, from looking at cultural change and adoption of new ideas. Geoffrey Moore supplemented this idea from a marketing perspective, with a 1991 book addressing discontinuous and disruptive innovation in particular.  Discontinuous or disruptive innovation is what is associated with transformation, since it changes its operating environment rather than just fits into it.  

Moore realized  that the structures, strategies and behaviors that make innovators and early adopters successful, are actually barriers to gaining support of the early majority.  The former are visionaries, often charismatic, driven by passion, and usually idiosyncratic.  They adopt innovation with a personal decision making approach. The early majority, in stark contrast, are pragmatists.  They are willing to be market leaders – support the innovation before widespread adoption – but they must have a clearly spelled out rationale and pathways. They look for the relevant safety and low risk of a proven innovation with everything surrounding it to fix something that for them is a broken mission critical process.  The innovation has to come from a, preferably the, leader in the whole category of the innovation. For example, in the energy transition category these are people who act after technologies are proven and there is clear policy support to spread the innovations.  See a 13 minute video about the chasm. different strategies for gaining adoption of transformative efforts at different points in this life cycle.

Transitions through Niches and Regimes

Another approach comes from a socio-technical systems perspective developed since the beginning of this millennium.  It is associated with technological diffusion and transitions.  This perspective describes innovations and pilots as creating “niches” in the dominant system that must be protected – think of early solar panel development – because they cannot survive in the traditional operating environment.  The core questions in this tradition are about how to move from this status, to where the innovation becomes dominant and the traditional technologies fade out.  This transition is referred to as the process of creating a new socio-technical “regime”.  New regimes are accompanied by various supportive activities, such as new policy environments, physical infrastructures and markets.

Accompanying each of these approaches is much more detail about how to develop transformation.  Although they are usually applied to technological innovations, Rogers’ original focus on cultural innovation and adoption of new ideas indicates they hold value for understanding transformation processes in general.  

While there are clear lessons and guidelines that emerge from these traditions, the exact nature of what is being transformed and the context of the transformation mean there are no detailed recipes; each process is emergent and unique.  This insight has given rise to speaking of “pathways” to transformation, and an emphasis on the need to work with a range of approaches.

While exploring interest in TSA, Page identified networks in addition to the Forum that are actively exploring MDV expertise.  These networks include the Regenerative Communities Network, Blue Marble Evaluation and the International Geodesign Collaboration to name a few.  The vision and plans for the WG emerged through four scoping sessions with over 50 participants.  They included people with MDV expertise, users of the expertise, and others wanting to gain expertise in transformation work.  All are united by the vision of developing the TSA field.

A survey of participants and interested others is underway, to help scope and refine the agenda and priorities for the WG.  Scoping includes creating toolkits, developing exemplary projects that integrate various MDV methodologies, further software development, cataloguing of resources and global data bases, collective funding strategies for advancing the TSA field, and growing the number of participants and MDV approaches included.

The WG is developing as a collaboration of its participating individuals and networks, including the Forum.

If you have interest, you should contact Glenn Page at gpage@sustainametrix.com

Transforming Evaluations Steward Team Report

Encouraging alignment in the global evaluation community

The Transforming Evaluations Steward Team, led by Zenda Ofir and supported by Louise Gallagher, Glenn Page and Michael Patton of Blue Marble Evaluation, recently hosted two meetings with 54 selected leading (primarily) evaluation professionals from around the world. Participants came from different sectors and included the global networks the International Organisation for Cooperation in Evaluation (IOCE), the International Development Evaluation Association (IDEAS) and EvalPartners, with component networks such as EvalIndigenous, EvalYouth and EvalSDGs and the African and Asia-Pacific Evaluation Associations, among others. The purpose was to inspire influential actors and specialists in the global evaluation architecture to determine how they can better align to help accelerate large systems change and transformation in support of sustainable development. Discussions were rich and considered timely, and a number of participants pledged further action.

Geneva Transformations Evaluations Hub Forming

One of the emerging actions is a Transforming Evaluations Hub or ‘Accelerator Lab’ under development in Geneva, Switzerland, initiated by Transforming Evaluations Co-Lead Stewards Zenda Ofir and Louise Gallagher in cooperation with several others. Using Blue Marble Evaluation principles, it aims to work with early adopters among the international organisations and networks based in Geneva in order to strengthen complexity-informed evaluative practice that can support large systems change and transformation. It has four interdependent priorities:

  • connecting influential actors and change-makers across disciplines, sectors and other boundaries
  • conducting and facilitating interactive sharing of rapid reviews and syntheses of the state-of-the-art theory and practice
  • inspiring experimentation that can advance practice in this field, and
  • infusing relevant concepts and practices into evaluation criteria, standards, guidelines, competency frameworks, terms of reference and curricula.

