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Systems thinking: navigating the complexity of our times – workshop 20th June, Zürich, Switzerland

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We live in a complex world. The more we try to tackle environmental challenges, the more we realise the degree to which issues at stake are intertwined. Our conventional approach to solving complex problems is to break them into smaller problems and then solve them one-by-one. Tackling sustainability by thinking that if everyone buys organic, or if everyone recycles, the planet will be saved, is a good example of a perfectly rational analysis that seems in line with common sense. However, as soon as we look into the reasoning behind not implementing these supposedly simple deeds, we realise that a whole dynamic in the system prevents this from happening. Believing that the whole is equal to the sums of its parts will leave us frustrated. In this approach, complex interactions, unintended consequences and feedback loops are not integrated nor foreseen in approaches to address the issues. An introduction to systems thinking will help us use different perspectives to navigate complexity and cope with unpredictability by asking unconventional questions, which then enables us to approach sustainability with a different mindset. This promotes the idea of opening pathways to address sustainability with a true, holistic approach for producing more effective policies, campaigns and projects.

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Why attend the workshop?

Planet, People and Profits are in a clearly identified transformative phase/process on many levels. Very disruptive conditions can be observed and experienced and we know more of it is to come. These circumstances have led to the understanding that cross-sectoral collaboration is a necessary and useful way to cope with these challenges. But how do we cope with the complexity of systems once we leave our silos of mindset and current activity? How do we understand the complexity of our interaction and benefit from it? How do we become conscious of interconnected systems? In this introductory workshop, we plan to combine theory and practical experiences to provide a perspective on different tools for further thinking and acting.

If you are interested in participating, please register here!

Circular Change Conference

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Enabling Circularity: The Case for Blockchain?

During the 3rd Circular Change Conference: Unfolding Circular Economy Roadmaps, which took place in Maribor, Slovenia (11th May 2018), INX4PS held a workshop on Blockchain and Circular EconomyCarlos Alvarez Pereira began the discussions by presenting a framework of analysis which goes beyond the current buzz surrounding blockchain. Overall resources and energy consumption currently being extremely high for using the technology, participants discussed the direct effects of blockchain in terms of consumption of energy and resources. Recent figures show that the potential of blockchain to be part of solutions will only be possible if the real environmental and social impact of the technology is accurately accounted for and dealt with. According to estimates from Digiconomist, the entire Bitcoin network now consumes more energy than a number of countries, with consumption reaching just over 42TWh of electricity in a year, surpassing energy consumption of countries such as New Zealand and Hungary.[1] With this in mind, the participants reviewed different kind of mechanisms which would enable the technology to reduce the need for non-renewable energy and natural resources. The issue examined was of overcoming possible “rebound” effects, which are enabled though blockchain, could lead to more total consumption of resources by making products and services cheaper and more accessible. One last discussion revolved around the role of blockchain in contributing to changing consumer behaviors towards more sustainability.

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More philosophical topics have been considered such as: interrogating the dynamics between innovation and society, investigating the current system in which technological innovation is embedded and the potential of the blockchain technology to reinforce instead of disrupting current dynamics in place. If blockchain provides a solution and answer, what are the specific questions and problems it addresses? Has society asked the core questions of blockchain applications in getting at humanity’s most pressing challenges? The current buzz around blockchain leads us to believe so.

All these questions have to be addressed in a process of collective intelligence. We are looking forward to continuing this process with Circular Change, a platform for stakeholder engagement that aims to co-create pioneering transitions from linear to circular business models.

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Photos by: Taja Košir Popovič


[1] https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2018/jan/17/bitcoin-electricity-usage-huge-climate-cryptocurrency

Open Simulation for Global Shift

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Humanity stands at a crossroad: deciding between a business-as-usual path of development with potentially catastrophic results, or choosing transformation towards a socially inclusive and sustainable future. The stakes for sustainability research and for policymakers are high as new approaches and tools for research and decision-making are needed to meet humanity’s biggest challenges.

