Transition to the Shoal

(Entered into a “write a letter to a world leader” competition .. and reached the final 7!)

Dear HRH Prince Charles,

A common analogy of our time is one that refers to our current civilisation as a large oil tanker where the key decision making is centralised and in the hands of an elite few; where the motives for, and the engine powering the action are all based around oil; and where we can see the super-tanker is headed for catastrophe but are powerless to change its direction in time.

An analogy for where we need to get to is often referred to as “Shoal Behaviour”. Where each individual has a unique and important roll to play as part of the whole; where society is vibrant, full of colour, ever changing, diversifying and communicating; where each individual is empowered to influence the whole; where disaster can be averted in an instant as society adapts and changes direction and where resilience is a natural characteristic.

Transition to the Shoal

Transition to the Shoal

So I believe a fundamental challenge our time, at the core of many social, ecological and economic issues is the question: “How do we make the transition from the tanker to the shoal?” To answer this we need to identify the core differences between the two. One of the most obvious differences is the distribution of decision making.

This brings us onto one of the great paradoxes within this digital age. Even though we have many methods of communication available to us, phone, email, interactive TV, and snail-mail, we still cannot easily consult and coordinate ourselves within any geographical area. We cannot quickly ask a community, town or country what it wants or how it feels about any particular issue using the latest digital technologies we have strived so hard to produce.

Consequently, there is often little or no dialogue between our governing councils (at all levels) and the residents they represent, and even less communication and self organisation between people within specific geographic areas. In addition, many new social/environmental enterprises are either slow to emerge, or are not initiated for fear of lack of interest or because it will be too much effort to rally the required support.

Almost all the changes we want to see on this planet can be initiated through collective action. There is a “trigger lever” for almost every project. Whether that is 50 people to initiate a local food box scheme, 500 people to enable the local energy company to break even in its first year, 5000 people to change a local council policy or 5,000,000 people to persuade our government to commit to ambitious action to combat climate instability.

In the empowered society of the shoal, coordinated collective action is a fundamental quality of its success and strength. It is often stated that public opinion and action is the largest superpower on the planet, but still, to this day, it is largely uncoordinated.

This is because the technology required to facilitate this communication, which simply consults with the residents of a community or members of social groups on a regular basis, enabling demand for services to be identified and public opinion coordinated, has not yet been invested in and made readily available … UNTIL NOW!

The good news is that the problem largely relates to software development. The hard work of hardwiring the planet and making communication via mobile phone possible in almost every country in the world has already been done. WOW! What an incredible achievement!! This vast accomplishment has made possible the potential for truly phenomenal, transformative coordinated collective action at every level from the global to the hyper-local.

More good news: you’ll be glad to hear that there is a software tool called “VocalEyes”, developed over 3 years, to enable exactly this type of communication. It is one of various community building tools within the “LocalEyes” toolkit. It enables ideas to be suggested within any group or community, debated, prioritised and then voted on to identify demand and secure commitment.

LocalEyes/VocalEyes has already won considerable acclaim and was short listed for “The Revolutionary Award” in Gordon Brown’s recent social innovation awards 2008. It has been invested in by Somerset County Council, The Ministry of Justice and NESTA and is being piloted by community development organisations and schools in Worcestershire, Herefordshire, Somerset and Pembrokeshire with the aim of “Building Democracy”.

It is now common knowledge that we need to recreate vibrant, resilient communities and this brings us onto a second paradox. In the UK alone there are an estimated 9 million people on FaceBook but there is no online social network that comprehensively represents the geographic communities where we live. Most people have several thousand people living within walking distance of their own homes. Take any one of these individuals and ask them what they can contribute to their community in terms of skills, groups, wisdom, talents, businesses, events, news, media, arts, crafts, items to sell, swap, freecycle, food, car sharing opportunities etc.; multiply this by the local population and you have a resource with tens of thousands of bits of information, each of which is a potential catalyst for real interaction.

Combine this information with the proactive nature of Amazon (my bookcase is full of books I never intended to buy from that website) and you have an exciting and powerful tool for social engagement with the inevitable consequence of building more vibrant, resilient communities. This is the vision behind LocalEyes that has been under development for over six years by a social enterprise called The Shire Initiative.

My request to you is that amongst all the other incredible work you are engaged in, you address the core issue of empowerment in society and help people to help themselves. Governments have talked about “power to the people” since the beginning of their existence and now is the time to assist them to deliver on that promise. With your help we can arrange the necessary meetings and resources to initiate and support this inevitable movement.

I wait eagerly for your response. Time is of the essence.

Yours faithfully

Peter Anderson

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