Inequality will not move until we can find impact measurement systems which can unlock the worth of relations, knowledge exchange, opportunities, whilst resisting the urge to create an monetary worth to that exchange.
The failings in money as a measurement system for worth, success, and progress is that it doesn’t show complexity, it rarely lifts up ethics, it struggles to promote complex health, and can’t power kindness.
Emergent design is natural design, it is synched up with a recognition that human beings do not control earth, that we are elements in a much larger much more powerful system. That our designs should have adaptability, and that systems thinking allows us to consider our place in a much larger framework.
As Tyson Yunkaporta explains in Sandtalk, the value of Indigenous systems thinking is relational and the measurement is the health of our existence, of the animals, the earth, each other. The collective health.
The Indigenous fire management systems that we are starting to embrace in Australia are constantly working with the land, not swinging in for one big burn, one big audit, or end of financial year run off. Little by little. Always connected. Always moving. Always changing.
New Zealand has recently moved away from GDP to acknowledge the failings in this impact measurement system, to then look at a more expansive frame.
Crunching capital frames into the social change sector, be it in government or non-profit delivery, is incredibly dangerous. The models which have created discipline for Ford to sell more cars, or Nike more shoes, or Amazon to replace workers, Canva to take graphic designers jobs, these models are based on tenets of efficiency, minimising risk, growth, and widgets, numbers, dashboards.
To bring a capital business frame into the social change space and call it ‘business’ is utterly disastrous as an opening frame. It doesn’t recognise the inherent flaws in the translation of this model. And more dangerously, many of the capital business models have led to more wealth being concentrated with fewer people. They have succeeded in creating more inequity, often by convincing people to buy something they don’t need.
The other complex challenge is the positioning of expertise, the governance models of so many of our major social change institutions are based on triangulated board governance models. They often have members of influence on the board, and the members of influence have come from successful businesses that have generated profit.
Many of our most dangerous examples of interventions in Australia have been led by mainstream experts to help those outside the margins, the Stolen Generations being our most abhorrent social intervention to date, which still bleeds into mentalities of transitioning young people from diversity into ‘better lives’, through scholarships into boarding schools, or the other end of the stick through discipline into ‘corrective behaviour institutions’ — prisons, with 28% of the Australian adult prison population Indigenous, and only 3% of the population.
So when business people find themselves in the drivers seat of governance and replicate the Stanford, Oxford business school texts and theories, or jam Adam Smith’s frameworks into the way of thinking about we start to end up in a sticky situation. When 30% of a Board’s time is focused on audit and risk, and the other 30% on finance, and the major institutional fear is that the organisation they lead doesn’t go bankrupt, then we have some pretty serious capital influences driving the frame of impact in our social change interventions.
Let me say this thinking has it’s space no doubt AND it’s in fact had ALL the space in how we run organisations, how our governance rules are set up for a very long time. What we must do is to make space for the complex intelligence that sits outside the margins.
We are not bad, us people, we are not trying I believe when we enter social change spaces, to make the same mistakes, but I do believe we need a serious overhaul of our governance systems, and our impact measurement systems to create more space for emergent, systems thinking to be embedded into our organisations to move in more synchronicity with the real world that we are operating within.
The frame I believe in is Hoodie Economics, it’s one I’ve designed in 18 years of social intervention and it zeroes in on relationships, it looks at the currents of our relations and the exchanges of time, knowledge and opportunities between people. In my specific field of work, it’s been focused on inequity, our highways of exchange are between those inside and outside the margins.
One of the obstacles I’ve found myself banging into has been that there is a serious dismissal of complexity in a traditional business contexts.
I’m often politely or impolitely laughed at for always reinventing our organisation, for always having new ideas, new is seen as the enemy in a desire to control, repeat, and showcase year on year results.
And as we emerge from a global pandemic, which I believe we will still be in for the next 5–10 years, the desire to claim control of our work, is also one that I would urge caution towards.
There are significant global changes afoot that are shaping the next century. NFT’s, Bitcoin are offering alternative economic models that are decentralised, they are fast, adaptive, and they are real. Frey and Osborne have told us that 47% of jobs will be gone via automation in the next 20 years. And our global scientists agree that we are on the precipice of heating the earth to a point where disaster is more common than owning a dog.
In this context, if your organisation is working in the social space, working on inequity like us, or trying to alleviate a significant societal problem, if you are not fast, agile, regenerative, adaptive, and have space for what Burglemen told me in a mainstream business school at Stanford that they key to business strategy is that it manifests itself on the front line, if you are not connected to the node of the outer reaches of your network, and not synched up with the macro societal themes at play, then you will not only struggle for relevance, your impact will at the bare minimum scratch the surface of some laneway of some city of change.
This leads me to the major influence in my adult life, the power of the network. From Tim Berners Lee connecting us digitally, to what I believe to be one of the most evil societal creations, Facebook, we have learned how to relate at scale, hundreds and thousands of connections, the world is totally networked, and if your societal change model isn’t exploring the power and agency of your own network, and I don’t main paying Zuckerberg for an Ad, I mean designing your own contained network, that has it’s own worth, that the relations can move within, if you aren’t in this space, then you aren’t going to be in one of the biggest ball games of the 21st century, The Metaverse.
