What's the Good of Landscape of Change?

"What's Landscape of Change anyway?" one of my friends asked when I said I was pleased with its recent progress, and then failed to explain coherently what the progress was.

When I couldn't answer the simple "What is it?" question he tried to help by narrowing it down. "What good is Landscape of Change?" he asked, and then, narrowing it even further, "If I was to put it in a box what kind of a box would I put it in?" Even as he asked that question he rejected it observing that, given Landscape of Change was something I was doing, it probably wouldn't fit in any box. So he offered another question "If it was a book what kind of book would it be?"

A book

The book question was easier to answer because I've thought about that in the past. I've considred a lighthearted book of cartoons and captions, a more serious "workbook/toolkit" sort of booklet, and a proper book of the "learned but popular" variety. I started to tell him the cartoon idea, but had only got as far as the title when we reached the tube station and had to go our separate ways.

Twenty four hours later his questions were still prowling around in my mind, the way his questions usually do. This is my attempt to explain it:

1 - What Landscape of Change is for me

2 - The present and the future

3 -  Preparations

4  - Learning from online collaborative experiences

5 - In time and space - where are we?

6 - The culture of the Landscape of Change

7 - What good is the Landscape of Change?

8 - A place for placing individuals and initiatives

9 - All kinds of people needed

10 - Adopting the ideas


1 - What Landscape of Change is for me

I know what use the Landscape of Change is for me. It 's a mental construct that helps me to make sense of various patterns that I observe. It pulls together apparently disconnected things: work that I've done, work that I see others doing, changes that I read about and conversations that I have. When I learn something, through my own first hand experiences or through the reported experiences of others, and this thing I have learned has some relationship to change, then I can mentally situate it somewhere in "The Landscape of Change".

2 - The present and the future

For me the idea of the Landscape of Change ties the present and the future together. Some of the things in the landscape are already in evidence some other areas of the landscape are unimaginable. It's an uncertain landscape, and it's where we're going to, whether we want to or not. We're heading rapidly into the Landscape of Change because "the present" is very unstable, so we won't be staying in this "reality" for long. We can't "go back" to a familiar "business as usual" past landscape, because that's in the past. We have to go forwards, into the unknown Landscape of Change.

3 - Preparations

When I go somewhere strange there are two things I reach out for. One is information to help me prepare. The other is people. I'm not one of those capable, confident, self-sufficient kind of people who know how things work, and cope well in a crisis -  the type who'd thrive on a deserted island. Not me. I want all the help I can get. So if I'm going to the Landscape of Change I want to find others who are heading in the same direction, or have gone ahead. Perhaps we can travel together and help each other along - I definitely don't want to go on my own.

4 - Learning from online collaborative experiences

When I imagine the Landscape of Change I call on various experiences. Perhaps the most useful ones are experiences, since 2004, of creating and nurturing online collaborative groups which include people from various cultural backgrounds.

Describing the creation of a small online group is much simpler than explaining the Landscape of Change, and fortunately there are some similarities between the two. For illustration I'll describe below a small new online group I have set up where a couple of my contacts in Chicago are e-meeting with a couple of my contacts in Nigeria.

5 - In time and space  - where are we?

When this small group meets online we are not in a specific geographical, or cultural, location. We are in the cloud, a virtual space where we need to create new cultural and behavioural norms that will be as inclusive and "culturally comfortable" as possible for all concerned.

When I bring people into an online group it's all too easy for me to think and behave as if everyone is here in the UK with me - separated from me by the screen, but by a screen which is here in the UK. Because people seem to be "just a screen away" it is tempting for me to think of everyone as "here with me", with the same bandwidth, same preferred language, and same culture as my own.

I have to remember it's not true. I also have to remember that it is equally tempting for my Nigieran friends to slip into thinking the rest of us as are "just on the other side of the screen but in NIgeria", and for the Americans to slip into thinking of us all as "just on the other side of the screen but in USA". Although there are only five of us in this particular group, we have big cultural differences and we need to carry an awarenes of them with us.

I can imagine the context for my friends in Nigeria, one hour ahead of me in time, the hot dusty compound, people coming and going, voices slipping between languages, mostly Hausa and English, but other languages too, low bandwidth, frequent interuptions to the power supply, formal politeness, urgent problems, but lots of laughter too.

I have more trouble picturing America, as I've only seen that second-hand through films, TV and the like. I know my friends in Chicago mention shovelling snow. They don't wake up until we are well through the day, in UK and Nigeria, and in my online life with them the Chicago people are calling people in USA together and getting tantalizingly active in group chats when I should be going to sleep.

