Tuesday, 2 October 2018

Leadership Beyond Denial of Our Climate Tragedy

Transcript of a talk given at the Poetics of Leadership conference, University of Cumbria, Ambleside Campus, 7th September 2018, by Professor Jem Bendell, co-chair of the conference. Based on the conference paper “From Denial to Deep Adaptation: Seeking Leadership Amidst Climate Tragedy.”

"The topic that we will explore in this session is in the ether of our conference. Which may reflect how the topic is increasingly in the minds of some people in recent years, particularly in the environmental movement. It doesn’t feel right to me given the serious nature of the topic to just present a summary of my paper. We can’t avoid the emotional impact of this topic. And shouldn’t try to. Although my attempt to develop a “deep adaptation” concept was partly to take some of the sting out of things by inviting reflection within a framework, perhaps a life-raft for despair, I don’t see there is any way to just jump into this as a technical or philosophical discussion. 
Because it is such an important topic, connected to the most important questions of existence, and an emotional journey for me, I want to be more precise than I am usually. Therefore, I will abandon a habit of a few years, and actually read my talk.

What I want to do in this session is to invite you to consider simply: “What If?” 

“What if it is too late to avert a catastrophe in our own societies within our lifetimes, due to the impacts of climate change, particularly on agriculture. What might that mean for my life and work?”

Only if we consider that it could be too late could we explore implications for life and work - and deepen our dialogue on adaptation. I am no expert in that field. Instead, my role here is to invite more people to engage in that dialogue. Most people don’t engage, as they raise many arguments against the view that we now face a probable or inevitable collapse in our societies within ten years. So, to encourage more of us to move into that “what if” space to consider this and let it generate new insights, I will summarise some of my own story in arriving at this point of view. 

I was an environmentalist since the early nineteen nineties. After University my first job was with the World Wide Fund for Nature – that’s the large WWF charity with the famous Panda logo. I’ve known about climate change for decades. News of extreme weather used to be stories I would share as a call for action. But they started to come so thick and fast, that I began to wonder. Images like the one here have been appearing on our devices with increasing frequency (animated gif of temperature anomalies). I had assumed the authority on climate was the IPCC – the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. According to them, an ice-free Arctic was a possibility by 2100. That sounds far enough away to calm the nerves. But real-time measurements are documenting such rapid loss of ice that some of the world’s top climate scientists are saying it could be ice free in the next few years. So, I couldn’t take for granted the official position of the IPCC anymore. For the first time in 23 years, I decided to look at the science myself. It was the start of a major shift in my worldview, self-image and priorities.

Sea-level rise is a good indicator of what’s happening, as a lot has to happen to change it. In 2001, the IPCC estimated a global sea level rise of 2 millimetres (mm) per year. By 2007, satellite data was revealing a sea level rise of 3.3 mm per year. Yet that year the IPCC offered 1.94mm a year as the lowest mark of its estimate for sea-level rise. Yes, you’re right: that’s lower than what was already happening. It’s as if the river had already flooded your living room but the forecaster on the radio says she is not sure if the river will burst its banks. Analysts have since revealed how the IPCC got it so badly wrong. When scientists could not agree on how much the melting polar ice sheets would be adding to sea-level rise, they left out the data altogether (1). Yeah, that’s so poor, it’s almost funny.

Once I realised that the IPCC couldn’t be taken as climate gospel, I looked more closely at some key issues. The Arctic looms large. It acts as the planet’s refrigerator, by reflecting sunlight back into space and by absorbing energy when the ice melts from solid to liquid. Some of the most eminent polar scientists predict the sea ice will disappear in the next few years. I suppose that is one way of interpreting “by 2100”. Once the Arctic Ice has gone, the additional global warming would amount to as much as half of all warming caused by our pollutants. That blows the global 2 degree target out the window. The implications are immense for our agriculture, water and ecosystems. Even just one warmer summer in the northern hemisphere in 2018 reduced yields of wheat and staples like potatoes by about a quarter in the UK. Unlike other years, the unusual weather was across the northern hemisphere. Globally we only have grain reserves for about 4 months, so a few consecutive summers like 2018 and the predicted return of El Nino droughts in Asia could cause food shortages on a global scale. (2)

Untethered from the IPCC, I discovered worse. I learned about the increasing concentrations of methane gas in our atmosphere, released from the melting permafrost. Methane is 80 times more powerful at trapping the sun’s energy than carbon dioxide. The huge amounts of methane stored in the relatively shallow waters off Siberia are now at risk of release as the water warms. Any release would mean a jump of global temperatures not seen since the Permian mass extinction 250 million years ago, which wiped out 95 percent of life on Earth. I think you know what that means. Even for Elon Musk.

Is it happening? Worried, I looked at the latest methane readings from satellite and land measurements. Mid-altitude measurements showed methane levels increasing about 1.8 percent over the previous year, with surface measurements about half of that. Both figures were consistent with a non-linear increase - potentially exponential. The difference between concentrations at ground level and mid altitudes is consistent with this added methane coming from our oceans, which could be from methane hydrates.

Then I discovered that scientists at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science were reporting data on actual sea levels that was consistent with sea-rise being non-linear. That is a proxy for non-linear changes in our climate. It means that escalating feedback loops are now warming the planet further. It was harrowing research, and I summarise it in the Occasional Paper that we issued in July.  

As I considered whether to issue that paper immediately, rather than look for a new journal and wait a year for publication, I saw all the bad news on my screens. It was 30 degrees Celsius inside the Arctic circle during July 2018, which is 10 degrees warmer than it should be. The dark future was flooding in on the present. I couldn’t delay being more public about this situation and beginning to change my priorities.

I have worked in a profession where people said it’s not helpful to worry people. But without much evidence for that claim. I have worked in a profession that celebrated all the good things being done, such as reduction of carbon footprints and the development of renewable energies. All that is good and should be continue. But these steps forward are like walking up a landslide. They won’t change the temperature increases that are locked-in and the damage that will be caused. I had to conclude we face the kind of disruptive climate change that will trigger social collapse. By that I mean an uneven ending of normal modes of sustenance, security, pleasure, identity, meaning, and hope. It is not clear when such a collapse will occur. Yet all of us want to know “how long we’ve got.” So, on the basis of the impact on agriculture, I am guessing (yes, only guessing) that within 10 years a social collapse, in some form, will have occurred nearly everywhere on the planet. 

As a profession and way of life, academia invites us to believe we must be experts in order to engage in dialogue. We want to be understood and accepted as experts. I realise this is restricting us from exploring what is happening in the world around us. I am not claiming to be an expert in climate science, or in the implications for agriculture, or on the way collapse might occur. I am not claiming to be an expert on how we respond to this realisation personally, professionally or politically. Part of my reason for publishing the result of my study and the call for “deep adaptation” may have been a need to grieve in public. Or perhaps it was to push myself away from more years of denial. I don’t know, as this is a new situation for me to be in. It seems to be new to others too, and that is why I have started blogging on my unvarnished and non-researched reflections on my journey after accepting imminent collapse.  

