The analysis

 

Civil society organisations have a crucial role to play in catalysing transformative social and economic change, yet new ideas and strategies are needed to address the challenges we face. Our current focus on single issues and short-term goals means that while we may win many battles, we are losing the planet. CSOs need to reconsider their strategies in support of a transition to a sustainable world and should work towards a more holistic and systemic transition to a sustainable society instead of pursuing the narrow technical policy focus of many of today's strategies. Much more radical transformative change strategies, drawing on cutting edge thinking and practice in multiple disciplines and across disciplines, are required, if CSOs are to really play their role in helping humanity to successfully meet our challenges.

 

The vision of the Great Transition

 

Current consumption and production systems are hitting up against planetary boundaries on many different levels - the water system, biodiversity and the ability of the atmosphere to absorb carbon. The changes needed are fundamental and can only happen through a co-evolving cultural and political transition from consumerism to sustainability with shifts in values linked to this. New institutions need to be developed and new ways of organising society at all levels. This comprehensive shift is increasingly being termed by various organisations ‘The Great Transition’.

The current global economic growth paradigm will have to be replaced by a societal well being paradigm. Economies need to become much more localised and the current prevailing model of shareholder driven global corporations will be replaced by new ownership models of companies that are much better placed to serve society and the planet.

To read further on these points, see Chapter 2 of the paper ‘Effective change strategies for the Great Transition - Five leverage points for civil society organisations’ or 'Great Transition - The Promise and Lure of the Times Ahead' (Global Scenario Group).

 

How can CSOs approach systemic change?

 

In an initial research dialogue that happened in 2010 we developed a framework for change and five leverage points for people and organisations that want to develop effective strategies for a Great Transition (as explained in detail in the Smart CSOs Report, 2011.)

In summary the recommendations for civil society are:

We propose a framework of five leverage points that shall work in an interdependent and interactive way and build the basis for a meta-theory of change for the Great Transition from a CSO perspective. The model is based on the Multi-level Perspective (Geels 2002).

Multilevel graph 2

Leverage point 1 – Systems thinking: Fundamental to developing strategies which achieve change in the complex economic system, CSOs must better understand the system and also develop processes and structures to continuously learn and improve strategies and interventions. Read more...

Leverage point 2 – Cultural transformation: Insights from cognitive science and psychology help us to understand how CSOs could successfully support a shift towards more intrinsic cultural values (macro level). We argue that CSOs should much more consistently pay attention to this opportunity and use all their means (communications, advocacy etc.) and build large platform of collaborations between CSOs to succeed. Read more...

Leverage point 3 – Developing new models: Systemic change requires deep, fast and radical innovation on all fronts (life styles, business, institutions, technology etc.) We argue that CSOs should much more strategically pay attention to the bottom-up processes of innovation (micro-level) and support, nurture and link up the seeds of the new economy so that they eventually become the mainstream new economic model. Read more...

Leverage point 4 – A new global movement: A new global movement that unites a broad range of civil society sectors under one umbrella of the GT principles and values would be a powerful force in support of the cultural and economic transition required. We argue that CSOs should much more strategically and globally link change agents, initiatives and CSOs and create a common voice for the GT. Read more...

Leverage point 5 – Engaging funders: All the above activities will only be possible if sufficient funding is available. CSOs therefore should focus more on involving funders in the need for a new strategic focus and to adapt funding and M&E to the requirements of strategies for systemic change (long term, more risky etc.) Read more...