Tackling Framing Effects of Dominant Knowledge Systems in Transformations

Progress Namibia - Tackling Framing Effects of Dominant Knowledge Systems in Transformations
25 August 2017

And we find ourselves this week in Stockholm, Sweden, representing our work on For Progress Namibia at the Resilience Conference, Research Frontiers for Global Sustainability. Justine, together with other members of the Balaton Group, put together a session that focuses on breaking through dominant knowledge systems towards a sustainable, resilient world. We had our session on Monday morning (hence the lateness of this weeks Progress Namibia Weekly), which consisted of three presentations and an open discussion. Humans use knowledge and value systems (paradigms, worldviews, mindsets, mental maps) to make sense of the world and to act purposefully. However, more often than not, the cognitive, affective and social rules by which decisions are made remain implicit, while cultural frames provide shortcuts for explanations and rationalizations. In this session we brought together theory and practice to unravel tacit assumptions that have so far dominated sustainability discourses, and to highlight the potential of alternative mindsets for bringing about peaceful futures. We presented frameworks, methods and technological advances that may catalyze the Great Mindshift for governing the Anthropocene.

Cristina Apetrei, a PhD student working for the Leverage Points Project, facilitated our session. Maja Göpel, author of the Great Mindshift, started us off with how economic transformations and global sustainability go hand in hand. Justine gave her presentation right afterwards, which looked at participatory indicator work as key to reflective practice (perceptions of progress from Africa). Piotr Magnuszewski, from the Centre for Systems Solutions and Games for Sustainability, talked about simulation games as tools for handling cognitive and social complexity in the context of sustainability transition. The session overall was well attended with fruitful discussions. An overview of our abstracts can be seen below.

The Great Mindshift. How a New Economic Paradigm and Sustainability Transformations go Hand in Hand (Maja Göpel): In essence, sustainable development has always been a radical agenda whose definition involved a paradigm shift: the integration of economic, environmental, and social knowledge and concerns. Yet, instead of a transcending intergation most solutions were pursued with a subjugation of social and environmental concerns by the dominant economic frames and ideas for development . Political economists (Polanyi 1947, Gramsci 1971, Cox 1994, Raskin et.al2002) and transformation scholars (Leach at.al 2010, Wiek et.al 2016, Goepel 2016) argue that without tackling the hegemonic ‘system framing’ as well - the knowledge that actors in the political process apply - solutions will rather consolidate the status quo than bring about transformative change. In the case of sustainability the economic lens is blind to the qualitative characteristics of both of its key concerns, nature and human needs. Thus primarily applying the mainstream economic lens in the appraisal of policies and/or technologies was often part of perpetuating or even reinforcing unsustainable development trends. Many development and ecological economists have pointed this out before, but only since the financial crises brought the criticism into the hegemonic framing itself, the economics discipline, do we see a renewed window for a paradigm shift. This paper highlights key assumptions in mainstream economics that create blind spots with regard to understanding nature and human needs and highlights which alternative views seem to consolidate themselves across different movements like Beyond GDP, a Common Good Economy, Transition Towns or Commoning. It discusses these as system framings that would be fit for finding policies and technologies for sustainable futures and closes by arguing that paradigm shifting work should be considered an expertise in itself.

Participatory Indicator Work as a Key to Reflective Practice and Pathways Work: A Case Study on Perceptions of Progress from Africa (Justine Braby): The underlying narrative that rapid economic growth will bring prosperity to all Africans needs to be questioned, urgently. Many countries on the continent are showing fast GDP growth, but this has not related to access to basic services, increased quality of life, and this development model has had devastating effects on the ecosystem services and biodiversity of these countries. Very little has been done on capturing African citizen world views and alternative narratives. Deep dialogue has been underrated in collecting and learning from citizen (local, national and global) narratives about progress and what it means to lead a successful life. Participatory indicator work in Namibia, as well as collecting narratives on the theme of 'Africans Thriving', is ongoing work that has brought about many lessons learned from experiencing with dialogue during traditional rituals. Participatory approaches through creating open spaces of equal power and respect has shown that many citizens put value on social systems that are undervalued and being lost along the path of rapid production and consumption. This session will be in the form of a visual story-telling-style presentation, and highlights the alternative mindsets and their potential for the imagination on and bringing about peaceful futures. How are the narratives shaped? What are they? How closely are they linked to the SDGs? What values do citizens place on each other, ecosystems, commodities? What lessons have we learned from our approach? These are some of the key questions that the session will focus on.

Simulation games as tools for handling cognitive and social complexity in the context of sustainability transition (Piotr Magnuszewski): Fostering sustainability transitions in our interconnected world requires keen appreciation and incorporation of the many ways in which the frames, beliefs, norms, decisions and interactions of today shape the pathways and possibilities for tomorrow. While substantial progress has been made in understanding the natural environment, we are far from grasping the critical elements of stakeholder cognitive and decision-making processes that underpin coupled human-natural systems. Many important aspects of these interactions are linked with the so called “frames” and framing. In the interest of computational tractability, the majority of modeling and analysis methods adopt simplified behavioral assumptions at the expense of empirical realism. For systems analysis to offer actionable policy insights to the complex challenges of sustainability transitions it is evident that our methods and tools must better incorporate the complexity of human cognition, deliberation, and decision-making. This contribution will present the use of a social simulation (or ‘serious game’ or ‘policy exercise’) as a new method to understand stakeholder cognition and resulting interaction. The method can be applied both from the perspective of an external observer (research) or, alternatively, as a collective self-reflection process leading to the understanding of unspoken assumptions guiding decisions and action. Simulation games have a unique potential to expand the understanding of stakeholder dynamics, teasing out behavioral pitfalls that may prevent effective collaboration, coordination, and collective action necessary to foster transition towards sustainability. Examples will be given of using games where stakeholders face sustainability transition challenges.

Picture Credit: Piotr Magnuszewski
Presentation Picture Credit: Le Roux van Schalkwyk