Some of you will, quite rightly, be questioning the credibility of what I have just said. You may want to corroborate with other info. I recommend you do. For that, I recommend the full Deep Adaptation paper and then look into the sources I cite.

Some people who I have discussed this topic with did not try and double check but appeared to diminish the impact of the message on themselves. I have written about some of the ways such denial works, and how it may be institutionalised in the sustainability sector, in my paper for this conference. In a more accessible format, I have listed 12 typical patterns of denial on my blog at jembendell.com

That happens because we think, consciously or not, that we can’t bear it. Our protection instincts kick in to stop us from crying or losing our way. But many of us are probably feeling a bit anxious about the situation I have described. So, before I say anymore, I want to take a moment to acknowledge that anxiety. If you feel like it, I’d like to invite you to notice where it sits in your body, take a deep breath, and let it out, knowing that we are not in danger ourselves right now. I wonder whether we could find a way to welcome that anxiety for how it can invite us to change our beliefs and behaviours.

Some of us will want to grieve. I did. And I still do. Grief about this situation and what is coming will now be a companion to the rest of my life. But grief isn’t a feeling that exists alone. We grieve because we love life, including our own, those of others and the whole of life itself. Love is the basis of our grief. In recognising that basis for our grief, we can move beyond despair or numbness. We can start again, to explore what we might be and do now. Only after acceptance can new forms of meaning, new forms of hope, new kinds of vision be allowed to emerge. For most people that process of moving into and through despair towards a renewed basis for being and acting is not a quick one. And certainly not immediate. But we have just a few minutes more together in this session. So, I invite you to open the door. To begin to reflect on “what if?”

Some of you will have been through this process for some time, maybe even years. If you have, then I ask you to refrain from aspiring to have lots of answers. We may want to have a plan and reassure ourselves and others. But we can’t really prefabricate for collapse. I will therefore ask you now to turn to one person only and share with each other what you FEEL in response to this question. Just stick with feelings to start with. Let’s do this not as conversation but hearing our neighbour speak without interruption. I know this is a big ask but I’m going to ring a bell after one minute and ask you to then switch speaker. The person with the longest hair in your pair can start.

“What if it is too late to avert a catastrophe in our own societies within our lifetimes, due to the impacts of climate change, particularly on agriculture?” How would you FEEL?

Now switch.

Thankyou. Now check in with yourself. Aside from what you shared and heard, what else do you feel?

Thankyou. Now, please turn to another person, and share what you THINK in response to the same question, with an additional part: “What if it is too late to avert a catastrophe in our own societies within our lifetimes, due to the impacts of climate change, particularly on agriculture? What might that mean for my life and work?”

Now switch.

Thankyou. To conclude, please formulate a key question you now have that you want to answer because of this talk. If you want to, take a moment to write it down. I’ll give you a minute.

In my paper I provide more background on what has led me to this situation where I’m inviting conversations like the ones you have just had. I don’t have many answers, as this is new territory for me, emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually, even before considering the implications for strategies and policies. Instead, I invite you to keep having these conversations, and see what emerges. I realise this is quite tough for many of us and it has been for me. On my website I discuss the range of responses I have experienced or witnessed, as well as information on emotional support on this topic.

Thankyou for your attention and taking the time for reflection.


The paper draws on the studies analysed in the conference paper, available here. Other references include:

1) https://www.sciencealert.com/international-climate-change-reports-tend-toward-caution-and-are-dangerously-misleading-says-new-report

2) https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/sep/03/falling-yields-of-key-uk-crops-could-raise-food-prices-and-leave-farmers-struggling
In the News
Professor Bendell's work on Deep Adaptation has received mainstream media coverage in New York Magazine and Bloomberg.
Next talks on Deep Adaptation by Prof Jem Bendell
30th October 2018, Kendal, Cumbria. Natural England. 12pm midday, Natural England offices. Private event.
17th December 2018, Carlisle, Cumbria. COWC and IFLAS. 7pm at Gateway Building, Fusehill Street. Public event, info here.
19th December 2018, Bristol, Avon. Labour Party and Momentum. 7pm. Public event, info here
If you could work professionally on this topic then consider the Deep Adaptation LinkedIn Group

Tuesday, 28 August 2018

Monetary Innovation and Complementary Currencies Researcher Symposium

IFLAS is co-hosting its second Researcher Symposium on Monetary Innovation and Complementary Currencies, at the United Nations on Thursday 25.10.2018. We welcome post-doctoral, doctoral, and masters researchers who work on the topic of monetary innovation, monetary decentralization, in a digital currency or physical currency format, using a blockchain or cryptographically-secured currency or not, with a focus on the broader implications of these innovations for a sustainable society, whether from a legal, sociological, developmental, political, anthropological, management or economics perspective. Time: 10h00 - 13h00 (10:00 am to 01:00 pm). Venue: Room S4, Palais des Nations, Geneva, Switzerland. Co-host: UNRISD, RAMICS, IFLAS, B4SD.net, SCC. Background: Blockchains for Sustainable Development is an event that will be held at the UN World Investment Forum at the Palais des Nations in Geneva, Switzerland on October 24th. This forum will be exploring the practical and regulatory implications of blockchain and cryptocurrency technologies. As the co-organizers of this session, Prof. Dr. Jem Bendell and Stephen DeMeulenaere have been active for many years on the subject of complementary currencies and the design of money for cooperation and sustainability, they have initiated this Researcher Symposium to encourage further research in this field. This Researcher Symposium, organised and facilitated by doctoral fellow Mag. Christophe Place, hopes to gather the contributions of as many postgraduate level students as possible. Every participant will present their research. The format will be 5 minutes presentation (researcher profile, research question, methodology, findings, contribution), 5 minutes questions and answers. UNRISD researchers will attend and provide feedback on the presentations. To request participation as a presenter, fill-in the form on https://goo.gl/forms/GxMVbVo8OhxaWwiv1 by Tuesday 25.09.2018 with the following information: Forename, SURNAME, Institutional Affiliation, Research Title, Research Abstract (max. 200 words), Email, Phone (facultative). By confirming your participation, you agree on sharing this information and your presentation with all participants if selected as a suitable candidate to present. Register for the World Investment Forum via http://www.b4sd.net/.

Wednesday, 25 July 2018

New Paper on Deep Adaptation to Climate Chaos

Today IFLAS releases its 2nd Occasional Paper on themes of leadership and sustainability. “Deep Adaptation: A map for navigating the climate tragedy” addresses in depth some implications of the most recent climate measurements and science.

Sadly, the analysis leads the author to conclude that climate-induced collapse is now inevitable. Professor Bendell studied climate science as part of his degree at the University of Cambridge in the 1990s, and only returned to the primary studies this year after seeing the increasingly worrying news about current changes to our atmosphere and its impacts on our ecosystems at sea and on land. “For the past decades I had relied on the assessments and guidance from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – which was worrying enough” said Bendell, a full Professor of Sustainability Leadership. “But the measured changes in our current environment have outpaced even the worst predictions of the IPCC over the past decades. The leading climate scientists are reporting a much worse situation than the IPCC.” The paper looks at peer reviewed journals and supplements that with the latest data direct from research institutes on climate. “The whole field of sustainable development research, policy and education, and sustainable business in particular, is based on the view that we can halt climate change and avert catastrophe” explains Bendell. “By returning to the science, I discovered that view is no longer tenable. I then explored why people who work in this field, whether as researcher, activists or policy makers, may have been ignoring this difficult truth. It is understandable – none of us want to suffer, none of us want to think years of work has been futile, and none of us want to be admonished by colleagues or ridiculed online.”

