Saturday, July 26, 2014

Systemic governance approaches employed

Australia's first ever Community Energy Congress was held recently in Canberra (16-17th June). As the web site indicates their ambitious, but appropriate aim was to 'to create a new approach to energy in Australia – to decarbonise, decentralise and democratise our energy system!'.   With this in mind they set out to design what I would call a governance experiment that combines systemic practices and institutional innovations: 

"The Coalition for Community Energy (C4CE) is a purpose-built governance system designed to enable collaboration for the purpose of creating a vibrant community energy sector and movement right across Australia.

It is the membership of C4CE ~ community energy projects, groups, support organisations and stakeholders in the wider renewable and mainstream energy system ~ who make this vision possible. C4CE initiatives are created and led by one of more members. The overall coordination of C4CE is led by the Steering Group with the support of a Secretariat.

C4CE believes collaboration creates greater impact than the simple sum of individual member efforts. Together, we can make the difference.

C4CE’s objectives are to:
  • Guide and support development of the community energy sector
  • Create a coordinated voice to better advocate for the needs of the sector
  • Grow the sector’s profile, influence and membership (beyond the ‘usual suspects’)
  • Facilitate the alignment of efforts by Members with support, systems, tools and training which enable collaboration for collective impact
  • Identify and create strategic opportunities and attract investment for the sector
  • Coordinate strategic initiatives which build the knowledge, know-how and capacity of Members and the sector
As an unincorporated governance system, C4CE is legally auspiced by Starfish Initiatives*."

There have been a number of follow up media reports ranging from the community-based to national from what was a sellout event of 350.  Presentations were made from all sides of the political spectrum.

If only systemic sense could prevail

Further to my earlier post, colleagues concerned like me, at the continuing systemic failure of governance and public policy have alerted me to intelligent and insightful arguments that point to other ways of understanding and governing. If  only these understandings and associated practices could prevail!

Continuing with the complex, contested issue of Palestine - Israel, an article in the New Yorker on'Israel’s Other War' by draws attention to the longer term systemic consequences of Israeli policy.   

"It’s an awful thing to make a truly tragic mistake, one that costs many lives.  It’s worse to make that same mistake over and over again. Four operations in Gaza, an immense number of Israeli and Palestinian hearts that have stopped beating, and we keep ending up in the same place. The only thing that actually changes is Israeli society’s tolerance for criticism. It’s become clear during this operation that the right wing has lost its patience in all matters regarding that elusive term, “freedom of speech.” In the past two weeks, we’ve seen right wingers beating left wingers with clubs, Facebook messages promising to send left-wing activists to the gas chambers, and denunciations of anyone whose opinion delays the military on its way to victory. It turns out that this bloody road we walk from operation to operation is not as cyclical as we may have once thought. This road is not a circle, it’s a downward spiral, leading to new lows, which, I’m sad to say, we’ll be unlucky enough to experience."

Writing in the Toronto Star, Gabor Maté (published on Tue Jul 22 2014) captures the disillusionment for many now in their 60s and 70s, like me, who grew up supportive of the ideal of a democratic Israeli state - an ideal that no longer survives in a defensible form.  He writes: 

"As a Jewish youngster growing up in Budapest, an infant survivor of the Nazi genocide, I was for years haunted by a question resounding in my brain with such force that sometimes my head would spin: “How was it possible? How could the world have let such horrors happen?”

It was a naïve question, that of a child. I know better now: such is reality. Whether in Vietnam or Rwanda or Syria, humanity stands by either complicitly or unconsciously or helplessly, as it always does. In Gaza today we find ways of justifying the bombing of hospitals, the annihilation of families at dinner, the killing of pre-adolescents playing soccer on a beach.

In Israel-Palestine the powerful party has succeeded in painting itself as the victim, while the ones being killed and maimed become the perpetrators. “They don’t care about life,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says, abetted by the Obamas and Harpers of this world, “we do.” Netanyahu, you who with surgical precision slaughter innocents, the young and the old, you who have cruelly blockaded Gaza for years, starving it of necessities, you who deprive Palestinians of more and more of their land, their water, their crops, their trees — you care about life?"

There is, unfortunately, no shortage of contemporary contexts in which ideologues drive us collectively in the wrong direction. Profound systemic consequences are already evident in Sri Lanka, Canada and Australia as these links testify.

