What would it take to reimagine the future of collaborative governance? Research into transformation ecosystems


Part 3 of a 4-part series – Deep dives into examples of transformation.

At the beginning of this year, I started a research fellowship with Arantzazulab. Our idea was simple – find examples of where transformation has happened, on the ground, where said transformation was led by communities or used some form of collaborative governance. We wanted to use and share the findings, hoping to work with others interested in creating systems change by working with and through ecosystems.

There is a lot of interesting insight in Part 1 and Part 2 of this series, and we hope that you read those two first. In case you don’t have time, the key outcomes of the research led us to the hypothesis described below.

We hypothesise that for transformation to occur, at the scale needed to address the massive challenges associated with climate change, decreasing trust in governments and democracy, deep structural economic disparities, and human inequalities, we need the following –

  1. New future-fit institutional and governance structures. These will need to maximise local cultures and connect through to planetary level ecosystems.
  2. New funding mechanisms that move beyond project-based, consultancy-based, or membership-based mindsets.
  3. To learn from systems convenors who are already acting in their local ecosystems to catalyse and amplify knowledge and capabilities, to inform the future-fit design.
  4. To identify any new roles that we may need to create in the future-fit design.

This future needs to operate at planetary level with deep accountabilities and responsibilities across borders as if we were one world.

This blog

The research had two key objectives as shown in the image below. The first two essays have focussed on understanding the transformation landscape, namely understanding the different types of actors, roles, and conditions necessary for transformation to occur. This blog focussed on a deep dive into 15 examples of transformation, capturing information about the governance, management, financial, organisational models, and any other information related to the operationalisation of transformation activities.

Research objetives

Figure 1 – Research objectives

One critical choice in the research approach was to seek some examples that were deliberately non-traditional. We wanted to build knowledge that complemented much of the existing information about exemplar place-based transformations. As mentioned in earlier reflections, defining transformation, when transformation can be considered to ‘have happened’, and determining ‘who lead’ the transformation cannot be easily categorised. This is partly because transformation, community-led and collaborative governance are all understood to mean so many things (refer to Blog 1 for more about this), and because this type of change happens over expansive timeframes, it’s difficult to pinpoint.

“If you take the case of the National Disability Insurance Scheme in Australia, the ‘transformation’ happened over decades. It could be said that it started with activists in the 80s, but later governments really stepped up, but disability rights advocates felt it did not go far enough so there was more activism which in turn pushed the policies even further. Who was leading the change, and how the change was occurring, depends on which point in the journey you look at.”

We have been conducting interviews and gathering stories of transformations just like the one mentioned in the quote above. Some examples include new age movements, stories from the Syrian revolution, regional transformations and more. However, these are impossible to neatly compare across different categories. We are still working on how to best synthesise and share this information, insight, and wisdom, but as an interim solution we collected 15 examples where the transformation can be synthesised into key categories. We recognise this is a clear limitation of the research, certainly as it is presented here in the blog. Nonetheless, we feel there are a set of insights which are of interest and provide enormous potential for learnings and ideas that can be used to reimagine the future of collaborative governance.

The key categories we explored in each of the 15 examples include:

  • Intended change / vision of the initiative
  • Where it happened
  • How it was organised
  • How it was governed
  • Who funded the initiative
  • Any other key features we observed.

The examples we chose are also a deliberate mix of initiatives across different stages of the transformational process – for example, some are exemplars of early-stage citizen engagement whilst others work with citizens at the pointy end of experimentation. We also chose to be neutral regarding the size of the initiative and transformation. Some are quite large or even global, others are smaller and limited to a single place or sector.

Since the ultimate aim of this research is to work with others to see if we can reimagine what a future collaborative governance might look like, we were most interested by finding and exploring examples that had some unique elements – whether that be funding approaches, age limits (e.g. youth led), industry not public sector led or using tools such as music to create movements for change.

What our examples helped us to understand

There is always way more that one learns doing research and being immersed in detailed conversations than can ever be translated onto a page, especially a format like blogs or essays. Therefore, please consider the following information like a movie trailer – it is intended to be the highlights, and just enough to pique your interest. Our hope is that some or many of the examples are so interesting to you that you start your own journey of discovery.

