Newsletter Archive

Newsletter 2019/01

Our first newsletter of the year brings you a report on our Pathways to the Great Transition project and a curated selection of articles and a video that we hope you will find interesting.

Learning how to build capacity in grant-making organisations

We’ve just concluded the most recent phase of our Pathways to the Great Transition project, an action experiment in collaboration with the Guerrilla Foundation about how to improve the grant-making process to make a greater impact towards the Great Transition. The goal of Pathways to the Great Transition is to explore and experiment with innovative civil society strategies, to improve protestors with a banner that says justice on climate, race, and immigrationunderstandings of the root causes of systemic crises and to experiment with leverage points that could help bring forth the Great Transition.

The lessons learned and conclusions drawn are detailed in our most recent blog post.

Moving from ideological groupthink towards collective intelligence

Research shows that groups often don’t reach the ideal state of the wisdom of the crowd but instead adopt the more extreme positions that already existed among its members. Such groupthink may be fuelled by a particular agenda or simply because group members value harmony and coherence above rational thinking. Also, those members of the group who believe they hold minority positions often stay silent (the so-called spiral of silence). When groups become ideological echo chambers they have succeeded in systematically alienating their members from all outside epistemic sources. “Their worldview can survive exposure to those outside voices because their belief system has prepared them for such intellectual onslaught.”

Many communities, including activists, develop such ideologically driven groupthink. Their attachment to principle is so powerful that it becomes an end unto itself. Here is a good argument for why attachment to ideology is problematic if we want to tackle our most complex problems: “Even if we embrace ideology merely as a conceptual lens to help us better understand what is most likely to promote human well-being (ideology as a pattern-recognition device), we run into difficult problems. The incredible complexity of social and economic relationships, the heterogeneity of human beings, and the ubiquitous and irresolvable problem of unintended consequences will frustrate dogmatic shortcuts to problem-solving. Given our very human tendency to filter out information that does not comport with our worldviews — and excessive attention to information that comports with the same — the more we repair to our ideological lenses, the more distorted they become thanks to a spiralling process of confirmation bias.” (That is from the recent essay ‘The Alternative to Ideology’.)

If we are seriously committed to systemic change we cannot allow motivated cognition to take over. We need to truly embrace ways of creating collective intelligence: “Instead of closed, polarised and mutually-exclusive loops of information which service self-reinforcing pre-existing biases, we [have to] cultivate open, intersecting nodes of humble, critical, self-reflective engagement in which new information is able to come in from multiple perspectives, to every perspective.” We need to ask ourselves: “Does a theory or inference have real backing in empirical data? Does the data specifically and wholly back the inference or only partially? Is there added speculation and assumption in deriving the inference, assumption that is not fully grounded in the available data? Is the inference genuinely coherent,a set of bookshelves so tall that they lead up into the sky above the clouds or does it contain contradictions and tensions? How does it cohere with other areas of knowledge? When our beliefs can no longer be directly derived from our axioms, then they have ceased to be insights at all and instead have become ideology. In that case, we need to ask ourselves where exactly these ideas are coming from, and why we insist on believing them.” Read the full article, ‘How collective intelligence can change your world, right now’

An evolutionary explanation for what is holding us humans back from adapting to our most existential threats

Humans have evolved to adapt to new niches (systems) in order to survive but only when there are strong motivating signals, like hunger or thirst. Today, climate change poses a serious threat to civilisation, but since the basic needs of the wealthier denizens of the world are being met and our lives are so detached from nature, we’re not receiving the signals that should propel us to act.

In this short video evolutionary biologist Bret Weinstein elaborates on this dilemma.

How to bring everyone on board for tackling climate change

Questions around how to tackle climate change have become deeply ideologically charged. It’s not good that an issue that is about the survival of our civilisation has become so polarising. Ultimately we need everyone’s help and creativity if we want to find and put in place solutions that work. How can tackling climate change become a shared project for everyone? No silver bullet so far, it seems. Much effort has been put into applying behavioural economics to motivate changes in behaviour, and more recently many research teams around the world are focusing on the power of framing, stories and narratives to gain more traction and convey complex and potentially abstract information.

Psychologist Renée Lertzman argues that there is another, relatively unexplored lever for bringing people on board: the emotional level. “The focus is less on identifying the right values, but on the conflicts or dilemmas that impede behavioural shifts, and how these conflicts are often socially influenced (identity, social norms, pressures, belonging).”

“As our work addressing climate change evolves to meet the pressing need for large-scale engagement, we would all be well served by tapping into the research and insights into how our minds work. This means going beyond a focus solely on behaviour, values, messaging and framing, solutions and storytelling. It requires building capacities for engagement that take into account the central role of ‘affect’ – how these issues make us feel, and how overwhelming they can be for many people. Pushing solutions is itself not the only solution. Helping people see themselves as empowered actors in changing our world, framing the issue as an opportunity not a burden, is where we can find our greatest headwind. Empathy is a critical ingredient in this mix, if we are to be effective.” Read more about Dr. Lertzman’s thinking here.