In 2010 I was introduced to the Berkana Institutes’s Two Loop model, and I come back to it again and again. As I’ve moved across different projects and jobs, it’s still the best way I’ve found to place myself in the system and what kind of role I’m playing. At Government Digital Service and the Co-op I was working in the dominant system trying to do the transition work. At Tech for Good Global, our whole purpose was centred around illuminating the pioneers and trying to build community so that the field grew in coherence. And a lot of the Point People’s work has been about connecting, building and nourishing networks across both systems.
It’s worth watching their short video that I’ve linked to above but I’ve also tried to sketch it out below, as I understand it.
In essence it shows a dominant system that is dying, and an emergent system that has the potential to become the system of influence. As the dominant system reaches its peak, new pioneers emerge (1), recognising that the dominant system (however impossible and far away that might seem) is beginning to decline.
The emergent system
It’s important that this new, emergent system is named and that the pioneers, the people and organisations building alternatives are connected together (2), and the work they are doing, illuminated.
Through this illumination and nurturing they form communities of practice (3)and grow more coherence as a field. As they do, more people and organisations join.
Illumination is also necessary to show a path for transition from the dying system to the alternative, emergent system. I also marked on here those people that create an alternative system but remain on the edges or disconnected from the main influence of the system(4). These are the people that take themselves off to build new communities, living in alternative ways, but turn their back on any responsibility for anyone else.
The dominant system — but a system in decline
Of course a lot of what goes on in the dominant system is trying to crush the alternatives that are appearing in the emergent system.
It helps when there are people in the dominant system who work to protect and enable those alternatives as they emerge, whether through funding, new policies, different kinds of commissioning etc — holding the space for pioneers to do their work.
There are people that help keep the dominant system stable as it dies — this is important because there is still a lot that is dependent on that system.
Others work to help people and organisations transition from the existing, dominant system — helping make tangible how to do things in a new way and showing them what is happening in the emergent system. I always picture these people as doing hand-holding work — walking alongside organisations to cross the “transition bridge.” Some make it, others don’t.
But it’s the last role that I’m particularly interested in at the moment. The Hospice Worker role. As the dominant system starts to decline, they provide care and compassion for those that are dying and alleviate the pain.
The need to close things down, dismantle them, end things, is a natural part of change, but I don’t think we do it very well. I don’t think there is a well designed practice around it. And that’s the start of a new enquiry for me — The Farewell Fund — introduced in my next post.