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Thursday Complexity Post
February 19, 2015

For the Future of Democracy and the Planet, Small Acts Matter


Mass movements and big social changes, whether they are to topple dictators or protect the environment, often start with carefully planned small actions.


The huge demonstrations in Egypt's Tahrir Square that culminated in the ouster of Hosni Mubarak were the result of two years of careful planning and hard work, Tina Rosenberg writes in her New York Times column "Fixes." They weren't just a spontaneous happening. Mass demonstrations aren't the beginning of a movement, she writes, they're the victory lap.

 Rosenberg describes the work of Srdja Popovic and Slobodan Djinovic, leaders of Otpor, a Serbian student movement that aided the overthrow of Slobodan Milosevic in 2000. The two founded the Center for Applied Nonviolent Action and Strategies (CANVAS), an organization devoted to training activists committed to nonviolent ways of achieving democracy and human right. Otpor, Rosenberg writes, began with 11 people and grew to 70,000 in two years, starting with a few activists who staged humorous anti-Milosevic street theater. Popovic calls that "laughtivism," and says one of Otpor's guiding spirits was Monty Python. Humor can puncture the invincibility of authority.


When Turkish officials inveighed against kissing in the Ankara subway, Popovic has written by way of example, 100 protesters gathered the subway in pairs, kissed mightily, and carried signs advertising free kisses. Police were surprised and lawmakers were prompted to wonder who had the right to ban kissing.

 Popovic and Djinovic have trained nonviolent activists in 46 countries, and have been invited to lecture and teach at several American colleges, including Grinnell, Harvard, Columbia, NYU and Rutgers. They say nonviolence is not only morally superior to brutality, but it's really the only tool small groups have against raw power. Dictators are good at violence, they assert, so advocates for democracy can't compete in the same way. They have to think strategically and start small.


Burmese who attended a CANVAS workshop knew a big demonstration for political goals would be dangerous. So they organized to get the Yangon government to collect garbage. In a similar vein, Gandhi began a massive civil protest against the British Salt Tax. CANVAS also teaches the value of "tactics of dispersal," such as coordinated pot banging and traffic in which everyone drives at half speed. They show widespread support, which encourages larger participation.


The Earth Day Network's A Million Acts of Green describes individual actions, large and small, that can impact the environment. And if you think individual acts don't matter much, watch the FutureEnvironment.Org YouTube presentation on how atmospheric pollutants could be reduced by millions of tons if one percent of the population left some lights burning for five fewer minutes.



Remember PlexusCalls!




Friday, February 27

1-2 PM Eastern Time

Large Systems Change: Coherence and Convergence

Guests: Steve Waddell and Tom Bigda-Peyton




Creating large change systems: this is the first of two calls.The second call to continue the conversation will be on March 6. Participants are free to attend either or both of the sessions.


Large system change, sometimes called transformation science, is a growing field of knowledge and practice. Many initiatives are addressing big messy problems like sustainable energy, health care, climate change and education. These initiatives are worthy in their own right but can miss opportunities to create a greater collective impact. How can the efforts of multiple initiatives be brought to scale and coherence in order to enhance the effectiveness of individual projects? How can synergies be developed, duplicative effort be addressed, and gaps in effort be filled? A way to approach this challenge has arisen from work related to sustainable electricity, from which these guests and colleagues have generated a framework that is applicable to other issues as well. Join us for a conversation on this topic by Steve Waddell and Tom Bigda-Peyton. Each has nearly 30 years experience working on a range of change issues.



Friday,, March 6, 2015

1-2 PM Eastern Time

Action Networks: Global to local structures for change

Guests: Steve Waddell and Tom Bigda-Peyton


This is the second of two calls on system change. While change always requires local action, change efforts are almost always heavily influenced by large contexts such as national conditions and-with increasing globalization-global ones. New approaches to organizing change move beyond traditions of hierarchy and build on multi-stakeholder strategies and inter-organizational networks. This discussion will build on 20 years of work with such strategies, highlighted in the book Global Action Networks, and will provide examples from U.S. healthcare reform.




Steven Waddell, PhD, focuses on collaboration and networks among organizations and institutions in business, government and civil society to produce innovation, enhance impact and build new capacity. His clients and project partners have included The Global Knowledge Partnership, the UN Global Compact, the World Bank, Global Reporting Initiative, the Ford Foundation, Humanity United, Civicus, International Youth Foundation, USAID, International Research and Development Centre, and the Forest Stewardship Council. He is a principal of Networking Action and lead steward for the Ecosystem Labs, which develop large change systems. He has a PhD in sociology and a master's in business administration. He is author of several articlesand other publications, including the books Societal Learning and Change: Innovation with Multi-Stakeholder Strategies and Global Action Networks: Creating Our Future Together.


Thomas Bigda-Peyton, EdD, is a system coach and consultant working to catalyze innovation and whole-system engagement in large organizations and networks striving for collective impact. Tom uses methods such as collaborative problem-solving, action learning, and positive deviance to promote culture change in industries such as healthcare, government, and forestry. As a practitioner-researcher for 25 years, and currently as a Partner at Second Curve Systems in Boston, his clients have included multiple healthcare systems, the Federal Aviation Administration, Fidelity Investments, the government of Ontario, and the Forest Safety Council of British Columbia. He is co-author of the books From Innovation to Transformation: Moving Up the Curve in Ontario's Healthcare System and Safety Culture: Building and Sustaining a Cultural Change in Aviation and Healthcare. Tom holds a doctorate in Organizational Behavior and Intervention from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, where he worked with two pioneers in the field of organizational learning and system dynamics, Chris Argyris and Don Schon. He also holds master's and bachelor's degrees from Harvard.







See all upcoming PlexusCalls on the Plexus Calendar. Subscribe to the PlexusCalls or Healthcare PlexusCalls podcasts. Or, visit the Community section of for the audio archive.  


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