It is important to note that most of the wording in the ‘short summary’ section has been left verbatim as it can be found on the respective websites, annual reports, or other published material. We felt this was important as we have not been intricately involved with these initiatives ourselves and did not want to misrepresent any information. What we are adding to the existing literature are the parts of each example that inspired us, made us think differently or showed us something we had not seen before. We believe each of these insights are critical to the design of a future-fit institution or governance structure.




Example Short summary
Participatory City: Canada Participatory City works with the key ethos that participation in practical everyday activities transforms people’s lives and the neighbourhoods in which they live. Participatory City believes that through support, amplification, and de-fragmentation of these activities a dense network of participation opportunities and action will be created. Over time, Participatory City aims to create a practical, scalable, and relatable models of social infrastructure which will strengthen the everyday resilience of communities, as well as people’s collective capability to work together in times of crisis and beyond.

Key insights and elements for consideration in our re-imagination process

This example provides insight into an indigenous led initiative, which focussed on and deeply embeds an ethos of radical inclusivity. One of the questions we regularly hear from people working in the change making space is how to genuinely improve the outreach and accessibility for more people to participate. It is extremely common to attract the same cohorts of people to citizen participation events and initiatives. The demographic is usually well educated and in a position to spare time to contribute. In many ways, for many initiatives, this is the cohort least impacted. The work done in Participatory City Canada (and in its predecessor – Participatory City in Barking and Dagenham) give enormous insight into how changing this dynamic can be achieved as well as the associated benefits and challenges.

Whilst on the topic of the original Participatory City in Barking and Dagenham, how the concept was spread to, translated, and adapted to an entirely new country is of significant interest to our hypothesis. Over multiple conversations with Participatory City Canada, numerous pressure points in this process were articulated, and these learnings formed key elements of the thinking described in Blog 2.

In this example there are also abundant learnings about scale and aspirations for creating more impact through growth. The extensive reports provide novel ideas and approaches for how to build the necessary infrastructure to support this growth. Of particular interest is the proposed approaches for attracting the necessary funding to transform Participatory City from its pilot activities and implementation in four cities into a national initiative.

Etorkizuna Eraikiz Etorkizuna Eraikiz is an initiative led by the Provincial Council of Gipuzkoa in the Basque Country, Northern Spain. It is aimed at fostering the community capacity to collaboratively understand and address current challenges. Through listening and experimentation, the program comprises different projects in which public authorities and citizens (represented in entities such as businesses, societal, educational, and civic organizations) co-participate to define and implement the province’s agenda, and contribute to making sustainable policies (https://www.gipuzkoa.eus/en/web/etorkizunaeraikiz).

Etorkizuna Eraikiz is an initiative which gives form and structure to the Provincial Government of Gipuzkoa’s commitment to collaborative governance as a way of responding to the main strategic challenges of the province’s future. The initiative seeks to extend new ways of doing politics and managing the public sector through open and collaborative governance.

The Etorkizuna Eraikiz model is based on three major spaces:
– Space for listening: Gipuzkoa Taldean is the main space for deliberation and proposal. It includes several listening, dialogue, and deliberation initiatives. (participatory budget, a Think Tank, Citizens’ projects, …)
– Experimental space: Gipuzkoa Lab is the main space for experimentation and learning. It is the laboratory for advanced experiments for the future.
– Specialisation area: Reference Centres and Strategies are specialised public-private or social centres (foundations, consortiums, etc.) whose purpose is to strengthen sectors that are strategic for the province of Gipuzkoa (in the field of mobility, aging, cybersecurity, gastronomy, governance, the Basque language, etc.)

Key insights and elements for consideration in our re-imagination process

The initiative draws core elements from many different, and leading fields of research and methodologies for creating change. The initiative has assembled these varied approaches into a complex and (largely) disaggregated structure where individual institutions lead different elements of the work. Where current institutional infrastructure did not exist, it was established. It is an excellent example of a truly regional approach and having many interconnected initiatives running simultaneously. Lessons learnt about how each of these elements intersect, build common purpose, and share learnings with each other is of enormous potential for the design of future-fit institutions.

