Social Alchemy — more than just a Hipster catchphrase

Waistcoat Dave
CompassionateTroublemaking
4 min readSep 19, 2018

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Collins dictionary defines an alchemist as:

‘ a scientist in the MiddleAges who tried to discover how to change ordinary metals into gold.”

In recent years this term has been given a new lease of life with the idea of ‘social alchemy’. Often framed as ‘turning bad into good’, Paulo Coelho breaks this down further in his book ‘The Alchemist’ by explaining that social alchemists “show that, when we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better too.”

Yet calling oneself a Social Alchemist can often be scoffed at, seen as having more than a tinge of the Hipster. Plus, it’s all a bit vague isn’t it?

Well, let’s get down into some specifics shall we.

The theory

Social Impact Architects (2014) developed the below framework to break down the Social Alchemist approach to problem solving and it expertly documents why this identity is more than just catchphrase.

In order for brevity, I am going to focus on three key themes that run through the theory. A more detailed breakdown of the approach can be found here.

Exploration

We live in a society with a narrative where problems need to be identified and solved quickly and efficiently but rarely does this correspond to long lasting and meaningful effectiveness. Understanding a problem and identifying potential solutions is often one-dimensional and developed from within a pre-existing narrative. It often focuses on the opinions and experiences of a small section of ‘problem solvers’. Seeking input from a wider knowledge and experience base can lead to the discovery of new (and often more appropriate) methods of problem solving. This also means that individuals and communities involved in solution implementation are likely to be more invested in it’s continued effectiveness as they have been directly involved in the process of development.

Early stages of problem exploration also ensure a stronger, more well rounded understanding of both the presenting problem as well as many of the ‘foundation factors’ that create and maintain the issue. This process is key in finding solutions that not only address the direct problem but also many of the…

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Waistcoat Dave
CompassionateTroublemaking

@CompassionateTroublemaking founder. #Writer, #Camerado & #SocialAlchemist interested in #Dissent & #Wellbeing in #ChangemakerCommunities. He/Him