While editing Realistic Hope, we were sometimes asked what we had learned. Of course, our authors offer insightful analyses of specific problems and illuminating examples of solutions to these problems. But we knew we were being asked something different: in addition to specific insights, what general principles of realistic hope do you see? In short, we saw five interconnected principles: diversity, dialogue, experimentation, systems thinking, and futures framing.
Diversity has to do with the power of who's in the room; dialogue describes how they interact with each other; experimentation is what they do; systems thinking is the context in which they approach problems; futures framing relates to the purpose of co-creating a future that's different from the past.
Incremental improvement from a familiar and accepted starting point is relatively fast because it relies on quick and easy consensus. But transformation requires moving beyond familiar solutions. Welcoming diversity and embracing difference lead to more options. And optionality is the key to avoiding ‘lock in’ – a situation in which successful organisations using habitual perspectives and routine practices become overwhelmed by wider changes beyond their control.
Sometimes our digital connectivity leads us to assume we are including diverse perspectives just as a result of the total number of participants involved. But we often choose to connect with people like us – people in our tribe, even if there are many of them, who think the way we do.
Diversity requires us to be alert to different ways of knowing and learning not just from disciplinary experts but also from experiments in other parts of the globe. The richest societies or most developed nations don't always have the answers. Inclusiveness is not a task of melding difference into one undifferentiated whole, but of rendering and working with a number of genuinely different yet logical perspectives on any messy, connected challenge.
It's striking that so many of the sources of hope in this book arise from what diverse people and groups are doing together. While we need high-level leadership to offer perspectives on the bigger picture, especially in meeting challenges like climate change, new solutions are coming bottom up from a more diverse mix of state and non-state actors, including cities, NGOs, and other groups.
None of the socially complex, connected challenges discussed in this book can be addressed by any one person, community, company, or country working alone.