We can find some inspirational elements that have been of key importance in the implementation of the model based on collaborative governance, such as: a strong institutional leadership and a vision among top policy makers to set new ways of doing politics; the incorporation of reflexivity and long-term vision; the conception of power as a means for actions; the importance of people; and the generation of democracy, trust and public value, through news spaces for deliberation and experimentation to better respond to today’s challenges, among others

Conference on the Future of Europe The inaugural Conference on the Future of Europe provides us with an understanding of what it means to aim for participation of citizens at large-scale (800 people) with a diversity of nationalities (representatives from all European member states) and a deliberative process that runs over many months.

One of the most interesting elements of this research was the ability to observe how recommendations reached by citizens interface with the political and bureaucratic decision-making processes.

Key insights and elements for consideration in our re-imagination process

Even with careful design of the participant experience, and the facilitation of citizens to come to consensus-based recommendations, the transition of these recommendations into the policy making realm occurred in a manner that could be conceived like a ‘leaky pipe’. Our key learning from researching this initiative is that more focus could be put into the design of the ‘interface’ between the recommendations and where they need to be enacted and implemented.

When asking for recommendations of examples of transformation, the absolute default of those we interviewed was to provide place-based examples. Whilst these examples are excellent in their own right, the question still remains about how to enact change at a scale that goes beyond one place (be it city, region, country etc). Learning from the purely digital world is one way to do this, and we provide examples further down, but the applicability of lessons from the digital world into the physical world can often be less ‘direct.’ If purely digital to hyper local were to be considered on a spectrum, then perhaps the Conference on the Future of Europe could be considered as somewhere in the middle? Whilst it is of course place based in a sense, at the European level scale place is more conceptual than a day to day lived experience.

Climate Measurement Standards Initiative The Climate Measurement Standards Initiative (CMSI) is an Australian industry-led collaboration established to assist with, and support, climate-related financial disclosures. CMSI involves insurers, banks, scientists, reporting standards professionals, service providers and supporting parties. To determine the physical risks in a credible and comparable way, Australian companies need reliable information for scenario analyses. CMSI is developing technical, business and scientific standards for climate-related physical risk projections of the future costs of repairing and replacing Australian buildings and infrastructure.

Key insights and elements for consideration in our re-imagination process

This transformation has two key points of interest. The first is its unique combination of actors, which is heavily skewed toward the private sector and more specifically industry and the financial sector. In the many examples recommended to us to explore, this was the only one with such a strong focus on the private sector. CMSI brought together leading industry, scientific and financial experts, and specifically sought to increase Australia’s ability to address climate change by enabling companies to make informed, scientifically robust, strategic decisions.

The second point of interest is that whilst the sector was motivated to do this work, it strongly felt that a neutral intermediary was required to balance the many (potentially vested) interests of the different commercial entities. This gives us extraordinary insights and opportunities for learning about what is required to host and hold the private sector as agents for change. One key example is the requirement for approaches that enable private sector to engage – specifically covering quite technical topics such as legal, intellectual property, confidentiality, and other contractual requirements.

Street Moves Street Moves aims to create interactive streets where citizens can play, cultivate, or just hang out. It addresses a key challenge, which is that creating permanent changes in the public space can involve a great deal of risk-taking. Temporary design can then be a way to test a new solution and a new process without making a major intervention on the existing structure.

Key insights and elements for consideration in our re-imagination process

Many initiatives focus on citizen engagement and participation, especially in conceptual or design phases of an initiative. It is less common for citizens to be involved in implementation phases, and quite rare for them to be involved deeply in experimentation. This example gives us clues about what is looks like to have citizens involved at the ‘pointy end’ of infrastructure experimentation and what is required (legally, contractually, safety etc) to enable this.

Just Reinvest, Bourke Bourke is a remote town located 800km northwest of Sydney, situated on the Darling River. The town’s location forms part of a traditional boundary area for the Ngemba, Murrawarri, Budgiti and Barkinji Tribal Groups. As a result of past government Aboriginal specific policies such as forced relocations and removals in the 1920s, today there are 21 different Tribal Groups living in Bourke.

The Maranguka Justice Reinvestment project emerged as Bourke was concerned about the number of Aboriginal families experiencing high levels of social disadvantage and rising crime. Bourke has worked for many years to develop a model for improving outcomes and creating better coordinated support for vulnerable families and children through the true empowerment of the local Aboriginal community. Maranguka, meaning ‘caring for others’ in Ngemba language, is a model of Indigenous self-governance which empowers community to coordinate the right mix and timing of services through an Aboriginal community owned and led, multi-disciplinary team working in partnership with relevant government and non-government agencies.

