For the Patterns in Societal Change category

Addressing Climate Change Denial

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Denial of Climate Change and its Effects images-1

Sometimes we humans look as though we are running over a cliff to our downfall by denying or ignoring the destruction we inflict on our habitat, the biosphere and its ecosystems: causing climate change by greenhouse gas emissions, exhausting natural resources, converting almost all wild habitats for our use and polluting air, water and soil through waste and chemicals.

There is now seen to be a risk that the average global temperature will rise by 4 0 C   during this century. Any average global temperature increase above 4 0 C is hard to adapt to. For example it would make life difficult if not impossible in much of the tropics, and eventually lead to the melting of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets and the rising of seal levels by many metres. To find anything comparable we have to go back to the Pliocene – last epoch of the Tertiary period, 3m years ago. There were no continental glaciers in the northern hemisphere (trees grew in the Arctic), and sea levels were 25 metres higher than today’s. In this kind of heat, the death of the Amazon is as inevitable as the melting of Greenland.

We are already beginning to experience extreme weather more often, resulting in drought or floods, loss of  crops and human life, and destruction of the living environment.   We do not know how much it will accelerate as one effect of it leads to another (such as ocean acidification meaning less CO2 absorbed by the ocean).

A three-degree increase in global temperature – possible as early as 2050 – would throw the carbon cycle into reverse. Instead of absorbing carbon dioxide, vegetation and soils start to release it. So much carbon pours into the atmosphere that it would pump up atmospheric concentrations by 250 parts per million by 2100, boosting global warming by another 1.5C.   There could be runaway change (See David Wasdell’s video interviews on this site  and his own papers). The chances of avoiding four degrees of global warming are poor if the rise reaches three degrees and triggers a runaway thaw of permafrost. The chances of avoiding five degrees of global warming are negligible if a rise of four degrees releases trapped methane from the sea bed.

We could then repeat some of the crises in the past that took 1m years to recover from, but this time with it man-made. When temperatures were between 4 and 5 degrees higher 55m years ago, following a very sudden burst of global warming in the early Eocene, alligators and other subtropical species were living high in the Arctic.  With 5 degree increase it can mean large-scale extinction of plant and animal species and the loss of millions of human lives, like 65m years ago with the extinction of the dinosaurs. It could then rise higher as at the end of the Permian, 251m years ago, when global temperatures rose by six degrees, and 95% of species were wiped out. For the effects of temperature increases by degree see an overview online.

This can all be avoided if we act now both to reduce carbon emissions and take carbon out of the air (which we can now) and store it safely, geologically or biologically, copying natural processes, or by drilling deep underground (See for example artificial trees and also in the journal Scientific American)  More research funding is needed for this. Clean BioChar or biological charcoal that does not reduce the oxygen in the air and does not put the carbon back over time could be part of the solution but research is essential to ensure safety with this and other solutions. See the Permaculture network’s warning on BioChar.

Part of the failure to take these risks on board and address them fully is denial, and defence against feelings of anxiety or despair and powerlessness.

Part of it is due to the limitations of our unchecked cognition as it has evolved so far.

Mixed together this is a powerful cocktail.

For an overview see the New Scientist 18 August 2014 article by George Marshall “Hear no climate evil”.

George Marshall is the author of Don’t Even Think About It: Why our brains are wired to ignore climate change, which was published by Bloomsbury between August and October 2014 in 3 countries. He is the founder of the Climate Outreach and Information Network in Oxford, UK

Defence against anxiety and powerlessness

The overwhelming and seemingly hopeless struggle portrayed by the media and many campaigners provokes feelings of anxiety and powerlessness.

Our response to climate change is uncannily similar to an even more universal disavowal: unwillingness to face our own mortality, says neuroscientist Janis Dickinson of Cornell University. She argues that aggressive assertion of group identities, political polarisation, and angry denial found around climate change is consistent with “Terror Management Theory” (TMT) which is used to explain behaviour in the face of reminders of mortality. See J. L. Dickinson (2009) The People Paradox: Self-Esteem Striving, Immortality Ideologies, and Human Response to Climate Change in Ecology and Society, Vol 14 (1). Online

And more recently her paper on How Framing Climate Change Influences Citizen Scientists’ Intentions to Do Something About It published online by Taylor and Francis

This shows how mentioning dangers for humans did not increase participants’ interest in taking personal action on climate change, but mentioning dangers for birds was highly effective! Others, such as psychoanalytic psychotherapist, Rosemary Randall on the Question Time on Climate Change event organised by the RSA in London describe typical defences too. See the video of this discussion

Limitations through Unchecked Cognition and Cultural Biases

The Noble prize winner in (behavioural) economics, the psychologist Daniel Kahnemann, has studied human cognition and behavior in the market place. Kahneman won the 2002 Nobel prize in economics for his research on the psychological biases that distort decision-making, in the market place and elsewhere. One of these is “loss aversion”, which means that people are far more sensitive to losses than gains. One form of this is ignoring the compound interest on debt and credit card loans the increase of which was part of the recent debt crisis. This is hard enough to do mathematically. Take J. Zinman’s powerful analogy for compound interest using a chessboard of a $1 of interest per square that doubles until the 64th. Try estimating it. It is by then $9000 quadrillion.