On a rare positive note the British government is to be commended for sticking to its carbon reduction targets, as indicated by this announcement from the Secretary of State, who said:

"Above all, maintaining the Fourth Carbon Budget at its current level demonstrates the UK’s commitment to its climate change target of an 80% reduction in emissions by 2050. The UK has the world’s most transparent system of binding emission reduction targets, which are used as a model throughout the world. Today’s decision cements the UK’s place as a global leader in combating climate change, which will allow us to play a central role in delivering a global deal to combat climate change at the end of 2015."    

As I have written elsewhere the UK's 'Committee on Climate Change' is an important institutional innovation - so it is good to see that its role in governance is working.  Importantly this case exemplifies how, when there is political commitment to what is ethically and scientificaly justifiable, it is possible to stand up to Treasury idealogues, as this article by Simon Inglethorpe indicates:

"The decision amounts to a personal victory for [Secretary of State] Davey as it means Treasury calls to weaken the budget – and leave the door open for more gas-fired electricity generation in future – have not prevailed.

“Ed Davey deserves praise for standing up to the Treasury’s wrecking efforts, and the prime minister credit for holding firm on this crucial commitment,” said Greenpeace’s political director, Ruth Davis. “George Osborne has done everything in his power to water down the UK’s keystone climate change policy, putting at risk vital investment in our energy system and our credibility in global climate negotiations.”

I imagine it is too much to hope that a moratorium on all fracking will emerge as a systemically desirable national strategy - in the UK and elsewhere. Technologies which perpetuate 'carbon pollution' and attract investment away from renewables have no place in the world we now have to create.   

Cutting the Gordian Knot of Complex Problems: Cybernetics & Policy

This event will be held in conjunction with the 50th Anniversary Meeting of the American Society of Cybernetics which commences in Washington DC on Monday 4th August.

What can a cybernetic perspective bring to the issues of the day?  With examples from Iraq, HealthCare, Transportation, and Finance.
"Monday August 4, 4-6 pm
George Washington Business School, DUQUES HALL, 2201 G Street NW, Room 258

The decision maker of today is faced with a complex world composed of many open, value-laden, multi-level, multi-component systems, situated in turbulent, unstable, and changing environments. When a plane crash in eastern Ukraine with 298 people aboard will affect the European gas supply, health care for AIDS patients, the decisions of the UN Security Council, and international sanctions -- which will then alter trading on the NYSE, world trading partnerships, British real estate prices and the American economy -- that complexity seems both obvious and paralyzing.

Complexity is the source of very difficult scientific challenges for observing, understanding, reconstructing and predicting the multi-dimensional dynamics of present-day systems. Cybernetics is the science of reflexive constraints in systems consisting of many participants -- all of whom observe, decide, act, observe, etc. It examines the role of context and assumptions which together help shape the understanding of both problems and their potential solutions.

When what is happening in your world doesn't make sense, when it doesn't conform to your beliefs about how things work, it's time to ask hard questions. Cybernetics is the science of developing those questions by examining both the situation and the people and institutions charged with achieving adequate management, regulation or control.

While the hard sciences may suggest that decision makers consider all the information they can about both the current situation and the past, and then with a sense of desired outcomes, lay plans of action to get to those outcomes, cybernetics exposes the “wishful thinking” this entails. Cybernetics questions our ability to rely on "predictive" models by noting the blinders built into the models themselves.

We bring into our decision-making process flaws and errors of our own. All of us show bias when it comes to what information we take in. We typically focus on anything that agrees with our view of the world and the outcome we want. We need to acknowledge our tendency to incorrectly process challenging news and actively push ourselves to hear that which fails to match our prior expectations.

Cybernetics helps you develop the very questions you should ask of both yourself and of the situation you are examining. It highlights the pitfalls when one attempts to understand the whole as a "black box." The view of that crash from Donetsk differs greatly from the view in Iowa City.

Cybernetics highlights the constraints as you map and parameterize inputs and outputs, and as you observe systemic behaviors. Most importantly, it demands reflective questioning when you decompose the system into its constituent subsystems, recursively, until you think you have reached a natural stopping place for decision-making. Such questioning may, for example, help guide British policy toward Russian banking sanctions.

In order to deal properly with the diversity of problems the world throws at you, you need to have a repertoire of responses which is (at least) as nuanced as the problems you face. Cybernetics should be part of your repertoire."

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Avaatz's narrative about the Palestine-Israel situation makes systemic sense

I am posting a recent communication from Avaatz because I could not elucidate the systemic issues any better.

"As a new round of violence kicks off in Israel-Palestine and more children are killed, it's not enough just to call for another ceasefire. It's time to take definitive non-violent action to end this decades long nightmare.

