4 Strategies for Tangibilizing Societal Agreements — Recommended Reading

Waddell, Steve. “Four Strategies for Large Systems Change.” Stanford Social Innovation Review 16, no. 2 (2018): 40-45.

To achieve societal outcomes for everyone, everywhere, everyday within any given social system requires bringing together peoples with access to different economic resources, different political decision making and enforcement systems, different values, and different organizing forms.  It requires uniting in collaboration at a whole new level.  Long-time action researcher of societal change, Steve Waddell, shares in the reading referenced above what he observes in how people end up weaving together four large-system-change strategies to achieve a desired societal impact resilience.

In ecosynomic terms, the first step in any societal effort to change the agreements at the foundation of human interaction is to understand the deeper shared purpose, the love for a future to which people give their will. The second step is to bring together the people who are necessary for realizing that deeper shared purpose.  Dr. Waddell finds four strategies for who is necessary to change societal agreements to achieve that deeper shared purpose.  These four strategies are based on two continua: from confrontation to collaboration; from destruction to creation.  One can work to shift agreements working apart (confrontation) or together (collaboration), and generating new agreements (creation) or removing old agreements (destruction).  The article provides two case studies of large systems change, where all four strategies played out in the system over time.  A key insight is that changing major systems of agreements probably requires a range of pathways to tangibilize the deeper shared purpose–different ways to achieve the same impact.  These different ways require different capacities, ways of interacting, ways of seeing the world.  In large-systems change, the entrepreneur, the warrior, the missionary, and the lover–the four archetypes Waddell identifies with the four change strategies–all bring their particular worldview, organizing forms, and energy at particular times.  One form is not superior to the others, rather they each bring a part of the overall game.

The ecosynomic strategist, tangibilizing agreements field potentials, pathways, and outcomes, would do well to appreciate and embrace these four forms, seeing how they weave together to change foundational societal agreements.

Audacious Maximus — Recommended Reading

Waddell, Steve. Change for the Audacious: A Doer’s Guide2016, Boston: NetworkingAction Publishing.  Click here for the Introduction and Chapter 1.

Fine-tuning how to work with what we already understand occupies most of our efforts.  What route to our next destination minimizes unwanted traffic and maximizes opportunities to complete errands?  How can we design the agenda and space for our next meeting to get the most out of the creativity and passion everyone brings?  What do I want to put in the garden this year?

How to get our head, heart, and hands around really big issues that we care deeply about and that we don’t understand at all is hard.  Thus, most of us most of the time dedicate little effort to this.  It is too complex and too hard.  It requires too much audacity, especially when the results of our efforts are fruitless.

Along comes Steve Waddell, a friend and colleague working at the forefront of abundance-based approaches to human agreements.  In Change for the Audacious, Steve shares how he makes sense of what is being learned across the globe about engaging vast numbers of people in addressing large systems change.  A pragmatic sociologist, he has traveled the world working with and observing people who take on extraordinarily challenging issues, finding patterns in how these people do what they do.  In earlier books and dozens of articles, he has described the emerging world of Societal Learning and Change and emerging forms of human interaction that deal with these issues, like Global Action Networks.  Now he extends the breadth of practice he embraces to highlight patterns in how people are learning to transform the complexity of human interactions, to “[radically change] the way we perceive our world, create relationships, and organize our societies.”

In this “doer’s guide,” Steve frames complexity and transformation in ways that make it easier to see what is being learned across thousands of efforts globally, towards large systems change.  He then applies these frames in five rich case studies.  Through these stories, you will see how people address “issues such as climate change, food security, health, education, environmental degradation, peace-building, water, equity, corruption, and wealth creation. This book is for people working on these types of issues, with the belief that we can create a future that is not just ‘sustainable,’ but also flourishing.”  A big hairy, audacious goal–audacious maximus.

