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Synergistic Pathway Toolkits

 

For the grand challenges of the 21st century – from climate chaos to rampant inequality – we need to look beyond short term problem-fixing, towards longer term transformation.  This depends on the emerging collective intelligence, the potential for shared learning, innovation and collaboration, between organizations, businesses, communities & societies. 

These Pathway Toolkits have been developed to help with mapping, design and mobilization of such collective intelligence. We find that four very basic questions is enough to start a process of creative thinking

  • What are the ‘Top 3 challenges’ – the current situation ?
  • How are things changing – the ‘Top 3 changes’ expected ? (by 2030/40/50)
  • What is the potential – the ‘Top 3 opportunities’ coming up ? (by 2030/40/50)
  • How to achieve them – the ‘Top 3 priorities’ for action ? (by 2030/40/50)

 

Starting with such simple questions, supported by visual thinking templates, we can explore and map the pathways.  These are broad directions for change & transformation in any complex system – social, technical, economic, ecological, political and cultural / mythological – not fixed plans, more like flexible and creative ways to mobilize the synergies between all stakeholders (the date range of 2030/40/50), on the ‘3 horizons’ model, is completely flexible)…

The Pathway Toolkits are based on the principles of synergistics and collective intelligence, with a wider community of interest, deeper layers of value, and further horizons of transformation. Synergistics – the art and science of synergies – looks for such transformations in all walks of life – social, technical, economic, environmental, political, cultural etc.  For an overview of the synergistic approach see the Synergistics – overview.  

 

Pathway toolkit options

The Pathway Toolkits come in a range of options, depending on who is thinking about pathways, how they can best do this, and for what purpose.

We can go for more ‘analysis’ with rational thinking: or more synthesis with creative thinking. Likewise we can focus on the process of mapping or designing the collective intelligence, or the ‘outcome’ or product (report, map, policy etc).  The diagram here then shows each combination, with different versions for the Pathways Toolkit.

  1. Analysis / rational thinking, focused on process: pathway design process: synergistic exploration
  2. Analysis / rational thinking, focused on outcomes: synergistic mapping: technical systems modelling / network analysis;
  3. Synthesis / creative thinking, focused on process: gaming, role-play, visual thinking & storylines
  4. Synthesis / creative thinking focused on outcomes:  playbooks & prospectives: agent-based / decision  models

 

Each of these versions in some way is a kind of ‘trading zone’ between fuzzy controversial challenges (typical of real life human problems), and the technical evidence, analysis or modelling which can inform them. For this zone, online whiteboards such as seem to offer a good balance between more unstructured creative thinking, and enough analytic functions to take this forward. We have created the synergistic toolkit and its templates in a series of Mural whiteboards, now tested in many projects since 2020.

These can link directly with technical tools and platforms, as and where this is useful: we have experimented with system level tools such as Kumu, Decision Explorer, Insightmaker:  management tools such as Padlet, Trello, C-Map: and network mapping tools such as Ucinet. 

Meanwhile, different types of users / clients, may have different agendas.  Very broadly, research agendas focus on some kind of evidence-based knowledge: policy agendas on management: enterprise agendas on practical action: and societal agendas focus more on meaning and value.

 

Pathway toolkit examples

  • Synergistic mapping: this is the basic approach, in 4 main stages, as explained below.  This works best as a F2F process with creative thinking around working group tables of 3-6 participants.  For online meetings we developed, through the Covid period, a large workspace on the Mural platform, with a series of templates based on the synergistic approach.  Experience shows this needs dedicated and focused attention by participants: F2F this takes at least 2 hours: online takes more, subject to the commitment of the participants.  Possibly the most effective examples were done by post-graduate students, where time is less pressured. 
  • Pathways Playbooks can make the  process easy and fun for users – taking the basic ideas as a play-book of examples, maps, 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 (pictures, stories, maps, links etc).  This can be printed out for F2F discussion, or mounted online for virtual meetings. Examples include the Ground Zone:  see the Pathways Playbook page for more resources. 
  • Pathways Role-play was the theme of experimentation at the COP26 in 2021, and in follow on projects, such as the Eco-war. It seems to fully explore and understand systemic risks or resilience, we have to role-play or ‘war-game’ the strategies and opportunities of key actors / stakeholders.  The background to this is the ‘BBW’ (‘Big Bad World’) approach to understanding predatory expropriation, colonization, hijacking and weaponization, as seen in the Ukraine war & others.  Feedback: participants need some preparation for this – or – we need to reframe it more as a ‘game’…
  • Visual thinking fits well with the narrative approach to storylines and scenarios.  Both can be very effective for creative thinking ‘out-of-the-box’, simulating the role-play of actors, and exploring both visions and nightmares. Cartoons can be edgy and in some cases risky to the funding organizations. Various series are in motion such as the Climate-wise and Political Games on http://www.urban3.net.

 

Synergistics – practical guides

These Practical Guides are more like working papers with a brief outline of the theme & challenge, and some background material to get a project set up.  This can then use any of the options above – simple mapping, role-play design, the Playbook format and others.

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

These are various Synergistic Practical Guides / visual briefings on topical themes –

 

 

Synergistics:  overview of ‘4-S’ process

The Synergistic Pathways 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: –

 

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’…