Living Systems Lessons for Social Change Networks

January 5, 2016 6 Comments


A couple of years ago, I was turned on to the work of Louise Diamond. Diamond has been bringing insights from the dynamics of complex systems to peace building work for many years. Her efforts connect to a growing number of practitioners and thinkers who see the need to approach social change with an ecological and evolutionary mindset. In one of her papers, she extracts some of the “simple rules” that yield core practices for working in this way. Here I have adapted and adjusted some of them in application to network building for change and resilience in food systems.

Connect the disconnected

  • Engage those who do not have adequate access to health-promoting food, good information, financial resources, different kinds of power
  • Consider moving from inclusion to collaborative solidarity
  • Connect local producers more directly to local consumers
  • Create stronger connections between different parts of the region (rural-suburban-urban, municipality to municipality, state to state)
  • Engage and connect different disciplinary (production, public health, financing, natural resources conservation, etc.) and cultural perspectives on food

Ground in unpredictability

  • Refrain from trying to be the expert when it comes to food system change
  • Give up pursuit of the single answer; be willing to fail; prototype, learn and adjust
  • Foster flexibility, nimbleness, cooperation, and creativity within and between actors in business, government and civil society

Image from NASA Goddard Photo and Video

Create conditions for quality interactions to strengthen connections

  • Convene and graciously host diverse food system stakeholders
  • Weave the network of food system stakeholders, make critical connections, “close triangles
  • Engage in dialogue rather than simply debate; make time and space for listening and relationship building

Re-balance flows across boundaries

  • Encourage more robust and fluid interactions and exchanges (goods, services, information, financial)
  • Create/free up more channels for interaction and exchange that lend value to undervalued resources and perspectives
  • Build/distribute power and capacity to participate in and shape new food systems

Re-pattern for sustainability and the well-being of the whole

  • Shift patterns of exchange and interaction for greater redundancy, diversity, feedback loops, resource recapture, whole system integrity, etc.
  • Build on strengths; support the core purpose and essential patterns of communities, states, regions, ecosystems
  • Measure what matters most for wholeness and regeneration, not just what we can


Attend to the nested nature of systems

  • Focus on the health and wholeness of individuals, families, communities, states, region, etc.

Pay attention to existing and emerging networks

  • Strengthen/leverage existing and promising networks and patterns of relationship
  • Look to “the edges” and periphery of the network, not just the center or “steering” bodies

Seek coherence in chaos and emergence in dissolution

  • Look for innovations and the seeds of new ideas to feed and connect
  • Remember that what may appear as chaos is actually order not fully understood or seen from the right perspective or scale

Look to the intangible as well as the concrete

  • Surface attitudes, stories, assumptions, world views
  • Define and revisit systemic purpose and goals
  • Tell new stories that align with a more holistic and regenerative purpose

Wondering if this resonates and what you might add?



  • Curtis,
    After reading this several times & sleeping on it. . . It resonates. It’s robust. It’s inspiring.
    And I woke with the realization of how far we are from that vision, even in the most enlightened leadership & social change paradigms. Which means we have our work cut out for us.
    This is a really helpful set of conditions to work to create. I’m grateful for it.


    • Curtis Ogden says:

      Thanks, Christine. Agreed that we are far from it, in most places. Coming into 2016 eager to align awareness must more closely to action. On many many fronts …


      • Just popped into my head – you don’t explicitly have transparency here. . . That’s something I’d add.

      • I am a late comer and 2016 is rapidly slipping away though I am eager to be put into service and have some events coming up Oct 27-30 where you and your network would be welcome to participate in via the web or in person if anyone wants to come to Kansas…there is no place like home and ALL the characters from the Wizard of Oz and the Wizard of Us live here.

        Our state motto is “Ad Astra Per Aspera…To the Stars Through Difficulty”…we all have STAR power of Skills, Talents, Attitudes, and Resources. It is time to fly into action and realize we are the pots of gold shining at the end of our rainbows!

  • Deborah says:

    This would be even more powerful if you gave a real-life example of each point made. Thanks!

  • Ah, technology is grand…at last I am finding kindred spirits! Now that Cisco WebEx has debuted its HIPAA Compliant Meeting and Training platforms, the possibility of actually leveling the playing field for citizens, employees, and volunteer engagement,

    In my humble opinion, and with a vision with threads from Native Americans, Sociocracy 3.0, and Time Banking systems, I believe Cisco WebEx can support the connectional system that we want to meet HIPAA Compliance for our health-wellness, service-learning-productivity, to empower everyone to collaborate and innovate for social change visions to become solid culture change reality.

    The more I saw ways to co-create the WOMAN, Wellness Oriented Mutual Aid Network, for the “new emerging MAN”, the more I scared them off with the “complexity” of the Wellness Weavers model and the best I could end up with was “pilot project” status in the small rural town of Waterville, Kansas that has been overwhelmed by me moving into their town. They were only interested in concentrating their preservation efforts on the 1903 Opera House.

    The other at-risk diverse historical buildings needed TLC to stabilize them…and I had basic human power and was willing to give shelter and food to other willing workers that trickle through.

    Like the most qualified, organized female partner of a multigenerational household, nurturing and facilitating all members to reach their optimal health and wellness is the natural order of an excellent marriage.

    Your recognition of health and wholeness and nesting circles connected by virtual networks for social change is our present developmental task as Humankind. I seek an adoptive family of “Weavers” that value me as a Grandmother and do want to help us all to be well and well-functioning.

    The fact that I was a rural family-centered nurse generalist trained with many additional specialties and blessed to travel to a dozen other countries morphed me into a very odd duck…especially since I elected to study humor skills for health professionals and weave that into the healthy people-healthy community initiatives.

    The Wellness Weavers pilot project advocates for collaboration with all layers of stakeholders and links to the many resources that our tax dollars, research dollars, and educated university graduates developed. Those threads woven with the standards for Quality Childhood Learning Centers, wholistic wellness interventions for PTSD for Veterans, and can help us weave a system to connect people locally and globally to best practices.

    Since the best practices for recovery from mental and physical trauma involve the arts and sciences of movement, growing things, caring for pets and each other, playing, creating, singing, recreating… and those things are not covered by the status quo insurance anyway, we must co-create the connectional engagement-delivery system.

    Would your network of system thinkers be like-hearted, diverse individuals interested in collaborating via the Wellness Weavers Cisco WebEx’s “Green STARship” to allow us to innovate and shine more brilliantly with our combined STAR power of Skills, Talents, Attitudes, and Resources?

    Please accept my website as the springboard of what Wellness Weavers could become and not what it currently is. It was what I could do serving as a sole proprietor social entrepreneur holding down the fort until the calvary and peaceful tribes can arrive physically and virtually to negotiate on how to leverage, share, and care for these gardens and building assets I have been place-holding.

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