Kahnemann regards climate change as a perfect example as it seems like a distant problem that requires sacrifices now to avoid uncertain losses far in the future. So some argue that we have to experience, see and feel the effects in the present to act, have an emotional shock and feel the hurt, if you like – but that might be too late and result in panic.

Many of us have no spare time, energy, money or attention to address it with others either – immediate survival or earning enough to support our families occupy us.

Nicholas Stern, author of the influential Stern Review on the economics of climate change, describes it as the “perfect market failure”. As Marshall points out, discussions about economics invariably turn into self defeating cost-benefit analyses:

Stern offers a choice between spending 1 per cent of annual income now, or risking losing 20 per cent of it in 50 years’ time. This language is almost identical to that Kahneman used two decades earlier in his experiments on loss aversion. Is it surprising that when a choice is framed like this, policy-makers are intuitively drawn towards postponing action and taking a gamble on the future?

Another of Kahneman’s biases is an “assimilation bias” that bends information to fit people’s existing values and prejudices. If cost/loss and uncertainty around climate change really are universal psychological barriers, it is hard to explain why 15 per cent of people fully accept the threat and are willing to make personal sacrifices to avert it. Most of the people in this group are left wing or environmentalists and have managed to turn climate change into a narrative that fits with their existing criticisms of industry and growth.

Uncertainty and ambiguity leave room for people to choose to believe what they want. Scientists reinforce distance with computer predictions set two generations in the future and endless talk of uncertainty. One of the latest reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change uses the word “uncertain” more than once per page. The “uncertainty principle” in the original global climate change conference statements for assessing and guarding against risk  does not counteract this. Climate change is complex, there is a lot of difference in the effects in different countries or locations, and the models currently cannot predict accurately all the time, leaving room for the doubters to point out where there are contradictions. Scientists need to have amongst them specialists in communication who can provide the information on what is known and agreed on, and what the effects and risks are, while being clear on what is uncertain, especially in the details; constructive scepticism and disagreement is necessary for good science but it does not have to lead to inaction.

The media in the UK like to promote debate – but this can be without regard to how much the key participants on each side have valid knowledge and information. This makes it all the more uncertain. Up till recently such debates have not been between climate scientists with a similar knowledge base – though now 97% of them agree on the serious fast increase in greenhouse gases and the human contribution.

Conservatives may justify climate inaction on the grounds of cost and uncertainty but they, too, are able to accept both as long as they speak to their core values. As former US vice-president and climate sceptic Dick Cheney said: “If there is only a 1 per cent chance of terrorists getting weapons of mass destruction, we must act as if it is a certainty.”

Strongly held values can explain the convictions of those at the ends of the political spectrum, but they do not adequately explain the apparent indifference of the large majority in between. If asked, most agree that climate change is a serious threat, but without prompting they do not volunteer it. This indifference is another form of denial, with which we started.

The law of unintended consequences and Lock-in

This is another example of the limits of unchecked cognition. Robert Merton, the creator of many key concepts in sociology in the last century, first named this and identified five factors involved: ignorance (including info not available), error, immediate interest or gain overriding any long term damage, basic values and self-defeating prophecy.

Merton, Robert K. (Dec 1936). “The Unanticipated Consequences of Purposive Social Action”. American Sociological Review 1 (6): 894–904. See online

What is called “lock-in” – habits, routines, social norms and cultural values, unquestioned assumptions, and of course locked-in longer term investments (as in energy infrastructure or the extraction of coal, oil or natural gas) – are all part of this. This can put the response time globally into 3 or 4 decades, even if we act as fast as we can now.

Ways Forward

The problem itself is far from being what Stephen Gardiner of the University of Washington in Seattle calls a “perfect moral storm” or market failure, and the situation is not hopeless; but dealing with it will require a more sophisticated analysis of human cognition and the role of socially shared values in building conviction, and a mutually reinforcing multi-pathway approach going in the same direction to make the necessary transition.

Take the presentation of information to raise awareness. Facts can be produced on waste and pollution such as the production of each laptop generating waste that is 4000 times its weight, see Hawken, R. and others Natural Capitalism (1999). But this may not have an emotional impact or leave a lasting memory.

Sometimes visual presentations have more impact. A video was produced to show the accumulated impact of used car waste. Carbon Visuals: Animating the world’s cars

This has to be done alongside practical examples of how people are tackling the problem.

To see how the sun-earth system together with the biosphere determine our climate is very complex, possibly beyond our modelling capacities. This requires scientists working together. Historical studies going back millions of years need to be combined with mathematical modelling based on more recent data (see again David Wasdell). But as James Lovelock said recently we cannot afford to spend too much time on the details of climate modelling. He points out that “all the modelling we do shows that the climate is poised on the jump up to a new hot state. It is accelerating so fast you could say we are already in it.” He says we need to focus on learning more about climate change so to be able to adapt to it better. We cannot afford to “fiddle while Rome is burning” as he put it. He points out that global warming has hardly been mentioned in the UK election campaign in April 2015.

