Orienteering next gen governance: translating speculation into application

*This blog post was originally published on Edgeryders and subsequently on the UNDP’s Istanbul Innovation Days website in November 2018.


It starts and ends with a compass. No map needed. No classifications necessary. For its in the orientation that we can chart this change.

But what is changing? What needs to change? In the words of our colleagues at the UNDP and Dark Matter Labs behind the 2018 Istanbul Innovation Days 1 (IIDs):

“We hypothesise our Governance models are broken. We are holding on to 19th century models that deny the complexity of the ‘systemocracy’ we live in — a world of massive interdependencies. Incumbents increasingly seek to use governance failure to preserve their structural power positions; governance protocols are failing to govern new technologies and behaviours; decision-making processes rarely factor in long-term externalities; and we are falling short in realising the new economic, social, and ecological recovery possibilities of our age.

We recognise it is wrong to think about governance through a narrow lens of regulation and law. Governance is constructed through an interplay of several overlapping domains: the rule of law; market shaping e.g. through regulation, taxation or investment; public legitimacy through deliberation, transparency, participation and accountability. For us to comprehend and design the future of governance as a method to unleash human beings (rather than simply to control them) we must understand the nuances of these domains and perceive the future of governance as a system transition challenge.”

Excerpt from #NextGenGov (the Big Boring Bureaucratic Revolution)

Indeed among other apt and inspiring insights, the IIDs are acknowledging what is absolutely essential in the paradigm shift we are in: the format must match the content. The event itself brings together hundreds of UNDP staff and partners with external innovators to forge mindsets and tactics in a world calling for collaborative leadership. And rather than design a traditional conference program of “experts,” they have curated an event made up of Zones of Experimentation (ZoX) to generously invite a creative and collective investigation into what next gen governance can be.

The Edgeryders Research Network has been called in as an external innovator through our explorations in Economic Science Fiction. As per Alex Levene’s inspiring introduction here, we will be leading a ZoX on how speculative fiction can help us reimagine economic system change. In this process (and truth be told pretty much across the course of my career), Alex Levene, Alberto Cottica and I have been reflecting on the call for a connection between theory, storytelling, speculation and impact. For me, one of the greatest human tragedies is the disparity in the wisdom of the world. We have created taxonomies and hierarchies for what knowledge is and what knowledge counts. Based in outdated social norms – as per the aforementioned 19th century models – these human constructed boundaries hinder our collective capacity to cooperate and thrive. This reflection has seen me spending several years exploring what I call thinking-making-living spaces : co-created conditions where the act of thinking, the art of making and the baring of living enmesh. Driven by the power and potential of interconnected knowledges, this practice-based research has had to extend beyond siloed disciplines and linear models of learning, thinking and making to shared worlds of inquiry. These have covered stewarding international festivals of ideas, interdisciplinary public programming for open air museums, partnership frameworks with “strange bedfellows,” experimental techniques such as a public-panel-relay, creating speculative worlds, live-in durational conferences, liv-ing with goats and so on.

Paraphrasing a comment by a dear mentor, Professor Erin Manning, from a group discussion at Concordia University in 2016:

“To live better is not to adhere to methodology… it’s to be in the contrast that co-composes with life in the eternal re-valuing of itself.”

So now I choose to bridge these gaps by working diagonally across system change, converging methodologies, traversing sectors and weaving alliances. To do this kind of collective revaluation of what agency is, I collaborate as much with the policy maker as with the activist as with the shopkeeper as with the ley line and in all instances do my best to listen to how that encounter can offer pathways for collective wellbeing. In this sense, the thinking-making-living spaces extend to global solidarity networks – communities that share an intimate allyship across their diverse knowledges and local contexts towards large-scale change.Which brings us back to this moment at the IIDs: how to orient to the speculatively pragmatic space of Economic Science Fiction in the context of experimenting with next gen governance. Grounded in Alex Levene’s and my background in participatory techniques and collective sensemaking, the experiments accompany the panel discussion between Malka Older, Raffaele Minaici and Alberto Cottica that sets the scene of Econ Sci Fi and offers attendees a tangible entry into how it can be useful for building governance of the future. Considering the mere idea of Economic Science Fiction is so substantial – the economic theories, the speculative worlds, the unchartered waters – the situation calls for simple techniques that can modulate according to how far each participant wants to go. Inspired by the work of scientist, critical theorist and feminist Donna Harraway, the experiments play across the “signifier SF” Harraway shares in her book Staying with the Trouble: Making kin in the Chthulucene (2016, 2):

“SF = string figures, science fact, science fiction, speculative feminism, speculative fabulation, so far”

Working within the (enabling) constraint of 80minutes for the experiments, we’ve employed this notion of SF to scatter seeds through the session that might just resonate with attendees along the way. The challenge we were tasked with was to give rise to a kind of “flip” for attendees. A moment when they can grasp how they can use the principles and mechanics of Econ Sci Fi to flip their approach to the current actions they have. These seeds are offered as accessible and nonlinear milestones for such a flip. Implicitly and invisibly planting these seeds through the experiments is an homage to the often overlooked knowledges of those that have got us here and might just lead us forward – for example: the wisdom of the wild woman, animist and indigenous knowledges, the genius of the neurodiverse, the courage of the less able-bodied, the colourscapes of the bower bird…

