#Monthnotes — What has been happening in September?

We start with a recommendation from my favourite futurist and NARWHAL ambassador, Wendy Schulz, who is always sending through articles and resources that feed my thinking on futures/narratives research:

A quote from the article that really stood out:

The original Greek word «ΜΕΤΑΦΟΡΑΙ» means “transports.” It is embossed on every moving truck in Greece. To metaphor is to move the contents of one house into another. To metaphor is to move the contents of hope into a pokeberry seed. Or move the contents of love into a rubbed off “A” on a typewriter. Metaphor is a moveable burial plot. It contains, like soil and air, the uncontainable. Metaphor is a ghost turning back into a boy. But what happens to metaphor when the framework as we once knew it thins or even dissolves? When the world seems to be breaking out of the world that once kept it?

Metaphors reduce distance. But what does this mean in a world where we must stay at least six-feet apart?

And I love this quote:

What happens to our imagination when the unimaginable has imagined us up first? Is there an emergency hotline for metaphors?

I am excited as all sorts of people start emerging who want to pitch in to grow Moral Imaginations. It’s a slow burning project which I hope will keep growing and evolving. I used to worry about the word ‘moral’ and also the clunkiness of ‘moral imagination’ — but it has stuck, and sometimes clunkiness in a name can be not a bad thing...

An example of why we so desperately need moral imagination— this comment had over 1000 downvotes compared to 195 upvotes. I don’t believe this is a function of political party or ideology, I believe it’s a function of feeling nourished and like you have ‘enough’ and can offer to share with others, and also a connection to something prophetic, to a sense of ‘what is right’ and what it means to be human, and that is where moral imagination comes in.

This was to share a great article from Ted Hughes and narrative allies at Narrative Initiative. The article discusses why futures are important to narrative projects and how to use futures in your work.

A great quote:

We find imagination to be both a necessary and strategic component to change. Futures work provides tools for bringing imagination to narrative in productive and tangible ways.

The essence of the process is to first name and describe the future. With that future in our vision we can talk about, write down and even draw the narratives that surround that future. Those narratives describe a history that hasn’t been created — a history that isn’t dependent on today’s dominant narrative and its power.

One case study is really interesting/inspiring, and that is the Transmedia Collage project, a project in 2017 and 2018 done with teenagers living in neighbourhoods around the University of Chicago. The project provided them with “the freedom, guidance and resources needed to imagine new possible futures. They began by looking at community history. In these histories they found narratives defined by the past and still holding power. These old narratives weren’t just influencing the present. They defined the future’s field of vision. Dominant narratives, the teens discovered, force people into a future based on histories, not imagination.”

My inquiry on narratives continues, which started with the 3 month NARWHAL Narratives Lab and now continues as a process of small group convenings, documentation, research and longer-term work. Here is a reflection that came from researching new forms of narrative practice:

And a response I liked from Mat Mytka:

At The National Lottery Community Fund, the UK Portfolio has been working on setting up the Emerging Futures Fund. This has been really inspiring to see grow and take off — and now it exists as 52 grants (all under £50,000 so much smaller than the Digital Fund grants I manage) spread out across the UK — with community groups who are doing narrative work, imagining the future, and storytelling projects in the wake of Covid. The projects will last 6 months so they are like small, timely interventions which will document this moment in time while also encouraging community practices of doing foresight, futures, narrative and imagining.

In my eyes practices of futures, narrative and imagining are all about a level of reflexive practice — situating oneself and one’s community in the world, and encouraging self-authorship, and the energy to look into the future and expand time horizons, which can better inform present-day choices.

At the start of the kick off session, Cassie who leads the UK Portfolio team made an acknowledgement to future generations, which later inspired me to bring in a Moral Imaginations practice called ‘Seventh Generation Practice’ where colleagues were guided through a process of expanding their perspectives to that of a human being alive in 200 years from now, enabling them to put a shape and feel on that concept:

Then, on September 3rd, awful news hit about David Graeber’s death, the inspiring and iconoclastic economics anthropologist, he has influenced so many people I know and made huge contributions to the moral imagination of money and how money and how we think of debt could be different:

Then author Aaron Bastani recommended this interview with David adding:

David walked the walk — he arguably lost a position at Yale defending his student’s right to protest. He talks about that, and more, in this wide-ranging interview with Charlie Rose…

And Jason Hickel also reminding us of this powerful quote from David, again using the imagination of how things could be different to help illustrate injustice and the need for systems change in the present:

This thread came from feeling first-hand the tension of learning about ways of thinking and perceiving from wisdom teachers and wondering about whether the domestication and watering down of these practices and concepts to fit mainstream culture is always ethical, and in fact doesn’t run the risk of killing the wisdom itself:

There is something strange and bittersweet about seeing those concepts, ideas and ways of perceiving the world trickling down and seeping into dominant culture paradigms and mainstream society.

