Vol. 5 (2021): Innovative Practices for Systems Transformations
This edition titled, Innovative Practices for Systems Transformations, of the Social Innovations Journal is sponsored by the Transformations Community, a generative space and catalyzing force for sustainability research and practice. This global community of transformation “pracademics” (both practitioner and researcher) is responding to a growing recognition that we need new approaches to address climate change and other existential threats to social-ecological systems.
In the spirit of the community’s pracademic identity, this edition lies between the formalistic rigor of scholarly peer-reviewed scientific articles and the advice and case histories and practical wisdom that are the lifeblood of communities of practice. This edition captures and shares what Aristotle called “phronesis”, or the practical wisdom of our members that is situated in specific time and place and requires deliberation, judgment, and choice, and above all, experience. This edition is divided into four sections, each with its own style, perspective on practice, and relationship between the authors and practitioner communities.
The first section, Social Innovation In a Time of Disruption, contains five articles that Guest Editor Bruce Goldstein wrote that consider how social innovation organizations can maintain the enabling conditions for productivity, commitment, creativity, and purpose in a time of disruption. These papers emerged from his three-year partnership with a group of highly experienced and effective “netweavers” who shared what they had learned about how to pursue social justice and ecological and economic well-being while working remotely within collaborative learning networks. The core of these articles are the verbatim words of the netweavers themselves, which he organized and accompanied with enough commentary to make them coherent and cohesive. These articles are very timely as we emerge into a world transformed by the Covid-19 pandemic and poised to move beyond the reactionary Trump years. They get to the heart of how to lead our organizations to address seemingly intractable problems (such as systemic racism and climate change), adapt to changing conditions and new contexts, scale innovation, and respond rapidly to crisis.
The second section, Transformation Workshop Papers, contains three articles written by Transformations Community members who facilitated interactive community online workshops. These papers provide guidance on how to organize and facilitate participatory visioning exercises to help diverse communities identify desirable social-ecological transformation pathways. They include a participatory food systems sustainability assessment framework from Europe, a method for people to reflect on their own social-ecological agency developed in a transformation laboratory in Mexico, and a scenario-building process that was developed in southern Africa for grappling with complex social-ecological issues and envisioning desirable futures. These approaches exemplify the focus of the transformative community on empowering diverse people to engage in knowledge co-production to enhance their ability to foster systems change.
The third section contains four articles that capture the diversity and richness of the work undertaken by members of the Transformations Community. The first considers how visioning and project evaluation imported from the developed north to the global south are an expression of colonization, and can be improved by taking a more systemic perspective grounded in local culture and context. The second considers how a systems approach to evaluation can address the field’s fixation on projects, short timeframes, quantitative solutions, and accountability. The third article describes a way to visualize governance transformations across a regional transect, in order to understand how government, civil society and market forces can create positive momentum to respond to ecosystem change. The final article considers how a whole person learning approach can enhance individual capacities for social innovation, and describes how the Wolf Willow Institute for Systems Learning is teaching social innovators about systems change
The final section, includes four contributions that complement the perspectives of the Transformations Community of Practice and suggest possibilities for collaboration and mutual learning. These four articles address the self-advocacy skills required of legal services clients in low-income communities, examine the work of the Philadelphia Higher Education Network for Neighborhood Development (PHENND), propose how social innovation networks can advance the practice of social innovation diplomacy, and consider how online social enterprise directories can address diverse stakeholder needs by overcoming common challenges in the social enterprise sector.
Considered as a whole, the articles in this special issue provide a fascinating cross-section of the highly participatory and action-oriented work of the Transformations Community of Practice.
We conclude by offering special thanks to Lisa Smith, the production editor of this special issue and Tica Lubin, who created the Transformations Community website and Netweaver Network website that hosts the workshops and netweaver dialogue series.
Bruce Goldstein, University of Colorado Boulder, Guest Edition Curator and Editor
Nicholas Torres, Co-Founder, Social Innovations Journal