Sadly, the same idea was strongly expressed 50 years ago by many thoughtful people, and singularly by the Club of Rome, though it was not enough to put humanity in a better position to face the challenges of sustainability. Last November 2017 in Vienna, INX4PS in partnership with Whatif? Technologies and started exploring a paradox: state-of-the-art systems thinking and modeling were at the core of the reflections in the 60s and 70s and especially of “The Limits to Growth” report to the Club of Rome, and since then, modeling has made huge technical progress (among others due to advances in information and communication technologies) without having inspired the necessary mind shift needed to take the bull of the “problématique” by the horns.

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The discussions in Vienna were extremely rich in ideas and commitment by the participants. Whatif? Technologies and INX4PS decided to organize in Paris a Take#2 of the Open Simulation For A Global Shift series, continuing to address issues which were raised in the first workshop.

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The core theme of the discussions was how to envision a Minimum Useful Model. Bearing in mind that “all models are false, some are useful”, the meaning of “Useful” in this context was to be checked against the capacity of the Model to address two fundamental questions: “what is a configuration of human activities such that our ecological footprint is reduced to a level deemed to be sustainable?” and “what are the pathways that could open a shift from the current configuration to a sustainable pattern?”. At minimum was a requirement to ensure that the Model was feasible with a limited amount of time and resources as well as being open, simulation-driven and accessible to all. This whole exercise needed to be related to the transformation of education as brought to wide audiences, including the younger generations, ensuring that it provokes shifts in the minds of users before they become decision-makers. Participants discussed, in detail, the reasons why modeling has fallen into oblivion in the last decades and how new technological progress could help to overcome this. The need to embed modeling simulations in its contextual framework was also highly stressed as well as its function, aim and limitations to users. In particular, one point raised was that falling into the trap of a deterministic usage of modeling needed to be overcome. Today’s much higher level of societal complexity make these models even more compelling to use, though they can only be helpful if they are used for navigating complexity and not for subduing it.

The overall purpose of this workshop series was to open a discussion among specialists in modeling and other interested parties on elements of response to these questions. As one participant in the Vienna workshop put it, “we don´t think a new way of living, we live a new way of thinking“. As such, modeling is a powerful tool in simulating the new way of living. The purpose of INX4PS is to push for a shift to a new way of thinking, and we warmly invite our correspondents to live the new way of thinking with us and to attend future activities and meetings on Open Simulation For A Global Shift in order to continue our process of mutual learning.

From Dirty Digital to Digital for Life

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By Carlos Alvarez Pereira (President of Innaxis and Steward of SDG Transformations Forum Innovation Working Group)

This blog was first published in the SDG Transformations Forum on May 2nd 2018 and was produced in partnership with the Royal Scottish Geographical Society.

The shift we need

Humanity faces a self-inflicted existential threat. To say it in a synthetic manner, we have to move fast towards High Well-being @ Low Footprint. Depending on which starting point each community has, this means different paths to achieve Higher Well-being @ Low Footprint, or Lower Footprint @ High Well-being.

Footprint goes of course beyond carbon to include the multi-dimensional consumption of resources. And well-being is not individual affluence; it encompasses how wealth is fairly distributed and the health of communities is restored and flourishes. Nowadays some processes certainly contribute to these goals, but the contrary also happens and overall the net balance is that we are heading fast in the wrong direction, increasing the chances of collapse and collective suicide.

The role of digital tech

It is trivial to say that the shift requires innovation. Curiously enough this leads to a strong hope that technological innovation will produce the shift or at least help greatly. In particular, the strong momentum of digital technologies is absorbing our attention. They are more and more influential in shaping our behaviours, as well as public and private agendas, through a series of metaphors such as ‘digital transformation’, ‘artificial intelligence’ or ‘big data’. They are attracting the enthusiasm of younger generations and the interest of investors.

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But is the digital sphere contributing to reverse climate change,  environmental degradation and the many unsustainabilities of human evolution? Is it making humanity more compatible with life at large and creating the conditions for better preserving it? This has been rarely investigated but chances are that digitalization is not working overall for sustainability. The digital industry itself consumes large amounts of energy and critical resources (coltan, rare earth elements, and others), and produces fast-growing greenhouse gas emissions (+6% per year) as well as a lot of damaging and scarcely recycled waste. And while digital tech can be used by other industries to promote sustainability and emissions abatement (eg, through energy efficiency), there is no systematic exploitation of this potential, which seems to be surpassed by the sector´s consumerism (1.5 billion mobile phones produced yearly). Not to speak about the increasingly debated implications of digitalization on mass unemployment, the growth of social inequalities, and the concentration of power in the hands of a few cyber-masters.

