Earlier this week I had the pleasure of facilitating the launch of an NERC sandpit setting out to put together projects and teams that might “develop an integrated quantitative understanding of the consequences” of using land to produce renewables “on the resilience of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems
Following a request to give this sandpit ‘a cognitive edge’ I drew up a sequence of sessions starting with anecdote circles to share understanding, build relationships and allow themes to emerge. This was swiftly followed by ‘future backwards’ to make sense of what has gone before, and develop shared perspectives of what might go wrong (Hell) and what might they get right (heaven). A collection of ‘idealised’ impacts and outcomes were then drawn that might satisfy Heaven while steering well clear of Hell.
On day two we ran ‘the butterfly stamped’ exercise to allow attendees to self realise the domains of the cynefin framework by making sense of a selection of prepared items ( available on the Cognitive Edge website). This was swiftly followed by the production of a massive cynefin framework on which they positioned each impact/outcome from the previous exercise onto the appropriate domain.
Frustratingly we then had to hold back on explaining the appropriate approach to interventions in each domain as this might have set out specific proposals at too early a stage in the sandpit and I had to leave before the climax, so I don’t yet know the outcome.
I personally learnt so much from the event, Dave and Tim who invited me are extremely good facilitators and work so hard to make the event work to everyone’s best interests. The invited experts who shared their knowledge in a series of talks are in an unenviable position, on the one side constantly burdened with the scientific knowledge that if we don’t change the way we live we are doomed, but unable to communicate this and engage real social change with the politicians and public.
I think the Cognitive Edge approach with its enthusiastic acknowledgement and take on complexity, together with the cognitive appropriateness of its use of narrative, makes it ideal for a problem requiring large scale engagement between people and people, people and knowledge and, perhaps most importantly, people and uncertainty.
My favourite quote of the event was that ‘”Kielder Forest was planted to produce a sustainable crop of pit props for the local mining industry”. Now there’s an example of a decision presumably made with some certainty in its day.
On Tuesday I am off to Gloucester to do something similar with the police force there.