Unintended Consequences

April 3, 2014 4 Comments


Another story about what can happen when we fail to hold a broader systemic view in our social change work . . .   I was working with a food system-focused network the other day and the good news was reported that great strides have been made in reducing food waste, in large part because distributors and retailers are doing a much better job of tracking inventory and fitting it better to consumer demand.

On the other hand, it was also reported that this spells a real challenge for the “emergency food” world and food banks, which have been largely dependent upon excess food to provide for the growing number of people who are food insecure.  Having this conversation in a room with people thinking more fully about the food system from different angles also yielded some insights around the potential of creating policies that direct and incentivize food waste going to composting facilities or food banks, as well as rallying more people around efforts to ramp up local food production for the sake of economic development and food security.

This story is a great example of what David Peter Stroh refers to as the call to “connect for better.”

Connecting for better means:

  • Optimizing relationships among the elements of the system instead of seeking to optimize any one
  • Clarifying and expanding the boundary of the system for which we feel responsible
  • Orienting our actions toward goals that serve the whole over time

In other words, over time and in the best cases, as we strive to connect there is a developmental move toward right seeing and right serving.

What do you think?  What are you doing, or might you do, to connect for better?


  • Cynthia Silva Parker says:

    A lot of the projects we support are helping people connect for better. I like Stroh’s reminder about expanding the boundaries of the system for which we feel responsible. Particularly in efforts to address and correct inequities driven by race, ethnicity, and class, it’s no small matter to help people who hold power and have conferred privilege in those systems see themselves as part of and responsible for reversing the inequities.

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