Our governments have failed -- while they have talked peace and passed UN resolutions, they and our companies have continued to aid, trade and invest in the violence. The only way to stop this hellish cycle of Israel confiscating Palestinian lands, daily collective punishment of innocent Palestinian families, Hamas firing rockets, and Israel bombing Gaza is to make the economic cost of this conflict too high to bear.

We know it works -- when EU countries issued guidelines not to fund the illegal Israeli settlements it caused an earthquake in the cabinet, and when citizens successfully persuaded a Dutch pension fund, PGGM, to withdraw, it created a political storm.

This may not feel like a direct way to stop the current killing, but history tells us that raising the financial cost of oppression can pave a path to peace. Click to call on 6 key banks, pension funds and businesses to pull out -- If we all take smart action now and turn up the heat, they could withdraw, the Israeli economy will take a hit, and we can turn the calculation of the extremists politically profiting from this hell upside down:

In the last six weeks three Israeli teenagers were murdered in the West Bank, a Palestinian boy was burnt alive, an American kid was brutally beaten up by Israeli police, and now almost 100 Gazan kids have died in Israeli air strikes. This is not the "Middle East conflict", it's becoming a war on children. And we are becoming numb to this global shame. 

The media makes out like this is an intractable conflict between two equal warring parties, but it is not. Palestinian extremists' attacks on innocent civilians are never justified and Hamas’ anti-semitism is disgusting. But these extremists claim legitimacy by fighting the grotesque, decades-long oppression by the Israeli state. Israel currently occupies, colonises, bombs, raids, and controls the water, trade and the borders of a legally free nation that has been recognised by the United Nations. In Gaza, Israel has created the largest open-air prison in the world, and then blockaded it. Now as bombs fall, the families literally have no way to get out.

These are war crimes and we wouldn't accept that anywhere else: why accept it in Palestine? Half a century ago Israel and its Arab neighbours went to war and Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza. Occupying territory after war happens all the time. But no military occupation should turn into a decades-long tyranny which only fuels and benefits extremists who use terror to target the innocent. And who suffers? The majority of loving families on both sides that just want freedom and peace.

To many, particularly in Europe and North America, calling for companies to withdraw investments from financing or taking part in Israel's occupation of Palestine sounds completely biased. But this campaign is not anti-Israel -- this is the most potent non-violent strategy to end the ritual violence, ensure Israelis' security and achieve Palestinian freedom. Although Hamas deserves much pressure too, it is already under crippling sanctions and facing every kind of pressure. Israel's power and wealth dwarfs Palestine, and if it refuses to end its illegal occupation, the world must act to make the cost unbearable.

Dutch pension fund ABP invests in Israeli banks that help fund the colonisation of Palestine. Massive banks like Barclays invest in suppliers of Israeli arms and other occupation businesses. Computer giant Hewlett-Packard supplies sophisticated surveillance to control the movement of Palestinians. And Caterpillar provides bulldozers that are used to demolish Palestinian homes and farms. If we can create the biggest global call ever to get these companies to pull out, we will show clearly that the world will no longer be complicit in this bloodshed. The Palestinian people are calling on the world to support this path and progressive Israelis support it too. Let's join them:

Our community has worked to bring peace, hope, and change to some of the world's toughest conflicts, and often that means taking difficult positions to address the root cause. For years our community has looked for a political solution to this nightmare, but with this new round of horror unfolding in Gaza, the time has come to turn to sanctions and disinvestment to finally help end the horror for Israelis and Palestinians.

With hope and determination,

Alice, Fadi, Ben, Laila, Anna, Ricken, Jo, Nell, Mais and the entire Avaaz team

PS: For further questions check out the Q&A page, and some sources below.


UN independent expert calls for boycott of businesses profiting from Israeli settlements (UN)

12 more EU countries warn against trade with Israeli settlements (Haaretz)

Israelis, Palestinians Pro Peace Process, but Not Hopeful (Gallup)

Under pressure, a strong EU-Israel relationship faces uncertain future (Middle East Monitor)

Israel-Gaza conflict: 80 per cent of Palestinians killed by Israeli strikes are civilians, UN report says (The Independent)

Rule 156. Definition of War Crimes (ICRC)

Palestinians: Most Gaza dead are children, women, elderly (Haaretz)

Caught on Tape: US Teen Allegedly Beaten by Israeli Police (ABC News)

A policy of displacement (Visualizing Palestine)

Exposing the Israeli Occupation Industry

Additional sources for this campaign:  "