Dave Snowden

a need for empathy

RSS Feed

There was a wonderful, if depressing, tweet from J.K.Rowling yesterday: If we all hit ctrl-alt-del simultaneously and pray, perhaps we can force 2016 to reboot. Brexit, the rise of Trump, the failure to support the peace initiative in Colombia, support of elderly white socialists, Universities are closed in South Africa by riots arguing for education and so on. Racism and misogyny are legitimised by popularism. The Chinese curse to live in interesting times might have been made for this year and its not over yet. It’s been called a post-fact society, a world in which reason has little or no place, people vote against their own interests and the establishment is rejected as an act of rejection, not an act of reasoned protest. Syndicalism and being part of a movement is more important that to actually change things. We live in echo chambers, augmented and enabled by social media, to prevent encounter with any uncomfortable truth. We live in a world where despair legitimises any protest and in a world of pre-victorian levels of income inequality and opportunity who can dispute the morality of those who are the victims of a system which is maintained for the elites?

The mistake many make is to assume that all of this is intentional. I have friends who are using the language of Zionist Conspiracies seemingly unaware of the historical antecedents. Equally ignorant of history is the recent demand in the UK to list all foreign nationals working for companies. Blaming one class, or race, or sex or ideology for all evil has far too many precedents for ignorance to be forgiven. Most aspects of human society are emergent properties, more cock up than conspiracy which is not to say that people do not make decisions in their own interests, or that they don’t seize the opportunities provided. We are dealing with a flow of narrative, a series of aligned tropes from which it may not be possible to escape.

But escape we must and that escape will not come by condemnation, indulgent sarcasm or condescending humour (and that was as much confession as condemnation). If I pickup the very basic lessons of what I have taught over the years then we have to start from where things are, not from where we would have liked them to be, or think they should have remained. About three years ago I sat in a house in Colombia taking with friends about the dangers to the peace process of the referendum being rejected. I argued then that the context of negotiation is one of hope, and it is too easy to be swept up in that hope. In Brexit the complacency of the those who supported remain fell fowl of a need to protest, to reject the advise of those too distanced from day to day reality. In South Wales a few weeks ago a group of us discussed how, in the past, MPs came from their constituencies they were not parachuted into safe seats by those in power. The ability to understand, the empathise and as importantly to be seen as authentic in the attempt has been lost.

For the last eight plus years I have been trying to persuade people to allow us to create a citizen sensor network, to gather the street narratives of communities of all natures to understand the patterns of attitudes that lead to decisions. Critically, and in the design of SenseMaker® I and colleagues argued that people should be empowered to interpret their own narrative, not to subject it to computer algorithms and experts. Over that period we have had a lot of success with individual projects on four continents. We have show the way in which patterns of meaning can emerge from that material and the persuasive power of narrative matched with numbers. But now is the time to extend this and at scale, to create a manner of understanding and interaction which does not tell people what they should do, but allows interventions based on an understanding of those street stories, that both respects them and the need for change. The event described earlier have created a new awareness of what is possible and a willingness to engage. So for the next couple of weeks I am completing the work to define what it would mean to scale and then in subsequent weeks to lobby those with the means to make it happen. Empathy, the ability to see things from different perspectives is creating something sustainable. That means exploring not only the ways in which we engage citizens, but also how we create meaning. Two major programmes will address those, linked to work we are planning on physical activity.

As part of that I am creating a peer review group of those interested, so this post is to solicit those with similar motivation and some knowledge of complexity and distributed ethnography, especially those with experience of explaining these things to those in power: leave a comment or email .

  • Mary Boone

    One of your best posts ever, Dave. Happy to help with this in any way I could be useful.

  • Dave Bright

    This is so clear and unambiguous, great read, interested to see how things unfold

  • Conor O’Brien

    Abolutely agree.
    I see a danger that professional politicians will see the information-gathering phase of Sensemaker as most important, rather than the discussion and discovery phase. I have found the Cynefin model to be a very powerful way of understanding change, and while I am a novice in using Sensemaker itself, I see it’s greatest power is in using it at the ground level to show people their situation. And validating their own words as essential to any diagnosis.

    • Dave Snowden

      Part of the proposal is to create a version of SenseMaker® which can be used directly within the communities, engaging them directly in the discussion and discovery. But more to do here. Planning a hackathon on it shortly

  • Dave Gray

    I’m in.

  • Anthony Green

    Inspiring. Just inspiring.
    Happy to help with this in any way I could be useful.

  • http://www.postshift.com Lee Bryant

    Great little post; excellent idea. Happy to help. Will email you.

  • Adì Lev-Tov

    I’m in. Will email today.

  • http://chrisoestereich.com/Blog Chris Oestereich

    I’m interested and will email.

  • Marcus Jenal

    Great post, Dave. Count me in!

  • Maltus

    I am in Dave

  • Daniel Walsh

    Count me in too Dave. I have a couple of ideas on communities that we could approach for the pilot.

  • Chris Corrigan

    I’m in.

  • Steve Holt

    Well said, Dave and an excellent idea.

  • Michael Barns

    Happy to help in any way that can be of use.

  • jonhusband

    I’m in. Sent an email.

  • Ivo te Kiefte

    Couldn’t agree more Dave. I’m in.

  • Conor O’Brien

    I would like to help also.

  • Pingback: Issue 83 - Agilean Weekly()

  • Dean Latchana

    Count me in too. Thanks.

  • Sallyann Freudenberg

    Hi Dave,
    As mentioned on Twitter, I would be interested in being involved.
    Look forwards to hearing more.

  • Kristina Rea

    Hi Dave, I would love to be involved as well. Looking forward to hearing more.

  • https://twitter.com/chrizbot Chris Butler

    Dave, I have become a big fan over the last couple months when a friend pointed me towards the Cynefin framework. The world is complex and yet we often choose to assume it is simple/ordinary.

    I would love to help out. How do we get started?

  • Dave Snowden

    To everyone who said they were prepared to help – the document is ready. Please EMAIL me snowded at me dot com and I will put you on the mailing list.

  • Barrett W Horne

    Agree with Mary Boone. One of your best posts ever. Glad that I got to it today. I will email, but please count me in.

  • Irene G

    Sounds related to this, older initiative by the RSA “The Citizens Economic Council is the RSA’s attempt to address this democratic deficit through an independent public engagement process bringing together a randomly selected and demographically diverse group of citizens to embark on a journey of deliberation and dialogue on the economy and economic policy.”