Networking Action Intelligence

Need for much better outcomes

The bells are ringing for greater efficiency, effectiveness, and innovation around how humanity begins to address seemingly insurmountable issues at the global and local levels.  The bells are ringing everywhere, calling for new responses, and some people are starting to respond to the calling.  These people are responding to issues of corruption, water quality, renewable energy, financial reform, pollution, armed conflict, poverty, slavery, and the list goes on.  Some of these responses are getting far more done with much less resource (efficiency), moving the dial in a positive direction on really difficult issues (effectiveness), in very creative, previously untried ways (innovation).  The bells are ringing because many people now realize the urgency of these challenges, and that a different response is needed to address them. 

Networking action

One of the most successful responses to emerge in the past twenty years is networked action.  A network, as I use the term here, is a social structure of reciprocal ties of communication and exchange among the individuals and organizations in the network.[i]  Many very successful efforts to deal with these complex issues have taken on this network form, such as many networks my colleague Steve Waddell and I have worked with directly, like Transparency International, Forest Stewardship Council, International Bridges to Justice, Global Reporting Initiative, Youth Employment and Sustainability, and the Marine Stewardship Council.  These networks have learned how to take action on global issues on a “glocal” basis: global policy setting and local action, on a massive basis.  Through this form, these networks are impacting the policies, structures, and behaviors of millions of people in over one hundred countries, on the ground every day, in very efficient, effective, and innovative ways.[ii]


Many of us in the large-scale, social-change arena want to learn and apply what these groups are learning from them and with them.  This ability to learn and apply is also called “intelligence,” which is defined as the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills.  A vast amount of research in the past one hundred years has shown that intelligence correlates with results.  This intelligence research has shown that there are multiple forms of intelligence, including linguistic, logical-mathematical, musical, bodily-kinesthetic, spatial, spiritual, emotional, and social.[iii]  This research has also shown that these intelligences are both individual and collective.  An individual has cognitive and emotional intelligences, for example, and so does the group.

To be an intelligence, multiple-intelligences expert Howard Gardner suggests a few useful criteria: evolutionary history and plausibility; identifiable core set of operations; susceptibility to encoding in a symbol system; a distinct developmental history with a set of expert “end-state; the existence of exceptionally examples; and demonstrable results.[iv]  To further our learning from and with those who are particularly gifted at the networking action that is transforming our ability to deal with complex social issue, “Is it possible to develop the criteria for an intelligence around networking action?”

Networking action intelligence

Combining intelligence and networking action, I define “Networking Action Intelligence” (NAI) as the ability to acquire and adapt knowledge and skills about acting in networks.  Over the past two decades, my colleague Steve Waddell has worked closely with over 80 of these global action networks to identify their successful innovations and foster their own learning about how to improve within and across these networks.  In over one hundred case studies, commissioned reports, journal articles, book chapters, and two books, Steve has identified and validated eight core competencies that distinguish exceptional networking action, as well as a pathway for developing them.  These competencies are the components of Networking Action Intelligence: (1) leadership; (2) network development; (3) measuring impact; (4) conflict and change; (5) communications; (6) learning systems; (7) policy and advocacy; and (8) resource mobilization.[v]

These components of NAI describe the individual and collective capacity to: realize coherent entrepreneurial capacity at all levels of the network (leadership); align effective strategies, patterns, and structures (network development); provide continuous feedback to improve effectiveness and support (measuring impact); develop complex change skillfully (conflict and change); create robust glocal conversations and connections (communications); transform data to wisdom-in-action network-wide (learning systems); generate tight connections between policy and action (policy and advocacy); and grow commitment to global public goods (resource mobilization).  With higher levels of these competencies (higher NAI) comes the increased ability to address globally complex issues at the massively local level through networking action.

What NAI gives us

NAI focuses attention on the development of the core competencies needed to achieve exceptional results on complex glocal issues.  More NAI is better, for learning how to use networking action glocally.  NAI also shows us where the exceptional examples of NAI reside, so that we can learn from and with them.  NAI also delineates what core competencies to develop to increase individual and collective NAI.  Finally, NAI lets us test whether higher NAI actually leads to more desirable outcomes.  Fortunately, much has this work has already been done.  Now it is time to increase the Networking Action Intelligence in leaders around the world.

[i] See Powell, Walter W. (1990). Neither Market Nor Hierarchy: Network Forms of Organization. Research in Organizational Behavior, 12, 295-336.

