Meta Networks and Global Transformation

In  a great piece written in mid 2007, Paul Hawken reminded us that there is a global meta network (he didn’t use that term) of people and organizations who care deeply about the planet and are working to save it.

He called it the planet’s immune system, now emerging to help us fend off multiple pathologies and terrible threats.

He also said:

  • It’s a decentralized network, not an organization.
  • There is no single hub. (That is, it’s a multi-centered network.)

  • It is not a conventional “movement” where everyone recognizes the same leaders and identical ideologies.

  • “People inside the movement can also underestimate it, basing their judgment on only the organizations they are linked to, even though their networks can only encompass a fraction of the whole. “

This last point is important.  It means that the network already exists, but it’s not yet fully accessible and usable.   Making the network more self-aware and usable is now what is needed, as described more below.

Immune systems are adaptive networks.

Brains are also adaptive networks, which is why many others have also called our interconnected global networks a “global brain.”   Hawken was especially pointing to the part of the global brain that reacts to rigidity, fragmentation, and decay – including abuses of power and environmental threats.

But this same network — people who care about the vitality and prosperity of the whole Earth — is more than just an immune system.  It doesn’t just fight things (disease and injustice, etc.).  It also creates knowledge, tools, and opportunities for growth and fulfillment of individuals, organizations, societies, and (yes) life on earth.

It is really a global network of transformation.

Except, it is not quite all wired up yet.

So, what does a globally intelligent Meta Network need to more fully wake up?

It needs at least these things, which are already available in some form or another, yet still developing:

1. Methods and tools for getting knowledge, talent, and capital to the right people and organizations at the right time.

This includes:

a. Communication tools and social media

We are now swimming in these, and constantly inventing more.

b. Tools for intelligently filtering messages and requests.

This includes tools for reputation, due-diligence, and brokering trust.  Baby tools for these functions now exist.  They need to be much more intelligent and pervasive.

c. Social networking platforms for sharing social capital and trusted referrals

The right tool will need to both enable continuously updated, searchable user profiles and searching the “social graph” for trusted referrals.

d. Network Weaving

Network weaving, and training for network weavers, can help make networks ‘smarter.’ Smart networks have shorter and stronger connection paths that are most useful to network members.   This means that searches will result in more relevant results, and it will be easier to find trusted and influential introductions.  In a smarter network the overall trust will also be higher and knowledge and ideas will flow more quickly to those who need them.

2. Collaboration methods, and the training & experience needed to use them.

E.g., methods such as Dialogue, Appreciative Inquiry, TRIZ, ToP (technologies of participation) and forty or so other especially useful ones.   This is crucial because echo chambers (talking to ourselves) and the inability to communicate effectively (creatively rather than destructively) are killing us.

But this is also especially challenging.  How do we get this, the ability to think productively together, to scale, to become truly pervasive?

To get people to think more constructively together requires not only good methods and training, but also a shift in the consciousness of individuals, for example, developing a level of consciousness that is bigger than their own egos.   To be sure, there are techniques and training for that as well.   Above all, we will need ideology-free techniques as well as traditional techniques preferred by different groups.   However, techniques that help people think together with others who have different backgrounds and opinions can also help bring about a shift in consciousness towards greater openness.  Openness is a great antidote to the bad effects of small egos focused on oneself or a single group.  For more on the connection between collaboration and consciousness see David Bohm’s On Dialogue.  His work is brilliant and his methods are solid; but unfortunately he doesn’t tell us how to make the methods scale.

How do we bring this about?

First, it is impossible, too ambitious, grandiose, to try to wake up the entire global network, other than by continuing to do our small pieces that we’re already doing in a million ways.

However, here is a proposal that I think a lot of social purpose organizations, professionals, and their supporters would benefit from, and that would also help us all learn more about waking up the global network.   Getting an initial few organizations to participate in this project is part of my own ‘small piece’ that I’m currently working on.

1. Start with a much smaller meta network, easier to see, touch and track.

Ideally this will be a multi-centered network of organizations that share common goals and value.  This could start with activity by a single organization that works closely with – or funds — several partner organizations.   Since each of those partner organizations also has its own network (for which it sees itself as the center), starting with a single organization’s network can easily grow to include several other related and overlapping networks.  For the initial learning and demonstration phase, the size of the larger network can be kept to manageable size.

2. Limit the scope of this initial learning and demonstration project

How to limit the scope depends on the nature of the network — e.g., specific common goals and needs.

In general, the project should be limited so that

  • Significant results can be demonstrated within a few months;
  • Very little time will be required of participants;
  • What time they spend will be mostly for the purpose of achieving priorities they already have;
  • The project can completed without building or buying any new software.

Working with some prospective participants, some of my colleagues and I have designed a basic set of project components to stay within the parameters above, and yet to also achieve these goals:

  • Demonstrate how a larger and more accessible ‘social graph’ of trusted relationships can enhance achievement of important common goals as well as crucial objectives of member organizations.
  • Learn how to further increase the value of the network.
  • Learn how to more successfully replicate the project in other meta networks.

Please add comments and ideas, and let us know if you would like to know more.  Thanks.

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2 Responses to “Meta Networks and Global Transformation”


  1. 1 Michael Lewkowitz March 22, 2009 at 12:30 am

    Duncan, this is great.

    One of the things I’ve been playing with conceptually is the idea of topic threads and objects to have ‘presence’ of their own… being aware of their environment and the changing interactions of other topics, accounts, and objects online. It adds some different dimensions and I wonder how this might play into raising the consciousness of the web.

  2. 2 duncanwork March 25, 2009 at 10:37 pm

    Hi Michael, your ideas sound really intriguing and I’m looking forward to seeing how they develop.


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