Sustainability as an innovation magnet

Seeding FSSD – First gathering (Tarm, Denmark)

In august 2011 we met with a 9 individuals in Denmark to have dialogue around a more open, inclusive and intentional community of change-makers around the Framework for Strategic Sustainable Development (FSSD) aka The Natural Step Framework. Edwin Janssen, co-founder of FUTURE-PROOFinc., was one of them. The article below and follow up can be read on the website of TNS International, the sponsor of the meeting.

Seeds of an FSSD Community of Change-Makers

Submitted by Scott Perret on November 17, 2012 – 10:43am.

The Setting

In August of this year, nine people met outside the tiny village of Tarm, Denmark at an old, rambling farmhouse with a straw roof and dusty beds. Many colors of the FSSD practitioner rainbow were represented there. After three days of shared meals and intense process beneath the heavy beams of the centuries-old house, what emerged were the seeds of a vision for a more open, inclusive and intentional community of change-makers around the FSSD. Even more foundationally, we had stumbled upon the soil for those seeds: trust in one another.

Now the task for all of us is to help these seeds grow into a thriving, healthy tree. Care to join us in the garden?

The Players

Independently of The Natural Step organization (TNS), MSLS alumni Freek van der Pluijm and Simon Goldsmith had been discussing plans to spread an open-sourced FSSD more broadly and foster a resource-sharing community of FSSD change-makers. Almost simultaneously, TNS (represented at Tarm by Kelly Hawke Baxter, Peter Price-Thomas and Richard Blume) had just emerged with a bold strategic vision—one that shifted us from asking “What is good for TNS?” to “What is TNS good for?” A big part of this vision included helping to foster a network of FSSD practitioners without TNS at the center. At the same time, I had just co-authored a thesis on leverage points to diffuse the FSSD that targeted the creation of a networked community practice as one of the core elements of success. And for over a year, my MSLS classmate Edwin Janssen had been  making a passionate case for a shared platform to help capture and disseminate FSSD-related tools and materials. Meanwhile, MSLS alumnus Spud Marshall had already built a network of social and sustainability change-makers through New Leaf Initiative.

Tracy Meisterheim, MSLS Programme Director and independent TNS Associate, had watched all these bubbles rise to the surface over the previous months and took the initiative to invite us together in conversation in the early summer. From there a gathering was soon envisioned, hosts were called in, and Tarm took shape, funded by TNS International.

The Process

Over the course of those days in Tarm, two of the core masters in The Art of Hosting, Dane Toke Muller and Canadian Chris Corrigan, hosted us through a process to explore why we had come together and what the foundations for the type of network or community of practice we envisioned might look like.

The Outcomes

What emerged most strikingly was trust. We found that those who had been viewed as far apart actually held very similar goals and visions. Out of this grew first empathy and understanding, then excitement. And out of the excitement grew some core principles and many ideas about possible forms and supporting structures for the type of community we began to envision.

Since the meeting at Tarm, the group has drafted a document to begin articulating these principles. As we are a collection of individuals (and I have a deadline for this post), what is offered here is my own distilled interpretation of that document. I have also changed the language here from “Community of Practice” to “Community of Change-Makers” based on some of the conversations that have emerged since the Tarm group last met. Some might argue the former term is better. You are enthusiastically invited to comment and share your views. This is a beginning point for the much wider conversation we hope to have with the broader community.

Draft Core Principles for an FSSD Community of Change-Makers

  1. The World’s Need Is In The Center: At the center of our focus and our practice is not a single organization such as TNS or its methods, but the burning need of the world to have human society shift towards sustainability (at a minimum—many of us would like the focus to be on fostering a regenerative future, not just a sustainable one).
  2. Variety of Practices: The complexity of this challenge belies single solution approaches, so we invite a rich variety of tools, approaches and practitioners into this community, having as our common “red thread” an active interest or grounding in the FSSD.
  3. Knowledge is Shared Openly: Learning, support, practice and tools are all shared openly, in a spirit of serving the greater need in the middle. This content and support form the core value the community offers its members.
  4. We Give First, In Order To Get: If we all share into the middle first, we may be reasonably assured we will always find what we need in the middle, be it content, support or relationships.
  5. Individuals, Not Organizations: People are the building blocks of society. People are the actual practitioners and agents of change. So this is a human community of individuals. People will carry the benefits of their increased capacities back to their organizations, and organizations are invited to support the community. But individual people are the members, not organizations.
  6. Self-Selection: This is not a private club. Community members will self-select, based on their interest in the FSSD. How the FSSD shows up in the practice of our members is likely to vary widely, from straightforward implementation in organizations to informing systems-level thinking in the background of what they do. This variability contributes to the richness and resilience of our system.
  7. We Focus On Solutions, Mutual Support, Growth and Learning
  8. We Celebrate Together, in a spirit of play.

Next Steps

Many other conversations (besides articulating principles) were begun in Tarm and are spreading out from it through our broader FSSD community. These swirl around questions of what type(s) of structure(s) would best enable such a community of change-makers to flourish, as well as how to articulate a call to the broader community to participate in all aspects of envisioning, designing and building this together…and then how to host and effectively operationalize the response to that call. In other words:

  1. How can we get good-enough-to-begin ideas from our crowd of stakeholders?
  2. How can we move those ideas into action and concrete results for the benefit of all? (i.e. how do we actually build it?)
  3. Who will do all this?
  4. What is the business model for such a community, one that will enable it to operate in a financially sustainable manner?

If you feel excited to respond to these questions with ideas, resources, or connections to people, please share them with us! I can always be reached at scott.perret(at)thenaturalstep.org.

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