Key insights and elements for consideration in our re-imagination process

This initiative is an excellent example of a local initiative with a rich tapestry of on the ground leaders and actors. The original concept however comes from the US. How Bourke’s local leadership were able to work with an existing framework, yet successfully mould it to not simply ‘suit the local context’, but to be transformed by the local context, is an area the requires significantly greater depths of research. Their experience likely holds enormous insight to the questions raised in Blog 2 about how scale and spread of good initiatives can actually work in practice.

Whilst there are many structural elements to the Just Reinvest initiative, what can also be seen is the deeply human and relational elements of this work, and how pivotal these are to its success. It is probably reasonable to assume that all transformations can place much of their success into these same elements. Yet the way we collect, curate, and share knowledge about transformation seems (still) to predominantly flow into the public domain via reports, booklets, toolkits. Most frequently the language used is filled with complexity and abstract concepts. When exploring Just Reinvest, Bourke there were more channels and mediums, and a simplicity of language. Of all the initiatives researched from a ‘desktop only’ perspective, this is the one that is most easy to understand and imagine.

Finally, this initiative was assessed for its impact by KPMG (pro bono). We believe that initiatives that subserviently follow predetermined impact goals or KPIs have a lot of limitations, especially where these have been based on ideas before the initiative or intervention evolves on the ground. However, having independent assessments of what happened as a result of any given intervention(s) is extremely valuable. In this case, the extensive analysis of what the work on the ground created in a macro sense was extremely valuable. It enables the interested reader to understand how micro actions on the ground, such as a policies and practices at the local football club, can aggregate into significant and highly impactful changes to crime, incarceration rates, and Bourke inhabitants’ wellbeing. Understanding this flow between micro and macro is extremely valuable and relevant as we begin to design future-fit institutions and governance.

Open Gov Partnership The Open Government Partnership is based on the idea that an open government is more accessible, more responsive, and more accountable to citizens, and that improving the relationship between people and their government has long-term, exponential benefits for everyone. All OGP governments sign on to the Open Government Declaration and are required to work with civil society organizations to co-create reforms as part of an action plan that can deliver real benefits to citizens. The Declaration has been endorsed by 78 countries.

Key insights and elements for consideration in our re-imagination process

Open Gov Partnership is a great example of a large scale multi country initiative to inspire and co-ordinate action for change led by government actors. It gives us insights about the use of opt-in global declarations as drivers for action.

Like other initiatives operating at the multi country level, during our interviews people raised question about the effectiveness of the transition between the high-level aspirations and vision of the initiative and how these were being transformative on the ground. Delving deeper into how this works, and the future aspirations of the Open Gov Partnership on this area will provide us with excellent learnings for our future fit design.

Common Ground Common Ground is a set of place-based work that Lankelly Chase is supporting in Barking & Dagenham, Gateshead, Greater Manchester, Oxford and York. Lankelly Chase is providing resources to support the wisdom and capability of local people as they collaborate to change the ‘way things are done’ in five places around England so that they are more equitable, inclusive, and just.

A core part of the approach was to not focus on predetermined outcomes but on changing the conditions in the places – the written and unwritten rules, the prevailing mindsets, and the assumptions about what happens and why. The intention for taking this approach was to change how people and organisations relate to each other, and to determine (and then re-design) who gets to make decisions, on what terms and with what evidence.

Key insights and elements for consideration in our re-imagination process

In addition to the obvious lessons to learn from how each place designed “who gets to make decisions, on what terms and with what evidence” this is an excellent example of a system convenor who intentionally and explicitly set out to not be the system convenor as the initiative and projects progressed. They
trained and provided support to the local groups with the stated intention to hand over control and leadership over time. They have been highly successful in achieving this aim, and now play smaller or in some cases highly limited role in each of the five different place-based initiatives.

As we are conceiving future-fit institutions and governance structures, we simply must consider the possibility that not all initiatives or organisations should live forever. This is especially true for those that are created to meet a need.

Sea Ranger Service Sea Ranger Service’s mission is to restore 1 million hectares of ocean biodiversity by 2040 whilst training 20,000 young people to kickstart a maritime career. Their vision is to regenerate the world’s oceans to a healthy and abundant eco-system to drive forward human potential and prosperity.

