“I think people often have a collective mindset to some degree - but the ‘collective’ they have in mind is quite limited, basically “people like me”. So the challenge is to create a larger ‘us’. For me, connecting at the heart level, rather than just at the head level is one of the best ways to do that. But you need structures to enable that”
Jamie Pett, Collective Conversations community member
As a room of facilitators, community builders and social activists, we swapped notes, resources and experiences on what it is like to accompany potential changemakers on a journey from being a lone wolf in a hierarchy to activating the collective for good. We also reflected on what it means for us as individuals to practise a collective mindset in our work and our life.
3 schools of thought inspired and framed the discussion. Each is centred around ways to incentivise a collective approach despite time, resources and energy being tight.
How could we subvert capitalism to incentivise our role as collaborative citizens rather than expectant consumers?
Jon Alexander supports us to rethink the role of the citizen into something wholly more collaborative. What he is asking for is for us to turn capitalism on its head. To view citizens as value contributors rather than value consumers. An idea that gives us the opportunity to focus on what we have collectively, not what we are missing and need. It’s about abundance rather than deficit. This came up in our first Collective Conversation last year and provided a lot of inspiration.
In underground fungi systems, reciprocal signals incentivise collaboration and resource sharing that’s life-depending in the natural world. How might we emulate this in our world?
Mycorrhizal fungi systems (the underground networks that run through soil) and how they behave have prompted Merlin Sheldrake to understand very different incentive and driver systems happening underground, this could perhaps encourage us to not accept the worldview above ground so readily. There is a different worldview we can take, an inherently more collective one.
How might the technology of web3 incentivise collective decision making?
Web3 is a space helping us to use tech to test new decentralised governance models that distribute power and action, as discussed in a previous collective conversation. Incentives are built into Web3 technology in ways that create transparent trust based systems like smart contracts easy to trust, because that ‘trust’ is built into the technology. What’s more, what this does is do away with being able to build structures that look like hierarchical companies. Instead we are operating in ‘autonomous actor networks’ which look more like nation states where (theoretically) everyone has a decision making power through their voting rights and equal opportunities provided by the state.
Of course within this room, we were all interested in the work of systems change, of building a better world. To make the ‘collective worldview’ easier to grasp and apply to our own work, we set ourselves three guiding questions to explore during the conversation.
- I: What individual mindsets are needed to act collectively and shift to a more collective worldview?
- WE: How do we need to organise ourselves to incentivise a collective mindset and action?
- US: What might the positive impact look like if we were to act collectively?
Peter Block joined us hours after sending his latest book to the publishers - Activating the Common Good. Peter has been writing about the power of community and citizenship for a number of years alongside his work as a coach and community convener which to him means designing contexts and systems ‘as if people matter’.
Abi Freeman, co-founder of Brink brought her experience and passion for all things technology, behaviour change and innovation, charting her experience from the corporate world to rest-of world, working with cities who want the best for their citizens, which really means, working with humans.
Let’s dive into the themes that arose from a deep dive conversation with Abi and Peter, and then with one another.
A collective mindset means getting from our heads to our hearts
“The right mindset can not only keep you healthy but save your life”
Abi reminded us of the important work of Viktor Frankl who through his work taught her that the right mindset can not only keep you healthy but save your life, conclusions gleaned from his lifelong research since his own survival of a second world war concentration camp when others with more physical strength but less purpose, perished. This sets the scene for the importance of mindset in shaping how we behave and how we approach shaping the world around us, even when power dynamics and resources are not in our favour, and how important it is to understand on a deeper level what this could mean for our work today, especially when it comes to incentivising the kinds of collaboration that will tackle some deeply entrenched and complex societal problems of today.
Peter made a plea to us to take these ideas seriously: “To change mindsets to ones that prioritise collective action, we must go away from seeing body and mind as two separate things and to the convening of the system in one room. If we trust each other and make an effort to make the place we live better then we can live longer. A collective worldview is to build structures that accelerate the connection of people and building of trust”
Abi gave some examples of initiatives that opened her mind to the potential of taking participation of citizens seriously in a world where there is so much emphasis on ‘the lone wolf, the lone innovator’. Take experiments in participatory constitution writing Iceland or participatory budget-setting, policy making and citizen assemblies popping up all over the place and we start to see an alternative way of collective thinking.
Relational activism as an enabling environment for collective action
“Every person who joined us was an internal activist or change agent within the government structure. They spotted this project as a way to make change in their city authority”
The example that Abi gave of bringing together members of city councils in Africa to work on systems change initiatives made us tussle with how to harness the dissatisfaction of individuals and direct it towards the positive harnessing of the collective.
