Why would we ponder how human systems work? The answer is in one word: agency.

Human agency is of huge significance to organisations, communities and social movements.  There will always be times when we need to organise via top-down networks. But the trouble is a reductionist, mechanical view of human systems is privileged in our thinking: a cultural hangover from the industrial era, reinforced by managerialism. While top-down organising has been great for many things, we have also unthinkingly perpetuated approaches that limit agency.

A new paradigm is emerging that understands networked systems as adaptive and complex. If we want to grow a movement or get bang-for-buck in an organization, understanding these dynamics is no longer optional. We need to understand self-organisation, the special sauce that liberates collective intelligence. What helps it flourish? What kills it?

The urgency of the problems we face compels us to think about this. Many creative minds use complexity concepts in corporations and the field of social innovation. Yet to date, there has been limited application in social movements and environmental campaigns. Surely now is the time. To protect Earth’s life-support system, let’s tap into the power of networked humanity.

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7. Everydayville. The fire is coming.

 Everydayville is a normal town, a pretty good place to live. Everyday, parents drop their kids at wooden school buildings set amongst the eucalypts, then go about their lives. Off to work. Shopping. Checking Facebook. Planning holidays. And at night, when darkness covers everything, the windows of their homes glow blue with TV light, and kangaroos, like hungry ghosts, sneak round to graze in yards as they have done since the drought began. Everydayville is a normal place, or so it seems. But Everydayville has a secret: it’s a place of restless sleep where townsfolk, in their air-conditioned homes toss and turn and wake up with anxiety. As if some deep unease has entered dreams while outside, in fatal heat, flying foxes lie in heaps where they have fallen from the trees. Yet, were we to drive beyond the township’s boundaries, we’d see a different sleep: the sleep of muscle-tired firefighters stretched on swags next to the trucks where they have worked all day reducing fuel load, doing what they can to stop the fire that’s heading Everydayville’s way. And every morning when they wake, they reach out to their neighbours in the town, but Everydayville is deaf to them. ‘Yes, the fire is terrible..we’re off to bowls’ say citizens. ‘When I have more time’ they say. ‘I’m off to Europe’ they say. But the fire is coming. The fire is growing. The fire is coming Everydayville’s way. And everyday, parents drop their kids at wooden school buildings set amid the eucalypts then go to work. Shopping. Checking Facebook. Planning holidays. And every morning, parents drop their children at the school, amongst the tinder-dry eucalypts, but the fire is coming, the fire is coming Everydayville’s way.
How do we write our collective story, facing climate breakdown and ecosystem collapse? Even though the Northern Rivers birthed the story of Linkmore (please read it in conjunction with this tale of Everydayville), it seems we have, since then, been doing Everydayville, as have the majority of people in our country. But there are signs of movement. What will it be? Will Everydayville citizens join up with others in collective action? What stories will they tell their children? What actions will they show their families? Will they build the connective tissue that prevents harm, and also heals us from catastrophe?