The first part of this blog explored the context – ‘what if’ the pandemic is contained, OR it continues (with mutations, policy failures, medical gaps etc)? And then, ‘what if’ society bounces back, OR it transforms? The four scenarios which emerged are not only about possible distant horizons – they are more like active grabbing of the present and near future, by the forces of power, wealth and ideology. Each scenario could be extremely negative – magnifying the health issues up to full political / economic crisis: OR each scenario could be incredibly positive – magnifying the new-found social cohesion, public investment and clean skies into a political / economic transformation. So these are the bigger questions beyond the immediate pandemic – how to turn crisis into transformation? And this is the agenda of a collective pandemic intelligence, or Pandemic 3.0 (see www.urban3.net)…
Societal transformations – by accident or design?
Reaching for the flip-chart – (here’s one we made earlier!) – we see the social, technology, economic, ecological, political, urban domains (‘STEEP’ for short) – on the left of Figure 2, sketched around the pandemic in the centre. Each of these involves not only material issues, such as economic growth or new technology, but the underlying layers, the psychology and culture and deeper myths of all involved. It seems for each negative part of this nexus there’s also a potential positive or counter-case, shown in the connexus on the right hand side of the picture. So here’s a first sketch of negative and positive, a starting point for exploring the possible pathways from one to the other.
In the social domain, the pandemic response locks down most forms of direct social interaction, along with economic activity in services and consumption. It also exposes the gaps and shortfalls in public services, and the underlying inequality and exclusion. However there’s a resurgence of social and cultural values, organizations and systems, from singing on balconies to a mass volunteering in public service.
For technology, the door is open ever wider for techno-corporate surveillance and financial-ization: while local businesses go down, and while community apps and 3D printing emerge, the global ‘GAFA’ tech platforms are expanding without limit. Meanwhile in a likely future world of distancing and ‘contactless community’, the same digital platforms and networks will be indispensable.
Production in the global economic system has been through possibly its greatest ever shock and negative growth, with untold suffering for the newly sick, unemployed, uninsured and homeless. However there are new patterns of part-time and home-working, along with a new questioning of materialist debt-fuelled production and consumption.
For the ecological and climate agenda, the pandemic slowdown has brought clear skies for the first time in generations, even while climate change, species extinction and toxic overload continues. While international cooperation will be more difficult, it seems possible that in a post-pandemic era, new forms of the green deal will emerge along with non-material lifestyles.
Political implications spread in all directions – the most obvious being the extraordinary acts of the state underwriting businesses and workers (in the UK and many other countries) – and the most extreme where large (tax-avoiding, fossil-intensive) corporates carve up the multi-billion bailouts. Again in a post-pandemic era we look for pathways for transformation, with new political-social-economic games in play, and a potential emerging collective political intelligence.
Scientific knowledge and expert practice in a post-truth society may yet emerge as the source of trust and confidence. But the massive uncertainties in the basic science are now entangled with existential controversies: it seems post-normal science is one way to approach this, if it can link ‘science’ with other forms of knowledge.
Collaboratorium – from evolution to co-evolution
Here the players are not ‘letting a good crisis go to waste’… rather they are pushing their interests by whatever means. Figure 3 explores the question, how would different actors adapt and evolve, given these unusual challenges and opportunities? We see two main kinds of learning and thinking and system organization: on the left the functional (Mode-I) and evolutionary market-based (Mode-II), and on the right the ‘co-evolutionary’ collective intelligence (Mode-III).
With a linear Mode-I response, on the left of Figure 3, the actors have a functional plan, with testing and tracking, enforcement on transmission paths, backups of medical equipment, and effective communications (as seen in a few countries so far). This is the general framing of epidemiological analysis and modelling, such as the study which informed the UK response. But as and when the shortcomings of linear thinking emerge, then Mode-II evolutionary thinking might come in –advanced risk management, socio-psycho ‘nudges’ and smart urban micro-engineering. The result depends on the overall aim and ‘frame’ – if this is all about maintaining structures of power and wealth, the crisis is a golden opportunity for ‘taking back control’. The direction of travel is clearly towards a dystopian logic, a digital / social engineering system, where the vulnerable are expendable commodities on a real-time health insurance/investment platform.
In contrast the co-evolutionary Mode-III shows deeper and wider aspirations – where the problem ‘frame’ is about how to use such a crisis for transformation of social-economic-political systems. Here we are talking not only ‘solutions’ but extended pathways, which might combine all three Modes. We look for advanced systems of integrated tracking of cases and transmissions (Mode-I): and for dynamic social psychology, with communications for hearts and minds (Mode-II). And most of all we look for a co-evolutionary ‘mesh-work’ structure (Mode-III), a collective social intelligence in the learning and thinking capacity of communities / organizations / networks, local and global. All this points towards a transformation in systems of mutual aid and collective empowerment. It also highlights some fundamental choices, between a ‘bounce back’ to inequality and alienation, or a ‘bounce-forward’ to a transformation of collective intelligence.
So, whether the future is one of hazmat suits and video-holograms, or new-found communities partying in the streets, these will emerge in the months and years to come. The main question here is how the world can best respond, and make the choice between elite power and wealth, and a Pandemic-3.0 kind of transformation. In this it will need many of the pathways ‘from smart to wise’, which are beginning to emerge. It will need collective financial intelligence, integrated positive health systems, inclusive social media mesh-works, synergistic social-business models, deliberative-associative multi-level governance, and so on.
All these pathways, and the methods to map them, are explored in the new book Deeper City: collective intelligence and the pathways from smart to wise.
And more than any one of these, the crisis and Pandemic-3.0 opportunity calls for a collective open mind and creative spirit, to realize the potential emerging from the ashes.
Written by Joe Ravetz, Co-Director, CURE (Collaboratory in Urban Resilience), Manchester Urban Institute and SAMI Principal
The views expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily of SAMI Consulting.
SAMI Consulting was founded in 1989 by Shell and St Andrews University. They have undertaken scenario planning projects for a wide range of UK and international organisations. Their core skill is providing the link between futures research and strategy.
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