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Insights, playbooks, processes, guides, tools

Visit Synergistics  for background, methods, themes, projects, tools

The synergistic approach to collective intelligence has emerged for the challenges of hyper-complex-cognitive ‘wicked’ problems (so called ‘grand societal challenges’). It shows ways to turn a ‘Nexus’ of conflict and contradiction, into a ‘Connexus’ of collaboration and opportunity. It’s a loose and flexible archipelago of methods, tools, processes, playbooks and templates. 

Overview & insights

Cities (shorthand here for civilizations) have many layers – social, technology, economics, environment, political – with many ‘synergies’ or inter-connections between them, positive and negative. To reduce the negative (syndromes), and realize the positive potential (synergies), we explore the present and the future, with ‘synergistic mapping and design’.

Looking for synergies…

Basically, we explore for possible synergies, beyond the normal horizons, in three dimensions of any system:

  • Deeper: synergies between different domains and value systems (social, technical, economic, environmental etc).
  • Wider: synergies between ‘actors’ (people, organizations, networks, communities, institutions).
  • Further: synergies between the ‘factors’ or metabolic flows (from upstream causes to downstream effects

…from smart to wise…

To understand all these inter-connections… we look for signs of three types or Modes of system organization:

  • Mode-I: functional growth/change, in a clever system: the ‘city as machine’. (Where to put 5000 houses is a Mode-I kind of problem).
  • Mode-II: biological evolution, with smart systems: the ‘city as jungle’. (How to build houses with more profit is a Mode-II problem of innovation and competition, and ‘smart’ systems for winners often lead to ‘unsmart’ results for the losers).
  • Mode-III: human co-evolution, through wise systems: the ‘city as civilization’. (How to foster a liveable community is a Mode-III kind of problem).

… and the pathways between

For transformation from ‘problems’ or syndromes (generally from clever or smart systems), to ‘responses’ and synergies (generally wise or wiser systems), we look for synergistic pathways from smart to wise’. We can explore and design these with a four-stage circular process (with the shorthand ‘4-S’):

  • System-mapping (baselines): the existing system and problems on the table (with a process stage of ‘co-learning’);
  • Scenario-mapping (changes): the dynamics of change and alternative futures (the ‘co-knowing’ stage);
  • Synergy-mapping (visions): opportunities, innovations, transformations (the ‘co-creation’ or ‘co-design’ stage);
  • Strategy-mapping (pathways): route-maps, policies and projects (the final stage of ‘co-production’).


In this broad landscape of possibility, (see the Overview ) – there are different agendas. Research agendas focus on some kind of truth: policy agendas on management: enterprise agendas on practical action: and societal agendas on meaning and value



To make all this practical easy and fun, a series of playbooks began to emerge. These take the 10 basic elements of the synergistic toolkit above) into a book of templates, examples, stories and pictures. The basic playbook (in ppt format) can be adapted to almost any issue, by selecting the pages needed, and inserting the case study materials needed (pictures, stories, maps, links etc).  This can be printed out for F2F discussion, or mounted online for virtual meetings. It can be linked with online tools such as Mural or Kumu (our experience is often that low-tech is more flexible.

See the playbooks page for more resources:  the basic ‘master playbook’, some recent project examples, and practical guide. 


Processes – four stages

The Toolkit helps to understand a complex present, and explore the pathways to opportunities in the future. This cycle, from present to future and back, centres on the process tools and their 4 main stages – ‘Systems / scenarios / synergies / strategies’.

Explore the four stages: –

Practical Guides

Download the Synergistics – a practical guide  (older version, updating in progress)

For a short introduction see the Synergistics – overview

Also here are some briefing notes on topical themes with a ‘visual thinking guide’ for practical ways forward –


What is ‘Synergistics’?

We are surrounded by hugely complex inter-connected challenges. Climate change, for example, combines earth science with society, technology, ecology, economics, politics and cultural issues, at global and local levels. How to work with such inter-connected problems?

We use ‘Synergistics’ – practical joined up thinking, for problems / solutions where progress depends on synergy and collective intelligence.


How does it work?

So where to start? With simple drawings or diagrams, on flipcharts or napkins or sticky notes, we can do ‘synergistic mapping’ of people and organizations and systems (‘actors’ and ‘factors’). We use as much detail as needed at each stage, whether technical information or social deliberation. Then we can begin to explore systematically, beyond the normal boundaries and silos:

  • Wider, with synergies of actors, and of factors, (people or organizations or institutions).
  • Deeper, with synergies between different domains and value systems (social, technical, economic, political etc).
  • Further, with synergies emerging, or with potential to emerge.

This further dimension is the key to real progress in turning ‘syndromes’ into ‘synergies’:

  • Mode-I, (‘1.0’), mechanical change and ‘clever’ systems: ‘a city as machine’
  • Mode-II, (‘2.0’), biological evolution and ‘smart’ systems: ‘a city as jungle’
  • Mode-III, (‘3.0’), human co-evolution and ‘wise’ systems: ‘a city as civilization’.

To explore and realize these Mode-III systems, we use a Synergistic Toolkit, in 4-stages:

  • System mapping / co-learning: the baseline syndromes and issues on the table:
  • Change mapping / co-knowledge: the dynamics of change and alternative futures:
  • Synergy mapping / co-creation: design of opportunities, innovations, transformations:
  • Pathway mapping / co-productiondesign of pathways, road-maps, policies, projects:



The Mode-III ‘wise’ ideas combine into a bigger picture of a sustainable and synergistic future.   This follows on the question – ‘what if’ we could organize societies, economies, politics etc, around a ‘wiser’ collective intelligence?

To answer this, we need ways to move from ‘problem’ syndromes (generally in Mode-I or II) to ‘solution’ synergies (generally in Mode-III). So we design for the ‘synergistic pathways from smart to wise’…