Every time I see a latest Medium article, a report nicely designed in latest cultural norm colour palettes, a conference talk and slides, they outline these age-old ideas and ways of perceiving in the latest clever speak I notice the inner tensions that arise and I question them

It is not wrong to publish this work and give expression and burst out this latest thinking, it is not wrong to be funded to do so and build your livelihood on doing so, it is not wrong to put words and colours and textures on these new ideas (new and latest here, contextual)

But I notice that something in me is stopping me from doing so, I don’t know yet fully what it is, but I am in systems holdback — it feels like doing the inevitable, feeding into the system eating itself, eating these ideas, and actually failing to keep them alive

Something like caging an animal to capture its free-ness; to want to assimilate and understand and make it like our own, like a wild horse become tame and saddled and admired but in the taming we’ve lost what brought alive in us our very own humanness

I do not pretend to have the answers but just note the feeling, and note that it feels important, it feels more important than getting the bump of likes and credibility and being seen as inspiring, it feels connected to ensuring the power of these ideas and wisdom pieces

It was interesting that the main response came from Brother Phap Linh, a Buddhist Plum Village monastic, one of few existing living wisdom communities in Europe. These tensions are some of what the monastics sit with and hold as a living, breathing wisdom community who wishes to disseminate their wisdom but know that it can’t be done through linear and static articles and even toolkits:

Meanwhile again at The National Lottery, as part of the Civil Society Strategy piece of work, Cassie is scoping out a ‘Horizon Scanning’ unit, with communities and wider civil society centred at the heart of it. There’s a lot of scope for interesting sensemaking and information flow design here that could make best use of participatory digital platforms and also good old fashioned process design. There have been lots of great suggestions on the original Twitter thread. There are answers from UNDP / Nesta / charity sector / local government in the UK. It’s always interesting to see what the sector has been imagining and sometimes projects pop up that were fully formed but never funded — which can contribute to the flux and ecology of ideas and funded projects.

I shared this article from Social Innovation Exchange, which links to a report about using data to address complex challenges. More than the article itself this is part of the inquiry of how funders come together and learn:

Another great article recommended by Wendy:

Which plays on the thinking I’ve been doing on local narrative exchange and warm data:

September also saw us kick off the first ever online Warm Data Lab Host training Nora Bateson is hosting, and will not be the last:

Which is a major way of pursuing the work I talk about here — the entrainment of perceiving complexity:

And I enjoyed this podcast episode with Roman Krznaric, who talks about the global movement of time rebels which Moral Imaginations and others like the Long Time Project are part of:

“There is a global movement of time rebels who are challenging the idea of linear time and extending our horizons beyond our mortality.”

I loved this article by Barack Obama on Congressman John Lewis’ life. John Lewis was a moral courage hero who stood up for what he believed in the face of oppression and adversity — this was really fuel for moral courage for all readers.

Two exciting pieces of news from me, one about an interview:

Which prompted me to think more about the framing of my skills and expertise — I realised a lot of my skillset is very ‘progressive’ sounding and may therefore be a deterrent to more ‘conservative’ or right-wing audiences, although these are skills and practices and ways of organising useful to all of society.

Some of these skills and offerings/methodologies are less ideological and core to any project, like strategy and programme design (and it could be argued, learning design too!)

And another on a project I am excited to have been invited onto as an Advisor that is tackling citizen sensemaking in a time of infodemics:

On September 14th we had this lovely surprise from Alex and Jules Evans: a new report on Collective Resilience and the different ways the UK (especially youth) have been protecting their mental health during Covid-19. Download the full report here and full Twitter thread here.

There have been a few tweets this month about leadership:

And finally, exciting news about The Impossible Train Story, which has been further developed into a toolkit that groups can work with. I’ve had a few enquiries from community groups, MA programmes, local policy makers and organisational teams who want to work with the metaphor and exercise in the coming months, which is so exciting, and picks up off the discussions with Imandeep Kaur and Dept of Dreams of developing a community toolkit along these lines.

Thanks to Narrative Initiative for sharing the Impossible Train Story once again in their fantastic monthly newsletter:

These were my three favourite articles featured:

Great article by Nicky Hawkins who was until recently at Frameworks Institute on shifting the #narrative (or putting it right) — “What compelled us to act was our feelings of social responsibility and our perception of what others were doing — our sense of what was normal.”

And this last one co-authored by Melanie Mitchell, complex systems scientist who taught alongside me at Schumacher College on the Holistic Science MSc:

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Phoebe Tickell — Narratives, complexity, systems. Catalyzing transformative innovation in the face of converging crises, advising on complexity approaches, systems design, regenerative leadership, and education for regenerative development.

Cares about the common good. Building capacity for deep systems change. Complexity & ecosystems obsessive. Experiments for everything. 10 yrs #systemsthinking.