[ii] For over twenty years, Steve has documented the networking action innovations emerging around the world in dozens of academic and practitioner journal articles, book chapters, reports, and two books: Waddell, S. (2005). Societal Learning and Change: How Governments, Business and Civil Society Are Creating Solutions to Complex Multi-Stakeholder Problems Sheffield, UK: Greenleaf Publishing, and Waddell, S. (2011). Global Action Networks: Creating Our Future Together. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.  To access the studies, visit networkingaction.net.

[iii] For rigorous research on multiple intelligences, see Gardner, H. (1993). Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences (Tenth-Anniversary ed.). New York: BasicBooks; Gardner, H. (1999). Intelligence Reframed:  Multiple Intelligences for the 21st Century. New York: BasicBooks; and Gardner, H. (2006). Five Minds for the Future. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.  Authors like Daniel Goleman have popularized specific intelligences, such as emotional and ecological intelligence Goleman, D. (1995). Emotional Intelligence. New York: Bantam; Goleman, D. (1998). What Makes a Leader? Harvard Business Review, 76(6), 93-102; and Goleman, D. (2010). Ecological Intelligence. New York: Broadway Books.

[iv] Gardner explains how he developed these criteria and others, and what they mean in Gardner, H. (1999). Intelligence Reframed:  Multiple Intelligences for the 21st Century. New York: BasicBooks, pp. 35-41.

[v] Steve develops the criteria for and provides ample examples of each competence in Waddell, S. (2011). Global Action Networks: Creating Our Future Together. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

A Learning History of the CARE-LAC – Institute for Strategic Clarity Guatemala Poverty Project

Past-cast Series — Seeing relevance in earlier publications

Waddell, Steve. 2005.  A Learning History of the CARE-LAC – Institute for Strategic Clarity Guatemala Poverty Project. White Paper on Collaborative Holistic Inquiry Project in Guatemala, Amherst, MA: Institute for Strategic Clarity, March.

This is a learning document rather than an evaluation, although if used well it should also achieve evaluation objectives. It aims to:

  1. Provide a framework for the project participants’ identification of key Tentative Lessons Learned / Observations.
  2. Create a record of the project that will support adapting the approach by others in CARE.

The Learning History is a two-column record where the left column describes what was done and the right column gives context and quotes. The narrative on the left side draws on interviews and project documents. On the right are observations from project participants.  Of course, this selection of voices is merely a sampling of all who participated. It is meant to be suggestive, not definitive – but it also aims to represent the varying perspectives. It is easiest to read through the left column for a stage, and then go through the right column for more detail if desired.  Following each stage section is a segment of “Questions Arising” and “Tentative Lessons Learned / Observations from the stage for further discussion.

Guest post — Network Routines for Harmonic Vibrancy

Guest blog by Steve Waddell

The global, multi-stakeholder issue change networks of the sort I deal with – Global Action Networks (GANs) – have particular assets and challenges in supporting the development of harmonic vibrancy.  Their core asset is that they typically work towards an inspiring vision:  Transparency International and a corruption-free world, the Global Compact and integration of the UN’s highest principles into the functioning of business, the Global Reporting Initiative and robust social-environmental-economic reporting.  These visions are relatively easy to associate with high motivation.

Their core challenge is how they go about doing their work.  They are not a tightly knit entity that is in intense contact, such as with a local business enterprise.  They are inter-organizational global networks where people from participating organizations are very numerous and the amount of time spent on the networks’ work is a fraction of a work-week.   Even for staff, who travel constantly, connecting is an on-going challenge.

Moreover, “the network” is a rather amorphous entity, with a very large number of shifting individuals who are participating as organizational representatives, as the individuals change employers or work responsibilities.

To be successful, GANs must embrace diversity, which poses an additional challenge.  Culture is a big determinant of how people experience harmonic vibrancy and its core components such as fulfillment.  This is even a greater challenge considering that diversity for GANs also means working as business – government – civil society collaborations.