So, changes produced by digital tech in society do not seem to go in the right direction, and concerns are growing about their worst consequences. Maybe we need a different kind of digitalization? The debate is now hooked on mitigation strategies, such as the Universal Basic Income or taxes on robots to prevent the social consequences of automation. The reuse of technologies for purposes different from their original design could also play a role. But mitigation is not enough: we need to align the upstream processes of scientific inquiry and innovative design with our existential challenge, or they will continue to drift further towards unsustainability.

Reframing innovation

Digital technologies have an immense potential to help in the transformations we need. But today they are designed as self-referential ‘solutions’: as with blockchain now, every two years or so we get a new brand of hammers for which all of our problems look like nails. That seems a recipe for solutions of today to become the problems of tomorrow. At the same time, many individuals, researchers and practitioners are trying to make real the digital potential for sustainability. These are seeds of the ‘co-creation’ of desirable futures, a different kind of process recognizing the interdependencies in our relationship to the biosphere.

Co-creation could be a blueprint for the common good, involving all stakeholders in the responses to our societal challenges in an ‘innovation democracy’. And digital tech could help in multiple ways, also by facilitating the participation of citizens in new processes of discovery of what human progress could be, with the ultimate goal of sustainability.

The path forward

This vision is recognized but not yet mainstream. Many inconvenient questions have still to be asked, first among researchers and practitioners to create a stronger community of ‘Digital for Life’, second to institutions and the general public in order to change the agendas and create the conditions for those seeds to live and grow. Awareness about our relationship with the biosphere has been raised enough to create the SDGs. At the same time, science and technology were used in the last decades to create a new world looking very different from the old one but built on the same, not to say stronger, unsustainabilities. This is how ‘digital’ has been framed. But time has come to claim that Digital for Life is also possible.

The new report to the Club of Rome: Come On!

The human footprint is increasing fast and will —if not reversed— eventually lead to a collapse of the global economy. So say the authors of the new book Come On! which proposes an overhaul in the way that governments, businesses, financial systems, innovators and families interact with our planet.

 

About the book Come On!

About the Club of Rome

Now, in cooperation with more than 30 members from the Club of Rome, authors Ernst Ulrich von Weizsäcker and Anders Wijkman, co-presidents of the Club, suggest possible solutions to the global ecological and social crises. At the core is the suggestion to develop a new Enlightenment for a "Full World": we can no longer depend on a societal model that was developed for a world of less than one billion people.

Humans and farm animals constitute 97 percent of the bodyweight of all living land vertebrates on earth so it’s not surprising that the remaining 3 percent of wildlife struggles to compete for land and for survival. Alongside an environmental crisis are social, political and moral crises. Billions of people no longer put trust in their governments, poverty has deepened in many countries, in the US the middle-class is rapidly shrinking.

Measuring our success on GDP growth has proven inadequate to the task and it also masks a growth in inequality between rich and poor. New indicators such as a Genuine Progress Indicator could more accurately measure economic welfare.

The present model of development is seriously flawed. Profit maximization – under the principle of shareholder value first – and saving the planet are inherently in conflict. The new Enlightenment must be characterized by a vastly improved balance between humans and nature, between markets and the law, between private consumption and public goods, between short-term and long term thinking, between social justice and incentives for excellence.

Carlos Alvarez Pereira (President of Innaxis and member of the Club of Rome) contributed to the report with a chapter on the Digital Revolution, highlighting that advances in technology will be crucial in order to cope with environmental degradation. However technological disruption must be analyzed beyond the current hype that digitization is clean and exponentially opening up new possibilities. Instead the effects on resources depletion, climate change, and employment have to be carefully considered and addressed for a true sustainable and inclusive technological disruption.

This book comprises many practical examples, success stories and opportunities for the “Full World”. A move towards a circular economy can help overcome mineral scarcity, significantly lower carbon emissions and increase the number of jobs. Regenerative agriculture will help stop soil erosion, enhance yields and build carbon in the soil. Efforts have to be made to rein in the financial sector by increasing capital reserves and control of money creation. Some insights can come from the Hopi tradition in North America, which developed sustainable agriculture and maintained a stable population size while avoiding wars.