The paper was recently rejected by anonymous reviewers of an academic journal which Bendell has published in before. He also guest edited an issue of the journal last year. “The reviewers wanted the paper to build on existing scholarship in the field, whereas, unsurprisingly, my literature found no prior publications premised on a social collapse due to a global environmental catastrophe” said Bendell. In saying the paper was not suitable for publication, one of the comments from the reviewers questioned the emotional impact that the paper might have on readers. “I was left wondering about the social implications of presenting a scenario for the future as inevitable reality, and about the responsibility of research in communicating climate change scenarios and strategies for adaptation.” wrote one of the reviewers. “As the authors pointed out, denial is a common emotional response to situations that are perceived as threatening and inescapable, leading to a sense of helplessness, inadequacy, and hopelessness and ultimately disengagement from the issue…”

That perspective is discussed in the paper as one that enables denial. Professor Bendell explains in his response to the Editor, that the response may reflect “the self-defeating hierarchical attitude towards society that many of us have in both academia and sustainability, where we censure our own exploration of a topic due to what we consider should or should not be communicated. There is both scholarship and experience on the impact of communicating about disaster, and I discuss that in the paper.” Moreover, Bendell consulted with practicing psychotherapists on both the motivational and mental health implications of this analysis and was reassured that perceptions of a collective tragic future should not in itself be a cause for depression. Instead, it could trigger transformative reflection which could be supported - and would be inevitable one day, given the inevitability of mortality for all human life. Bendell has blogged on his letter to the editor here.   

"I am releasing this paper immediately, directly, because I can’t wait any longer in exploring how to learn the implications of the social collapse we now face," Bendell explains. The paper offers a new framing for beginning to make sense of the disaster we face, called “deep adaptation.” It is one that Professor Bendell proposed in a keynote lecture two years ago and has influenced community dialogue on climate change in Britain in the past two years, including in Peterborough and Newcastle as well as being used by the Dark Mountain network.   
"Perhaps the paper will appear in a journal one day," says Bendell. "I still believe in the role that we in academia can play at this difficult time, but I can't wait around given the urgency of the situation."

The paper “Deep Adaptation: A Map for Navigating Climate Tragedy” is downloadable as a pdf from here.

A LinkedIn group on Deep Adaptation exists to support professional discussion of the topic.

Professor Bendell will be presenting the paper at the Poetics of Leadership Conference in September at the University of Cumbria and exploring implications during the Foundations of Sustainable Leadership short course immediately after the conference in Ambleside, UK. 
Bendell provides links here to articles, podcasts, and videos to help people manage emotionally with this information. 

Data Update August 5th 2018:

After reading a version of the paper Professor Wadhams corrected a mistake in citing his conclusions on the reduction of the Arctic albedo effect. His finding of a 50% increase in warming from an ice free Arctic was misquoted as doubling the effect of warming from anthropogenic emissions. It has been corrected to say a 50% increase. The author is pleased with the reduction in the predicted heat exacerbating feedback, though concludes it makes no difference to the argument that IPCC predictions have been too cautious and that current measurements provide evidence of runaway climate change (which the author concludes will lead to social collapse, which therefore requires a shift in attention to "deep adaptation"). 

Thursday, 12 July 2018

Rural Innovation Ecosystems and Leading Wellbeing

There is much talk in government and academic circles of ‘innovation ecosystems’, in which focused government interventions create an environment (or ecology) in which companies can be nurtured, grown and developed. Similar to ecology where organisms interact with one another and with their physical environment, the expectation is that with the appropriate start in life, the innovation ecosystem will blossom, put down roots and eventually become sustainable. There are several well-known examples where this has happened around the world, mostly where there is a cluster of high technology companies located near a world-leading university. Within the UK, the example most frequently cited is Cambridge, where over many decades strategic corporate partnerships and spin off companies have worked with the University, leading to a plethora of science parks, supplier relationships and new collaboration opportunities. In the USA, there are several examples, notably Silicon Valley, California and Boston, Massachusetts. And there are other examples in Europe, Asia and even a fledgling ICT Village in Madagascar, facilitated by the United Nations. In an innovation ecosystem, there may be an ‘anchor institution’ (usually a university), that provides an environment for knowledge exchange, skills development, and networking. There will be many innovative small companies, which could be spin offs, subsidiaries of large companies or independent. There are opportunities to find out about new technologies and ways of working, leading to collaboration and the development of new products and services. Business angels and venture capitalists will be drawn to the area to invest, large companies will seek to develop their supply chain there, and all this should lead to new jobs and wealth creation. 

Apart from a few cases, most of the successful innovation ecosystems are in urban areas. Clearly, networking and collaboration are enabled by closer physical proximity, but there is no doubt that such activities would be of great benefit in rural areas, which are characterised by lower levels of productivity and economic performance. In a recent article in the Journal of Corporate Citizenship (Marshall and Murphy, 2017), we have explored some of the issues facing rural innovation ecosystems. Rural settlements are defined in terms of population density. The dispersed populations obviously mean that businesses and communities are more isolated, so that travel times to access customers or collaborators, or to undertake normal business activities are longer. There are other issues too. Opportunities for young people, particularly those with higher level skills, tend to be fewer; typically they leave and move to urban areas. This makes the population demographics relatively older. This effect is further enhanced as rural areas attract people in later life, as retirees, commuters to urban areas, or home-based workers – all seeking a better lifestyle, or enhanced ‘wellbeing’. Larger employers, in the public, voluntary and private sectors, are more likely to be smaller subsidiaries. There do not tend to be specialist medical centres, or leading research hubs located rurally. There is a vicious circle around attracting, retaining and developing skilled professionals into the area, as it is hard to provide a package that supports their career development.

However, rural areas do attract a particular type of mid-career, skilled professional. They may have held senior roles in larger urban organisations and may have good networks in their own field. They are often attracted to relocate to a rural area, perhaps to accompany a spouse taking up one of the few senior professional roles, or possibly more proactively because they seek a better work-life balance, a desire for a rural lifestyle and wellbeing. Many become self-employed and many are highly innovative. There is evidence that rural economies are sustained by more varied types of businesses, including new business models, social enterprises and clustering of micro-businesses. Unlike what seems to be the conventional image held by policy-makers, these business owners may not be desirous of growth, but to prefer lower risk choices. They may also be older and they may be more likely to be female.  Social enterprise models in which there is a major volunteer element (such as Broadband for the Rural North (B4RN)) are prevalent. There may be links to cultural industries, particularly associated with the landscape and heritage of the area. The reasons for these differences are, of course, related to the population sparsity, the difficulties in accessing resources, people and skills. However, there is emerging evidence that there are also differences in aspirations, lifestyle choices and preferences. Rural areas are populated by individuals, many of whom work in more than one part-time role. Their lives can be a complex mix of paid and unpaid work, self-employment, educational and caring activities. Of course, this is not only a rural phenomenon, but there are certainly fewer opportunities for more conventional roles, meaning that this pattern is prevalent. This means that a rural innovation ecosystem could be something very different from a conventional urban one. It may be less about supporting high technology businesses to grow fast and more about developing individuals to sustain a balanced rural economy. It may require different types of structure, leadership and ‘anchoring’. 