All this suggests the importance of GANs developing routines that can ensure higher levels of harmonic vibrancy.  Of course surveys are one good vehicle for assessing the presence of a higher degree of harmonic vibrancy, but routines are important to giving it lived meaning.  These routines will legitimize and give both meaning and action to the on-going development and maintenance of the five dimensions of HV:  self, other, group, nature and spirit.  Routines are regularly undertaken activities that follow a pattern recognized by participants.  They can be considered in terms of the five harmonic vibrancy dimensions themselves. Some illustrations by dimension:

1. The “self” or “me”:  do you feel that you are fully participating and working to your potential?

Specific moments for this self-assessment can be created at the end of meetings.  For GANs this includes a wide variety of events-as-meetings, such as staff meetings, work groups with network participants, and network-wide meetings such as regularly mandated global ones.  The question here is:  what can I do to enhance my quality of participation.  What agreement with myself should I work on more, reassess, or redefine.  Formal moments after meetings can be taken to provide time for people to reflect and write their thoughts with the suggestion that this is an important part of their own meeting diary.

2. The “other” or “you”:  are others participating fully and expressing their potential?

From time-to-time at the beginning of meetings two participants could talk about their agreements with each other to deepen the understanding of each other’s particular needs, desires and situation.  This would raise participants’ awareness of what at least one other person is experiencing and how their participation and the meeting activities could be better aligned to realize their full potential.  This could be developed into a buddy system, to lead to discussion at the end of the meeting about how to redesign the meeting or the individual’s role in how it functions or in the way work is being done.

3. The “group” or “us” which can mean the network as a whole:  are people fully experiencing the “we” as an energetic, empowering whole?

This could be incorporated into a collective self-assessment routine that could take place after meetings.  This happens sometimes in informal “check-out” processes where people might form circles and give a word or comment about what they’ve experienced.  However, these often occur with substantial pressure to focus on the positive.  Another process around “deltas” (what changes could improve the meeting) allows more explicit support for identifying ways to improve.  For very large meetings, this could be done through smaller group assessment break-outs.

4. Nature and the “environment”:  is there a feeling of “support” and “appreciation” from the greater whole that supports manifesting the potential?

This dimension can be framed as being about feedback from the larger operating environment of the GAN; for GANs, this is about the “systems” that they seek to influence, such as the anti-corruption system for Transparency International and the corporate sustainability system of the Global Reporting Initiative.  In one way, evolution of integrated (social-environment-economic with traditional finance) reporting could move to assess this situation.  It is really about feedback and achievements in terms of broader value creation. Annual report routines could integrate this from a harmonic-vibrancy perspective more categorically.

5. Spirit and creativity:  is there a flowing and development of ideas and innovation that generate a feeling that “anything is possible”?

This could be supported by a retreat-type routine of some parts of the network, where they can assess what they see as impediments to greater success and how to address them.  Various processes could promote and aggregate the outcomes of such routines.

One of the core challenges for implementing such routines is to develop them as activities that do not unduly burden other activities.  This means developing a pacing and interaction between the routines as a whole.  Not every day, nor every meeting need explicitly incorporate the routine.  However, the harmonic vibrancy questions must be common enough in network life to orient people who often work with the network as a small part of their lives, to build the network harmonic vibrancy culture.

Jim R-D Comments

Steve’s work with GANs highlights a major innovation emerging on the global scene, where people are consciously entering a new set of agreements on a massively global-local level – they are deciding for a different future and for learning together about how to achieve it.

We can look at Steve’s suggestions about “routines” from two different vantage points – scarcity and abundance.  From a scarcity vantage point, adding these routines to the already very full agendas of exceedingly busy people is too much – while it might be “nice” to do, we don’t have the time: we are too busy fighting really big, serious issues.

From an abundance vantage point, we cannot afford to not put these routines into practice.  The “cost” to the network of not engaging the full human being, of not bringing out and supporting the best of every participant is too high – to be able to address global issues on a local level, everyone has to be at their best, and these routines do that explicitly.  These innovative routines are a very efficient (low time invested for high value experienced) way of being very effective (engaging people to change the world’s agreements) with a network of committed human beings.