Civil society, the communities of investors, and the research and education communities should become strong players in the necessary transformation.

 

WEB SUMMIT 2017

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We are pleased to announce that Carlos Alvarez Pereira (President of Innaxis) will be participating as a speaker at the Web Summittaking place 6th-9th November 2017 in Lisbon.

The Web Summit is dedicated to connecting the technology community with a range of people from across the global technology industry, as well as with politicians, scientists and influencers. The Web Summit has grown to become the “largest technology conference in the world” with more than 6000 attendees participating this year.

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Carlos will participate at the panel discussion ”Reducing carbon-intensive activity: Will we always have Paris?” on 8th November.

Other panelists will include Javier Garcia-Martinez (University of Alicante), Mohan Munasinghe (Planetiers), Femke Groothuis, (The Ex’tax Project) and Michael Kuhndt (Collaborating Centre on Sustainable Consumption and Production). The panel discussion will be moderated by Sam Geall (China Dialogue).

The panel will investigate the challenge of how to ensure the success of the Paris Climate Agreement, and how to effectively reduce carbon emissions when it conflicts with business interests. Incentives and strategies will be examined in order to re-align business interests with the urgent humanitarian need to address climate change and its disastrous consequences. For this, the role of behavioral change, technologies, political and economic incentives will be part of the discussion.

WORKSHOP: DIGITAL FOR SUSTAINABILITY – IN NEED OF A DISRUPTIVE RESEARCH AGENDA

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“Digital Transformation” is the buzz phrase of the day. Since the 1980s an explosive growth has happened in Information and Communication Technologies (ICT), and its become pervasive, bringing a perception of tremendous acceleration in technological innovation. There are also high expectations for the role of ICT in sustainable development. Concepts such as disruption, dematerialization and zero marginal costs contribute to the (up to now) false belief that becoming increasingly digital will lead to low resource consumption. However, research shows that the ICT sector itself is not environmentally friendly; it is the fastest growing contributor to emissions, it consumes large amounts of energy, water and critical resources, and produces equally vast amounts of harmful waste with minimal recycling.

To address the generic claim of ICT as contributing to a better and “green” world, there should be mutual recognition and cooperation between digital tech and sustainable development, especially to understand the significant effort needed to harness the power of ICT for human advancement. Digital technologies and sustainability have rarely been analysed together in a rigorous manner. The scientific literature about the nexus of these topics is, up to now worryingly thin, and in many aspects not yet addressing the right questions, much less the responses.

This issue demands a rigorous inquiry of issues at stake and the foundation of a research agenda that builds strong synergies aimed to act beyond current hyped assumptions.

Considering this, Innaxis would like to invite you to the “Digital for Sustainability – In Need of a Disruptive Research Agenda” workshop. This event will be organised during the World Resources Forum on Tuesday 24th October 2017 in Geneva.

The goal of this workshop is to ignite a community of interested parties, who work on interdisciplinary research and action agendas, and to enable the alignment of digital technologies with the goals of sustainable development.

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Speakers: Carlos Alvarez Pereira, Ladeja Godina Košir 
Workshop Organisers: Innaxis Research Institute and Texelia AG
Workshop Co-Organiser: Circular Change
Workshop Chairs: Soumaya El Kadiri (Texelia AG) and Joséphine von Mitschke-Collande (Innaxis Research Institute)

Date and time: Tuesday 24th October 2017, 16h30 – 18h30

Venue:
Centre International de Conferences (CICG)
Rue de Varembé 17
1211 Genève – Switzerland

ENGAGING WITH A NEW GENERATION OF CHANGE MAKERS

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Considering the intricate challenges humanity has to face such as climate change, social inequalities, migration, and technological disruption (just to name a few), we are in desperate need for a new generation of changemakers who are able to grasp the systemic and interconnected nature of the issues in order to design innovative approaches that overcome today’s barriers to change.

INX4PS is actively seeking to promote systems literacy and to engage with a new generation of changemakers to raise awareness as to how complex issues can be embraced.