There is a growing awareness that we need to focus equally on reducing carbon emissions and on taking carbon out of the air by mimicking nature, geo-engineering that is very low risk, as mentioned above (6th paragraph). This is beginning to be addressed in the recent reports from the IPCC.

Again as with leaders in other systems, people’s assumptions, agendas, reputations, research grants and the years they have invested in research or models can be at stake. Trust, and real collaboration in the service of something bigger than any individual, alongside the commitment to the principles of good scientific method and truth, is needed for this to happen.

One way of counteracting the inability to see or comprehend and feel the accumulated impact of a number of small actions at a collective level is shown by the work of Peter Senge and colleagues. They point out the need for – and give examples of – systems leaders who bring people together who represent different parts of a system within society. They then use tools and skills to help them break down the barriers to trust, real dialogue and reflection between them so that they can see and make sense of the system and its interacting parts together. They can then work together on generating a future vision, creating solutions, trying them out in practice and learning by doing. Others can then follow. For methods and examples see their paper. They give examples of projects in cities bringing together the public and private sectors with community-based organisations, and multinational companies designing more sustainable products, production processes and product life cycles involving their supply chains throughout the world.

We need a critical mass of leaders who have the capacities for this. Senge and others identify some of these capacities, such as to:

(1) See and map the larger system with others sharing the same question, with the humility, based on an awareness of their own limitations, to go beyond their own vantage point or areas of knowledge or interest.

(2) Foster reflection and more generative conversation to:

Open minds to surface assumptions and see that the problems may be in and between each of us in the system, as well as “out there”,

Open hearts to listen,

Open the will to let go of pre-set goals and agendas,

and so build relationships in the process.

(3) Shift the conversation from reactive problem solving to co-creating the future by sharing aspirations and building a common vision, then trying things out and learning in a safe way, building confidence by joint accomplishments and working through tensions and frustrations on the way.

This can lead to a mature understanding of the situation and of the conditions for positive social change and innovation

At the same time “massive small change” at the local, national and international level is a key driver of change as ideas can be tested and examples and role models created for others to follow, while empowering groups and networks. At the international level this can be a small enterprise of young engineers creating affordable and easy to use technical solutions to problems in the less developed economies where there is lack of access to electricity, poor irrigation or drought, crops failing, etc. (The massive small change and engineers without borders network organises occasional conferences that support this). Or local community groups and enterprises around the world, in rich and poor economies, creating more sustainable ways of living that are  attractive and at the same time fit the needs and realities of the 21st century (The Transition Towns Network and the older Natural Step Movement are examples of these). Local businesses wanting to explore a more environmentally aware approach to prosperity and growth, within ecologically safe limits can form socio-economic networks for sustainability in the full sense in their local communities, supported by their local universities and by national or international knowledge and learning networks and alliances. Local community networks are often involved with scientists too in regenerating local ecosystems or in protecting animal and plant species from the effects of rising global temperatures or the destruction of  natural habitats. This means looking for the type of ecosystem best adapted to this century and not trying to conserve the type of wild area we are used to. For UK and Ireland Rewilding and for a Wildlife Trust’s comments on it go to.

System leaders, groups and networks like these can transform anxiety, doom and denial into a sense of urgency with a realistic confidence and hope as more and more practical, cost-effective and attractive solutions are found and demonstrated. People can feel empowered, able to do things together with others. Innovators like these in businesses and local communities, within networks, can be a key force for change that national governments and international forums or agencies can encourage, support and be informed by.

This can counteract the defences and the limits of unchecked cognition that lead to a breakdown of co-operation and our fears becoming a reality, an example of a self-fulfilling prophecy (to use another of Merton’s concepts) at work.


Patterns in Innovation & Change: Use of the Internet

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This is the second of two discussion in September 2014 with Akvo in London.

This is the second of two discussion in September 2014 with Akvo in London. This one is between Mark Charmer, Director of Communications and myself. As with the first discussion this can be viewed on YouTube by clicking on video under each of the five headings below when you scroll down.

Mark Charmer

Mark Charmer

John Bristow

John Bristow

The first discussion covered how Akvo with their software tools and training helps people to use the internet and mobile communications to monitor aid activity for international development more easily and share the information in different media quickly and effectively with others. This can increase the connectivity between the organisations involved locally and internationally so that they can solve problems, network, learn and innovate together more effectively and quickly to address urgent needs. The use of the internet and mobile communications can also enable them to discover and learn more effective and efficient ways of organising and free people up to make a big difference more quickly – and see the results. For more info: see the first discussion and/or visit their website.

Their purpose as an organisation is directly relevant to one of the aims of my website: to promote use of the internet for creating the infrastructure and relationships for faster problem solving, learning and innovation to address the problems of this century, and to help bring about transformational changes where needed in the systems which shape the way we think, feel and act and through which our societies are informally and formally co-ordinated and organised – in this case helping poorer countries to lift themselves out of poverty.

In this the second discussion we drew out of examples some of the enabling conditions for systemic changes in complex systems to keep pace with the challenges of our times. We started with how the use of the internet that Akvo supports in the area of international development can foster these conditions and the learning together needed to make the changes. Diversity with integration, stability with change, self-organising alongside direction, boundaries and control – and ease of data collection for monitoring and for fast, honest and valid feedback, were some of the characteristics of these enabling conditions.

