Sensemaking Lab

Project planned for 2020

The following is work in progress: Our aim is to kick-start this project early in 2020. We are currently fundraising and talking to potential project partners. If you have any ideas for this new phase or would like to get involved, please fill out this form.

Core objectives

  • To create awareness and strengthen civil society in its capacity to address societal polarisation and tackle climate change in more coherent and effective ways
  • To plant the seeds for a new, non-dogmatic dialogue aimed at de-polarising public discourse and strengthening societal cohesion as well as identifying and promoting viable and effective strategies and solutions for thriving societies within planetary boundaries

The rationale

The ecological transition that is needed for humanity to operate and thrive within planetary boundaries cannot happen without bringing a sufficient majority across different segments of our societies on board. But the current spirals of polarisation in our societies fuelled by our human predisposition for tribalism don’t allow for such broad consensus.

In recent years many civil society organisations have adopted critical systems thinking tools that look for power and control mechanisms, oppressions and marginalisation in our societies. While these approaches have been useful for bringing to the fore various types of discrimination that to this day have not been sufficiently addressed, they are ultimately very limited for dealing effectively with the multidimensional challenges we’re facing.

The conventional approaches, tools and theories of change used by civil society organisations are often based on a narrow understanding of morality and might in fact exacerbate polarisation, including for issues like climate change.

The problem is that although a significant minority of people in the European civil society sphere realise that fundamental change within civil society is needed, they don’t feel empowered to make their voices heard. Most discussions across the progressive side of European civil society operate inside a tight ideological echo chamber where little efforts are made to listen to truly different perspectives.

The project

Our premise is that to fight polarisation it is not enough to stand up against far-right populism. Moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt finds that the deeper problem behind the current political situation is a conflict not between good and evil, but between different moralities, where each side is convinced they are fighting for a good cause rather than out of self-interest. In fact, we know that the psychology of Western, educated, industrialised, rich and democratic (WEIRD) people is fundamentally different to the psychology of the rest of humanity, including people with more traditional values in European societies.

Only through mutual understanding, respect, trust and tolerance can we stop polarisation and prevent climate change from becoming an ever more divisive issue.

In this learning space and capacity-building programme, we will:

  • create awareness about our own cognitive biases and build capacity for seeing issues from multiple perspectives,
  • put an emphasis on the psychological processes required for people to get out of their ideological frames (to become aware of one’s own thoughts, feelings and sensations objectively),
  • exemplify non-dogmatic dialogue and non-tribalistic narratives,
  • help civil society organisations develop approaches to reach audiences beyond the progressive spectrum,
  • and explore innovative solutions and strategies for human wellbeing within ecological boundaries beyond ideological boundaries.

We are currently envisioning a series of learning and capacity-building workshops for change agents and activists who are open and keen to learn and experiment with new approaches. We will disseminate learning material and facilitation methods to reach the widest audience possible.

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