Newsletter Archive

Newsletter 2016/12

This is our last newsletter in 2016. We want to end this rather interesting year on a positive note: we have some good news and are looking forward to 2017. Well, we also include a little idea for you that we believe might help avoid any more nasty little surprises in politics next year...

What we have been up to recently...

In October we organised our annual network gathering in Barcelona. The workshop started with (unusual) heavy rainfall and many participants were soaked through. It ended with (more usual) beautiful sunshine and a happy crowd. If you would like to find out what happened in between, please read Laura’s report on the workshop.

In November, some French members of the Smart CSOs community (Charlotte, Nicolas, Olivier and Sonia) invited French activists to a little workshop in Paris to discuss some of the questions the Re.imagining Activism guide poses. There, we also launched the French version of the guide Ré.imaginer l’Activisme – Un guide pratique pour la Grande Transition. You can download the PDF version here.

Finally, also in November, we facilitated two introductory workshops/trainings with activists who are keen to re.imagine their activism, one in Helsinki and one in Berlin. The first was organised by KEPA (the Finnish NGO platform on global development) and the other by the German League for Nature and Environment (DNR).

Make Europe great again: why it’s time for European progressives to change their narrative

In this article we call on activists and progressive leaders across Europe to change their narrative. Right now, the way the left communicates about the EU and the way it talks about “the elites”, out of touch with the reality of ordinary people, looks very similar to the narratives of the European populist right.

Moreover, Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek has repeatedly argued that it might be a positive step that Trump has won the US elections as it might “shake things up”. German left-wing (Die Linke) party leader Sahra Wagenknecht has recently praised Donald Trump’s economic policies in a speech in the German parliament.

Is the idea of “shaking things up” a good one or will it make things worse? Read the full article here.

Hannah Arendt once noted that even a stray dog has better odds of surviving when given a name. So Paul Raskin called it Earthland.

Journey to Earthland: The Great Transition to Planetary Civilisation is a beautiful new essay written by Paul Raskin, the founder and president of the Tellus Institute. It can be downloaded here.

Paul Raskin is also the lead author of the 2002 essay Great Transition: The Promise and Lure of the Times Ahead (Global Scenario Group) that greatly inspired the work of the Smart CSOs Lab.

The new essay is an updated version of the scenarios for humanity’s future on this planet and a vision for how a successful Great Transition might look.

Most of all it is a reminder of the need for a global citizens movement: the Great Transition is not a prediction, but a possibility. It requires that large numbers of people come together to struggle for a future where people and the planet can thrive.

Gus Speth praised the essay: “I can only guess how a theoretical physicist came to write like an angel, but I am confident that Raskin’s extended essay deserves a serious and very large audience. It is an accessible, well-honed, and brilliant synthesis of possible human futures and the paths to them. There’s nothing else that I know of that says so much so well and so briefly.”

Interesting article: The anti-intellectualism of the social justice community is killing us

This short article published by Scot Nakagawa on the blog Transformation is a call to social justice activists to turn away from the pressures to jump on the anti-expert bandwagon.

In it, he demands that his fellow activists refuse to shy away from analysis and discussion of complex ideas simply because it is hard. He asks that we take leadership in the intellectual sphere, and explore social and political theory to help us achieve our ends.

“We should be challenged and given opportunities to reach for philosophy and history and political theory and every other tool that can be turned to our service.

We deserve justice, and in order to win it we need to understand the complexities and nuances of power, of structural inequality, cultural production and hegemony, and every other concept and theory and abstraction that we need to claim our place as prophets of a new world.”

What we are planning to do in 2017 at Smart CSOs Lab

At our last workshop in October we started conversations on the questions we envisage to work on for the next two years. We call this project ‘Pathways to the Great Transition’. With this, we want to build on the Lab’s work over the last five years. We realise that while we have developed the right language and tools to powerfully initiate conversations and reflections on systems change strategies, we still lack more concrete examples for effective strategies and approaches — what we call pathways.

Much of the current discussion among the emerging ‘system change community’ is often still quite vague (“we have to support the grassroots” or “we have to change the narrative”) and sometimes dogmatic (e.g. the ‘commons paradigm’) or unrealistic (e.g. when the vision is entirely focused on the communal level).

With this project we want to provide impulses to this discussion and critically reflect upon this landscape of discourse and theories of change. We will develop new knowledge via experimental practical projects and we will look into existing knowledge from different disciplines in order to show how civil society actors, funders and grassroots activists can concretely work towards the type of paradigm shift. We call these concrete ways to work on system change “pathways to the Great Transition”.

For example, when we talk about “using more effective frames and new narratives”, we are often too vague with regard to what it really means. Which are the frames and narratives that can inspire people to believe in such a project and that can effectively support the transition? And, beyond the abstract, what can be “effective leverage points for the Great Transition” for organisations to work on? We need to discuss much more concretely which are these leverage points and how they can be pushed or pulled.

The Pathways to the Great Transition project has two strands:

  • Learning from practice. We aim to work with civil society organisations that want to practice and experiment with new strategies and approaches to change. We want to work with them with an action-research approach and apply the Smart CSOs framework to practical contexts (action experiments).
  • A research dialogue. We aim to engage researchers and practitioners in a dialogue on two guiding questions.
    1. On the vision question (the ‘what’ question): Is there a puzzle of the new/next system emerging and if so which are some of the key elements?
    2. On the strategies question (the ‘how’ question): Can we identify a number promising pathways (for activists/funders) for the Great Transition?