Changes in the way aid organisations work and work together are systemic, as they are not just working in the same way and making improvements as best they can within the current system and way of working. They are transformational changes in the system in which they work – the system guiding the thinking, decisions, actions, behaviour of the people and organisations, and the connectivity, interaction and cooperation between them. The system as a whole, which they create together through their actions and exchanges, moves into another form. Having the tools and training to use the internet and mobile communications differently can help bring these changes about. We need such systemic change, we suggest, to make best use of aid to help poorer countries to meet the basic human needs of people within them, and to ensure that big investments in their infrastructure fit the requirements of these countries in the 21st century.

Here are the videos of the discussion in five parts:

1. Introduction by John Bristow

            video   on YouTube                                                                                                    

2. Use of Technology and Networking for Monitoring, Learning and Co-ordination

            video    on YouTube

3. Mixed Forms of Leadership and Organising

            video    on YouTube

4. Direction, Structure and Self-Organising

             video    on YouTube

5. Understanding and Enabling Change in Societies

              video   on YouTube





Innovation in International Development: Akvo’s Contribution

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Akvo helps people and organisations to use information and communications technology to collect and share information more easily, and co-operate more effectively, to improve and speed up aid for international development worldwide. Their purpose as an organisation is directly relevant to the themes of this website: using the internet for creating the infrastructure and relationships for faster problem solving, learning and innovation in addressing the problems of this century – in this case helping the poorer countries to lift themselves out of poverty. Scroll down to links to a video recording of a discussion with their London-based communications director.

Akvo builds open source internet and mobile software which is designed to support international development partnership networks and make co-operation and aid activity more effective and transparent. The technology enables greater connectivity between people and organisations from different sectors involved in aid activity across the world, and creates the infrastructure to free people up to discover and learn more efficient and effective ways of organising. Using the same tools Akvo itself is developing new forms of organising for its work as a small multinational organization that supports and partners with a large number of organisations involved in international development around the world.

They provide their software as a service, backed by a global partner-support and training team. Akvo’s tools are used by over 1,800 organisations around the world from small local NGOs to national governments and multilateral aid organisations.  Visit their website

Akvo RSR stands for Really Simple Reporting. It’s a web- and Android-based system that makes it easy for development aid teams to bring complex networks of projects online with paperless reporting directly from the field.

Akvo FLOW is a mobile phone and online service that transforms field monitoring using Android smartphones. Organisations use Akvo FLOW to evaluate their development aid activities and make informed decisions based on accurate, current data.

Akvo Openaid helps governments and big international organisations present aid-spend data online in easy to navigate ways so they can meet transparency obligations.

Akvopedia is a portal for online knowledge on smart, low-cost, sustainable water and sanitation technology and approaches.

Akvo is a non-profit foundation headquartered in the Netherlands with staff in 13 countries across five continents. Akvo’s tools are open source and used by around 2,000 organisations throughout the world in areas such as water, sanitation, health, education, food security and economic development.

Mark Charmer

Mark Charmer

Jo Pratt

Jo Pratt

Here below are the links to 6 video clips  of a half hour conversation with

Mark Charmer a co-founder and  communications director in Akvo, and  Jo  Pratt, a  communications manager.

They are based in London, England.

The Video is in six parts. Click on Video  under each heading to view on YouTube.

How Akvo supports improvement & innovation in aid activity for International Development

 1. Introduction

      video  on YouTube

 2. Innovating as an organisation using the internet

      video  on YouTube

 3. How Akvo started

      video on YouTube

 4. Using the internet and mobile communications  to improve monitoring, learning  and co-operation in and between organisations – 1

       video  on YouTube

 5. Using the internet and mobile communications  to improve monitoring, learning and co-operation in and between organisations – 2

       video  on YouTube

 6. Helping organisations discover and learn more efficient and effective ways of working using the internet and mobile communications

       video  on YouTube

An Overview of Social Innovation

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This is taken from an article on page 32 of the Observer on 3 April 2011 by Geoff Mulgan, Chief Executive of the Young Foundation, in London and Visiting Professor at University College, London, the London School of Economics and the University of Melbourne. Previously he was:Director of Policy at 10 Downing Street under British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Director of the Prime Minister’s Strategy Unit (formerly known as the Performance and Innovation Unit), Co-founder and Director of the London based think tank Demos (from 1993–98), Chief adviser to Gordon Brown MP in the early 1990s.

This short article is linked to the launch by the Young Foundation on 12th April 2011 of a new organisation called Action for Happiness to act as a hub for knowledge about happiness and well being – its foundations, how to promote and measure it etc. .See . The Young Foundation, mainly works on social innovation – the design and launch of new social organisations, but also produces some publications on social innovation and the state of British society.