Having had strong successes in the Netherlands, where they were founded, they have explored and developed innovative ways to expand their reach and impact.

Key insights and elements for consideration in our re-imagination process

Sea Ranger has a unique funding model. It has developed an award-winning entrepreneurial approach to address the major environmental challenges by combining services in youth engagement, shipbuilding, offshore services, and environmental conservation to tackle youth unemployment, create modern seafaring jobs and regenerate marine biodiversity globally. The method has been piloted in The Netherlands since 2018 and will be scaled internationally from 2021 through a social franchising programme co-created with partners. This provides us with interesting insight into not only alternate business models for social impact and transformation activities, but also the opportunity to observe and learn from how this is scaled and expanded.

London Borough of Camden Camden is one of the most diverse places in London and in the country more broadly. Stretching from Covent Garden to Hampstead and Highgate, it contains some of the poorest and some of the wealthiest neighbourhoods in London. This diversity is at the centre of the borough’s ambition – for Camden to be a place where everyone has a chance to succeed and where nobody gets left behind. The aspiration is to reduce inequality while preserving the social mix, by building resilience in individuals, communities, businesses and the Council itself.

The Camden Plan, operating from 2012 to 2017 outlines the strategic focus areas for whole of borough reform. There are many lessons to be learnt from this work, however it was the subsequent vision, Camden 2025, which captured our attention as a key place to learn lessons about collaborative governance. Camden 2025 was written together with residents, businesses and communities. It was a call to action to the borough to bring about real social change together and to reflect the priorities of the borough that wrote it.

Key insights and elements for consideration in our re-imagination process

When looking at this example, we were particularly interested in the holistic vision and the interconnected series of actions the borough took to creating change. There are strong parallels to the Etorkizuna Eraikiz example, where a public institution has shifted from a fairly traditional ‘strategy setting’ role with ‘managed citizen engagement’ to a stewardship role and placing absolute importance to high fidelity citizen participation.

We are also particularly interested in the ‘lessons learnt’ reflections the borough has experienced and described in their reporting. Their lived experience (the good, the bad and the complex) of transitioning their role and the types of initiatives they run is extremely relevant to our work. This is especially true as we look to transition from thinking and research into actions and experiments.

El Sistema El Sistema (which translates to The System) is a publicly financed, voluntary sector, music-education program, founded in Venezuela in 1975 by Venezuelan educator, musician, and activist José Antonio Abreu. The programme focusses on musical ensemble participation (usually from an early age) and has the hypothesis that intensive and joyful music making can be a vehicle for social development. Abreu said “music has to be recognized as an agent of social development in the highest sense because it transmits the highest values – solidarity, harmony, mutual compassion.”

In 2009 a vision was put forward to create a truly global movement that could link together the many El Sistema-inspired programs throughout the world. El Sistema Global was born and by 2015, El Sistema included more than 400 music centres and 700,000 young musicians.

Key insights and elements for consideration in our re-imagination process

Movements and activism are often focussed on fighting against what is in the current system and demanding that it changes. The effort is targeted at awareness raising, agitation to governments and other decision makers, disruption and presenting new future scenarios. This type of approach is extremely valuable, and has undoubtedly led to societal change. In the case of El Sistema however, we see movement activities that focus on providing multiple, systemic solutions to the problems they are demanding change. Rather than fighting against the system, they are working to create, spark and generate which is ultimately an inspiration for what an alternate future might look like. We do not intend in any way to infer this approach is ‘better than’ other approaches, rather we want to highlight a particular interest in learning from this work especially its application to challenges that are global and highly complex.

As part of its movement dynamics, it also provides enormous insight into what it means to create change from networks and communities, with many volunteers (vs many initiatives which have paid staff).

Additionally, this example provides us with an understanding of music as driver of change, rather than a place-based approach. In many ways this shows the power of an idea (or something intangible like music vs a highly tangible infrastructure project) to mobilise people and create enormous change.

Lastly, El Sistema Global is highly decentralised and completely open source, which provides us with many clues about transformation which occurs in a more emergent way with dynamics of a movement rather than a formal institution led initiative.

