Sensitivity to scale, uniqueness of place and local culture
One way to avoid — or at least minimize — the risk that new ‘solutions’ will result in catastrophic and widespread unintended consequences is to limit the scale of experimentation. At the local and regional scale, feedback is faster and ecological limits are more immediately identifiable. Furthermore, by focusing on the local and regional scale, we can adapt solutions better to the specific conditions of a particular place. Design that aims to meet basic human needs at the scale of the local community/region also creates systemic redundancies, so that unpredictable changes in one place are less likely to trigger domino effects in other places. In the dogma of neoclassical economics, redundancy is to be avoided as ever larger economics of scale are used to increase the profits of a few to the systemic detriment of many. However, if we aim to create circular economies based on local, renewable, biological resources, redundancy becomes a vital ingredient of vibrant local economies and regional resilience.
Good solutions and appropriate answers might be informed by global knowledge exchange but they are born out of the unique conditions of a specific place and its specific culture. Getting the questions right makes best practice transferable from region to region, turning ‘best practice’ examples into ‘best process’ methodologies. The right questions can help to guide the longer-term cultural transformation, enabling us to identify those past solutions that have turned into problems and invite more transformative innovation. Most solutions and answers are temporal, but good questions can guide us over the long term. The appropriate guiding questions can help us to assess when past solutions are beginning to turn into present problems as they do not adequately reflect or address the current circumstances any longer.
Creative problem-solving in a regenerative culture is not only about finding the answer to current needs but also about helping us to ask better questions. Ideally such questions help us to learn something about ourselves and about our relationships with the wider context. As we begin to understand the inadequacies of past solutions in the light of a more systemic awareness, we are developing a new social and ecological awareness. Transformative innovation promotes life-long learning for individuals and communities.
We need to co-create diverse models for systemic solutions at a local and regional scale. Some of them will inform through their successes and others through their failures. Repetitive failure and experimentation at a small scale can help us to learn faster. As Thomas Watson Sr., president of IBM for 42 years, said so aptly: “If you want to succeed, double your rate of failure”. The response time and cycles of transformative innovation can be faster at the local scale. If you want to effectively adapt to and influence economic, social, cultural and environmental change, start with small-scale experiments that give you quick feedback as to what works and what doesn’t. Deeper questioning into the underlying real or perceived needs that make us identify and frame the ‘problem’ in the first place might lead us to discover that we are treating symptoms rather than causes.
Sometimes the feedback from the system in question (for example, your local community) might be that a more effective and transformative solution can only be brought about at the next scale up — the regional scale. We need a new sensitivity regarding which problems to solve at which scale. Maybe we should ask ourselves:
How do we create functional experiments and case studies of the transition towards regenerative cultures at a scale where feedback is rapid enough so we can learn from mistakes before unwanted side-effects lead to catastrophe and systemic collapse?
How do we discern which issues and problems are best solved at which scale, building local and regional resilience through redundancies and self-reliance while nurturing regional and inter-regional collaboration on national and global issues?
The solutions we propose at the local, regional, national and global scales have to be interlinked in such a way that they become mutually reinforcing and supporting. Policy and governance needs to enable local and regional problem-solving rather than impede it by generalized regulations that do not adequately reflect the local conditions of a specific ecosystem and culture. Paying close attention to the uniqueness of place and regional culture reveals opportunities for transformative innovation and preservation of biocultural diversity.
All over the world our ancestors evolved unique cultural expressions, informed by a sense of place and a deep reciprocity with the unique ecological, geological and climatic conditions of that particular place. The local and regional scale is not only the scale at which we can act most effectively to preserve biological diversity, it is also the scale at which we can preserve cultural diversity and indigenous, local wisdom as expressions of living in long-term connection with the uniqueness of any given locality.
Much can be learned from such place-based knowledge. At the same time we have to be aware that most local cultures have already undergone a profound transformation and erosion of local tradition and language. We need to value traditional place-based knowledge and culture without falling into the traps of a resurgence of radical regionalism and narrow-minded parochialism. We need to value local and regional solutions supported by global collaboration and knowledge exchange. A regenerative human culture will be locally adapted and globally connected. The future will be glo-cal, enabled by collaborative, peer-to-peer networks and social innovation.
[This sub-chapter is an excerpt from Designing Regenerative Cultures, published by Triarchy Press in 2016 in English — see reviews here. The book is also available in Brazilian, Portuguese, Spanish editions, and soon in Italian and Slovak.]
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Daniel Christian Wahl — Catalyzing transformative innovation in the face of converging crises, advising on regenerative whole systems design, regenerative leadership, and education for regenerative development and bioregional regeneration.
Author of the internationally acclaimed book Designing Regenerative Cultures
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