 In this article Mulgan reflects on the rise in popularity of the idea of social innovation. He says that often the innovations that matter most may not be in things but in the way we live together and organise ourselves. While the relevance of, and market for, new technology remains strong, and material needs are important, he points to other human needs that remain unfulfilled, reflected in the growing interest in quality of life, well being or happiness, and the lack of any significant increase in happiness since the mid-50s of the last century in the more developed economies, despite more material wealth and consumption. He alludes to how mental and physical health is better not just in richer societies but also those that are more equal at the same time (c.f. Spirit Level by R Wilkinson and K Pickett which maps income inequality against the UNESCO measures of social and personal health in a number of countries, with income inequality not being linked to right or left wing politics). Social innovation is not new; he reminds us of Robert Owen (the co-operative movement), Florence Nightingale (social and health care reforms) and Michael Young (Which? magazine and the Open University). But it is seen as more critical at this time.

 He defines social innovation as new ideas, organisations and solutions that can change the way we live by addressing social needs in new ways, especially those that reach and empower those in the poverty trap. He gives examples such as Muhammed Yunus’ Grameen bank, a social business or enterprise, bypassing the powerful banks and mafia-like loan merchants in Bangladesh and empowering poor people to look after themselves by having access to “micro-credit”. This has gained recognition through Yunus getting the Nobel prize. He mentions too a commercial venture, M-Pesa, that uses mobile phones in East Africa to provide a new banking system for poor people. Other examples he gives are: urban farms, bicycle hire schemes and holistic child care centres.which in some cases may be co-operatives, in others a local government initiative.

 Social innovation is also defined by its process – a social one – thriving on collaboration, hope and local empowerment, doing things with people rather than to or for them. New ideas and role models or exemplars emerge from local initiatives rather than in university research laboratories. Internet technology is a key enabler of this, he points out, as it uses “crowd sourcing” to share ideas and experiments in new ways of addressing social needs – and I would add that if these innovations can be environmentally as well as economically sustainable while bringing people to act together for a better society then they are all the more relevant.

The way social innovation works he sees as haphazard – and sees this as similar to the way innovations in science and technology in the 19th century came about often through gentleman amateurs. Mulgan argues that there needs to be more support to help social innovations to grow to scale and to influence or shape the wider social system, while recognising that a self-organising social process is an inherent aspect of their development. Government is taking an interest, realising that economic growth alone is not enough. Examples he gives are: Obama’s social innovation office in the White House and a $650M education innovation fund, the EU research and development fund being allocated to citizens ideas as well as new hardware, other countries (such as France and Australia) finding ways to “incubate” social innovation, and the interest of the recent Labour and the current Coalition government in the UK (as well as the French President, Sarkozy) in measuring well being or happiness and assessing government policy in relation to this and not just GDP. This reminds me of the triple measures suggested by the Economist a few years back of net national income, income inequality (looking for a more healthy gap) and the health of the natural environment (rather than GDP alone providing a “grossly distorted picture”).  .

 Geoff Mulgan has written a number of books including: Communication and Control networks and the new economies of communication (1991), Politics in an Anti-Political Age (1994), Connexity (1997), Good and Bad Power: the Ideals and Betrayals of Government (Penguin 2006) and The Art of Public Strategy (2009). He wrote  numerous Demos reports and pamphlets.

Patterns in a Potential Transformational Change – the money system

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A Potentially Transformational Socio-Technical Change – Patterns and an Example: The Money System – Exchange Alternatives and a Web-based Trading Platform. See Thomas Greco The End of Money and )    You can download this, as with all text on this website by clicking on the pdf icon at the end of this document.

This book by Greco provides a very relevant and interesting example of a potential transformative change. Here is a summary of some of the concepts and principles he uses in discussing and reflecting on the change he is proposing which  can be applied to other innovative societal changes. There are links to parts of the book summary which can be found in the Page or section on Innovations within the category of economics.

Greco states clearly that design principles need to be applied both to the system itself and the strategies for changing it. These need to be based on an understanding of money and the money system and how it has developed historically, and also of social dynamics, markets and networks in relation to money. The elements of the solutions he is proposing are based on his understanding and on information about what has and has not worked in finding alternatives in the past, what look like promising ideas, and the market and social conditions or context that would enable them to work – or act as forces against them. All his solutions come from ideas, understandings and trial experiments that are already publicly available. He has put this all together in a new and compelling way. Here we are looking at some of the design principles he extracts from studies of societal change as well as his with others from attempts to establish alternatives to some or all functions of the money system. These principles are there to consider in designing strategies for implementing innovations, rather than the solution options themselves, and the contextual conditions that enable them to be integrated into society.

All societal change, based on an analysis of historical examples, involves all key social actor groups, and both national and local initiatives, together with networking on different scales and in different ways for innovation and learning. Frank Geehls and his colleagues (to whom Greco does not refer) have attempted to see patterns in socio-technical innovation and change often over a 50 year period. (See for example  and which gives an overview of his work and  publications). They note that different transformations go through similar stages in different ways that may or may not modify or radically change the dominant current cultural and normative rules and formal institutions in a society (this mix of rules Geehls and his colleagues call “regimes”). There are often cycles on different timescales within these stages (like a wave form across time). How bottom up and top down change across social actor groups might work for the money system is an interesting question, given resistances and fears of different kinds.

Greco emphasises the importance of local bottom up change (community and business led) – stating that a political process by itself has not worked. He also sees the key to economic survival and environmental sustainability in the future to be local communities gaining more economic independence and having more control over how their material needs are met. At the same time the changes in the money system he suggests, especially use of mutual credit clearing, would fit well into the emerging global web-based trading platform, a major transformational change in itself. He focuses on creating the conditions for these changes both locally and globally and using the unexpected turn of events as an opportunity where this is possible.

