Lifecycle of Emergence

Hat tip to my friend @pascalvenier on Twitter for highlighting this superb 2006 paper by Margaret Wheatley & Deborah Frieze of the Berkana Institute on the importance of networks, communities and emergence.

By applying the lessons of living systems and working intentionally with emergence and its lifecycle, we are demonstrating how local social innovation can be taken to scale and provide solutions to many of the world’s most intractable issues—such as community health, ecological sustainability and economic self-reliance.

They then propose a four stage catalysis model

We focus on discovering pioneering efforts and naming them as such. We then connect these efforts to other similar work globally. We nourish this network in many ways, but most essentially through creating opportunities for learning and sharing experiences and shifting into communities of practice. We also illuminate these pioneering efforts so that many more people will learn from them. We are attempting to work intentionally with emergence so that small, local efforts can become a global force for change.

I have always been a strong supporter of the illumination stage although I never called it such (but will in future). I have always believed that the strongest positive feedback loops in a system would be the stories that promote good behaviours or admirable successes hence my story of Bat Milk about the emergence of environmentally sensitive organic farming.

I then particularly like their three stage lifecycle theory that first we network, then we form communities of practice and finally a real system of influence can emerge. I have always been reticent to use the term community of practice or ‘CoP’ other than to acknowledge individuals who come together around their common practice. Organisations who say ‘Oh yes we do CoPs’ as if its something you can switch on, make me squirm. Berkana however use this in its simplest, generic form and I think makes it all the more understandable and appropriate.

Stage three ‘systems of influence’ excite me greatly as these explain the great cultural changes of our time from Punk, the abandonment of plastic carrier bags, the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) through to Transition Towns which I hope grows and grows and grows in its influence.


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