Team Syntegrity participants in Barcelona in June, 2017.“Inside the word emergency is emerge; from an emergency new things come forth”, wrote Rebecca Solnit as she reflected on the staggering achievements of unarmed civil society in recent decades. And in 2017, it seems that with governments across the world introducing more restrictive laws on civil liberties, clamping down on independent media and turning a blind eye to the persecution of social activists, civil society and the new ideas that emerge from within it are needed more than ever.
So when 30 participants met through Team Syntegrity, guided (or perhaps un-guided) by the cybernetic method of non-hierarchical participation, there was much anticipation at being tasked with the question: In the context of several major interconnected global crises, how can civil society help to renew our democracies to rise to the challenge?
Certainly, in the event, if creativity is born from bringing different perspectives together, the group’s diversity was a positive sign from the outset. In fact, with such varied professional backgrounds, personal styles and interests in the room, I would struggle to group them in any way other than by labelling them as participants from civil society, united by a profound and challenging question.
Vanessa Kisuule reads one of her original poems written during the Team Syntegrity.On reflection, what stands out from my time with the group is that this diversity – unrestrained by any prearranged thematic agenda for the three days, or over-restrictive ‘rules of the game’ – was immediately engaging. Sometimes reassuring, often thought-provoking and occasionally frustrating, watching such a large group communicate, organise and challenge one another’s ideas was a very rare sight for me. So rare that I think the last time I saw a group of 30 people group themselves, work together and present their findings was in a secondary school science class.
'Emergence of the far right' group presentation.But upon watching the video of the presentations which were the culmination of three days’ work, the value of this diversity is immediately visible – to give a few examples: a thoughtful, well-prepared presentation on the emergence of the far-right; some wonderfully spoken verse on how in times of social crisis hostile parties can find common ground by sharing a good (free) meal together, and an ingenious shadow-play deploying Artchimboldi’s elegant double doors to call for an innovative use of shares to fund and energise civil society organisations.
Shadow-play presentation: "Sybil Society was happy...".Some of the many ideas will be taken forward by the group, I’m sure, and tried in the real world, either with success or failure. Other ideas will simply rest in the back of our minds until they’re needed for inspiration or motivation.
Change doesn’t happen overnight, and sometimes it isn’t even visible – but it is constantly occurring, and it is the big and small ideas that come out of gatherings like Team Syntegrity that ultimately feed the changes we need to resolve the global challenges that we face.