As a starting point, we need to understand more about the kinds of businesses in our rural economy, how they use new knowledge to innovate, how they network and collaborate, and what kind of external business support is useful to them. At the University of Cumbria, we are starting to explore this in a small pilot study on the Innovation Capabilities of SMEs, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and Innovate UK, in collaboration with the Universities of Exeter, Edinburgh, Essex. For further information: iflas@cumbria.ac.uk


Alison Marshall, David F Murphy and Katie Carr
Institute for Leadership and Sustainability
12 July 2018

IFLAS Open Lectures for Autumn 2018 - we're three quarters of the way there!

Three out of four Open Lectures for the coming season have now been finalised, with just one more to be set in stone. So, we have...

Tuesday September 11th, James Rebanks - How to be a sustainable farmer.

In the last five years, James Rebanks went from unknown rural shepherd to international phenomenon.   Initially with his popular Twitter account - @herdyshepherd1 - and then with his critically acclaimed, and bestselling, memoir The Shepherd’s Life, he documented the unique pastoral farming system of the Lake District that has now contributed to the Lake District 2017 World Heritage Site status.  James lives and works around Penrith in the Lake District, in the valleys and fells his family has farmed for more than 600 years.  He was one of just thirty people nominated in The Sunday Times 2018 Alternative Rich List: “In the frantic modern world, he is not only doing a deeply satisfying and meaningful job, which has been needed for generations, he is also campaigning to protect the land he loves and works on.”

James will be talking from a farmer's perspective on the ethics, responsibility and sustainability challenges that we all now face.

Then in early October, we are delighted to welcome back (to IFLAS and to the UK!) Kate Rawles, fresh from a tip to top cycle ride in South America for a recollection of that epic journey - 'The Life Cycle - a biodiversity bike ride'

In 2017/18 Kate Rawles aka @CarbonCycleKate rode the length of South America on ‘Woody’ a bicycle made of bamboo that she built herself at the London-based Bamboo Bicycle Club from bamboo grown at Cornwall’s Eden Project. From Colombia to Cape Horn, (or as close as you can get to it on a bike), Kate and Woody – the UK’s first ‘home-grown bicycle’ - travelled for 8288 miles following the spine of the Andes through an astonishing variety of landscapes and ecosystems, from Pacific ocean to high Andes paramo; from cloud and rainforests to Bolivian salt flats and the Atacama desert. The aim was to explore biodiversity: what it is, what’s happening to it, why that matters and, above all, what can and is being done to protect it – and then to use the adventure story to help raise awareness and inspire action on this hugely important but relatively neglected environmental challenge.

En route, Kate, who rode most of the journey solo, visited a wide range of projects and met some truly inspiring people. From a school whose entire curriculum was based on turtles to a group of young people standing up against one of the largest gold corporations in the world; from a woman who bought millions of acres of Chile to turn then into nature conservation reserves to an organisation protecting endangered monkeys by showing local people how to earn money by turning waste plastic into high fashion handbags rather than by catching monkeys for the illegal (but lucrative) wildlife pet trade. Having arrived back in the UK by cargo ship, Kate will share pictures and stories of her adventure, the highs and lows, the challenges, the ethical dilemmas and sustainability learning, the people and places and of course, the bamboo bike.

Kate’s previous ‘adventure plus’ journey, The Carbon Cycle, a ride from Texas to Alaska exploring climate change, lead to a slide show and a book that was shortlisted for the Banff (Canada) Mountain Festival Adventure Travel Book Award. Writing The Life Cycle book is underway!

Kate will be here in Ambleside on Tuesday the 2nd October, 17.30 to 19.00

Our third free Open Lecture, on Tuesday the 16th October, will be a welcome return for regular IFLAS contributor Julie Hutchison.

Transforming Not-for-profit Governance: Fresh and more diverse leadership for a digital age

The composition of boards is increasingly under the spotlight, both in the corporate and also the not-for-profit sector.  With word-of-mouth recruitment methods and many roles going unadvertised, questions are being asked about whether not-for-profit boards are representative of the communities they serve. 


In an intervention intended to support change, IFLAS alumna Julie Hutchison has set up a consultancy Trusteeship Matters, which uses a range of digital methods to better publicise vacancies, offer education on trusteeship, and support charity trustees by means of an online community of practice called #trusteehour.  This Open Lecture looks at fresh leadership for a digital age and how this can help a not-for-profit board evolve to meet emerging challenges."

Again this talk, along with the others, will be here in Ambleside, 17.30 to 19.00 in the Percival Lecture theatre.

To register, please email us at iflas@cumbria.ac.uk . (The James Rebanks talk is likely to be over-subscribed, and once capacity is reached, those wishing to attend will be added to a waiting list. Transfer from the waiting list to the attendance list may be at very short notice as people drop out).

Saturday, 7 July 2018

Rethinking Leadership in the Lake District

The poor quality of leadership is a common complaint. Whether politics, business or social change, we often despair at the lack of character, vision, and decisiveness of those “in charge.” As economic, social and environmental problems worsen, some argue this leadership gap threatens our very security and wellbeing. They hope for a future where we would be able trust more of our leaders to do the right thing.

It is an understandable perspective. Indeed, psychologists studying our views on leadership tell us that wanting to be saved by leaders is a “hardwired” perspective. Once awakened to this tendency, we can think again about how to address the threats to our security and wellbeing. Rather than forever hoping for something different from above, we can begin to create something different from below.

Come see what Google sees
That philosophy of "collective leadership" is what is being
explored in the Lake District over 7 days this summer. Its implications for how we engage each-other in social and organisational change will be explored, as well as the implications of a troubling global context for our future choices.

The first part of this exploration is a 2-day conference of both academics and leadership coaches. It will explore the role of communication and emotion under the title the “Poetics of Leadership.” In one of the keynote talks, the world-renowned leadership academic and coach Jonathan Gosling will explore his initial ideas on what a coming climate catastrophe may imply for collective leadership. In addition to 40 sessions and paper presentations, the conference will host performance theatre and poetry to stimulate reflection. Vice Chancellor Julie Mennell will open the conference on September 7th.

The second part of the exploration is a 4-day course on this new approach to leadership. It is hosted by Professor Jem Bendell, who has advised senior leaders in business, charities and politics. In early 2017 he worked with the leader of the UK opposition party to articulate his approach to collective leadership during the General Election. Jem will be joined by Richard Little, from Impact International, who has advised leadership teams in the worlds largest organisations. Ed Gillespie, of the sustainability communications consultants Futerra, will help us explore the implications of global challenges. Katie Carr will host activities to enable better communication and connection.  