Wikipedia Foundation This year the Wikimedia Foundation decided to discontinue direct acceptance of cryptocurrency as a means of donating. It made this decision based on feedback from its community, stemmed directly from a proposal made by long-standing Wikipedia editor Molly White.

Key insights and elements for consideration in our re-imagination process

As an example, this is interesting for several reasons. It demonstrates how the views of a single member within a community were run through an extensive process which was commented on and voted on by the broader community, ultimately leading to a major change in an organisations policy. The ability for these concerns to be raised and then ushered through a rigorous process is critical. The infrastructure and workflows that enable this type of activity are extensive and many direct learnings can be applied to our future-fit design.

Additionally, the change was instigated from genuine ethical concerns. In her proposal, White said accepting crypto donations was a tacit endorsement of “extremely risky investments” and technology that are “inherently predatory”—and, certainly when it comes to the leading virtual currencies Bitcoin and Ethereum, “extremely damaging to the environment.” She said that the environmental impact “may not align” with the project’s sustainability commitments and that the Wikimedia Foundation risked reputational damage from accepting donations in crypto form. The notion that the ethical concerns of the community can be raised and ultimately change the financial approach of a very large ecosystem is of deep interest.

It is also striking to see the transparency of this process. Every element of what is described above is available in the public domain. From the infrastructure, workflows, the actual content through to every comment made by the community and their votes – you can see it all. It is striking to compare this against other types of organisational decision making. In most organisations and institutions, even when significant work has been done to gather the views and feedback of the community, much of the collected information is only seen by a select group of people behind closed doors.

Young Feminist Fund FRIDA is an entirely youth-led organization committed to staying true to the mission of supporting young feminist organizing as well as being led by young feminist activists themselves. Young feminist organizing is springing up in all corners of the globe – from Mexico to Morocco to Malaysia – powered by brave women, girls and trans youth who are creating the change the world needs. FRIDA provides young leaders with the resources they need to amplify their voices and bring attention to their work, and the support, flexibility, and network to keep their vision and influence alive. FRIDA believes they should be recognized for their bravery, creativity, and resilience. By supporting young feminist organizers and co-creating new cultures of collective leadership, FRIDA aims to amplify their impact.

FRIDA provides a core grant to young feminist organisers, but does so using a series of important principles that set it apart from many other philanthropists. Firstly, FRIDA’s core grant is flexible, and makes room for grantee partners to respond to their changing community needs without feeling the too often burdensome and unrealistic pressure to ‘stick-to-the-script’. Listening to community needs, adapting, and re-strategizing is part of FRIDA’s culture, and that extends to every member of the FRIDA universe. FRIDA has a
Funding+ Model which put simply is about providing different types of support and resources to community members in addition to the core grant that they receive. This model not only contributes to the sustainability of each grantee partner in all the beautiful ways they want to, but also supports them to stay connected with broader social movements. Thirdly, FRIDA uses a Participatory grant making process that puts decision-making in the hands of young feminists themselves. Through this model, they aim to change power and relationships in philanthropy.

FRIDA states plainly and strongly that philanthropy is a political act, one which they seek to transform by challenging the complex and intertwined notions of power, wealth, and privilege, tied to redistributing money and resources from those who have, to those who have not. Recognizing that philanthropic giving exists because of inequality, and is born of colonial capitalist dynamics, feminist philanthropy focuses on dismantling the antiquated and hierarchical forms of philanthropy based on individuals and institutions controlling resources, and exercising power over communities that, in their view, require “assistance or help“.

Key insights and elements for consideration in our re-imagination process

We can learn deeply from how FRIDA relates to funding the endeavours of the organisers it supports. Researching this organisation, it is clear to see that it draws deeply from the ethical principles it has set for itself, to design each step of grant giving process (and other activities it does). Most grant making processes (for both the awarder and awardee) are burdensomely concerned with oversight, pre-determined milestones, and outcomes reporting. Whist we are not advocating for all grants to be given out without some level of accountability or oversight, we believe enormous lessons can be learnt from how FRIDA have approached their allocation of funding, and what, if any issues related to misuse or other accountability related problems.

