Global Sensemaking

Tools for Dialogue and Deliberation on Wicked Problems

As little as a year ago I was thinking that we had twenty to thirty years to find solutions to the big global challenges, climate change, peak oil, food, water, etc. Even this included assumptions that there would still be major displacements in various populations of the planet. But events over the past year have started me questioning this position. The rapid decline in ice formations, most importantly the arctic ice sheet, the increased rate of methane emissions from melting tundra, the rapid decline in the production of key oil producers (e.g. Mexico and North Sea) and the flattening of production in other key producers (not to mention the internal use of oil, reducing exports to us net importers) at the same time that demand from China and India are increasing, and several other accelerations in degradation of the environment have me concerned. Do we really have time?

The recent implosion (with much more to come) in the financial and housing markets, the run up in oil and gasoline (petrol) prices with impact on food prices are but symptoms of the systemic nature of the problems. As John Muir said, "...tug on one thing and everything is affected." In this case, it seems we are tugging on many things with potentially dire consequences.

This leaves me with a sense of growing urgency. I pay attention to rates of change and particularly acceleration. It is very hard to bring a system back into a controlled region when you have to compensate for acceleration out of that range.

My main question is how effective do the members of this group think we can be if my observations are correct? How do others see the need for progress if we are to make a difference? I'd just like to take the temperature of the group for a sense of how much effort should be put into getting this project functional and producing some results - sense of the global issues and humanity's responses to them.

Thoughts?

George

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George, I share this sense of urgency. I made some comments which try to suggest the way I see so far to bring this urgency together with effective relationships and action (cf Global Sensemaking U).
I think one of the most difficult things a global sensemaker can do is to recognize/acknowledge the depth and breadth of global wicked problems and still act to mitigate them. So, yes, I share your sense of urgency as well as what I think is your sense that this group has a vast potential to amplify the effort of people and organizations working toward solutions to the most important problems facing us today.
The problem is clearly heartbreakingly urgent - I hear lots of people talking about how the next ten years or so are critical ones - but it's hard to know what a small group can do to save a huge world. The metaphor I've used to reassure myself about the possibility of change is that of crystallization in a super-saturated solution. When the world at large comes to realize the urgency of change (analogous to the solution becoming more and more saturated) there comes a point when even a tiny crystalline seed (like ourselves) can trigger a massive self-propagating global change. But the trick is having the right kind of seed: many worthy innovations fail because they weren't quite right for the times. So that suggests that we should create a context, in our group, where many diverse real-life sensemaking experiments can flourish with the same kind of fecundity that nature creates in its own experimentation with species. If we hit upon the right idea, people will crystallize around it.

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