October 2019

Call for collaboration: Sensemaking dialogue and lab

We would love to know whether you’d be interested in getting involved in the next phase of our Lab and helping create a new space where we will model a non-dogmatic dialogue and develop the skills to make better sense of the world, individually and collectively. We will aim at reaching a higher-order perspective of the world that will allow us to model pathways that could actually successfully tackle the social and ecological crises. If you are at all intrigued, please get in touch by filling out this form.

Why we think it’s necessary

Last July I argued in a short essay that we needed to re-launch the strategic conversations of the Smart CSOs Lab, to create a space that encourages us all to take off the ideological glasses that blind us from identifying and supporting the best ideas and solutions for a flourishing future for all on this planet. My impression was that in the past few years we were increasingly looking at the world from a narrow, ideologically constrained perspective.

The core idea is nicely expressed in a quote from this essay (by J. Taylor): “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.”

Conservatives are often more sceptical about the science of climate change because they have always interpreted it as a call for fast, large-scale change, and conservatives naturally resist fast social change. Their motivated reasoning downplays or rejects the science and consequences. On the other side of the spectrum, people that lean left don’t accept climate science for purely rational reasons: It happens that the ideologies and narratives associated with human-caused global warming and its proposed solutions align well with the left’s political predispositions, which are to change society and the capitalist economic system.

The reverse happens with the science of evolution and existing genetic predispositions that humans have. Here the mainstream science of human nature often stands in contradiction with the left, who fundamentally believe that society can be shaped entirely according to the egalitarian ideas and visions of the moment. Conservatives generally accept the findings from evolutionary sciences because these provide at least some support to their belief that the prevailing social structures are natural and cannot and should not be fundamentally changed.

This summer I published a book with my own thoughts on why we should and how we can break out of our ideological echo chambers.

I believe in the famous sentence by John Stuart Mill: “Conflicting doctrines share the truth between them.” I also believe that we need radically new ideas to deal with the deeply systemic problems of our times, but radical doesn’t mean extremely ideological.

My thesis is that without listening to each other honestly, and without good faith debate, our societies will continue down the spiral of polarisation.

Climate change has become a highly polarising issue. The progressive narrative on how we can get to a carbon free world and how we will live well thereafter, doesn’t speak to people who hold more conservative values. It’s more, it creates increasing resistance.

The environmentalist George Marshall warns progressives: “The measure of success will inevitably be the emergence of some new ways of talking that you may find unpleasant. Similarly, never assume that what works for you will work for others. Indeed the fact that you strongly like something, may well be an indication that people with other values will hate it.”

I believe that enough people truly feel that we are all in the same boat (or spaceship Earth) and that we need to come together to find solutions to our problems. But we need to treat each other with respect and develop trust.

There are many important topics that merit discussion outside the current ideologically narrow space and free of the taboos that we impose on ourselves today.

For example, it is foolish to look at the question of equality for women almost entirely from the perspective of discrimination against women. While today’s feminism undeniably puts forth many important issues and grievances, the discussion about solutions is far from adequate given the complexity of the issue. Similarly, the public discourse on immigration and asylum is incredibly poor considering what’s at stake. We need to be able to ask questions about these issues without being accused of committing a sin.

With this new space on sensemaking we want to create the conditions for all of us to become more aware of the many cognitive biases that distort our picture of reality. To make better sense of the world, we also need to learn to see when other people are truthful (they believe what they are saying), when what they say is true (there is a correspondence between what they say and reality) and if it is representative of the entire context. We will seek for the truth value of what people are saying and not just the wrongness, learn to separate the signal from the noise.

All this will make our dialogue on strategies and solutions for the Great Transition more robust, meaningful and ultimately successful.

What we need from you

We would like to hear from people who share our sense of what is required in the current polarised landscape.

We would like to hear from you if you are open to listening and discussing very different views and are not absolutely committed to defending your own side.

We would like to hear from people who are keen to get involved in helping shape this new space, or people who are keen to join us later on as participants, or people who are just generally supportive of the initiative.

At this stage we are still open to suggestions and would like to jointly plan with partners and collaborators the concrete aspects of this space and the process to follow. We would like to make this a space that is most useful and most needed in the current political climate and to support the Great Transition.

We would be most interested to hear from facilitators who have experience in creating the conditions for dialectics, and increasing awareness of our own biases, and who know how to set up collective sensemaking processes. See this talk by Daniel Schmachtenberger that provides a notion of what we have in mind.

At this stage we don’t have any money to distribute to other organisations or consultants as part of this collaboration. We are looking for collaborators who are ideally already funded, but we would also welcome putting together joint funding proposals.

We are also very keen to hear from organisations that have the structure and capacity to co-organise and co-host workshops and conferences.

If you would like to collaborate with us in this this new phase, or if you would just like to express your general interest, we would be grateful if you could answer the few questions in this form.