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Toolkit 3 – Synergies

With a range of possible futures on the table, positive and negative, it’s time for ‘emergent’ thinking. This stage is like a crucible or laboratory, a space where new ideas can emerge.

The next three pictures show three connexus spheres: moving from mechanical ‘clever’ systems, towards more complex ‘smart’ systems such as markets: and then to ‘wise’ systems of collective intelligence.   Mode-III doesn’t replace the others – rather, each has its role and works in parallel. Our Low-Carb City needs a good Mode-I energy system for basic supply: Mode-II markets to allocate resources and incentives: and Mode-III systems for social equity and sustainability.

Step (G): Linear – ‘Clever’ – Mode-I

Here we track ‘functional systems’. These respond to direct short term change, like a complex but single purpose machine. While there might be growth, the structure of the machine is stable, and our cognitive understanding of the machine is also stable. In our Low-Carb city, the vehicle engines are (hopefully) clever at transforming fuel into motion, but the engines can’t transform or evolve into anything different. The connexus sphere shows the guiding intelligence outside of the system: i.e. the thinking of the designers or entrepreneurs is outside of the products and assembly lines. Likewise, the negative impacts of congestion or emissions are external to the technology: the engine itself doesn’t care about its impacts (but its designers should).

For the Low-Carb housing problem: we just need 500 or 50000 or 5 million houses (‘dwellings’) to meet our population projections. So we arrange a good supply of land and permissions, concrete and steel, construction workers etc. What could possibly go wrong?


Step (H): Evolutionary – ‘Smart’ – Mode-II

This sees many natural and human activities as ‘complex adaptive systems’, with a biological image of jungle or wilderness. A complex adaptive system creates niches, habitats and symbiotic relations, in which species can evolve over time. In the human sphere this kind of system applies to markets or innovations which are driven by a ‘winner-takes-all’ motive of extraction and dominance.

For our Low-Carb city, a ‘smart’ urban transport system might be complex and adaptive, evolving new markets and product combinations. However it would also tend to extract financial profit or political values, and dump the social impacts on others. The cartoon shows how the ‘intelligence’ functions of inter-connected learning and thinking are clustered in a few elite pockets, while workers and customers are maintained as commodities for exploitation.

Within this simplistic picture there are many nuances. Socio-biology, for instance, shows how all ecosystems and communities involve cooperation, symbiosis, even altruism. In human organizations, even the most rapacious firms or mafia gangs need internal cooperation and social norms. So we have to be careful to look for the most relevant unit of analysis. Our Low-Carb city would look at the relations of stronger actors such as government, finance, utilities, property and construction, where the profit or power motives might be uppermost. The role of other actors such as education, arts and sports, or just plain residents, might be up for debate.

For Low Carbon housing, a Mode-I system may not work: landowners will hoard their land, builders will cut corners, residents will divert the funding… So – we need incentives such as rising markets, energy innovation, finance products…. If some people can’t keep warm that’s not our problem.


Step (I): Co-evolutionary – ‘Wise – Mode-III

This is the core of the synergistic toolkit. Here we explore the human qualities of thinking, learning, designing, questioning, intention, self-awareness and collective intelligence (however that is defined). The image is that of a human psyche or human community. The system architecture is more like a human brain than mechanical computer: it shows multiple feedbacks and inter-connections, flexible self-organization and ‘neuroplasticity’, parallel processing, higher order cognition and reflexive consciousness. There’s a huge debate on intelligence, what it is and how it works. In the Technologies pathways of Deeper-City we look at ‘CHAI’ or ‘Collective Human-Artificial Intelligence’: and in the Insights we look at various combinations of shared or distributed mind.

‘Collective intelligence’ may never be fully defined, but we can track technical intelligence, emotional or cultural intelligence. Or we can look at cognitive-collaborative processes, with the ‘co-’ word, as in ‘co-learning, co-knowing, co-creation, co-production’. Or we can take a synergistic design approach, working with stakeholders on co-learning for potential for synergies and value-loops around the table, the co-creation of new synergies, and co-production of pathways. As a successful round table generates synergies, and as multiple synergies add up to a whole greater than the parts, the effect can be really transformative. In our Low-Carb City we can shift the problem definition and the solution space, from ‘500 houses’, towards growing ‘liveable communities’.

Low-Carb housing, (as part of a Low-Carb city-region), is about liveable communities, micro-economies, social enterprises, neighbourhood cohesion etc. Housing designs and tenures and finance packages could be more diverse, flexible, responsive and adaptable. For ‘wise’ Housing-III we look at the collective intelligence of design, policies, and markets.