We can learn lessons about how and where the application of its ethical principles has shaped the organisation structure itself and what it means for decision making. How FRIDA has dealt with funding, this time from its donors, is an excellent example of how it is doing things differently. Firstly, it has a publicly available Resource Mobilisation Ethics Policy. In it they state “As our budget grows, and we are able to support more young feminist organizers each year, we are increasingly faced with ethical dilemmas about the origin of the money we accept, our non-negotiables for fundraising, and characteristics of partners that we want to actively seek out to engage with. With FRIDA’s first Resource Mobilisation Ethics Policy, we intend to shed light on the ethical dilemmas we face while operating in the global philanthropic ecosystem. Through it, we want to increase transparency of FRIDA’s fundraising efforts, engage our community in the decision-making processes, and ensure that none of the partnerships we enter harm the movements we set out to support”. For anyone interested in reading more, they also published an open and critical statement about a USD 10 million donation from MacKenzie Scott, a US-based philanthropist (and former spouse of Amazon founder and executive chairman, Jeff Bezos).

All the lessons FRIDA has learnt and will continue to into the future are excellent examples of what a future-fit organisation or governance structure will need to incorporate into its design.

Global Climate Assembly The vision of the Global Climate Assembly is to create a permanent global citizens’ assembly that by 2030 has over 10m annual participants, is recognised in improving our ability to tackle global issues such as climate change, health, and inequality, is recognised by over 50% of the global population and is mostly funded by citizens’ donations.
The Global Assembly has been co-designed with institutions, scientists, citizens, and social movements from around the world and built entirely from the ground-up. This contrasts with many citizens’ assemblies which are top-down, initiated by governments to listen to the people of their nation.
The group have successfully implemented the infrastructure and attracted funding to run the inaugural assembly. It is an excellent example of an initiative that transcends national boundaries in an attempt to truly address climate change, which is of course a global scale highly complex challenge.Key insights and elements for consideration in our re-imagination processThe fact that the Global Climate Assembly is born out of a bottom-up approach is one of its key features. It is also highly connected to many renowned institutions such as the UN, OECD and IPCC. However, we are still left with a key question about the interface between the assembly and implementation, into what would need to be many, interconnected actions that would need to be taken (in many cases) hundreds or thousands of places locally. There is a question of authority and legitimacy, both perceived and actual.The world has seen many global initiatives where high-level strategic visions or ambitions are set at a global level, and implementation is distributed to local actors. An example would be the Paris Agreement or the Sustainable Development Goals. What we have repeatedly seen is that the transition from global vision to implementation, and more specifically the interface between citizens assembling and creating recommendations or solutions for others to implement is still quite leaky. We believe that following the Global Climate Assembly as it continues to develop will help us to learn key lessons critical to our future-fit design and the planetary level that will need to be considered.Secondly, the Global Climate Assembly uses many tools or methodologies such as declarations, lotteries, and of course the assembly approach itself. Many lessons can be learnt from how this group managed to enact these at the global scale.
Fondazione per l’Innovazione Urbana The Fondazione per l’Innovazione Urbana (FIU): an ‘open and widespread lab’ focusing on urban innovation. FIU is a lab for analysis, communication, development, and co-production focused on urban transformations. The Foundation promotes Civic Imagination, that is, a means of listening, collaboration, participation, and co-production related to projects and policies in the city, its neighbourhoods, and the entire metropolitan area. The specific focus is the care and regeneration of urban common goods.

Key insights and elements for consideration in our re-imagination process
FIU has a long track record over many years, especially when previous versions of this initiative are included as part of the history. FIU is non-profit private legal entity founded by the City of Bologna and the University of Bologna, but this is a new legal framework for work that has previously been done by the Urban Center Bologna. There are also earlier, less formalised versions. Due to this long history, and strong successes in the city, FIU has enormous learnings about what structural entities and their associated decision-making processes best support the broad endeavour of supporting “Civic Imagination.”


The key high-level insights

After we looked into each individual example, we also looked for trends or themes that were present across all examples. We have noted six key insights.

1. At the ‘structural level’ governance (even in these examples) is remarkably similar to traditional structures.

Even though these examples of transformation have the key elements of participation, divested decision making, and bringing together a wide range of stakeholders (including governments, private sector, and citizens), when looking at the structural level they have a Governing Board, Advisory Board and Management team (some use different names, but in general this structure is omnipresent).