The course starts on September 10th. Before that, a free Sunday provides conference delegates the opportunity for their own self-organised activities, such as a visit to the Wordsworth Museum, boat rides and fell walking.

These 7 days in the beautiful Lake District provide a lovely opportunity to begin to resolve that angst we can feel about a leadership gap in addressing today's threats. It may inspire a new way of approaching your work and life in the context of global dilemmas.  

To register for the conference, organised in partnership with the Crossfields Institute, click here.

To register for the course, without enrolling as a student or seeking assessment and qualification, click here.

To register for the course, as an enrolled student with requirements for assessment and opportunity to obtain a Certificate of Achievement or progress to the full qualification in Sustainable Leadership, click here.

True learning is transformative. “This course changed my life” said one of our past students. It’s why we do it.  

Monday, 2 July 2018

Leadership Lessons from the World Cup

A flurry of social media posts described the “curse of world champions” after the reigning football champions Germany went out of the 2018 FIFA World Cup at the group stage. Since the finals in 2006, every world champion has failed in the group stage at the next World Cup. Italy, Spain and now Germany. As defending champions, France also fell at the first hurdle in 2002. Each nation fielded similar teams to the ones that had won four years before.

There may be a reason for this pattern other than a "curse". A reason to be found in our typical reactions to success, whether achieved by an individual, team or company. A reason that explains how leadership lessons can also be taken from the transformation of the England team at this year’s tournament.

Like politics, a week is a long time in football. So four years between World Cups is like an eternity. Players age, slow down, pick up injuries, and can lose form. And whether they are successful individually depends on whether a tactical system is suited to their strengths. Not only do those strengths change as they age, but those tactical systems should change as the opposition work you out.

In management studies, we look at why it is typical for successful organizations to fail. If we look at the top of the stock market, almost 100 were not in the S&P top 500 at the start of the last World Cup. That means about a fifth of the world’s largest companies have fallen out of the top ranking. Success can breed failure when people become fixed into routines while the context changes, due to inevitable changes in technology, markets and regulations. Leadership is often expected to come entirely from the successful professionals who have risen to the top, and whom are allied to the those existing routines. Instead, fast changing contexts call for work cultures that encourage initiative from across the organisation – something now dubbed “collective leadership.” 

As both an Englishman and a Professor of Leadership, I’m appreciating the England team’s approach to collective leadership, which is in sharp contrast to the failures of defending champions. The England team failed to achieve success in major tournaments since 1966. Their last run to the semi-final of the World Cup was 28 years ago. In the 2018 tournament they won their first two games for only third time in their history and did so with a lively pattern of play. For once, it was fun to watch. 

Experts point out that the team does not have better players than in the past. So what is different? Under the manager Gareth Southgate, the narrative about leadership has changed. Which doesn’t just mean the focus on the captain, but the shift to an emphasis on system, team and squad, rather than on the famous players. 

In the past, England always went into tournaments with a drama about the recovery from injury of a ‘top’ player, which then disrupted preparations and meant some players were half fit during a tournament. The role of captain was made so paramount that the manager almost always had to play the established captain, even when they were not suited to a tactical formation, or no longer the best player in their favoured position. England also kept playing its star players well beyond their best years - a parallel to what happened with the exiting world champions. 

This culture has been encouraged by the sports media, who always single out individuals after a match. It is far easier to tell the public that the key to a performance was whether a star player did something good or not, rather than explain tactics. It is commonplace for journalists to speak about the ‘talisman’ of a team – a phrase that literally implies magical powers of a special individual. It is a problem when football managers begin to believe these stories of magical powers, by openly describing a player as an automatic choice.  

This situation parallels what organisational psychologists have discovered since experiments in the 1980s. They found that whether or not there is any evidence for the view, the majority of people think that any outcome that is below or above average is more a result of the boss than other factors such as market conditions. They concluded that we have a romantic idea of the importance of a leader, and that this idea restricts our ability to act collectively for our common interest. 

Gareth Southgate broke this thought pattern. Immediately he downplayed the importance of the captaincy and rotated it. "We have this thing about 'an England captain', but really the captain is the person that is captain in the next game, isn't it?” the England manager explained. "Always the danger in any sport with naming a 'captain' is selection. Always there is a danger with form or anything else that it becomes a matter of debate." He said “you need leaders everywhere” and described the importance of a leadership group within the squad. 

How do you achieve that? In the leadership courses I teach, we focus on how to create leaderful groups, where anyone of any rank can step up in a moment to help the group achieve a meaningful objective. It is a philosophy of collective leadership which made me notice the shift in the England set up. Last year the squad were taken to see the Marines and camped out in a forest and undertook activities aimed at team building. "That would never have happened back in the day…” said Jermain Defoe, the striker who played for a few England managers. “We did not have our phones. I did things that I never thought I would do. There were times when I felt a little bit scared doing it, but you have to because your team-mates are pushing you on and it's all about building that trust.” 

During the World Cup, Southgate has been invited to succumb to the magical idea of the talismanic leaders who will save a team. After the win against Tunisia he was asked to single out players for praise. In reply, he said the result was due to the effort of the whole squad. He often mentions how football is a squad game – even widening the idea that it is a team game.

This approach to collective leadership and dropping the myth of talismanic players has reduced the risk that a loss of form or an injury would disrupt performances. It has avoided systems of play being chosen because of one or two ‘talismen’ who have been mythologised. The new approach has been noticed by some sports journalists as ditching the era of “Mr Big Stuff”. 

Ultimately, success in sport, as in business, depends as much on talent, luck and the competition as it does on a philosophy of management or leadership. But the lesson from the failure of past World Champions and the transformation of England this year is that our attitudes to leadership do matter.  

Professor Jem Bendell, Founder, IFLAS. 

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Celebrating 10th Anniversary of Cumbria University at Brantwood

This week Richard Little will give his first lecture as a Visiting Professor with the University of Cumbria. He will draw upon the intellectual icons of the Lake District, both famous and semi forgotten, to explore current trends in the world of work (and capitalism). We will be hosted at the famous home of John Ruskin, in Coniston. More info here.

If you cant make it, then you can hear Prof Little again at our Poetics of Leadership conference in the Lake District, where he will be joined by Prof Jonathan Gosling, Prof Jem Bendell, and many other practitioners and educators of leadership development from around the world. Info here.

Profs Bendell and Little will also be exploring leadership and its development in the face of global dilemmas, in our PGC course, starting with a 4 day residential after the conference. Which involves gazing without shrinking. Info here.

Picture: a permafrost crater in Siberia, caused by methane release.

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Multidisciplinary PhD in currency innovation

IFLAS has been researching and teaching on local currencies, crypto currencies and blockchain since 2014 when our University became the first public University in the world to accept bitcoin. Since then we have always had PhD students studying this area, taking a multidisciplinary approach, drawing upon social theory to explore the implications for the public of a multicurrency future.

We are now seeking new applications for PhD research in this field, to start October 1st 2018. The opportunity is suited to people who work on this topic and could do a PhD part time over 4 or 5 years. They would work alongside a fulltime PhD student who works with the new Lake District Pound, and with Professor Jem Bendell as their supervisor. Most supervision is provided remotely, and so the number of visits to campus during the programme can be negotiated (the July 2019 summer school is obligatory).

