Personal Blog of Joe Brewer

Laying Foundations for Large-Scale Change

In Human Behavior, Social Change on July 29, 2011 at 9:45 pm

If we are to tackle the major challenges of the 21st Century, we’ll need to address the cultural, political, and psychological drivers of our collective behavior.  Tomorrow I’ll give the first in a series of workshops on How to Bring About Large-Scale Behavior Change.  I believe this to be one of the most important topics that we can grapple with together.  The reason for doing this is simple:

Advancing threats to humanity outpace the intensity and scale of behavioral response


I’d like to share with you what we’ll cover in the first session to give you a better sense of how we intend to tackle such a monumental set of issues.  (If you like what you see, consider helping these materials become an open source design manual.)  The following outline shows how the four hour session will be broken down.

We’re going to start out with a discussion of the Great Blind Spot that keeps us from seeing the inner workings of human beings as part of the unfolding change process.  I will present materials that show how faulty notions of human nature stand in the way — and why cognitive science is essential for getting it right.  This will be followed by a World Cafe conversation among those in attendance about the root causes of unsustainability in the world today.

Next we’ll go into the Functional Unit of Social Change to see how various inputs shape our situated identities — the emergent sense of self that arises through cultural narratives, institutional forms, mental models, and universals of the human experience.  This will be followed by a Strategy Camp to dissect the cultural myths that keep us from making the transition to sustainability.

After lunch we will explore the power of emotions for shaping our beliefs — part of the Mindful Politics Strategy for applying political psychology to social change.  We will discuss how various emotional states, especially fear and compassion, lead to different cultural outcomes and host a Design Camp to explore how upcoming natural disasters and periods of civil strife can be opportunities for increasing compassion in the world.

The day will close out with a moment’s reflection on the need for Resilience as Change Agents.  We’re going to have to survive and thrive through a century of turbulent change.  And this will require that we have the right supports in place to help us make it through the difficult times ahead.

So that’s how the series kicks off.  There’s still room for last minute registrations (Go here!) and you can contribute to the effort to develop these materials into a design manual (Do that here!).  I’ll share more as the workshop series unfolds.  The second installment will introduce tools for change makers.  And the third offers a powerful framework for designing successful social change campaigns.

We sure live in exciting times!  I look forward to collaborating with you in the days, months, and years ahead.

  1. Approaching our blindness to our many cultural biases is a good starting point. The pursuit of some populist trends to their probable conclusions may become, in itself, an argument their unsustainability.
    Without understanding of the effect of bias in the (yes, cognitive;-) process, we cannot have dependable conclusions.
    Martha Nussbaum makes some good connections between intelligence and the somewhat disparate (in our biased analytical culture) notions of both emotions and morality. I suspect our biases have in many cases allowed many of us into overt intentional immoral functions.

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