In this context, INX4PS has participated at the first Club of Rome (CoR) Summer Academy, which took place 7th-13th 2017 September in Florence, Italy.

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The Club of Rome is an eminent international think tank that launched in 2016 with the “Reclaim Economics” project, designed to transform the way our economic system is perceived and understood. It promotes new economic thinking that puts human well-being and the planet at the centre. The Reclaim Economics flagship event was the first Club of Rome Summer Academy in Florence.

The CoR Summer Academy has been attended by students and academics, young professionals, aspiring entrepreneurs, young journalists, artists and activists. The participants joined with some of the world’s leading social and systems thinkers to inspire economic, ecological, and political movements towards action.

Carlos Alvarez Pereira (President of Innaxis and member of the Club of Rome) gave insights on the issue of  “TECH FOR HUMANITY – REFLECTIONS ON THE TECHNOLOGY REVOLUTION”.

During the interactive dialogue with the Summer School participants, many items were discussed including the role of science and technology and its impact on social evolution, the consequences on sustainable development, and furthermore the meaning of “technological disruption”.

The core theme of the debate was the role of current mindsets which largely influences technological innovation outcomes, including how well society adapts and integrates these new technologies. Additionally, questions of technology’s overall purpose, and how to design technology while ensuring humanity is the beneficiary, spurred a dynamic discussion among the participants.

The event was attended by 120 participants from 25 different countries. Among the speakers included: Kate Pickett, Kate Raworth, Anders Wijkman, Ernst Ulrich von Weizsäcker, Mathis Wackernagel, Ugo Bardi, Jorgen Randers, Tim Jackson and many more who discussed challenges and proposals for addressing systemic challenges.

INX4PS is looking forward to further engaging with the new generation of changemakers, to introduce systems thinking, and to co-create the paradigm shift of the 21st century.

ISSS 2017

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“From Science to Systemic Solutions – Systems Thinking for Everyone”
ISSS2017 Vienna
The 61st ISSS World Conference

As systems sciences has been a heterodox scientific field, the International Society for the Systems Sciences(ISSS) aims to bring a community of researchers and practitioners together once a year, during the ISSS World Conference, to exchange and share ideas related to systems sciences.

The founding fathers of the society, Ludwig von Bertalanffy, Kenneth Boulding, Ralph Gerard, and Anatol Rapoport, conceived the organization to be devoted to interdisciplinary inquiry into the nature of complex systems. In recent years the organization has broadened its scope, particularly to include the practical application of systems methodologies to problem solving.

Considering this, the 2017 edition convened by the Ludwig von Bertalanffy Centre in Vienna invited an interdisciplinary community to share the latest insights of the interdependencies between social, ecological and technological systems, as well as practical design skills for sustainable living and technologies for a future-oriented humanity.

INX4PS participated in past conferences and was invited to participate in ISSS2017 through a panel discussion deliberating the theme “From Money to Value Creation to Reinventing Economy in the Energy Transition”. Joséphine vMitschke-Collande represented INX4PS and discussed with Dr. Olaf Brugman (Rabobank), Christoph Thun-Hohenstein (Museum für angewandte Kunst), Roland Kuras (Power Solution), Ladeja Godina Košir (Circular Change) the role of systems approaches regarding sustainable finance, the energy transition, the circular economy and the arts.

Issues such as the lack of systems approaches in the design of the German Energy Transition, does not foresee how to overcome current self-referential economic dynamics. The current system favors grand energy infrastructure investments, instead of a decentralized and low-cost prosumer approach capable of integrating new technological developments quicker. These are a obstacles in making the Energy Transition efficient.

Furthermore, emerging economic approaches such as the Circular Economy, and in particular the narrative in which they are embedded, were discussed. The panelist deliberated how the Circular Economy has to break-out of an engineering and material closed-loop approach, and instead integrate a whole systems perspective, such as integrating social innovation aspects in order to enable a Circular Economy system which will ensure the sustainability of initiative success.

Systems sciences have fallen into oblivion in the past decades and only recently have regained ground for being a powerful tool to navigate the complexity of current challenges. With that, the need of a reinvigorated systems sciences community is crucial to guarantee knowledge and idea exchanges regarding methodological and theoretical approaches, as well as practical applications. INX4P looks forward to future exchanges with the community.

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