There is no funding, but the fees for part time students with UK or EU residency are very competitive (under 2000GBP a year).

If you already have a Masters degree and are interested, please write one page about your idea for your research and your motivation, and send it before May 10th to Professor Jem Bendell (email jem dot cumbria at cumbria dot ac dot uk). If your idea is relevant, then you will hear within a week of initial contact and be invited to submit a formal application before the end of May to enable an October 1st start.

More information on our Institute is available at www.iflas.info

More information on our views on blockchain and crypto is here.

Our latest peer reviewed paper on the topic, from Prof Bendell, is here.

Our international engagement on this topic is via Prof Bendell chairing the organising committee of a UN event on blockchain. Information here.

Saturday, 7 April 2018

Integral Technology in Blockchain, Cryptocurrency and Beyond – a concept note for discussion

by Jem Bendell and Matthew Slater

The billions of dollars of venture capital pouring into blockchain start-ups over the past year reflect how people with a serious financial interest in technology see significant potential in distributed ledger technology (DLT). Yet the actual use of these technologies for everyday applications is still rare. Some say that it is a passing fad. Others say that blockchains and cryptocurrencies like bitcoin are dangerous to our financial system, our security and the environment. How should we navigate this new sector: as innovators, advisors, regulators, or just as informed citizens?
Deepmind's AI interpretation of Escher's famous hands

In this concept note, prepared as background for our article for the World Economic Forum, we explain how approaches to blockchain and cryptocurrency need to be grounded in a clear appreciation of the relationship between technology and society. That clarity is important not just for discussions on blockchains and cryptocurrencies, but for all software technology, as it becomes so powerful in our lives. We will therefore develop a lens, called “integral technology,” to assess the positive and negative aspects of any technology and apply this to recent innovation on the field of distributed ledgers. 

When we hear people comment on blockchain and cryptographic currency being good or bad, we are often hearing different assumptions about the relationship between technology and society. So first, let us review the various ways that people look at that. The Oxford English dictionary defines technology as “The application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes..." That is different to how the word is typically used to refer to the “artefacts” - or things - of technology, such as the arrow head, the mobile handset, blockchain, or nuclear missile. By describing both “application” and “practical purposes” the dictionary suggests that technology is best understood as a system of intentions and outcomes. That system involves people, knowledge, contexts and the transformations that are involved in creating those artefacts. These are what we identify as the five aspects of any technological system, which is what we will mean when we refer to a technology in this concept note. The power of this systems perspective on technology is that it invites us to consider further the wider context of politics, financing, iterative redesign processes, the side effects and finally the values that shape technologies. Which is what we will do now.

Is Technology Something to Love or Fear?

We humans attach a great deal of importance to technology because it seems to be able to meet many of our needs and desires. It brings aspects of our imagination into physical reality in ways that then reshape our lives and what we might imagine next. This utility of technology makes selling it very possible, but also means there is less emphasis given to the costs and consequences of those desires being met in those ways.

Given its centrality in civilisation, a range of perspectives on our relationship to technology have arisen. Some optimists believe any negative consequences are worth the benefit, and that the march of technology is synonymous with the march of human progress. This view is called “technological optimism”. Others believe that technology takes humans further from their natural state, isolating them from the world, and causing numerous new problems which often require further technological solutions. These “technological pessimists” can point to a range of dangerous situations such as nuclear waste, climate change and antibiotic resistance, to then question the hubris that humanity may have exhibited in thinking our technology meant we can exert influence on nature without an eventual response of equivalent impact on ourselves. The German philosopher Martin Heidegger argued that modern technologies have a quality of seeking to dominate nature rather than work with it, in ways that stem from - and contribute to - the illusion that humans are separate agents acting on nature.

Some of these optimists and pessimists don’t think that we humans have much influence on what is happening. Such “technological determinism” is the view that technology can be understood as having a logic of its own and develops as an unfolding of consciousness in ways that we, our entrepreneurs or our politicians, will not, in principle, control. Current debates about the merits or risks of blockchains and cryptocurrencies often echo these perspectives. Some argue it will change, or even save, the world. Others argue that it will collapse the financial basis of our nation states. Still others argue that whatever our view, it IS the future - as if it cannot be stopped.

Counter-posed to these views on technology has been the “technological neutralist” view which suggests that technology is neither inherently good or bad for humanity and therefore needs responsible management to maximise its intended benefits and minimise its unintended drawbacks. That view is the most widespread in the field of Science, Technology and Society (STS) studies. Sociologists have revealed as pure fiction the apolitical view of technology development as flowing from basic science, to applied science, development, and commercialization.  Instead, a variety of relevant stakeholder groups compete to influence a new technology and they determine how it becomes stabilised as an element of society.

Therefore, despite the pervasiveness of “great man” stories in our culture, technological innovation is not the result of heroes introducing new ‘technologies’ and release them into ‘society,’ starting a series of (un)expected impacts. Rather, innovation is a complex process of “co-construction” in which technology and society, to the degree that they could even be conceived separately of one another, negotiate the role of new technological artefacts, alter technology through resistance, and construct social and technological concepts and practices.

We share this perspective on technology. It invites us to see how innovation is a social process that we can choose to engage in to achieve public goals. We are not, however, “technology neutralists”, for a few reasons. First, we do not believe that all technologies have the same level of negative or positive potential prior to their human control. That is because all kinds of different phenomena exist under the one banner “technology”. For instance, while nuclear fission constantly produces poisons which require millennia of custody, smart decision-making algorithms only impact the world insofar as their decisions are acted upon. Second, we do not assume humanity to be the autonomous agent in our relationship with technology. Rather, we are influenced by the technologies that shape the society we are born into. Canadian philosopher of technology, Professor Andrew Feenberg explains this situation as humans and technology existing in an entangled hierarchy. “Neither society nor technology can be understood in isolation from each other because neither has a stable identity or form” he explains.

For us, “technological constructivism” is the perspective that technology and society influence each other in complex ways that cannot be predicted and therefore require constant vigilance by representatives from all stakeholders who are directly and indirectly affected. The implication of this perspective for innovation in blockchain and cryptographic currencies is that the intentions of innovators and financiers are important to know and influence, and that wider stakeholder participation in shaping the direction and governance of the technology is essential. This is the approach that we base our view of developments in software in general and blockchains, in particular.

The Technological State of the World

Humanity faces many dilemmas today. Some of these are brought about by our technology, some are not, and we may hope many can be solved by a sensible use of technology in future. Climate change is the result of our rapid use of technologies to burn fossil fuels and tear up forests. Malnutrition is the result of a wide array of factors, which are difficult to blame on technology, though its persistence despite the “green revolution” would make technological optimism a questionable position today. 