This begs an obvious question – does this mean that the hypothesis is completely wrong? Is the focus on creating / designing future-fit institutions and governance structures wrong, since it appears transformation can happen anyway?
It took a long time to deeply consider this, and caused some very lively debates between fellow researchers (so lively in fact we actually were forced to go back to first principles and re-agree to what we actually mean by collaborative governance and future-fit). Whilst we can get attached to proving our hypotheses right, there’s real guts in disproving a hypothesis.

With that in mind, we think the best answer is – the hypothesis is possibly wrong, but probably not.

It is possible that structural governance and design doesn’t matter, and the actions that matter happen too far away from that level for it to truly influence. If anyone has read, heard or stumbled across anything useful or thought provoking on this, we would be delighted to connect! Please send it our way.

However, what we think we are observing instead is that people and organisations are forced to do what they can whilst still operating inside the current context. There is actually no space to consider what would be required to reimagine or design something future fit, because there are too many tasks to do now. This is coupled with other really difficult questions such as – Who’s role is that anyway? Who has the legitimacy to embark on such an endeavour? Who would pay for the work required?

In the first blog we note that overwork and burnout of many individuals is commonplace in the change making / transformation space. We think some of that is directly linked to having to operate in the current context, which in many ways runs counter or is prohibitive to the type of transformation the world needs. Therefore, it is still our firm belief that re-imagining how we organise ourselves and make decisions together is critical. We believe that rethinking how we share information, deliberate, and make decisions will be essential to be more effective in our endeavours and accelerate the transformations we are seeking to activate.

2. We found parts of the puzzle, but not the whole picture.

Each example gave us enormous clues on support structure, methods for involving citizens, building shared purpose and some unique financial models – but we did not see anything were all of these elements have been put together. This is exciting! Our belief when starting this project was that we would need to bring together a group of leading practitioners who are facing different challenges, and that together we could re-imagine and design the future. Please please do reach out to us if this sounds like you and you are interested in working with others!

We also recognise we have missed something? If you know of a great example that we should know about or delve into deeper, do not hesitate to reach out and let us know.

3. Almost all examples had public or philanthropic money, at least to begin with.

Whilst this result is not surprising, it does clearly highlight the criticality of both public and philanthropic funding. It really solidifies the part of our hypothesis that says a re-imagination of funding transformation initiatives is needed.

4. The interface between global (or very large) scale and on the ground action is key.

This finding is not at all surprising, it has given us the impetus (and confidence in our hypothesis) to focus our research precisely here, and to dive much deeper into any examples which are working in this space. We believe that being able to fundamentally re-imagine how this might be conceived differently could lead to real breakthroughs for our future-fit institution and governance designs.

5. Stakeholders involved in each initiative have a firm believe that what they are doing has a lot of value.

As it is widely spread in innovation efforts, each initiative takes a different form to frame what is their vision, mission, and strategic objectives. All of them put a lot of effort in building the sense of belonging of participants through specific activities and structures, as well as they have strong ethical principles to clearly state why they exist.

6. Starting place-based it is a challenge, and scaling it, even more.

All initiatives share the challenges of starting off the ground an initiative, we have read about the well-known challenges on involving diverse participants, facilitate distributed decision making and creating a sustainable financial structure. What has drawn our attention is how successful initiatives are exploring new ways of scaling and spreading their work. And we are asking ourselves: do we need to scale them or connect them to others? Or do we need to combine those two approaches?

Next steps

Our hope is this research piques the interest of systems convenors who would be interesting in working together on our hypothesis, or exploring any of the insights or hunches presented in this paper.

Arantzazulab is motivated by understanding how and where collaboration, especially around collaborative governance can enhance our global capacity for impact. Where can we learn from each other? Where can we generate knowledge together? When has the Basque region been a pioneer and how can we share that experience with others? What role could we play in establishing international cooperation and experimentation?

We are interested in the appetite of other systems convenors to collaborate on the design of future-fit institution and governance to address planetary problems. We have a strong ethos about taking action, rather than just talking! Therefore, we also want to test the appetite of others to create collaborative experiments which help explore this future.

We ask people who are moved by this idea to reach out and connect with us! You can contact us, Michelle, Ione and Naiara at info@arantzazulab.eus.

Also, please stay tuned for the next blog in the series. In the spirit of working out loud, we have also published most of our working material. You can find details of the research approach, analyses and more here. 

Written by: Michelle Zucker, Naiara Goia and Ione Ardaiz.