We talked about the relationship between anger awareness and collectivism. When anger arises in us, it is an important signal that something is not right, equitable or good. Then, if and when we increase our awareness and recognition of this, the ripple effect can be felt exponentially. So what do we do with it? It was felt that anger is a great motivator but it doesn’t also have to dictate how we organise in the world. Empathy is also a key balancer in this equation. With empathy alongside anger, we can connect with and engage in meaningful dialogue that moves us to genuinely collective change. As Peter concluded ‘innovation is about welcoming the stranger’, in essence, ensuring that there really are diverse perspectives in the room. Here, language also has a large part to play. For example the shift from ‘gay marriage / rights’ to equal rights unlocked the conversation and helped more people not only join the conversation, but fundamentally helped to change laws and enable same-sex marriages to take place within organised religion.
How we gather is the key to unlocking change more than why we gather
“Every board of directors is an example of people not mattering. The only aim is to get out in time. These are unkindly and unhuman practices that we treat as important. Why don’t we take this seriously how we co-produce together?”
A collective frustration filled the air at this point of the conversation. Time and time again, we see examples of where the ways of gathering can incentivise ‘lone wolf’ behaviour before you’ve even started. Think about rectangle tables that are designed for negotiation rather than collaboration, of rows of seats that force us to be talked at rather than have a conversation, of council meetings that have a 1.5 hr agenda and only 5 minutes of citizen participation at the end.
“In the structure of the room and nature of the question I become accountable to the imagination of the future.” Peter explained.
We heard Peter talk about his role in building collective mindsets by going against the grain and refusing to follow accepted ways of being. He disappoints whole conferences by coming into a room as keynote speaker and getting people in groups of 6 to talk to one another. “So if I was the speaker, I would say thank you. If you came to be inspired and motivated, you're gonna be sorely disappointed with me as your keynote speaker that I came as an excuse. I am the bait to bring you together to have conversations with each other that you're not used to having with people that you're not used to talking to.” To Peter it’s all about shifting from people waiting to be unstructured and learned rather than talk to one another. “They are worshipping too small a god. The collective is the larger god.”
How we gather also includes being intentional platforms we use when we gather and taking seriously the role and craft of the facilitator. For those in this collective conversation, it means:
- Choosing the mode we use to facilitate groups carefully, Some tech platforms exclude certain groups of people, by generation or class
- Understanding, having empathy for people and adapting to the needs of those we’re working with e.g. language, introverts/ extroverts.
- Creating space for emergence
Using simple but powerful methods automatically democratise a space and conversation:
- Perhaps co-creating the way of facilitating a group through designing a contract between the facilitator and group
- Signing waivers before going into meetings that said that everyone had the right to speak.
- The democratisation of the post-it note. One post-it note, one idea and every post-it note is equal. Ideas are democratic
Getting citizens upstream and sharing power
“Everyday people need the mindset and context to know they have the answers and can make change happen.”
A collective mindset means believing that your individual voice matters. As the saying goes ‘there is no community without its members’. Equally, if members of a community, system or country, don’t believe they really are an active member, that they are essential to the change that happens around them, then where is that change coming from? If we’re talking about better futures, better for whom, and who decides?
Abi’s journey from corporate innovation to citizen led innovation gave us great insight into what makes equitable and successful change happen. When she started to think about where answers come from, she realised that the reality is that you should be asking those on the frontline what needs to change, not just the CEO. Innovation to Abi now means trying to solve some of the deepest problems in society and that is going to take lots of us, not a lone innovator.
In her work with 11 city councils across Africa who joined the Aston journey of implementing digital infrastructure to improve the lives of citizens, she saw the transformation that can come when you give people permission to have ideas, and suggest change. As she explained “Every person who joined us was an internal activist or change agent within the government structure. They spotted this project as a way to make change in their city authority.”
For one particular woman on that journey, bringing citizens upstream in a process felt scary but it was transformative. So much so that she transformed her career, bringing people along the journey and empowering everyone around her to speak and take part in change. However in order to make that shift, she had to be given permission to speak, she had to challenge power dynamics and break ‘rules’ and customs.
Another example exists in Longmont, Colorado, brought to us by Peter. The restorative justice system in Longmont has brought 4000 people out of the judicial system. How? Members of the community sit down with offenders and ask them questions about the crime for which they are being accused. After the conversation, the community decides if they should go to prison. They have now taken the same approach with schools and bad behaviour leading to a significant reduction in expulsions.
It’s not easy though, as Carl pointed out in the discussion, “Permission to speak / act / do is a challenge in so many spaces, and it is a real hurdle; even in cultures and environments that are ‘equal and meritocratic.’”
Practice without expecting perfection
The conversation ended with a reflection on the ‘I’ - our personal mindsets. If we are to buy into a collective worldview, we are also committing to practising this in our daily lives, taking what we learn in conversations like this from our head, into our heart. However, being imperfect humans Peter emphasised the importance of accepting the contradictions and the paradoxes that come with pioneering a collective worldview often within environments that dis-incentivise that way of thinking. Forgiveness and perseverance are key.
Many resources were shared in the session too to aid our personal growth from the heart to head of a Collective Mindset:
- A book from Jamie: The Persuaders: Winning hearts and minds in a divided age
- A framework from Camille: The International Futures Forums 3 horizons model
- A podcast from Bryony: Words to win by
- An initiative to join with Jamie: The Transformational Governance project