One field of technology which may be exceptional with regard to regulation and the lack of it is Artificial Intelligence (AI), which describes the ability of computers to perceive their environment and determine an appropriate course of action. Narrow forms of AI are already in use. They often confer a tremendous advantage to those who use it well, and its use by the victorious Trump campaign, and the victorious Leave campaign (of the Brexit referendum) are raising huge questions about the justice of using people's own data to manipulate their voting intention. AI systems tend to be very complicated and sometimes produce unexpected results. But because they save labour, for example by automatically judging loan applications or driving vehicles, there is commercial pressure to simply accept the automated decisions to reduce the costs. As AI is applied to more and more areas of trade, finance, military and critical infrastructure, the risks and ethical questions proliferate.

There are more intense concerns being expressed recently about more general forms of AI that include capabilities for software to be self-authoring. That does not mean consciousness, nor mimicking consciousness, but that overtime the software could develop itself beyond our understanding or control. It could 'escape' from a laboratory setting, or within specific applications, and disrupt the world through all our internet-connected systems. Astro-physicist Stephen Hawking said "The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race. Once humans develop artificial intelligence, it will take off on its own and redesign itself at an ever-increasing rate. Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn't compete and would be superseded." Some even fear that, a rogue AI might only be disabled by killing the whole internet. Combined with the resilience of blockchains, which cannot be switched off at any one place, this possibility is a step closer. This potential existential danger invites a new seriousness about software regulation. But our concern in this concept note is more with the way machines in the service of powerful organisations are already shaping certain aspects of our lives with little accountability and that the field of AI is almost completely unregulated.

Introducing the Concept of Integral Technology

Given these problems, it is self-evident that humanity needs a better approach to technology. How might we frame that approach? Concepts of ethics, responsibility and sustainability have all been widely discussed in relation to technology. Given our systems view of technology, we find Integral Theory to provide a simple prompt for considering its implications for society. It invites us to question internal and external impacts of any system and its embeddedness in wider systems. We are going to propose that humanity needs to develop a more consciously integral approach to the development and implementation of technology. Key to this concept is that technologies need to be more internally and externally coherent. Internal coherence describes how their design does not undermine the intention for their creation. External coherence describes how their design does not undermine the social and political system that they depend upon and which holds technologies and their protagonists to account, as well as the wider environment upon which we all depend. As that social and political system would be undermined by increasing inequality, so the effects of technology on equality are important to its integral character.

To aid future discussion, here we outline six initial characteristics of such integral technologies.

1) Meaningful Purpose: The technology system is the result of people seeking to provide solutions to significant human needs and desires, rather than exploit people for personal gain. A positive example is the development of technologies for cataract operations that can be offered affordably for the poor. A negative example is the development of financial algorithms to front run stock market trading.
2) Stakeholder Accountability: A diversity of stakeholder opinions are solicited and used during technological development and implementation in an effort to avoid unexpected and negative externalities. A positive example is the cryptocurrency Faircoin for which everything is decided through an assembly; a negative example is bitcoin, in which computer mining stakeholders approve or veto new features based on their interests in maintaining power and profit. 
3) Intended Safety: A technology does not cause harm when used in the intended ways, and those using it in unintended ways are made aware of known risks. A positive example is the indications and contra-indications on pharmaceutical labels; a negative example is when pesticides are marketed to be used just before the rice or grain harvesting to increase the yield, when that increases likelihood of toxic residues.
4) Optimal Availability: As much of the knowledge about the technology as safely possible is kept in the public domain, in order to reduce power differentials and maximise the benefits of the technology when other uses for the technology are found. A positive example is open source software which allows anyone with the right skills to deploy it for any purpose they choose; a negative example is the ingredients of cigarettes which are not published and make it harder for affected parties to build a case against the manufacturers.
5) Avoiding Externalities: The way in which the artefacts of the technology affect the world around them are considered at an early stage and actively addressed. A positive example is the design of products to use a circular flow of materials from the Earth and back to the Earth. A negative example is how addiction to computer games may be contributing to obesity in the young while the games companies continue to pursue similar goals.
6) Managing Externalities: Subsystems for mitigating known negative externalities are developed at the same time as the technology and launched alongside it. A positive example is the system of regulations that mandate regular physical inspections of aircraft. A negative example is government migrating social service administration to the internet and not ensuring the poorest have the computer access, skills and support they need to use the new system.

Integral Blockchain and Post-Blockchain Technologies

In the past year Bitcoin has been criticised for the huge amounts of energy it consumes to secure the blockchain. At the time of writing, some compare the consumption to that of Switzerland. Such consumption is not a necessary feature of securing blockchains, but the initial design choice of the inventor, with a system called “proof of work” being used to issue new digital tokens. Other systems like Ethereum also use “proof of work” and are similarly reliant on the computer-mining companies for whether this climate-toxic code is replaced. Sadly the “proof of work” systems of these leading technologies remain. Whereas some proponents of these technologies argue that they are not so environmentally bad, due to servers being located in cold places near renewable energy sources where energy is wasted, these are somewhat defensive post-hoc excuses. Clearly the environmental appropriateness of their code was not one of the design parameters in the minds of the designers. 

In the case of Ethereum, the speculation in the price of Ether affects the price of Gas which is used to process transactions. That means that as the price balloons, the system loses its attractiveness for supporting activities that are high volume and low cost. It also transfers funds from the many who would use the system to the few who speculate on digital token value or own the computer-miners.

We contend that systems which are not internally coherent will eventually experience a disintegration of their intended or espoused purpose. In addition, systems which are not externally coherent will eventually experience a disintegration in their public support and their environmental basis. The situation with Bitcoin is probably unsolvable, and its carbon footprint may lead to significant regulator intervention in time. Ethereum has a wider set of aims and so despite the continual delays in moving substantially away from Proof of Work, it may still be able to address the barriers to progress presented by the short-term interests of those controlling the mining computers. However, there is no doubt that this form of governance-by-hash-power is currently an impediment to Ethereum becoming a more integral technology.

Given these difficulties, we would like to point out some lesser-known projects, which we regard as showing exemplary integral traits.

Providing the same smart contract functionality as Ethereum, the new Yetta blockchain is intended to be sustainable by design, with the low energy requirements of its codebase being moderated further by automated rewards for those nodes using renewable energy. It will also enable automated philanthropy to support the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Also dissatisfied with how both proof-of-work and proof-of-stake consensus algorithms reward those who already have the most, Faircoin developed a ‘proof-of-cooperation’ algorithm. More than that, there is an open assembly in which the price of the coin is determined every month. This also is an attempt to stabilise the price of the coin and deter speculators and the erratic price movements which arise from their profiteering. They hold that a medium of exchange is not supposed to be a vent from which value can be extracted from the economy.

One post-blockchain project, Holochain, is currently raising capital in an Initial Coin Offering (ICO). The communications team has made many criticisms of conventional blockchains. For example they have massive data redundancy built in, which causes such a problem for scaling that the original intention of these projects is now being compromised with such innovations as the Lightning networks. Another being that since blockchain tokens are assets without liabilities, they cannot have a stable value and thus constitute a poor medium of exchange. Holo tokens therefore are issued as liabilities, which means they have a purpose and a more stable value as long as the project lives.