Globally Local Agreements — Innovating in Results Developed from Possibility

My colleague Steve Waddell introduced me a few years ago to an emerging phenomenon, which he identified and named Global Action Networks (GANs).[1]  These GANs are pursuing an alternative to traditional, not very effective, approaches to dealing with large-scale problems that exist across national boundaries and affect people both locally and globally, such as poverty, corruption, climate change, disease and the disappearance of natural resources.

The traditional approaches rely on national governments and inter-governmental organizations like the United Nations.  This approach tends to isolate groups or sectors, driving them to act alone, competing with other agencies for the limited resources available for global concerns (see figure below).


In contrast, GANs focus on global and local collaboration, bringing together people and organizations from different sectors – business, government, and civil society – to tackle big challenges at local and global levels simultaneously.  The GANs do this by focusing simultaneously on the three levels of perceived reality.  The GAN keeps the global advocacy, its deep vision for the change that is possible, front and center.  This possibility-light level focus drives the work of the whole network.  Within its possibility-light vision, it chooses the highest-leverage, development-verb level processes that bring that possibility into development in settings over the whole planet.  At the same time, these GANs, showing up in local action at the things-noun level.  They define this three-level approach as glocal (global and local) behavior.

The founders of these GANs all seem to see the same thing when looking through lens #1 of “how much,” no matter what global issue they take on – they see abundance.  They see this abundance at all three levels of reality – in the future that is possible, in the capacities and relationships to develop over time, and in the worldwide actions that people can take on to bring about that change.

Through lens #2 of “who decides,” the GANs hold all five primary relationships to be necessary to work with the abundant possibilities they envision.  In the self, they believe they need the best each individual can bring.  In the other, they know that their work requires collaborative processes of mutuality among the different members and stakeholders engaged in the work.  In the group, they see that each person and perspective needs to be clear in the contribution its work makes to the higher aspiration.  In nature, they have to be able to take an audacious possibility, develop high-leverage capacities to achieve it, and deliver very real outcomes, all over the globe.  In spirit, this audacious goal can only be achieved if all of the creativity available, everywhere in everyone is brought to the work.  This means that they are clear that they cannot achieve what they want without the explicit inclusion of all five primary relationships from the beginning.  Thus, when they look through lens #3 of “what criteria,” they have developed global-local, multi-sector, multi-stakeholder approaches for identifying the criteria everyone holds in common, and the criteria unique to each stakeholder.  Through lens #4 of “how the relationships interact,” the GANs s experiment with continuous learning systems to share globally what is being learned locally, interwoven with periodic global face-to-face convenings that support all five primary relationships.

To give you a sense of what a GAN looks like and how it works, let’s look at the example of Transparency International (TI).  TI came into being in 1993 with a mission to take a stance against corruptions.  In 2010 it had a global headquarters staff of 138, based in Geneva, Switzerland, and total revenues of 18,027,000 Euros – a small headquarters budget for coordinating the worldwide fight against corruption.  Outside of Geneva, TI consists of a network of more than ninety national chapters, each of which works in its own country to engage key people in government, civil society, business and the media to promote transparency in elections, in public administration, in procurement and in business. The global network of chapters and their contacts also mounts advocacy campaigns to raise international awareness and publicly lobby governments to implement anti- corruption reforms. These efforts have made some significant inroads against the problem of corruption.  For example, they have provided a common language for corruption and how to measure it, helped raise corruption to a national-level conversation within countries, and enabled a number of global and national anti-corruption reforms.

As a GAN, TI is able to make global changes one nation at a time with very limited resources.  For example, at the national level, TI works to raise corruption to national discourse and action.  Transparency Ethiopia convened prominent reporters in a journalist roundtable initiative in cooperation with the Federal Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission. They discussed barriers to reporting on corruption and the need to conduct ongoing anti- corruption sessions. Partnering with two federal agencies, TI El Salvador launched an initiative to enhance fiscal transparency by subjecting the country’s budget process to more citizen access and input, suggesting that greater citizen engagement might increase budget transparency, while boosting economic development and reducing inequality.

[1]For great detail about over eighty global action networks and what they are learning, see (Waddell, 2005b, 2011).