Learning Societies

Solving the big questions of our time together

Floris Koot
Feb 27, 2018 · 8 min read

Huge complex problems can’t be solved by single minded and top down formatted solutions only. We are learning more and more that participation of involved citizens in solving big issues is essential. If not for the quality of answer, then at the least for their participation in execution. Yet how to get involved citizens? How to create learning societies? For this Kristian Mjøen and others started working on a list to frame the essential values and approaches needed for that.

As a therapist once said at the basis of change lay three things: awareness and acceptance of what’s going on, and a shared willingness to make it work. I found this works in couples therapy, for start-ups and festival crews and whole nations. So how to organize that and give it direction?

Small poster for the local and online organised event.

Note: The list beneath is the result of a conversation started by Kristian Mjøen (Nor). He is developing a charter for learning societies. He brought in some starters, and a (partially online) dialogue brought forth the rest. Other participants were, in no particular order, Philippe Greier (Aut), JP Candiotti (Peru), Ivar Troost (NL), Laura Steinsli (Nor/NL), Bert-Ola Bergstrund (Swe), Dalila Pilcher (Aut/Mex), Maria Pilchbauer (Aut), Arthur Bakker (NL) and others, and me.

We hope to start up a collaborative project that will investigate and develop societal learning in and between several cities. This initial charter, born from a dialogue with a focus on real world experiences hopes to strengthen our starting points and investigation. Further versions, do comment(!), will be needed to sharpen, expand, condense the list to create actual guidelines. Also be aware that we think glocal; different cultures, may demand a different emphasis or values deviating from this list.

Does it matter? Yes, the next article link is but one example of the power of community. Others can be found when you google Blue Zones (zones around the world where people get above average old in a very healthy way) or google Transition Towns (zones where cities makes collective transitions) or just search for Power of Community or Learning Societies.

Rough List for a Charter for Learning Societies

What does a society need to enhance collective learning?

1. Opening Up. Take a playful approach to change.

Support a Convivial Culture. As a whole we need a more transformative approach to communication and move away from holding on to our ideas as truths. We need to move towards better dialogue and interplay with our fellow citizens. Or as Pat Kane (the Play Ethic) argues, play should be understood as creativity, fundamental to the art of life, and a constitutive part of our humanity. When children play they care not for race, corporate interests or profits. We all could invite more of that openness into our adult relationships.

Tricksters can be threatening, but bring gifts in the end. (pic CC by Bill Lewis)

Allow the trickster in. Yes, indeed. Change comes only when people can see beyond their box. It’s no coincidence, that in many myths the trickster instigates change through provocation. Such a type may expose relied upon ‘truths’ as outdated convictions in need of renewal and innovation. So listen deeper to what provocative unsettling voices mirror back to you.

Show openness towards experimentation. Not all cooked up solutions, especially those concocted based upon convictions or assumptions, will work. You have to test and try and iterate and tweak moving forward. Thus openness to try and the willingness to listen to feedback and discuss outcomes is essential. You who reads this, should help give the example rather than stay in your own box. ;)

2. Inclusion: Involve Yourself.

Anyone, like Rosa Parks, can trigger change.

Attend the Quality of Relationships. If I don’t feel connected to my society, let alone network, why should I care how they fare? Feeling connected, both through actual relationships and deep understanding of how interrelated we are, matters. Work on overcoming divides, strengthening shared identity and improving dialogue is essential. By being inclusive, there’s no need for sides to battle each other and lose sight of the core objective: a healthy peaceful learning community.

Recognize a shared need or urgency. If there is no need or pressure, why start learning, or even working, together? If one neighbor is evicted, that might be his loss (or possibly something like corporatism or racism). When the whole street is evicted, for sure there is an immediate crisis that concerns all. Helping a community see and frame that shared interest is key to start developing together.

Strengthen a shared believe in influence. Many people seem apathetic, because they believe their actions are insignificant, or worse, might upset their own life. Therefore making experiential how communities through involvement or, when not listened to, activism actually impact their environment, matters. Show examples, stories of success. Help it happen where you can.