“If someone tells you they’re building a “decentralized” system, and it runs a consensus algorithm configured to give the people with wealth or power more wealth and power, you may as well call bullshit and walk away. That is what nobody seems willing to see about blockchain.” - Art Brock

Another project called LocalPay, which we both work on, seeks to build a payment system for existing solidarity economy networks. Its protagonists believe that payments infrastructure is too critical and too political to be put only in the hands of monopolists and rent-seekers. Instead, infrastructure which is held in common, equally available to all, is the basis of a fairer society. They too, understand money as credit, with somebody always underwriting its value.

While none of these technologies is perfect, they are Integral Blockchains and post-Blockchains as they seek to be internally and externally coherent. The internal coherence of a Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT) means that the code and business model does not undermine the intention for their creation. External coherence of a DLT means that their code and business model does not undermine the social and political system that they depend upon and which holds the technologies and their protagonists to account, as well as the wider environmental system upon which we all depend. As that social and political system is undermined by increasing inequality, so the effect of a DLT on equality is important to its integral character. The four projects we highlighted all seek to integrate these considerations into their codebase and business model, rather than bolt on social or environmental considerations at a later time. 

The Need for Technosophy

Concerns about technology are growing. Warnings over unregulated nanotechnology and artificial intelligence are now widespread. Warnings about the socially and politically damaging effects of social media are growing. There’s a wider problem with how technology is financed and implemented in a free market system that means technology companies’ first duty is to deliver short term profits to shareholders. This means many technologies are developed in a hurry and much software is rushed to market before it is even finished. Many costs and negative impacts are hard to pin directly on the manufacturers, and thus sometimes nobody is accountable. The history of technology is one where resistance to development from society leads to stabilisation around control and access to technology. Recently we have had massive diffusion of new electronics such as the mobile phone and social media, while the systems for affected stakeholders to hold these technological systems to account do not yet exist in the ways they have done in other sectors.

The law is supposed to provide for unanticipated victims of technology and thus incentivise providers to take precautions. This clearly isn’t working nearly well enough perhaps because of the difficulty and expense of using the law and perhaps because some consequences are very hard to prove to the satisfaction of a jury. You may recall the decades of failing to prosecute tobacco companies because the link between cigarettes and lung cancer could not be proven easily. So if the law were better to favour the victims, then technology companies would do more to research and mitigate the secondary effects.

We will not be surprised if legal action will begin to be taken against platforms like Facebook on behalf of millions of claimants for a range of concerns. That might involve teenagers with clinical depression that has been correlated with social media usage, or relatives of those who then committed suicide. Companies like Facebook may point to their internal systems to address such risks, and whether that is sufficient may be debated in court sometime in the future. Such legal action may bankrupt some firms, or trigger changes. But to achieve a wider shift to more integral technologies there will need to be a shift in philosophy that the law alone will not be able to compel.

It is time for a new era of wisdom in the way we make and deploy our tools. A move from the knowledge of making things to the wisdom of making things – what we call an era of “technosophy”. In the field of digital technologies, this means the urgent development of new forms of deliberative governance, that uses both soft and hard forms of regulation. The forms that this will take need to be developed, but there are many examples from other sectors, where technical standards are agreed internationally and incorporate into national law. That would need to be done in ways that shape not stifle digital innovation, but also enable stakeholders to alert regulators to risk-laden projects, such as those using AI.  

One idea might be to introduce a requirement that before software technologies can be deployed by large organisations (over 200 employees OR over 50 million USD turnover, with subsidiaries analysed as part of their parent companies), the software needs to be certified by an independent agency as not presenting a risk to the public. Such certifications could be based on new multi-stakeholder standards that would establish management systems for responsible software development. Any change of the software code that would be deployed by a large firm would need to be notified to the certifier of the underlying software before release, with a self-declared risk assessment, based on guidance provided by the standards organisation. Systems would need to be established for determining whether particular software types and uses pose heightened risks and require more oversight. For this approach to work it would have to be worldwide, so as to avoid firms moving to jurisdictions that avoid these regulations. Therefore, there is a rationale for an international treaty on software safety to be negotiated rapidly with significant resources marshalled to help these regulations to be appropriately implemented globally.

In developing this idea, we know that many protagonists in software innovation may be appalled. There is a strong anti-authoritarian mood amongst many computing enthusiasts. But it is time to realise that some technology optimists are becoming the new authoritarians, by enabling the diffusion of technologies that have wide effects on people worldwide without them having any influence on that process other than one role - if they can be a consumer. The challenge today is not whether there should be more regulation of software development and deployment or not, but how this should be done to reduce the risks and promote the widest human benefit. We offer the concept of Integral Technology as one way of helping that debate (and not as a template for regulation).

Unfortunately, in the hype and the reality around Distributed Ledger Technologies (DLTs) we don’t see many ideas and initiatives thinking beyond the initial value proposition and promised returns to investors. Some technologies like Bitcoin seem to us to have betrayed all the aims of the founder and early adopters, yet claims of internal and external incoherence are met with very questionable objections by their near fanatical adherents. The various projects to promote social or environmental good appear to be marginal to the main thrust of this sector, and many add such concerns on top of existing code and governance structures that are not aligned with the project goals.  On the other hand, incumbent banks and their regulators have often express dismissive or negative views of DLT technologies which suggest they do not understand the problems with existing bank power and practice, or the potential of DLTs. In some countries outright bans on DLTs or cryptocurrencies are not the result of wide stakeholder consultation on questions such as what and for whom systems of value exchange should be for.

Therefore, we believe a technosophical approach to blockchain and cryptographic currencies is currently absent and needs cultivation. It is why we urgently need more international multi-stakeholder processes to deliberate on standards for the future of software technologies in general. In the field of blockchain, one event that may help is the United Nations’ half day high level discussions on blockchain, taking place at the World Investment Forum in October. Whether wider political and environmental conditions will give humanity the time and space to come together to develop and implement an appropriate regulatory environment for the future of software is currently unknown, but it is worth attempting. 


We provide a background to blockchain and cryptocurrency innovation in our free online course on Money and Society.

We also offer a Certificate in Sustainable Exchange, which involves a residential course in London (next April).

Our academic research on these topics includes a paper recently published on local currencies for promoting SME financing, a paper on thwarting a monopolisation of the complementary currency field and a paper on our theory of money, published by the United Nations.

Professor Bendell is the Chair of the Organising Committee of the Blockchains for Sustainable Development sessions at the World Investment Forum 2018 at the UN.   

We produced this concept note on the IFLAS blog for rapid sharing. To reference this Concept Note:
Bendell, J. and M. Slater (2018) Integral Technology in Blockchain, Cryptocurrency and Beyond, Institute for Leadership and Sustainability, University of Cumbria.

The image used in this post is a reworking of Escher's drawing that reflects the entanglement of author and authored. The image was reworked by Google AI project Deepmind, in its "dream" state, to produce the image you see. Deepmind is learning to identify the contents of images. This technology will be used to save lives, sell stuff and to kill with impunity. Reworking Escher's hands in a rather bizarre fashion reflects our perspective of "technological constructivism" and our belief that the potential of AI to soon achieve (with human action and inaction) autonomous general super intelligence (amongst other dilemma, particularly climate change) means that we need a "technosophical" approach that more wisely assesses and governs technology systems.  

Send comments to drjbendell at gmail