“Inter-systemic change is at hand. More than change and more than system change, the interdependency between systems of economy, health, politics, ecology, and communication is where the change lies. This is a murky territory of alive in-betweenness. The interdependency we are discussing should not be thought of as a part that can be replaced in an engine. It is elusively not in the economy or the education system; it is not in politics or the health system; it is not in the media or even the culture. It is in the way in which these aspects of our world are steeped together in a slow-cooked stew. The ingredients of the socioeconomic stew cannot now be pulled out, but the chemistry can be tended.

Nora Bateson, “Liminal Leadership”, Kosmos Journal

Whether it be seeds or a stew, the immersive experiments situate themselves in a shared space, animating the connections between things, tending. Doing justice to the aforementioned “systemocracy” and interdependency of our time, they attempt to open the intricate space of Econ Sci Fi, offering ways in which attendees can orienteer through the multi-faceted conditions on their own terms. The session is framed through concrete phases for levelling up: < Orientations > < Speculations > < Applications >. Beginning with Orientations, attendees are given “The Telling” as an activity to trace the relation between the contexts in which they are working and Econ Sci Fi. Here, we’ve chosen to start with an exercise that brings together movement, self-reflection and conversation to give access to new perspectives on participants’ own work. Exercises incorporating space and movement can be powerful tools for seeing anew. Another reason I choose to work with embodied exercises can be found in this passage from Elizabeth A. Povinelli’s book Economies of Abandonment: Social Belonging and Endurance in Late Liberalism. (2011,155):

Forty years his senior, his aunt vehemently disagreed not only with his account of the location of his risk, but also with the underlying logic of his social imaginary. To his statement that his body was alone she replied ‘No, that is not your body; that is my body. When you die, my body will suffer and die.’ … In other words, the woman was attempting to mobilize a discourse of socially cosubstantial corporeality against her nephew’s social imaginary of individuated bodies engaged in private wagers. His language of privatized loss, and its incumbent discourse of individual risk, was not met by the risk of another private loss but an appeal to a cosubstantial distribution of life, health, and social being.

For me, among other things, Povinelli is pointing to how financialised notions of risk have integrated into everyday thinking of health and survival, and highlights an indigenous approach to embodiment as a means to mobilise against the subsumption of shared life (the case study is from an Aboriginal community in central Australia). Through this notion of “cosubstantial corporality” she presents us with a real, potential, embodied and collective imaginary that responds to capital’s move beyond the living labour of the factory, beyond the immaterial labour of the knowledge society, and into our everyday capacity to live.

But of course these views are my own, and the task in the experiments is to offer ways for orienting to the potential of applying Econ Sci Fi in attendees’ own work. So the activities are designed to be almost entirely self-guided with open-ended provocations through a booklet, such that participants can create their own compass to navigate through the shared space of the Zone and beyond. The second phase – Speculations – takes them a step further by opening up the dreamspace for what Econ Sci Fi could be in their world. Here, through speculative tools attendees stretch the bounds for rethinking the economics of next generation governance. The task is to disrupt people’s norms and at the same time license their total freedom. Key is to ensure that the space is held in an atmosphere of togetherness, understanding, non-judgment, joy. What’s more, there is an opportunity to gently address how speculation is already driving a large part of our existing economic system (ie. financial markets), and how that gives us permission to reclaim speculative co-creation towards alternatives.

Continuing with Harraway’s string figures and extending on other techniques of mine such as a “public-panel-relay”, the experiments close with the phase of Applications. Here we focus on how the speculative and creative spaces attendees have shared can unlock the collective sensemaking we need for next generation governance. Almost like a mapping of coordinates to move forward, paths to take, geographies to leverage… The technique of a “Collective Ideation Relay” provides a platform to turn emerging ideas into actions in collaboration with peers. The final step drafts a call to arms that attendees can share here on Edgeryders.eu, with colleagues, or simply with themselves to keep the flame alive. Correspondingly, some DIY rituals for continuing to explore Econ Sci Fi in one’s daily life after the event are shared with a reading list by the panelists as a takeaway toolkit. It is intended that this toolkit can continue to hold each attendee’s emergent compass. Their own personalised tool for navigating through the murky and alive territories of the change at hand.

Speaking of concrete, let’s close with a summary…

The immersive experiments in our ZoX are offered as a kind of orienteering to Econ Sci Fi, opening space to translate speculation into application. Moving through three phases, attendees are given tools adaptable to different people-types and areas of interest in order to participate to the degree of their comfort. Designed to cultivate conditions conducive for collaborative and self-guided experimentation through and beyond the event, the immersive experiments bridge the possible with the pragmatic to unleash a new kind of probable.


anique vered. 2018