Greco alludes to what many people see as one of the key guiding ideas (zeitgeist) – though he does not use this concept as such – for the next step in human history and evolution: collaboration or synergy (at the start of chapter 18 on organisational forms). He describes how being different from each other in values, life styles and traditions can create both conflict (in protection or promotion of a group identity) or a rich diversity once differences are respected and transcended through connection with our common humanity. He also stresses how the current problems, opportunities and challenges we are facing can only be addressed through co-operation on much larger scales than in the past. In a complex, more inter-connected global economy, solutions to global problems or advances in human civilisation can only occur through greater collaboration and co-operation, more co-ordinated action. Our increasing connectivity can help here. In nature the forces and capabilities for co-operation are greater than those of competition. Even Dawkins, author of the selfish gene, says he would now rename the title of his book as the co-operative gene. Gregory Bateson said the Darwin’s book should have been called survival of species and habitat, as the one depends on the other. But Darwin too recognised the co-operation in nature. This co-operation Greco sees working at local levels especially, as well as globally at times. In discussing the Mondragon example of a co-operative economy (see below) he quotes Terry Mollner who described Mondragon as an example of the emerging “relationship age society”. See LovingSociety.html

Major improvements in, and transformation of, the money system are more likely to come initially through the developing web-based trading platform and through private, voluntary and free market use of alternative exchange media – such as mutual credit clearing. These initiatives in innovation are more “bottom up”, applying new technology and forms of business and trade within the business sector or networks of local organisations  across all sectors – business, voluntary, NGO, public sector, research centres in or outside universities – rather than “top down” through new legislation and political initiatives – though these may follow, and Greco points out a role for central government. They also fit an age of synergy and relationship, with more democracy at local as well as national levels. Greco refers to two key authors on societal change – Christenson on disruptive technologies (relevant both to global and local change), and Gledhill on networking and other factors (as well as other authors on network theory).

In discussing the evolution and development of a web-based trading platform around the world, Greco uses some of the ideas and analysis by Clayton Christensen in the Innovator’s Dilemma  (03 New Yk Collins) as well as quoting the management writer Peter Drucker. See for access to his key ideas and books, including the concept of  “disruptive technologies”.

Christensen’s two types of technology – disruptive or sustaining are relevant to both local and globally networked change, and their interconnection. Techonology can be disruptive of the current ways of seeing, thinking and acting – the informal cognitive or normative rules and those embedded in formal institutions and rules. This is similar to Kuhn’s distinction between “ordinary science” and “revolutionary” science (new fundamental mindset). It is also similar to Gregory Bateson, and later Chris Argyris’s, distinction between two levels of learning – change within a frame of reference or way of seeing and thinking, and change of  that frame or organising structure (and to Einstein’s saying that a major problem cannot be solved within the mindset that helped create it). The first is cumulative change through improvement; the second is transformational change (change of form for organising thinking and action), which can also have a build up of disconfirmation of current mental models guiding cognition, decision and action. Bateson built on the ideas of Russell and Whitehead – a category (organising concept) cannot be a member of itself; so there are two levels at play here. These sets of rules can form together a “regime” (that has both political and cultural connotations as the regime is embodied in the dominant culture and the institutions and groups of people who enact or follow it).

Looking at the forces for change and against change (Kurt Lewin’s “Force Field Analysis” see ) is familiar to consultants and managers involved in organisational change (and to others). Greco looks at the strengths and vulnerabilities of the current system of political money and conventional banking (c.f. a SWOT analysis of strengths, weakness, opportunities and threats).

Against change:

What has made the current political money system so dominant?

Greco sets this out:

Inertia – people are used to it, it is accepted across countries, with ease of foreign exchange.

Above all it is supported and protected by national governments and political privilege. Dominant companies generally can become unresponsive to developments in technology or markets; their focus is on improving current products more than transformational innovation. They can ignore or suppress the competition of disruptive technologies, or be very late in adopting them (Christensen makes this point too). With the money system the power of government has been used to suppress alternative credit systems or currencies. The entrenched position of the money and banking establishment exceeds that of any dominant group of companies in other sectors.

Alongside this there is a lack of awareness of the ill effects of the current system and of viable alternatives.

For change:

The current money system is unstable, unsustainable, inequitable and over-expensive. Instability in a globalised finance system is shown in the credit crunch. Other destabilizing forces are rising or volatile oil and food prices. Bank-created debt-money drives the need for unsustainable economic growth, the effects of which are well documented in the form of getting out of balance with what can be supported by our natural habitat and resources, and at the same time polluting ecosystems or putting the climate system out of balance as well, potentially destroying more habitats and species, as well as reducing the human population, through drought, famine, and extremes of climate. Inequity shows in the poverty trap and greater income inequality that leads to unhealthy societies (see Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett (09) Spirit Level or the 2010 paperback of this Why Equality is better for Everyone see )


Debit and credit cards are more expensive to users (buyers and sellers) than they need to be. Christensen points out that dominant companies often overshoot their markets, making them vunerable to displacement. They give their customers more than they need or are willing to pay for. The consortia of banks within the two major credit card companies have co-operated to raise interest rates and fees and make conditions more stringent. Those caught in the debt trap feel exploited.