For more information contact Louise Gallagher at louise.gallagher@unige.ch or Zenda Ofir at zenda@zendaofir.com.



Co-Lead Steward for Transforming Evaluation

Louise Gallagher is joining the leadership of the Transforming Evaluation Steward Team as Co-Lead Steward, with Zenda Ofir.  

Louise is a researcher associated with the UNESCO Chair on Hydropolitics at UNIGE since July 2017. She holds a PhD in Environmental Studies from University College Dublin and has broad science-policy experience gained over ten years of working with a variety of organisations in Europe and Southeast Asia. She currently leads a transdisciplinary research project on indicators and the food-energy-water nexus in partnership with Luc Hoffmann Institute, WWF (World Wide Fund for nature), University of Bergen, University of Maryland, University of Montana, KnowlEdge Srl and the NOMIS Foundation.

Transforming Narratives Steward Team Report

The Team is deeply involved in development of Bounce Beyond and GANE (see earlier story: The Opportunity of Crisis).  In addition, Lead Steward Chris Riedy reports:  

  • We had a great meeting the end of March on the concept of ‘Strong Attractors’, led by network member Simon Divecha. Strong Attractors are the narrative elements that keep drawing us in, for good or ill – whether its aspects of neoliberalism or metamodern ideas of human development. Another call was held for Europe time zones soon and all the materials are in the Transforming Narratives Slack channel, which all are welcome to join. 
  • Chris Riedy is finishing off two papers that lay a bit more theoretical foundation for our work on transforming narratives – one on storytelling as a transformative practice (which also tries to clarify what is meant by story, narrative, meme and discourse and how they relate to each other), and one on common ground emerging across alternative narratives to neoliberal capitalism. I’ll share those when I can.
  • Sandra Waddock and Chris Riedy are working on the analysis of the survey we ran last year on ‘New Stories for a Sustainable Future’. This project is also about finding the core memes for new narratives and they will share outputs in due course. 
  • Sandra Waddock has recently published two papers related to transformation and, implicitly, narrative:
  • Sandra has also been working closely with an emerging group from WEAll—the WEAll USA narrative working group. 
  • All of the above are essentially about finding the new narrative elements we want to promote and test, so they will also be things we want to think about for incorporating into the Forum’s narrative in due course, possibly through the video development. Some emerging keywords: systems; networks; regenerative; planetcentric; interbeing; entanglement; wellbeing; social justice; plurality; participatory; post-growth; transdisciplinary; transmodern.
  • As most of you probably know, SRI2020 has been postponed to next year, so our plans for several narrative sessions at that event are on hold but will be reactivated next year.

Transforming Finance Steward Team Report

Lead Steward Steve Waddell has been working closely with the Finance Working Group of Catalyst2030 to advance a shared priority to develop a Transforming Financers Network for Systems Change.  This has included participation in the Skoll Virtual World Forum the end of March, with a session titled “Infrastructure for Financing Systems Change”.  It featured four examples of such infrastructure:

  1. Transforming Financers Network for Systems Change – A Transforming Investment Network: Steve Waddell presented proposal is to bring together financiers (philanthropists, science funders, impact investors, government agencies and others) who are interested in transformation and systems change.  This would require first mapping and identifying individuals and organizations, convening them to discuss the special nature of finance with respect to systems change, identify priorities for advancing it, and creating a network to address the priorities.
  2. A Stock Market for Systems Change – A Transforming Investment Institution:  Tomas Carruthers shared developments he’s leading to found new stock market under the name of Project Heather. It  will be opening later this year, with the specific goal of supporting the type of finance required to spur systems change.  Addressing the risk, modest scale and other distinct qualities associated with systems change initiatives through a stock market can greatly increase the flow of capital.

3.  System Change Investing (SCI) - What fund(s) will emerge from crisis? Transforming Financing Councillor Steven Lovink and author for Imagining Philanthropy for Life - A whole system strategy to transform finance and grow true wealth offered perspectives on the need to invest in the future of life at the bottom of our individual and collective valley of death or opportunity. A window has opened to transform finance and business models in ways that harmonize people and planet in reciprocal ways. Critical will be to breath a new ethos or source code for life into human enterprise aiming to drastically enhancing the quality, quantity and design of our philanthropy, profits, and investments. A portfolio of breakthrough initiatives demonstrating the multiple benefits of whole system entrepreneurship and finance will be a cornerstone for building the necessary infrastructure of the finance system. Plans for launching such a whole system enterprise fund are under way.

