The Commonplace #13

Finding new ways to think, see, and do for the greater good.  That has been a motivating aspiration here at the Social Possibility Lab.  The more we consider examples and ideas in each of these areas, the more we see how thinking, seeing, and doing overlap and intersect.  The need for more creative responses, across all the domains of challenge we face, is real and serious.  Here are a few ideas and examples of relevance during this time of pandemic and difficulty: 


We tend to think about change and crisis as the exception, when change itself is the constant and our times of stability and certainty are perhaps the exception.  Writing for Aeon, Jessica Flack and Melanie Mitchell call attention to the nature of complexity and uncertainty,  “The world is always changing – partly due to factors outside our control and partly due to our own interventions.” Flack and Mitchell use the examples from the natural world, such as fireflies, to illustrate that amidst complexity we are also intricately linked,

“Like swarms of fireflies, all human societies are collective and coupled. Collective, meaning it is our combined behaviour that gives rise to society-wide effects. Coupled, in that our perceptions and behaviour depend on the perceptions and behaviour of others, and on the social and economic structures we collectively build.”

We can decide to recognize and appreciate, “…uncertainty as a fact of life that’s potentially constructive.”   Within the uncertain and complex systems in which we are embedded, we can learn new ways to be.  New ways to think, see, and do.  And this learning can not only change our behavior but also the behavior of the system as a whole.

But learning is not a given:

“One of the many challenges in designing systems that flourish under uncertainty is how to improve the quality of information available in the system. We are not perfect information processors. We make mistakes and have a partial, incomplete view of the world.”  

So how do we become better at information gathering and learning?  Flack and Mitchell point to two distinct parts – an accumulation phase where we gather information and an aggregation phase in which we pool and synthesize information.  We can pay attention to both and work on ways to be sure we are gathering better information as well as one being sure we group and interpret that information to reduce biases and gaps.   


How do we perceive the young people in our communities?  

“…the youth at the forefront of these movements are no longer content to just push for change from the fringes of power. Increasingly they are taking the reins themselves, either through the democratic process or by spearheading protest movements that command the world’s attention.”


Where are we seeing new models for change or new ways of seeing and listening?  One organization in Oregon advances community building through personal storytelling, reflective listening, and community service. The Hearth,  “…develops community gatherings in which people explore, craft, and share stories from what they have lived.”   

A recent episode of their video/podcast series, Homebound Oregon, focuses on race and racism in a predominantly white region of Southern Oregon.


While the precautions on in-person engagement continue to be necessary, how can communities and groups promote meaningful dialogue and participation that supports more equitable results?  Here is a great list of suggestions from the urban design firm SmithGroup.