The technology is now there for a democratically structured global payment system with membership open to all, alongside a complete web-based trading platform; the blocks are political (see above) and vested interests, but this trading platform is emerging and will continue to grow with a greater functionality and range of services. This has what Christensen calls “innovative potential”.

In summary, while the forces for change may be strong – so also is the resistance in the form of protection of the current system by governments.

So Greco suggests focusing on niche markets where exchange alternatives are appreciated. In the grass roots, community sector the attraction is often initially ideological – social justice and equity, local self-determination and protection/restoration of the natural environment on which we depend. In the business and commercial sector the attraction has been to be able to have another medium of exchange for trading without recourse to the national currency, especially when it is unstable or scarce, and to be able to sell goods and services to other members of the exchange association. As the performance and reliability of these alternatives improves and they are more trustworthy, others will be attracted. The usefulness of credit clearing for exchange increases as more people and businesses up and down the supply chain are members, and more products and services are included. A “critical mass” needs to be arrived at in terms of scale and scope.

Money as an exchange medium is nothing more than credit, and credit can be organised more effectively, efficiently and equitably (the 3 “E’s”); and in a way that does not drive unsustainable growth through over-extended debt obligations. Mutual credit clearing associations, supported by the appropriate constitutional rules and agreements and technology (such as mobile phones), is the way forward proposed by Greco, and these associations can also issue their own currency for use by non-members in their economic region, backed by their exchange of core goods and services that are in demand in so far as they cover basic needs. Local businesses, community groups, NGOs and Councils can work together to establish this in a region of a country. This would be a transformational change.

But alongside these local developments, the progress of a global web-based trading platform since 2000 is the other line of development and potential transformation in the money system. More commerce is being transacted on the internet, and functionality and the range of services continue to improve. Greco lists some disruptive technologies – using Christensen’s definition of technology. Technology in Christensen’s terms is a general term to cover any new ways of using labour, capital, materials and information to transform them into products and services of greater value. So this can include innovative technologies in investment, distribution or marketing and managerial/organisational processes as well as the narrower sense of design and production.  For example: web-based market places on the internet (including consumer to consumer lending and borrowing ( and see Rachel Botsman and Boo Rogers’ book on collaborative consumption in general – What’s mine is yours ), transparency in web-based accounting and exchange systems, strong identity verification, secure encryption of information over the internet, updated reputation rating of suppliers and buyers (e.g. using to find tradesmen in the UK), re-emergence of mutual companies alongside co-responsibility and local web-based markets – and direct credit clearing between buyer’s and seller’s that bypasses the national currency and brings the definition or form of money as exchange up to date. Greco sees a combination of these being able to provide the structures that can mediate the establishment of more effective and equitable exchange processes that enhance more sustainable economic activity.

Greco quotes the management writer Peter Drucker: profits migrate to the suppliers of the missing component that completes an (evolving) system. The four key components that Greco sees for a completed web based trading platform are: a market place, a social network, a means of exchange or payment, and a measure of value or pricing unit. Market places are where sellers and buyers can communicate what they offer and need and negotiate. These can be business to end-customer (B2C) or business to business (B2B). Social network enables people to become known to each other, personally or professionally; and establish identity, credentials and reputation, and, through supporting and tracking exchange or co-ordination, to build trust and valued co-operation between network members. Amazon and eBay are well known examples of marketplaces, and Facebook or Linkedin or MySpace of social networks.

The gaps are in the last two, and ways of addressing these are described and discussed in this book, and elsewhere by Greco – mutual credit clearing using an information system (possibly accompanied by local currencies previously used when the national currency and economy is in distress), and a basket of regularly exchanged commodities as a unit of value. PayPal is a trusted intermediary for payments but it uses bank-created debt money. PayPal could set up a mutual credit clearing network amongst some its account holders if it extended lines of credit to them in expectation of return of income from other account holders. National currencies are unstable and “political money” in the sense that their value is determined by the policies of their governments and central bank issuers. Greco sees legal tender laws being abolished at some time in the future. These laws make these currencies the measure of value as well as a means of payment that must be accepted. This will require standard commodities (not just gold or silver as in the past) being used again to create a unit of value. In the meantime buyer’s and seller’s can adopt a non-political measure of value based on a basket of commodities (see Appendix B of this book). This can be deferred as a missing component until first a network of mutual credit clearing systems for exchange is set up.

These two missing components need to be integrated with the market places and social networks of the global web-based trading platform that is emerging. This can take over some of the functions of the physical market place and banks.

Commercial trade exchanges have developed over the last 30 years and provide proof of concept, a key step in the innovation journey. Optimising their internal processes and design and taking the networks to scale will be the next step. Will these be bold enough to develop new markets and extend their membership, up and down the supply chain, business to customer (e.g. employees of members initially) as well as business to business)? Will the small ones be taken over by the big ones, or by market place web-based businesses such as Amazon, for some markets? Or by web-enabled payment intermediaries like PayPal?