You can’t turn away at this point and dismiss this as some whacky thing you don’t understand, the recent black lives matter movement urged those who aren’t black or brown to please please please take some further steps across the bridge and read more, to engage more with knowledge with is different to what they know. The movement urged those in positions of power to stop asking black people to tell their life story and instead directed them to the library of thousands upon thousands of the same stories which send the same message — we have value and worth, and our social structures have set out to crush us, to belittle us, to rob us, to dismiss us, and now we are emerging into a phase of working to making space for all of us to sit at the table, and now we have to work out how to communicate, and that is going to be challenging because the biggest untapped resource of human intelligence has yet to be touched — and that’s the view from outside the margins.
This is immensely challenging because it says to the Princeton business school stock exchange guru, hey, maybe you don’t know everything, and would you take a moment to potentially pause, listen deeply, and try and learn from my point of view, because I’ve been listening to your point of view and the point of view of people like you for hundreds of years.
The Mataverse is here, and if you are not designing ways for societal change to exist in complex rich intersections between digital networking and physical exchange, then you are not in the currency of the 21st century. You’re on the sidelines.
There is no intervention worth it’s salt if it hasn’t thought about at scale the network.
The second challenge is that any social intervention which is crunched through the Leo paradigm that simplicity is the ultimate sophistication risks losing the very essence of emergent, natural design, relational worth, and from my view the desire for simplicity can run the risk of dismissing Indigenous systems thinking, which I believe to the most obvious of all, life is complex, everything is interconnected, it all has value, I mean c’mon we are right now on a rock spinning at 1000mph. That’s a fact. We are desperately clinging for our logic to make sense of pattens of yesterday.
Emergent design gives us at the very least the chance to hang on to the threads of tomorrow.
Yet we don’t have impact systems that value this thinking in our governance, business, government, corporate, philanthropic reporting frames.
I know how to write a linear report, that follows a Bain and Company endorsed logic thread, I can do that, but I don’t want to. Because the moment that I show a linear report, for example, here are 8000 kids that all completed school. When that gets applauded and funded, I feel a little ill.
Because in reaching for heuristic design, I’ve oversimplified the intervention. The weight of our work is on school outcomes. And I’m looking at a world where 47% of jobs are gone in 20 years, and kids spend more time on Fortnite then talking to their parents, where 5% of people in low income countries are vaccinated, where one of the largest capital disruptions is flying across the world, where the world now has another world, or many other worlds, where our identity is physical and digital, and I’m wondering how ‘stay in school’ shows a change in inequity.
It’s a part of it no doubt, and then linear Bain and Co thinking has it’s place. I’ve spent a bit of time with Jimmy Allen and love the concept of repeatability, I do see the value of the production line with reaching scale, the challenge is we have measurement systems for that.
But when I talk to Dr Jane Goodall who tells me that because the earth is so interconnected that every intervention must have the biggest possible systems view before we even attempt to touch it, when I work with Tyson Yunkaporta and think about the power of interconnected relations that allow us to move from expert to novice through familial design patters.
And then I look over Facebook and think, wow we’ve managed to glorify the power of that network because we can talk about it’s bazillion $ worth, because it took the systems of human interaction that have been around since human life began, and it took connections, and then use knowledge of our connections to sell our lives to people to manipulate us to buy things, I see a case study for a horrible social network. I see how business people can see it’s worth.
When I speak of our Mentorverse, our social network for good we’ve been building one relationship at a time, bit by bit, facilitating to the best of our efforts meaningful connections between people who are different, creating safe spaces for relations to build and grow, when I speak of this, it’s dismissed because we don’t have the measurement system to value the impact of relations, unless it’s relations to sell something like facebook, or relations to get an outcome like student attendance.
Our greatest issue as a species is we don’t communicate to people who are different to us.
Our greatest opportunity is developing more complex highways of exchange between those who are different.
So what do we do, we must find a way to free ourselves from impact systems that are so rigid in their predictive controls, we must embrace the power of network and emergent design, and rapidly we must start to power efficacy and impact work around social networks for good.
I’m a journalist by trade and devastated that we have lost the fourth estate, and replaced it with a rolling open mic soap box that rewards screaming, pain, anger, argument, and sales. I’m desperate to work with humanity to carve out space for mentors, guides sage thinkers to have space in our digital landscape. I’m desperate to see in 20 years time 2–3 social networks for good that harness the power of the internet to bring people together in safe spaces, to work together, to build a fairer world, not to tear each other down, and the world around us.
As I look at my home country, I’m so very desperate to see Australians, including our first Australians, know our intelligence and worth on a global stage, to cast off the shackles of shame that have strangles our modern country from birth as a swathe of convicts told they were worthless in their home country, arrived in a new country to subjugate a brilliant human race, and tell them they were no more significant than a flower, not, even, human. Against this pain and shame of our past, we must emerge and realise that we are not an island, we are so interconnected globally, that we must play beyond our borders, a great Australia, or progress for only one group will not change the face of inequity, if we are to move it we must move what we ALL value, and how we measure it’s impact and worth.
It’s the systems thinking, grounded in intelligence that runs back 60,000+ years, that I believe like Jane and Tyson, gives us a chance to regenerate and lift up our systems into operating modes that are more synched up with nature, that measure success beyond the $$, and that give us a chance of sustaining life on earth powdered by a social network for good.
Jack Manning Bancroft
Fellow, Deakin University, Indigenous Knowledge Labs
Honorary Doctor Uni SA
Fellow Western Sydney University
CEO & Founder of AIME