Pathways to the Great Transition

The goal of this project, launched in early 2017, is to explore and experiment with innovative strategies and ideas that could prove effective as we strive for the Great Transition (thus the name).

Building on the Lab’s work over the last five years, we are currently working with CSOs and researchers to identify and share exactly how civil society actors and funders can work towards the Great Transition.

We want to provide an impulse to emerging discussions about systems change, using the most recent critical reflections on discourse and theories of change.

The project has two strands:

  • Learning from practice – We work with civil society organisations that are interested in experimenting with different strategies for and ideas about change. We want to work with them using an action-research approach and apply the Smart CSOs model to practical contexts (action experiments).
  • A research dialogue – We engage researchers and practitioners in a dialogue guided by two questions:
    1. The vision question (what): Is there a puzzle emerging in the new/next system, and if so, which are some of the key elements?
    2. The strategy question (how): Can we identify any promising pathways (for activists/funders) to the Great Transition?

front cover of the paper, Theories of change
  and the vision of the Great Transition

As a precursor to Pathways to the Great Transition, the Smart CSOs Lab made an initial exploration into theories of change and the vision for the Great Transition at our Barcelona workshop in October 2016. We’ve detailed the larger themes that were motivating us and some trends we identified through the activities that participants did in this report.

In 2017, we teamed up with Oxford University PhD researcher Dina Hestad to help CSOs and grant-making organisations make better decisions as they pursue their goal of systemic change. There is a lack of tools for identifying potential leverage points and, most importantly, monitoring and evaluating whether the actions of CSOs are actually helping promote systems change towards sustainability.

So, we decided to try our hand at creating a tool. We invited people in our network to participate in a survey about proposed leverage points and give their feedback, the results of which we have summarized in a report. We’re currently working on a deeper analysis of the ideas and topics people touched on and testing the tool in practice.

And at our Paris event in March 2018, the Agora for the Great Transition, one of the sessions organized was a group exercise that aimed to engage Agora participants with our proposed tool for exploring criteria that helps identify effective leverage points. We put together a short report outlining the session, where you can read about how we organised it and check out the results.

Ahead of our Agora event, we wrote a discussion paper meant to spark discussions and meaningful dialectics by posing questions that might need clarification before we can design strategies and approaches to systems change. The paper brings up the problem of political polarisation and ideological echo chambers and the importance of being open to knowledge we might not have, to engaging with people we might disagree with—that is, if our goal is really to establish truths and make progress that benefits us all.

Some of these topics are expanded upon in an article we published recently: “Why we need to switch the story for the Great Transition to succeed”. We highlight some blind spots we think progressives in systems change spaces need to work on and describe the limitations of the oppression narrative. We might benefit from thinking of the story of humans as an evolutionary one, and in addition to the value of understanding our biological evolution, there is much to explore in the arena of cultural evolution that could hold the key to dealing with our political polarization.

Watch this space as we continue to collaborate in exploring new ideas and research from a variety of fields, looking for knowledge that could aid us in discovering pathways to the Great Transition.

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