A “bottom up”, locally developed, internationally networked, evolutionary change with a new Role for Governments, national and local is explored by Greco. Using the political process to change the dominant money system has failed in the past. But it might form part of the solution – in raising awareness of issues and needs (e.g. Ron Paul’s candidacy for the US presidency in 2008, and some groups of politicians in the UK, and in national and international policy forming networks such as those reflected in the World Future Council), and then supporting well managed and designed local or regional trials. Attention needs to be given to relations with governments, and often this is best done through some kind of national association (c.f. the IRTA for commercial trade exchanges). Locally initiated alternatives more often fail too – as described in the section on these above. So the learning from this needs to be used for designing both the system and implementation and learning processes.

Greco emphasises the importance of awareness raising as part of getting people to consider alternatives to their existing patterns of behaviour and to systems they have trusted till now, particularly in bottom up initiatives and creating the enabling context.

Most countries have not experienced serious inflation for long or have reasons to question the current money system. Generally there is little knowledge of what money is for and how it is created and used, with perhaps financial journalists and economists making it sound more complicated than it is by using technical terms.

These changes will require people to realise how they can empower themselves regarding the money system, and assert that power, reclaiming the “credit commons”. Educating and informing people about the current money system, and the risks and effects of it, in a way can create a felt need; and ideas of solutions to adapt to their conditions, give them the confidence to be part of a growing network of people wanting to do something about it  – without unduly threatening current vested interests (and those who support or only feel secure with a centralised money system rather than a more decentralised, egalitarian, empowering, equitable, resilient and sustainable one).

Greco agrees with Riegel who suggests a “freedom of association” approach to setting these changes going, based on information and education, with government support.

These changes could best come about through private voluntary initiative, in an environment of freedom of association and the right of contract are protected and preserved. Local communities can reduce their dependence on political currencies and on bank-created credit. They can take control of their own credit and organise ways of allocating it directly to people and businesses they can trust. As Riegel says there is no legal barrier to a private enterprise, non-debt, non-interest, mutual money system. As Ulrich von Beckerath stated in the 1930’s: “The extension of exchange transactions without state money is in reality the beginning of a new system of settling accounts and ..  a new economic order”. Any local credit unit or currency would be open to acceptance (and so also rejection or discounting) in a local market or network of markets. Only the issuer of the credit unit would be obliged to accept it. These changes would be developed locally with “local” meaning a viable socio-economic area in which the day to day trading of goods and services that meet common basic needs occurs.

Awareness raising and continuous learning from local initiatives can build local or sub-regional social and economic networks of suppliers of key goods and services and their customers, both citizens and other businesses, a network that sees and feels the need to innovate and try out new forms of exchange, investment and measures of value (the functions of money). Trust and credibility will need to be established within this network and a form of organisation, ownership and control set up that maintains and protects this.

Any learning from action and experience in developing and using a system that works can then be shared in national and international networks, facilitated by the internet.

Through numerous success stories, examples and role models, linked through learning networks and wider multi-local socio-economic exchange, building up trust in alternative money systems that can stand alongside the traditional, and if seen to be successful and secure, supplant it over time.  More and more people can be weaned off the current system, including the key groups in a society – citizens, business, government, science and education and the media.

This would end a system that forces perpetual growth to one which is more steady and fulfils people’s material needs in a way that respects the human dignity and the need for a fulfilling life, and at the same time nurtures the systems of nature that support all life on this planet. The measures of success would be aspects of the quality of (all) life, rather than the quantity of output and consumption.

Local trials of alternative ways of fulfilling the functions of money will need to be supported widely to counteract those with vested interests in the current system and threatened by competition from alternative associations. Central and local government can give some initial support while having their concerns addressed, and then when there is wider support from businesses and individual customers, ensure there are the regulatory frameworks and other support mechanisms needed for them to work and to be protected from sabotage.

In discussing networks and enabling conditions Greco mentions 3 key factors described by M. Gladwell (in his book The Tipping Point 2000 – see also ). Gladwell draws analogies between nature, epidemics and social change processes.

The Law of the Few: a few salient people can make a big difference and help an idea, practice or product spread like a virus. They take on 3 types of role: those who know all about it and want to share what they know (“mavens” he calls them), The connectors who “know everyone” and can bridge the gaps in social networks, sharing the news, and the sales people who can persuade people to adopt, use or buy it.

The Stickiness Factor: characteristics of the alternative (i.e. the design of the money system or a part of it rather than the implementation process) that can make it attract and stick, through being easily remembered.

The Power of Context: the enabling conditions or factors that create a strong felt need. The Swiss WIR bank he gives as an example of this.

Greco also mentions other studies of social change, particularly of networks such as L. Barabasi’s Linked: the new science of networks (02). He gives an example of the spread of Hotmail which used ease of adoption and signing up (low cost) together with users advertising it by default; there was an offer to the recipient to set up their own free account at the end of each email sent by a user, in this way using their networks. Duncan Watts of Columbia University (and the Yahoo Research centre , has conducted studies of network theory and replicated Stanley Milgram’s study of six links but found that people who were network “hubs” were not that significant to the pathways of dissemination.

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