Updated: Aug 11
Climate change may bring economic devastation. Could addressing it bring economic regeneration?
Soho, 1990. An old friend and I are walking to the French house for a beer. He asks about my government-sponsored research into project management, and I get passionate. There is no formal theory of collaborative work! In fact, hardly anyone actually collaborates, in the true sense of the word - especially if they work for different teams or organisations. They just communicate, and think it's the same thing! But imagine how genuine collaboration could improve society, at every level. What wouldn't change for the better?
His ear was bent, and my career path was set. But it took three decades, nine books, four technology platforms, help from luminaries in various fields, and sponsorship from several government bodies for me to understand how collaboration is just the foundation stone of new social mechanics. The theory of collaboration I eventually published in 2005 led in turn to theories of hyper-productivity, community empowerment, organisations as platforms for change, Agile procurement of infrastructure, and safe use of AI. Finally, I am starting to see how all this fits together into something capable of delivering the benefits I foresaw in 1990.
And where better to start than with climate change. Current big technology approaches carry unquantifiable risks yet have unknown chances of success. The resources required for geo-engineering are huge and the money goes to big players. We are taking a wild gamble with the planet and the only sure outcome is reinforced inequality.
By contrast, grass roots green initiatives are woefully under-supported, despite evidence that they can have massive multiplier effects. If we were to enable small-scale Agile experimentation at community level, it could fail fast where necessary and replicate successes at scale. The costs would be low, and the money would circulate locally, creating wealth where most needed.
Imagine an AI-enabled Web platform for cities and regions that helps people set up social businesses to address climate change. The site does more than offer advice on local climate policy, relevant businesses that have succeeded elsewhere, and pitfalls to avoid - it builds a business plan and generates basic services for social traders developing climate adaptations. Here are the sort of interactions you might have with it:
I've found this great climate innovation – would it work in my area? Who would benefit? In what ways?
Ok, so it seems like it would genuinely help my community. What grants might fund a pilot in this area?
The pilot is going really well! How much money would I need to turn it into a social business, and what return could I offer? Over what period? With what risk?
That might be attractive if each investor doesn't have to put much in. How can I test the water with local people / organisations?
Wow, that's more enthusiasm than I expected, but also a lot of questions I don't fully understand! Can I get some help answering them?
Potential investors seem reassured, and have given some really helpful advice. How can I incorporate their suggestions into a concrete offer?
The money's in! How can I recruit staff, get online, and put together everything else this social business needs?
We've done some great things with the money people invested. How can I showcase the outcomes they have contributed to, and get their input into next steps?
I'm ready to start paying back investors. But could I offer them extra returns if they leave their money with me for a while longer?
I feel like this social business could expand. What new offers could I make to investors?
The technology required to do this is available now. The true challenges are operational. A platform for social good must be underpinned by operating models that ensure transparent democratic stewardship. It must be free of surveillance capitalism, fake truth, and other side-effects that emerge when technology is allowed to grow without restraint.
I am forming an initiative to make this happen. If you'd like to know more, read the proposal - and if you'd like to help, the last page shows how to get in touch.