Another way to school
I had to negotiate my way past several crocodiles on the sidewalk this morning. My run route towards the Englischer Garten in Munich was on the same roads as several school classes on their way to the park for a Wandertag, on the last Friday of the school year before summer break.
I encountered the crocodiles of children, with their attendant zoo-keepers, on my morning ‘sense-making run’ — some time spent immersed in nature, holding a question, while moving my body. In today’s case, I was reflecting on the six-week Tools for the Regenerative Renaissance online course. The magical, alchemical thing about these sense-making runs, is that, to the extent you allow the noticing of it, the world engages you in a conversation around the question you hold. And so, today, the world wanted to playfully explore my learning experience through crocodiles, school children, and the river through the park.
As I turned into the park, there were several school groups already there, scattered about between the meadows, streams and shady copses. “But don’t go too near to the river!”, warned a keeper. Too true, of course, because the Isar, which bisects the park, is in unusual flood. Climate crisis. 100-year weather events in Germany. Back to the need for Regeneration. For a Renaissance. Seeking a Toolkit for this emerging world.
Another way of knowing
Tools for the Regenerative Renaissance (TfRR) is a six-week online learning journey, covering a breath-taking amount of territory. Perhaps I’d frame it as a bookshelf of map books, rather than a toolbox. On each week of the course you get to open one or two of the map books, explore the table of contents, and dip into a couple of the key chapters, guided by the energetic course co-ordinators, Phoebe Tickell and Stephen Reid.
You travel through domains of knowledge starting from Regenerative Agriculture (including permaculture, soil, food systems, land restoration to micro-grids), through Ethical Technology (including bias, justice, democracy and digital tools for collectives), past Reinventing Organisations (including holocracy, sociocracy, Teal and distributed governance), stopping past Commons and Ownership (including steward-led ownership, co-operatives, distributed autonomous organisations (DAOs) and touching on blockchain), and landing up with Regenerative Money (including universal basic income, cryptocurrencies, local currencies, ethical banking and decolonising wealth). Phew!
I was now running alongside the flooding, roaring, milky Isar. In my course review, I described a flood of information over the six weeks; too intense for even a year of study. I had found myself very early on in the course having to surrender to the flood of content, rather than try to contain it. To surf the currents. To trust that I could go back to the comprehensive course notes and course wiki.
And in that space — in the surrender to the flood — I found the true magic of the course. Because there were over 200 others with me in the cohort. And what inspiring humans they are! It took me several hours to read through each of the personal introductions posted by the cohort on our Slack community group, and I did so with growing awe. A global community of Activatedists (Activists feels too loaded), swimming along with me. And as the course progressed and there became more opportunities to meet and talk to different people — through session breakouts, Slack conversations, regional pod groups, ad-hoc pod groups, and sense-making sessions — so the serendipitous learning grew. A raft of connections formed.
In parallel to the TfRR course, I’ve been playing in the Batesonian world of Warm Data, as a community exploring sense-making within complex systems. And if nothing else, I’m starting to learn that certain knowing/knowledge may indeed not live within us, but rather in the ecology of relationships existing between us. And so too with the TfRR course: while it may be futile to try to “own” and integrate all of the content of the course, it may be profound to consider that some form of this knowledge lives collectively now within a group of over 200 humans, and has been collectively enriched and enhanced through the interactions over the six weeks. Is this a new way of knowing, living within a collective space beyond any one individual? Is this how ecological Natural Intelligence is held?
Back to my bookshelf. Two guest-speakers bookended the content for me. On one side, Daniel Christian Wahl embodies the content of TfRR in such a profound way. In a short 30 minutes he is able to weave together a story — he called it ad-libbing — that shows how he is practising the dance through the paradox of working across scales locally-and-globally at the same time. And on the other end Rieki Cordon showed a path into regenerative practises from an ethical tech vector. I found his unscripted storytelling session on his journey with the SEEDS platform to bookend the course really beautifully for me.
Another way to organise
The most immediately practical content from the course that I was able to pick up and work with in my context, were the sessions on organisational development. On the bookshelf are ideas from Samantha Slade (Going Horizontal), Frederic Laloux (Reinventing Organizations) and Enspiral (Better Work Together).
Back in the real world, I’m volunteering with a group co-creating a board-game based on the ideas of Doughnut Economics, and the tools and techniques in these sessions proved immediately useful. In an organisational context, and approaching the world from a Creative Commons perspective, the questions just keep coming: How does organisational ownership work in a volunteer community? How does decision-making and governance work when our values are fundamentally open, distributive and not power-based? How does an organisation operating in the gift-economy interface with the legal-financial structure of the status quo economy? How do we play with the marketing and promotion scripts of social media, in a way that is inviting, rather than co-opting-for-extraction? How do we weave a community of mutuality, rather than scale-out a customer-base?
The evolving responses to each of these questions would deserve a chapter on their own, but for now I would point to the wonderful resources on Samantha Slade’s Going Horizontal website, and specifically the online card-game which builds practises for holding the conversations necessary within organisations; practises that expand the ecology of allowable communication as a first step for the organisation to sense its own way into the answers.
Another way to value education
Usually you’d pay for your online course in fiat currency, and receive your login. There’s a new subversive approach baked into the TfRR course: you pay for the course in the SEEDS currency (about $140), and on completion of the course and fulfilment of the assignments, your investment of SEEDS is paid back to you — and then doubled! They call it better-than-free: “In the abundant spirit of the Regenerative Renaissance, we want to pay you for educating yourself and activating your community.”
We are so used to the narrative of competitive scarcity, that the whole idea of a narrative of collaborative abundance is a little jarring at first. Where is the catch? is the question that our scarcity-thinking immediately raises.
Another way of lifing
Circling back from my run, all of the groups of children were in different stages of transforming out of crocodilian shape and stochastically morphing, cloud-like, as they inhabited the new space on the meadows. I am reminded of Gregory Bateson’s discussion of flexibility in Steps to an Ecology of Mind: “The ecological analyst faces a dilemma: on the one hand, if any of his recommendations is to be followed, he must first recommend whatever will give the system a positive budget of flexibility; and on the other hand, the people and institutions with which he must deal have a natural propensity to eat up all available flexibility. He must create flexibility and prevent the civilization from immediately expanding into it.” And so it is with our schooling and education systems: to be shaped like a crocodile on the sidewalks, amorphously on the meadow, and then how exactly in the classroom and in our new online learning spaces?
As it is for our children, so for us as adults-in-mutual-learning. We need space to dance into, and to express ourselves. Space for amplitude. As Daniel Wahl riffed and ad-libbed: “Life is acting through us, if only we quieten enough to let it do what it does best. Natural ecological intelligence is a way of knowing too.…Live life as a pilgrimage of learning, rather than a destination.”
Another way of ending/beginning
This piece is fighting against a nice, neatly wrapped ending. Tomorrow, no doubt, new and unseeable connections, conversations and insights will bubble through. I’ll circle back to pick up a new tool, or deepen my usage of another, or a tenuous thread of relationship will thicken.
The mutual learning isn’t over; it remains alive and in motion.