4.   Prevention Derivatives – A Transforming Investment Product:  Systems change entrepreneur Bobby Fishkin of Reframe it & CrowdDoing.world and the Forum presented a product to help move the insurance industry from payment for losses, to risk reduction.  With a particular focus on the example of massive losses from California wildfires, this approach would shift investment to prevention of such fires.  Developing the product brings together new stakeholders: (a)  contingent payers (stakeholders including individuals and institutions who have their health or property is at risk) who pay  in proportion  to the reduction in risk, and (b) impact investors who finance social innovations in which their return is similarly proportional to the reduction in risk.

You can see a recording of the webinar here.  

Transforming Capacity Steward Team Report

See the Steward Team’s webpage.

Activities over the last three months include:

  • The Learning Transformations Collective that emerged from last March’s action research + transformation meeting in Gothenburg merged with the Steward Team in January.  It was through mutual agreement with those who had overseen that wonderful community. We have since hosted several meetings since coming together in February 2020 under this new merged communal structure and are gradually reimagining our collective identity and purpose as the T-Capacity Steward Team.

  • Core themes and concerns have come forth in recent T-Capacity ST meetings that have led Coleen and Julianna to reflect on how to best move from exploring what could / should be to catalyzing radical action and learning aimed at transformative capacity building and leadership development (a specific type of capacity). From this has emerged a new proposal (initial drafts underway) for launching a T-Capacity action initiative aimed at addressing a key gap of clear and emerging pathways for meaningful youth engagement and leadership opportunities combined with more holistic approaches to intergenerational transformative learning and mentorship.   

  • The T-Capacity leaders are also proposing to develop 2 core streams of practicing transformative capacity building: ‘outward work’ (applying transformative capacity in learning and action initiatives with external / communal partners); and ‘inward work’ (nurturing inner/personal transformation development). These streams will be reflected in how we design future meetings, learning and engaged action opportunities and how we seek to serve the internal SDG TF community and external partnering communities in activating their/our full potential as transformation agents.

    • An upcoming early action effort falling into the second stream of ‘inward work’ is a specially designed Healing Circle being offered by the T-Capacity ST in partnership with “We Heal for All” (led by Liz Moyer).This interactive and restorative event is open to the entire SDG TF community and will take place on May 14, 2020 at 10:30am MST/Pacific (1:30pm EDT, 6:30pm BST, 7:30pm SAST). For more details, check out here and look for the special invite from Julianna Gwiszcz.

  • The T-Capacity ST has also been exploring with the T-Evaluations ST ways to support its efforts in developing a Geneva Evaluations Hub. Julianna has been working with Zenda Offir, Glenn Paige, Michael Quinn Patton and their broader evaluations team to identify some early capacity building needs/aspirations for this evaluations hub and wider evaluations network. Talks are in early stages but once those have been more clearly defined a more expansive effort will be undertaken with the full T-Capacity ST on how best to move forward in this collaboration.

Finally, one of our core ST members, Anthony Hodgson, has shared an announcement about an exciting new course he will be leading virtually through H3Uni called “Facilitating Transformational Journeys”.  (Stay tuned for later announcements with further details and an invitation to the wider SDG TF community to indicate interest in participating in future Fall cohorts (inaugural summer cohort is already full unfortunately).

New Transforming Capacity Lead Steward

Julianna Gwiszcz stepped into the role of Lead Steward of the Transforming Capacity Steward Team in the beginning of the year.  She takes the place of Hilary Bradbury, whose tenure was highlighted by a Forum-Action Research Plus meeting in March 2019 in Gothenburg, Sweden, which brought together action researchers working on transformation.  Coleen Vogel continues as Team Councillor. 

Gwiszcz is at Arizona’s Global Institute of Sustainability, as Senior Sustainability Scientist.  She has dedicated her career and lifelong learning in service of social and ecological justice. Adopting an applied anthropological approach, her research and practice focuses on local and global capacity building mechanisms for sustainability/sustainable development aimed at addressing socioecological justice, global environmental change, and human rights concerns. She is especially interested in how youth and diverse communities around the world are engaged in (or excluded from) processes of sustainable development, and how best to foster a global community of change agents to serve as facilitators of transformation pathways to sustainability.