More important than time zones considerations, is being aware of place, language and culture. Although individually we are physically in Nigeria, UK or USA we are not meeting in any of those places. We are meeting online. Our meeting place in a very real sense is "in the cloud", and we are trying to create a culture there which, as far as possible, is equally comfortable for everyone.

6 - The culture of the Landscape of Change

The cultural spaces that I help to create in the cloud are different to any existing geographically specific culture. The Dadamac groups that meet in the cloud reflect who we are and how we work together. The ways we behave together have emerged over the years through the platforms we have used online and because of local needs and behaviours in various places and cultures. The result is a kind of "Dadamac online culture" that has behavioural norms and emerging cultural features reflecting our collaborative history.

Just as Dadamac online spaces are not the same as any geographical space, so the Landscape of Change that I create in my imagination is not the same as any specific time. It hovers in some indeterminate time which stretches from the present into the future. It draws from many different times - the present, the past (recent and distant) and the future (from the already prototyped, or visibly trending,  to the unimaginable).

Just as Dadamac online culture could not exist without the Internet, so the main landmarks in the Landscape of Change have emerged because of the Internet.

The culture that predominates in the Landscape of Change is none of the cultures of pre-Internet societies, but it draws from them all. It is not the culture of top-down, competitive, consumer societies, nor is it the culture of the rapidly developing nations, nor is it the culture of any of the other nations. It is the culture of a connected world. It has to deal with rapid changes and with related chaos and uncertainty. However it has rapid flows of information and the ability to self-organise, adapt, collaborate and learn in ways that have not previously been possible.

7 - What good is the Landscape of Change?

The Landscape of Change is useful to me in my thinking about the present and future, and I hope that it may also help others. It is one of many ways to look at things. Other people will prefer other ways, but I find this one helpful. It enables me to bring together in my imagination many different individuals, initiatives, institutions, ideas and trends.  I can "place" them all in this "Landscape of Change" which I picture as a largely unexplored landscape stretching ahead from the familiar places of the known Landscape of the Present that is already easily represented through photos and maps.

8 - A place for placing individuals and initatives  

As I place various individuals, initiatives, institutions, ideas and trends in this imaginary landscape I can "see" how they relate. I notice similarities and differences, and recognise patterns. I can visualise what is crumbling in the "Landscape of the Present" and what is starting to emerge in the adjacent Landscape of Change. I picture what is staying in its familiar location with long established structures and systems, and what is going far ahead, imaginatively and bravely, out towards unknown horizons.

I see people playing different roles. There are settlers who have started to put down roots in previously uninhabited areas. I recognise explorers and pioneers, pushing onward. I think how their paths might cross and ways that the explorations and trail-blazing of one might help another along the way. I imagine sketch maps and plans to share the developing body of knowledge about good paths, dangers, safe refuges, and base camps. I see people and initiatives with similar values recognising each other and seeking ways to collaborate.

I see some people pushing ahead into the Landscape of Change with energy and enthusiasm because they belong there better then they do in the Landscape of the Present (both Landscapes co-exist in my visualisation). 

I see other people forced to go into the Landscape of Change, reluctantly as refugees, driven there as the life-syle they are used to living crumbles, and their known "Landscape of the Present" disappears before their eyes, through job losses, home losses or other displacement. 

9 - All kinds of people needed

All kinds of people are needed to populate this new land.

In practical technical areas I see software developers who help us all to collaborate more effectively, I see peer-to-peer and open-source innovations in engineering and production, I see experiments with models of ownership, finance, agricutlure, education, power generation and much more besides.

In the artistic area I see artists - musicians, visual artists, storytellers, dramatists and more, creating artistic expressions of the Landscape of Change.

I see collaborations betwen the practical pioneers and the artists. Together I think they can help us all to imagine what the Landscape of Change may be, and how each of us might become someone different in this new landscape.

I see the artists creating a new mythology situated in that landscape, one peopled with heroes, villains and various supporting characters that we can consider as roles models. That way we don't have to invent it all for ourselves. Instead, like a child slipping into a superhero or Disney character costume, we can explore new options and roles in our imaginations and through creative expression. We can prepare ourselves and each other before we have to travel too far into the unknown.

10 - Adopting the ideas

A handful of my contacts, friends and inspirators are exploring these ideas with me. We're starting to describe people, initiatives and relationships in terms of locations within the Landscape of Change and relevant roles. We're expressing our own activities in terms of the landscape. We're playing with ideas there and dancing with thoughts. As we do that we're also experimenting with language so that it fits the landscape and the newly emerging ways of thinking and doing that are bubbling up in different areas. In the Landscape of Change we're finding a mental meeting place and are helping each other to explore it from our various different perspectives. Gradually some of the mists are clearing and certain landmarks are becoming recognisable and familar. We're learning to move forward into the Landscape of Change together with increasing trust, confidence and shared understanding.

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