Sharing stories of what matters. We all have been, at some point, in shouting discussions driven by anxieties. High emotions may disrupt relationships. We need deeper listening and better storytelling to find the heart of what matters. For this we need stories that touch us in our core and humanity. Because that’s where we can recognize we are not strangers, we all share similar paths and one world.

3. Facilitate. How can municipalities and officials support their society?

Support networking through a System of Sharing. Both on and offline sharing between a multitude of participants can and will help emerge shared visions and conclusions. Modern technology needs to be balanced with real world meetings spaces. Either find and use existing technologies and or support creation of local new solutions that seem to strengthen this.

Show Quality of Leadership. If the facilitators or leaders manipulate towards desired outcomes, or steer according to their own assumptions they may suppress great alternatives. They also need to deserve the trust of all participants. Integrity and capabilities to build relationships and hold the space, or vision, are essential.

Picture CC by Denise Krebs

Journey and Goal are the same. The goal does definitely not justify the means in this case. They have to strengthen and supplement each other. One can’t expect collective learning to start after implementing a method. The dialogue, experiments and steps to find the best way are already the way. Outcomes and findings though may become yearly events, new formats for town meetings, innovations in democracy, etc.

Develop a Circular or Regenerative Economy. Apply, as officials, a systems thinking approach to your local situation. We have the technology to provide cities with their own food and energy. And we can do it so that the health of nature restores and grows. This might not be in the interest of large corporations. This might have you change aspects of your current life style and habits. Yet, such change is definitely in the interest of our communities and our shared future.

4. Reality. Keep an eye on the essentials.

Protect or improve Freedom of Speech. If things can’t be discussed, or topics need to be avoided and certain realities are manipulated, all learning will be corrupted by fears, interests and political or corporate interests.

The people must be able to face reality. They must have the courage to ask the big questions. We live in an era where political and corporate interests manipulate our comprehension of reality. Yet, learning societies need to be able to work with the real truth. They must explore new discoveries and what they might entail for their own community. They must be able to ask the big questions. What do we live for? How do we best deal with issues? What is our wisdom, win/win, most long term solution for given complexities? Such questions have no simple answers, and may challenge current interests. Yet when laws of nature, natural cycles are broken and a society lives at the cost of it’s environment, then it lives with disaster waiting to happen. Same with or corporations ravaging the environment to gain natural resources, however legal or economical short terms benefits seem to be.

Basic Human Values. We sometimes forget that humanity or civilization rests upon as many people as possible treating each other according to our values. We all know how greed, profit driven corporate power has even incited wars, and is polluting the planet. Or we all have run into people who did everything by the book, for whatever fear or conviction, and thus blocked human solutions to problems. Staying human by acting on values is essential for a society. Take Trust. (thank you Bill Everett) Especially important for quality of relationships and for openness towards experimentation is that you yourself showing trust. We can add all essential values to this one. Compassion. Courage. Curiosity. Care. Listening. Learning. etc.

Innovate education. Our current educational model prepares individuals to have the best career possible. A learning society education should stimulate experiential learning, collaborative problem solving, helping students to becoming part of the solution and stimulating idealism to do so. Why are so many young children hot on nature protection and is that sentiment too often gone at the end of their education? This should not be so. Even depression and lack of meaning, as many young people experience, is related to lack of feeling a meaningful part of society.

Final word.

It’s a natural urge to help your community. And learning societies should stimulate those desires, rather than break it down in modern schooling to favor a self serving career. We should stop looking down on everyone who helps as nurse, teacher, cleaner and stop looking up to those who made billions raping the environment. The age of the lone wolf is over. Individualism and capitalism may have enriched many individuals, it has endangered life on our planet as a whole. The big issues of our time are really essential for our collective future. We face problems we can only solve together. So best get everyone on board and start learning how to to this together. We hope this first draft of suggestions to do so helps!

Here’s an article that focusses on steps to take: the Community Learning Model.

The Gentle Revolution

Towards a revolution we all want to dance in, for a flourishing planet.

Floris Koot

Written by

Play Engineer. Social Inventor. Gentle Revolutionary. I always seek new possibilities and increase of love, wisdom and play in the world.

The Gentle Revolution

Towards a revolution we all want to dance in, for a flourishing planet.

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